Keynote Speakers

MONICA HELLER (University of Toronto)


Language and inequality in the contemporary world

The past year or so have seen the rise of populism and new nationalisms, renewed expressions of sexism and racism, and deepened concerns about economic inequalities. I will argue that in this context sociolinguistics is not a peripheral concern, but one that has much to say about how inequalities are made on the terrain of social difference. As a result, it can help identify alternative narratives and alternative practices. I will focus in particular on the ways in which sociolinguistics indeed came out of a concern with social justice in the 1960s, examining some of the ways in which its commitments to scientific approaches and its methodological nationalism paradoxically blunted its potential for critique. I will then turn to some new approaches aimed at overcoming both those obstacles which may help us move forward.

F. XAVIER VILA (Universitat de Barcelona)


Agency in language policy revisited

The construction of language policy —or, perhaps better, language politology (LP)— as an academic field has experienced, and continues to experience, a strong Anglo-North-American bias regarding how it was developed and how it should be understood (Ricento 2006; Spolsky 2004; Wee, 2011). According to the today hegemonic account, the analysis of language policy, language management and/or language planning (LPMP) was born basically in the USA in the 60 as an endeavour to help newly independent countries to “solve” their “language problems”, from a primarily functionalist and neoclassical perspective (Williams 1992). This failure of a number of LPMP initiatives in postcolonial and socialist nation states led to a reconceptualization of the field in the 80-90 and to the emergence of a new, so-called critical approach to LPMP. This perspective, strongly influenced by (post)Marxist researchers such as Pierre Bourdieu, had a stronger sociopolitical and anthropological component than the neoclassical one, insisted in the connection of LPMP and the (re)production of social inequalities, and emphasised the need to include and even the bottom-up views in LPMP activities (Heller 2002; Blackledge and Creese 2010).

In this lecture, I will pursue two goals. On the one hand, I will argue that the understanding of LPMP would greatly benefit from an enlarged approach that included the theoretical contributions of non-Anglophone research traditions, a point that I will exemplify with the (basically European) paradigm of language establishment and minoritisation (Lamuela 2004; Vila 2014). On the other, based on this enlarged perspective, I will focus on the conceptualization of agency and actor in LPMP, and will put forward a number of proposals that help us move beyond simplistic dichotomies such as top-down and bottom-up.

Blackledge, Adrian, and Angela Creese. 2010. Multilingualism: A Critical Perspective. Continuum.

Heller, Monica. 2002. Éléments d’une sociolinguistique critique. Toronto: Didier.

Lamuela, Xavier. 2004. ‘Instal·lació O Establiment? Encara Sobre Els Objectius de La Promoció Lingüística’. Caplletra. Revista Internacional de Filologia 37: 215–42.

Ricento, Thomas. 2006. An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method. Wiley.

Spolsky, Bernard. 2004. Language Policy. Cambridge University Press.

Vila, F. Xavier. 2014. ‘Language Policy, Management and Planning’. In Manual of Language Acquisition, edited by Christiane Fäcke, 50–68. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Wee, Lionel. 2011. ‘Language Policy and Planning’. In The Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics, edited by James R Simpson, 11–23. London; New York: Routledge.

Williams, Glyn. 1992. Sociolinguistics. A Sociological Critique. London; New York: Routlege.

JOAN PUJOLAR (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)


New speakers: languages and lifestyles in late modernity

“New speakers” is a very generic category. It is primarily used to name people who use socially a language that is not their native one (or one of their native ones). So it can include people learning their “heritage” language, or a heritage language of the region in which they live. It can also include immigrants or refugees (mostly recent ones) adopting the local language. It can also involve anyone having experienced some kind of social, professional or geographical mobility with linguistic implications. With such a diverse purview, can all these different profiles provide the means for a relevant sociolinguistic analysis? Is there something about language and social difference that new speakers allow us to see?

