Language use is multimodal and multilingual – methodological and theoretical challenges for the language sciences

Traditionally, the language sciences have dealt with language as an abstract system, aiming to describe abstract principles underlying all languages, often studied in written form. Arguably, the contemporary study of language is shifting to a focus on language in use, seeking to understand how we use and learn language situated in space and time. With this shift comes new challenges. In this talk I will discuss two aspects of language in use that raise methodological and theoretical challenges. (1) Language use is multimodal and embodied. For example, when we speak, we typically also gesture in non-random and structured ways. I will show that speech and gesture form an integrated system by highlighting multimodal coordination along various dimensions. (b) Language use is (often) multilingual. Most people in the world speak and use more than one language (sometimes simultaneously). This in turn raises questions about whether language (such as a ‘mother tongue’) should be seen as a static entity, or as something more fluid and dynamic. I will give examples of how the languages a speaker knows dynamically influence each other in adult (multimodal) language use and language learning. Both observations highlight the need for new tools and methods to study language. They also highlight the need to revise our static, monomodal and monolingual theories of language towards more dynamic, multimodal, and multilingual ones.

Go to the previous page