Linguistics Seminar Series

Omphile and his Soccer Ball: The Rarely Noticed Question of Methodological Stasis in Translanguaging

Date: Thu 25th May 2017 12:00pm-1:00pm

Location: Oorala Lecture Theatre

Two boys playing with a soccer ball in a garden.Scholars of sociolinguistics and allied disciplines have made quite commendable theoretical and conceptual progress when it comes to challenging linguistic normativity and those frameworks that have crystallised into some kind of traditional orthodoxy in language research. Such progress is attested by the burgeoning of theorisations around language as process, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s work of Einar Haugen, Lachman Khubchandani, John J. Gumperz and Howard Giles. The critique of conventional understandings of language has gathered momentum in more recent times with the emergence of quite contemporary theories such as ‘transidiomatic practice’, ‘plurilingual practice’, ‘polylanguaging’, ‘metrolingualism’ and ‘translanguaging’. A crucial foundational premise shared by these theoretical frameworks is their call for unbounding language from its position as an object of study and situating it in the sociocultural complexity that surrounds speakers’ real language use. What also unites followers of this scholarly tradition – in a rather negative way – is their reliance on conventional research methodologies that are limited to controlled scientific experiments – oral interviews, surveys, focus groups, participant observations, and so on. I see this as a problematic contradiction of sorts or what I call the rarely noticed question of methodological stasis. How can these alternative philosophies of language claim to be pushing the scholarship forward in a new direction when their theoretical suppositions are supported by data generated through conventional research methods?

In this seminar, I tell a story that is based on a casual and unplanned encounter with Omphile, a seven-year-old boy with whom I interacted using communicative practices that confirmed the suppositions of translanguaging theory but also challenged translanguaging methodologies – in equal measure. I argue that in the same way that translanguaging reminds us about how communication is not limited to determinate languages or codes, research does not have to be limited to controlled, systematic scientific methods. I conclude by suggesting a form of ethnographic praxis that is anti-methodological (in a traditional sense) and, thus in line with many of the anti-foundational premises of translanguaging theory

Finex Ndhlovu is Associate Professor in the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences at the University of New England. His research interests sit at the cutting edge of contemporary linguistic and socio-cultural theories around language, identity and sociality in relation to transnational African migrant and diaspora communities; language and development; and language and everyday forms of exclusion. Most recent major publications include Becoming an African Diaspora in Australia: Language, Culture, Identity (2014), Hegemony and Language Policies in Southern Africa: Identity, Integration, Development (2015); Language, Migration, Diaspora: Challenging the Big Battalions of Groupism (2016), Language, Vernacular Discourse and Nationalisms: Uncovering the Myths of Transnational Worlds (forthcoming), and The Social and Political History of Southern Africa’s Languages (forthcoming).

All welcome.

Add to my Calendar

Share this: