New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: Opportunities and Challenges
The "New Speakers" network is made up of researchers and practitioners from some 17 European countries. These include the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Luxembourg, Italy and Portugal.
The project is funded by COST, an intergovernmental framework for European Cooperation in Science and Technology, which allows the co-ordination of nationally-funded research on a European level. Over the four years of the COST Action, the members of the network will work towards developing a holistic understanding of a new sociolinguistic paradigm that can help us rethink how languages are managed (and sometimes mismanaged) at all levels of society including education, healthcare, workplace, family, community, the media, cyberspace and public institutions.
Globalization, increased mobility and transnational networking are transforming the linguistic ecologies of contemporary societies. The aim of this COST Action is to bring multilinguals into the focus of these processes by investigating the challenges and opportunities involved in acquiring, using and being understood as a "new speaker" of a language in the context of a multilingual Europe. New speakers, from this perspective, are all multilingual citizens who, by engaging with languages other than their "native" or "national" language(s), must cross existing social boundaries, re-evaluate their own levels of linguistic competence and creatively (re)structure their social practices to adapt to the new and overlapping linguistic spaces in which they find themselves.
Language is a key when it comes to accessing education, employment, social services and for community participation. It has also been seen historically in Europe as defining individual and collective identities. The processes whereby people learn new languages and become legitimate speakers of these languages are complex. The aim of this COST Action is to better understand the potential social tensions that emerge from unequal access to participation of new speakers in Europe's multilingual projects.
These inequalities pose a potential challenge to European integration, social cohesion and economic collaboration, as well as to the full participation of territorial and immigrant minorities. A shared understanding of these complexities across different multilingual scenarios (including education, healthcare, youth culture, the workplace and NGOs) will allow us to sharpen our knowledge of how to tackle the challenges that new speakers of different linguistic varieties face in the context of a multilingual Europe.
If you are interested in being involved in the network or finding out more about our research, please contact the Action Chair, Prof. Bernadette O'Rourke.
Read an article about the project in the Irish Times.