Language and inequality in contemporary Europe

Thomas Rørbeck Nørreby (University of Copenhagen), Lian Malai Madsen (University of Copenhagen) & Susanne Becker (Max Planck Institute)

Classical conceptions of social stratification have become difficult to reconcile with contemporary societies that are now profoundly characterized by mobility and discourses of democratization. The increasingly complex effects of globalization only add to the fact that more and more people are harder to put into well-known socio-cultural categories (Vertovec 2010; Burton et al. 2008; Blommaert and Rampton 2011). Yet, as sociolinguists have been arguing, differences related to socio-economic circumstances are no less relevant to understanding language in society today just because we have stopped talking about them in the way that we used to (Rampton 2010, see also e.g. Block 2014; Collins 2015). Sociologists have in addition been suggesting that what on the surface appears as ethno-cultural classification on a wider scale also in fact functions as a mechanism of educational and socio-economic stratification (Halldén et al. 2008). Such categorizations are bound up with linguistic expectations, obligations and language ideological beliefs. Official and institutional responses to linguistic diversity play a significant part in establishing (and maintaining) close links between linguistic repertoires, social hierarchies, prestige and stigma. So while there is no reason to assume that the sociolinguistic landscapes of globalised societies are less unequal than before (Coupland 2003), it is clear that we need suitable ways of seeing and conceptualizing the, perhaps more complex, relationships between social hierarchization, identification, linguistic practices and metadiscursive regimes.

This special interest group seeks to develop such conceptualizations through a discussion of the intersections of social stratification and cultural and linguistic categorization, with an emphasis on the (counter-)valorization of different types of linguistic hybridity and multilingualism. The aim of the group is to organize two workshops investigating how different language regimes:

  • impact categorizations of elite and vernacular multilingualism and ascribe more or less prestige to those associated with them;
  • lead to different opportunities for speakers’ mobility and impact on (linguistic) obligations;
  • produce challenges in official institutions faced with increasing linguistic diversity that require speakers to navigate between different sociolinguistic restrictions and possibilities.
  • (re-)produce structures of stratification by (re-)producing linguistic categories

Activities:
The SIG proposes to run two workshops, addressing the themes outlined above.

1st workshop (duration 2 days, venue University of Copenhagen):

  • Discussions of literature addressing the theoretical and methodological themes related to the study of power, identity and inequality
  • Presentations of case studies from Copenhagen and Göttingen
  • Lecture by invited speaker, James Collins, University at Albany/SUNY who will also participate in the activities of the workshop

Budget: 1500 euros (partly covering the travel and accommodation costs of 3-4 participants, also if e.g. Tilburg or King’s members would be interested to the venue (Copenhagen)

2nd workshop (duration 2 days, venue Max Planck Institute, Göttingen):

  • Discussions of literature addressing the theoretical and methodological themes related to the study of language hierarchization and social stratification
  • Discussion of how the ideas of the workshop should impact the way we conceptualize relationships between social hierarchization, identification, linguistic practices and metadiscursive regimes under the current conditions of globalization
  • Lecture by invited speaker Stef Slembrouck, Ghent University who will participate in the activities of the workshop

Budget: 1000 euros (travel and accommodation costs of 2-3 participants to the venue (Göttingen)

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