Translanguaging in the City

Author: Adrian Blackledge, Angela Creese (University of Stirling)
Speaker: Adrian Blackledge, Angela Creese
Topic: Linguistic Anthropology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


This presentation reports the findings of a four-year, multi-site linguistic anthropology research project which examines the communicative practices of migrants from China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia in Birmingham, UK.

The research team conducted anthropological research in a city centre market, a new library, a sports club, and a welfare advice office in a Chinese community centre. Each of the observation phases took place over periods of four months. During this time the research team conducted observations of key participants including a butcher, a librarian, a volleyball coach, and a welfare advisor. The researchers developed field notes, made audio-recordings in the work-place and the home, collected online and digital communications, interviewed the key participants and other stakeholders, gathered institutional documentation, took photographs, and video-recorded the key participants. The research process generated a large amount of material, which was carefully analysed by the research team.
Analaysis demonstrated that when people of different backgrounds come into contact in the city, they often translanguage, making use of whatever languages they can to communicate with each other. They borrow from each others’ languages, try things out, and find areas of common ground for sharing meaning. And translanguaging goes beyond ‘languages’, as people communicate through their bodies as much as through their spoken words. Translanguaging includes aspects of communication not always thought of as ‘language’, including smiles, shrugs, pointing, mime, pats on the back, and so on. Translanguaging was often creative, and sometimes transformative, as potentially difficult interactions were made convivial when people played around with different languages.

This presentation provides new evidence of migrants from China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia communicating in the superdiverse city in the UK. It concludes that translanguaging has implications for policy and planning, and is key to the future of communication in the city.