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The first five words: Multilingual cities in Switzerland and Belgium and the grammar of language choice in public space

English title The first five words: Multilingual cities in Switzerland and Belgium and the grammar of language choice in public space
Applicant Mondada Lorenza
Number 182296
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut für Französische Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Romance languages and literature
Start/End 01.09.2019 - 31.08.2023
Approved amount 595'496.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Romance languages and literature
German and English languages and literature

Keywords (5)

openings; conversation analysis; multimodality; interactional linguistics; multilingualism

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Comment des personnes inconnues se rencontrent et se parlent dans l’espace public ? Ces rencontres sont un pilier de la vie sociale et de la qualité des espaces publics ; elles sont aussi significatives de la manière dont les gens effectuent des choix de langue et de ressources communicationnelles, ainsi que dont ils rendent corporellement et visuellement intelligibles leur trajectoires d’action.
Lay summary

Ce projet étudie les pratiques par lesquelles des inconnus engagent des interactions dans des espaces publics dans des villes multilingues suisses et belges. 

Sur la base de données vidéo enregistrées dans des villes bilingues (Fribourg, Bruxelles), lieux touristiques (Lugano, Ghent), et zones de contact et frontière linguistiques (Bâle, Eupen), le projet documente des rencontres fortuites entre personnes dans les espaces publics et fournit une étude systématique des pratiques linguistiques et corporelles qui les rendent possibles. Plusieurs types de rencontres seront documentés, entre personnes qui commencent à parler informellement ensemble (p.ex. en attendant le bus, en se reposant sur un banc, ou en promenant le chien) ou lorsque une personne en approche une autre, pour lui demander ou offrir quelque chose (une signature, un soutien politique, de l’argent, des informations). Le projet montre comment durant la phase d’ouverture de la rencontre, les personnes sont confrontées au problème de quelle langue choisir pour communiquer, et découvrent les options linguistiques disponibles. Il s’intéresse aussi au rôle joué par le corps et  l’identité visible et audible des participants.

Basé sur les approches de l’analyse conversationnelle multimodale et de la linguistique interactionnelle, les résultats du projet porteront à 1) mieux connaître comment sont organisées les ouverture de conversations, du point de vue linguistique et corporel, 2) mieux décrire les dynamiques de contact linguistique telles qu’elles émergent effectivement de situations sociales ordinaires, 3) mieux comprendre les pratiques qui constituent la socialité des lieux publics, 4) apporter des solutions méthodologiques originales pour l’analyse vidéo de ces situations.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 09.07.2019

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Abstract

This project studies how unacquainted persons spontaneously engage in interaction in multilingual cities in Switzerland and Belgium. In consequence, it investigates language practices in present-day, urban environments. Officially multilingual cities, such as Fribourg (Switzerland) and Brussels (Belgium), have received extended attention with regard to how language policies are locally implemented. Little is known, however, about how people choose and negotiate the language of conversation when addressing an unknown person - who might speak the local language, but also a language of immigration or tourism. Based on video-recordings collected in bilingual cities (Fribourg, Brussels), in touristic locations (Lugano, Ghent) and in areas of multiple contacts (Basel, Eupen), this project documents everyday language practices in public space. It focuses on encounters between unknown persons engaging in two types of events: (1) Symmetrical Ordinary Encounters, which happen when people going about the same activity (e.g. sitting on a bench, walking the dog) start talking to each other; (2) Asymmetrical Institutional Encounters, during which someone requests something (e.g. a signature, political support, money) from a passer-by or offers them something (e.g. a flyer, a product sample). It shows how, during the opening phase of an encounter, individuals progressively discover the linguistic options they have for efficiently engaging in interaction (ranging from the choice of one common language, to a mode of interaction in which speakers alternate languages, to conversations in which each individual speaks a different language, etc.). The diversity of resources speakers deploy in order to establish focused interaction with each other is analysed from a multimodal perspective, taking into account how linguistic resources are embedded in the individuals’ embodied actions. Using multimodal conversation analysis and interactional linguistics, this project will provide the following results: (1) It will contribute to the analysis of conversational openings by systematically taking into account the individuals’ embodied resources; (2) it will provide a situated analysis of language contact “as it happens” and show that the speakers’ language choices are sensitive to the social categorisation of the interactants; (3) it will describe urban public space as a locus of multilingualism, hence challenging the present-day image of public space (often associated to fear and insecurity) in contemporary societies, by showing its relevance for pro-social ways of living; (4) it will also engender methodological guidelines for video recording in natural public settings of interaction.
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