IN MULTILINGUAL SOCIETIES
Politicians, pundits, journalists, and many academics in the Anglophone and not only Anglophone West tend to discuss and encourage political (i.e., public) language on monolingual terms. The default is to speak of "political language" in the singular and to marshal the language of a given country's white majority as the unquestioned default. Little could be more inequitable and disenfranchising when most societies have long been multilingual on account of to Indigenous survivance and migration.
In every society, denizens and citizens draw on a wide range of vernaculars and, indeed, understandings of what "language" may mean. Across borders, language rights, civil rights, and immigrant rights activists and advocates of multilingualism in and outside the academy have worked hard to highlight these well-established realities. Their efforts deserve a more solid footing in the public sphere.
As a trans-institutional forum for inquiry, we hope to contribute to this work and help facilitate future projects. In order to turn away from monolingualism and to communicate a more accurate picture of how political language operates now, we are looking to
build alliances across professions (educators, publishers, coders, translators, etc.) and institutions;
reach beyond the narrowly defined confines of "expertise";
involve lay members who care about changing the monolingual status quo of political languages.
In the short term, we want to be a network, a public thought resource, and a forum for original public writing about the importance of languages to today's societies and political cultures. In the long term, we hope to develop public outreach on equitable terms. This could range from art projects to expert advisory briefs or consultancies for schools, NGOs, political office holders, or the media. If you have questions, are interested in a collaboration, would like to request permission to reproduce essays that have appeared our blog or any of our other content, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our inspiration, the background image, is an example of artist Xu Bing's Square Word Calligraphy, spelling "wiki" in defamiliarized English characters. We can read it as a critique of Orientalist appropriations, but the meaning goes even deeper. No language is monolingual, Xu Bing seems to suggests. Traces of other tongues are encoded not only in forgotten etymologies, sounds, gestures, and syntactical patters, but are also in the symbols and handwriting, which fewer and fewer of us notice or care about anymore. Both noticing and caring are only a glimpse away.