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What is multilingualism, now? Over the past decades, scholars working in a patchwork of implicitly related, yet often institutionally disparate disciplines have been coming to new conceptual terms with multilingual practices and subjectivites. They often do so, however, through research endeavors that are as interdisciplinarily innovative as they are disciplinarily isolating. Scholars from fields such as computational and applied linguistics, comparative literature, border studies, second language acquisition, history, film, sociolinguistics, phonology, translation studies, language policy, and anthropology have been posing ambitious and nuanced questions about the nature, use, political impact, and epistemological ramifications of multilingualism in scholarship and social life.

And yet, as the years and their debates pass, it is becoming clear that the very nature of multilingualism is now increasingly unmoored—even from the frameworks that were applied to it in the early 1990s. Social networking, hypertextuality, postnational approaches to civic policy in Europe, national security discourses that reconstitute the global military and intelligence theater anew, the rapid industrialization of multilingual translating online, and new phenomena of global migration have all pushed “multilingualism” itself to evolve, even as we address it.

This International Symposium at the University of Arizona is designed to bring working scholars, teachers, and practitioners together to take stock of our collective paradigmatic advancements over the past two decades in the domains multilingualism, monolingualism, plurilingualism, translingual practice, and the like. We will take this two-and-a-half day opportunity to discuss with one another the “What’s next?” questions in our shared arena of inquiry.

In the interest of fostering a multilateral conversation—rather than an eclectic juxtaposition of various, disparate approaches and methods—we request 20-25 minute contributions that engage with one or more of the following questions on the following pages. Symposium presenters are asked to bear in mind, as they compose their remarks, that—although co-participants may be conversant in each other’s disciplinary vocabularies to some extent—the very “categories of analysis” that each discipline invokes to investigate multilingualism are as much an object of inquiry at this symposium as are the results of that analysis. Simply put, this interdisciplinary conversation will necessary conjure all of the richness—and potential for misunderstanding—that any multilingual conversation does. We hope to welcome those dialogical dynamics in the preparations, programming, and atmosphere of this symposium.

Collected Questions and Prompts

We have intentionally not organized the thematic trajectories of the symposium according to discrete disciplines. Instead, the following rubrics and questions were collected from symposium participants and organizers. This list—in addition to the introductory description on the preceding page—can serve as a sounding board for participants, as they prepare abstracts and remarks. Please consider each of these bullet points to be just one opening volley in the conversation that we will continue on April 13.  (Addressing a conspicuous omission among these collected questions could of course be a germane, if not crucial, way of responding to them.)

Categories of analysis:

  • Multilingualism can be discussed on the level of the neuron, tongue, brain, organism, body, utterance, individual, subject, affect, conversation, family, group, text, community, discourse, polity, technology, medium, region, policy, ethnos, nation, etc. What other categories of analysis—or combination of these categories—might prove salient for a greater understanding of multilingual phenomena in a given context?
  • How and to what effect has multilingualism been conflated with multiculturalism in academic research and public policy?
  • How and to what effect has multilingualism been conflated with heteroglossia in literary and anthropological inquiry?
  • If monolingual is a historical construction, then is multilingualism therefore an untenable object of analysis? If multilingualism is founded on an assumption that we are shifting away from a monolingual perspective, how sound is that assumption? Can one shift away from that which doesn't exist in the first place?
  • What is monolingualism? Is it a species-wide norm or a historical aberration? What might “monoliteracy” mean?
  • How does multilingualism interact with other symbolic systems? What is the relationship between multilingualism, multiliteracy, multimodality, and/or multicompetence?
  • What are the political and epistemological stakes in distinguishing or conflating bilingualism with multilingualism?
  • How have multilingual phenomena over the past two decades outpaced or otherwise challenged the theories we have developed to account for those phenomena? What new categories of analysis may be necessary to account for them?
  • How have campaigns and traditions of multilingual literacy in the global South begun to redefine normative assumptions about language, in policy and scholarship?