In this presentation I am going to develop the argument that new speakers open up the possibility to envisage forms of linguistic agency and subjection consistent with late modern developments. Classical industrial capitalism and nation state institutions had privileged views of language as embedded in collective identities. Late modernity, with its political economies of neoliberal individualism and identities as projects of the self, repositions language as a component of lifestyle. As such, access to multilingualism is still unequally distributed and opens and closes different possibilities for different profiles of speakers. The experiences of new speakers reveal, in this context, how languages feature in these new process of social positioning and lifestyle investments in different contexts, both in  their commonalities and differences.

ROBERT LAWSON (Birmingham City University)


Big data, big problems: Investigating language use on Twitter

In 2006, the micro-blogging website Twitter was launched amid a social media marketplace primarily dominated by Facebook and Myspace. Offering a radically different social media experience compared to these more established websites, Twitter users were restricted to sharing short tweets – posts limited to 140 characters – on a public/private user profile while following (or being followed by) other members of the site. Despite this restriction on tweet length, Twitter has since grown substantially in size and scope, with the site reporting 317 million monthly active users in 2016 tweeting from almost every part of the globe (Statista 2016). Such activity means that Twitter is an almost unparalleled source of data for linguists, with researchers in recent years analysing a range of linguistic phenomenon on the site, including part-of-speech tagging (Gimpel et al. 2011), hashtags and self-branding (Page 2012), retweets and participation frameworks (Draucker and Collister 2015), and discourses of online misogyny (Hardaker and McGlashan 2015).

Due to the volume of tweets posted on a daily basis, however, there are a number of problems in exploiting Twitter as a source of linguistic data. This presentation discusses some of the methods that can be used to collect and analyse Twitter data, including IFTTT (Tibbets et al. 2016), Get-tags (Hawksey 2016), and FireAnt (Anthony 2016). In doing so, I also consider some of the ethical issues in utilising Twitter data, particularly in relation to the private/public divide (cf. Longhi and Wigham 2015; Spilioti and Tagg 2016; Tao et al. 2016). Finally, drawing on some of the approaches outlined, I present early findings of a research project on gendered portmanteau words on Twitter, including mansplaining and manspreading, and what such terms might tell us about contemporary gender ideologies in online spaces.

Anthony, L. 2016. FireAnt version 1.1.2 [computer software]. Available from Last accessed 9/12/16.

Draucker, F., and L. Collister. 2015. “Managing Participation through Modal Affordances on Twitter.” Open Library of Humanities 1.1.

Gimpel, K., N. Schneider, B. O’Connor, D. Das, D. Mills, J. Eisenstein, M. Heilman, D. Yogatama, J. Flanigan, and N.A. Smith. 2011. “Part-of-speech tagging for twitter: Annotation, features, and experiments.” In Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, pp. 42-47. Association for Computational Linguistics.

Hardaker, C., and M. McGlashan. 2016. “‘Real men don’t hate women’: Twitter rape threats and group identity.” Journal of Pragmatic 91: 80-93.

Hawksey, M. 2016. Get-tags [computer software]. Available from Last accessed 9/12/16.

Longhi, J., and C. Wigham. 2015. “Structuring a CMC corpus of political tweets in TEI: Corpus features, ethics and workflow.” Poster presented at Corpus Linguistics 2015.

Page, R. 2012. “The linguistics of self-branding and micro-celebrity in Twitter: The role of hashtags.” Discourse & Communication 6 (2): 181-201.

Spilioti, T., and C. Tagg. 2016. “The ethics of online research methods in Applied Linguistics: Challenges, opportunities, and directions in ethical decision-making.” Applied Linguistics Review.

Statista. 2016. “Number of monthly active Twitter users worldwide from 1st quarter 2010 to 3rd quarter 2016.” Available from Last accessed 9/12/16.

Tao, J., Q. Shao, and X. Gao (2016). “Ethics-related practices in Internet-based applied linguistics research.” Applied Linguistics Review (2016).

Tibbets, L., J. Tane, S. Tong, and A. Tibbets. 2016. IFTTT [computer software]. Available from Last accessed 9/12/16.