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Multilingualism seminar

Gender and Sexual Dissidence As Foreign Language/The Complex Construction of Multilingual Identity

19 October 2017, 13:00 – 14:30

Faculty of English, room GR04

No Man's Country: Gender and Sexual Dissidence As Foreign Language in Maria-Mercè Marçal's La Passió Segons Renée Vivien

Aleksandra Goclawska

A literary text constitutes and appeals to a reading community, often built around a discourse of a language or an identity. Given that the principal, indeed perhaps only vehicle of communication in the process of reading is language, it seems crucial to ask to what extent the act of reading is a discursive process, to what extent it is linguistic. How can the trespassing of the limits of languages contribute to shaping and delimiting a ‘reading encounter’ (Wilson 1996) and its political value? The question becomes especially interesting when applied to the identity narratives, such as the ‘queer identity’ – a term which, problematic in itself, in this case embraces more than one linguistic, cultural and temporal dimension.

In the present talk I will discuss the subversive potential of multilingualism in Maria-Mercè Marçal's La Passió Segons Renée Vivien, a novel written in Catalan, which adopts the form of a false translation from French. It is also a fictional biography – it tells the story of the literary and romantic relationship between Renée Vivien, or Pauline Mary Tarn, and Natalie Barney, both of whom were born in countries of English expression, lived in Paris and wrote in French by the end of the ninetieth century, their literature being heavily influenced by the fractured and fragmentary legend of Sappho. I will take a special look at the ways in which Marçal metaphorizes lesbian and gender non-binary subjects as foreigners or speakers of a different language in their countries of origin, as well as what linguistic tools the author applies to “translate” the novel's plot into the Catalan context.


The Complex Construction of Multilingual Identity: Exploring the dynamics between self and context in the process of L3 acquisition in four European sites

Harper Staples

The connection between identity and language use is essential to an experience of being human; our very sense of who we are, where we belong and why, and how we relate to those around us, “all have language at their centre” (Joseph, 2010, p.9). Language therefore provides fertile ground for the construction and negotiation of an individual’s sense of self. The domain of foreign language learning is therefore a particularly interesting context for an exploration of identity development; as Taylor et al. (2013, p.4) suggest, learning a new language “is sometimes said to mean learning a new identity”.

While second and multi-language acquisition, in general, share a similar process, discrepancies exist in the ways in which a student may learn a third language, and these differences are being increasingly recognised in research. A multilingual repertoire must negotiate complex change as language competencies dynamically evolve; moreover, this process will vary according the influencing contextual factors attributed to a unique learner (Jessner, 2008). The development of a plurilingual identity must therefore contend with an array of potential challenges specific to the individual in question; indeed, multilingualism can be argued to be “a self- ascribed culturally and linguistically plural identification” (Oliveira & Ançã, 2009, p.405).

Moreover, as a necessary outcome of today’s globalising reality, current views of multilingualism hold that it no longer represents the exception, but rather the rule (Cenoz & Jessner, 2009). As such, the acquisition of a third language now represents a common experience for many students, and therefore represents a key area of inquiry in the domain of FL learner identity.

This PhD project therefore aims to explore this phenomenon via a mixed-methods, comparative case study approach at school sites based in Finland, France, Wales & England. Does a developing multilingual identity display features attributable to a certain facet of the learner’s social self? If so, are these patterns generalizable across all four learning contexts?

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MEITS PhD students Aleksandra Goclawska & Harper Staples

13:00 - 14:30


GR04, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, 9 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP

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