Institutions of Governance

  • What is the contemporary relationship between monolingualism and the various modern
nation-states that historically sought to establish a “unified identity” under that
  • How is the study of multilingualism itself bound by national education systems and print and other inscriptive media, serving an ideal of universal translatability, and requiring that service to function effectively?
  • What are the implications of the EU’s state-sponsored
cross-cultural exchanges on the grounds of language and culture (i.e. Erasmus
Student Exchange Program, Commissioners for Multilingualism, etc), in
order to generate a newly unified identity, but this time under the
umbrella of proper multilingual Europeanness—one that then re-endorses multilingualism in
an exclusive form?
  • What diachronic and synchronic questions about multilingual subjectivity arise when one considers the particular histories of various nation-states, as well as of various supra-, sub-, pre-, and post-national institutions of governance?
  • How are debates in language policy reframing our understanding of multilingualism?
  • How do multilingualism and monolingualism play out in terms of Foucault’s notion of governmentality, Agamben’s bare life, Hannah Arendt’s “right to have rights”, Carl Schmidt’s “states of exception” and other theories of the civic subject in modernity?
  • Does the recent development of post-ethnic, cosmopolitan lingua francas in Germany and other postmulticultural states constitute a kind of reinvestment in monolingualism?


  • Amid transnational flows of people, resources, networks, information, and economic goods and labor, what new forms of multilingualism are arising?
  • What ideal types of speakers are being promoted and produced in an era of globalized capital and transnational governance? What linguistic commodities and symbolic capital do these idealized speakers bear?
  • How does multilingualism differ in global capitalist contexts from multilingualism in colonial, feudal, and imperial contexts?
  • Are categories such as exchange value and/or surplus value productive in understanding the dynamics of multilingual subjectivity?
  • How do glossodiversity and semiodiversity respond differently to the demands of capital?
  • How do corporations capitalize upon
multilingualism via the transnational commodification of translated
software and content through Globalization Internationalization
Localization and Translation (GILT) sectors and industries?
  • International film and literature markets are now showcasing indigenous languages (as aesthetic products) while their governments are excluding them from public life. How do we analyze the ostentatious marketing of indigenous languages as national cultural exports in nations whose language policies endanger the use of precisely those languages?


  • What demands do individual, institutional, cultural and political practices of multilingualism make on contemporary scholarship?
  • In what ways might multilingual phenomena be considered to be embodied?
  • At the April symposium, we will be discussing all these things primarily in English, in the same manner that foreign language teachers teach their classes in the one foreign language they are paid to teach. What are the normative implications of our discussing multilingualism in English?
  • How does multilingualism look in teaching practice? In publishing practice? In business practice? in academic practice?
  • Can multilingualism be simulated?
  • Multilingual text mining is a new technological possibility that has led to extraordinary advancements in data management, counterterrorism, corpus linguistics, and human surveillance. What are the epistemological implications of these advancements?
  • Does postnational multilingualism resemble medieval multilingualism?

Media and Multilingual Text in a Global Perspective

  • What are the implications of free online machine translation platforms and their use in volunteer translating?
  • What are the implications of historical artifacts such as dictionaries, lexicography, grammatical descriptions, and taxonomies in the study of multilingualism and monolingualism?
  • How is multilingualism in literature changing? Are new forms emerging that would not have been possible 20 years ago?

Disciplines, Methods, Epistemologies:

  • Can multilingualism as an object of inquiry serve as a "contact zone" among differing disciplinary and methodological models?
  • Have methodological norms in a given disciplinary sphere enabled and/or excluded specific modes of inquiry into multilingualism?
  • Is a desire to search for a shared analytical vocabulary about multilingualism across disciplines justifiable? Or does the endeavor to develop an interdisciplinary lingua
franca itself qualify as a kind of impulse toward monolingualism?
  • What “blind spots” vis-à-vis multilingual praxis and theory still persist in disciplinary gaps and overlaps, and what reorientations may be necessary in order to address them?
  • How can neighboring disciplines collaborate better with one another in their inquiries about multilingualism?
  • What does the "critical" mean in Critical Multilingualism Studies?
  • What is/are the “state of the discourse(s)” of multilingualism in 2012?