Polylanguaging in Superdiversity

by J. N. Jørgensen, M. S. Karrebæk, L. M. Madsen, and J. S. Møller (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

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Humankind is a languaging species. This means that as human beings we use language to achieve our goals. Every time we use language, we change the world a little bit. We do so by using language with other human beings, language is in other words social. In this paper we challenge one of the most widely held views of language as a social, human phenomenon, namely that “language” can be separated into different “languages”, such as “Russian”, “Latin”, and “Greenlandic”. Our paper is based on a recently developed sociolinguistic understanding that this view of language can not be upheld on the basis of linguistic criteria. “Languages” are abstractions, they are sociocultural or ideological constructions which match real-life use of language poorly. This means that sociolinguistics – the study of language as a social phenomenon – must work at another level of analysis with real-life language use. The first part of our paper presents such analyses of observed language use among adolescents in superdiverse societies. We show that the level of a linguistic feature is better suited as the basis for analysis of language use than the level of “a language”. In the second part of the paper we present our concept of polylanguaging which denotes the way in which speakers use features associated with different “languages” – even when they know very little of these “languages”. We use the level of (linguistic) features as the basis for understanding language use, and we claim that features are socioculturally associated with “languages”. Both features individually and languages are socioculturally associated with values, meanings, speakers, etc. This means that we can deal with the connection between features and languages, and in the analyses in the first part we do exactly that.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:
Jørgensen, J. N., Karrebæk, M. S., Madsen, L. M., & Møller, J. S. (2011). Polylanguaging in Superdiversity. Diversities, 13(2), 23-37. Retrieved [todaysdate] from http://newdiversities.mmg.mpg.de/?page_id=2061
Diversities • Volume 13, No. 2, 2011
Language and Superdiversities I
Guest Editors: Jan Blommaert, Ben Rampton and Massimiliano Spotti
ISSN-Print 2199-8108
ISSN-Internet 2199-8116