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Multilingualism seminar

‘Multilingual Mirth’ / New Speaker Paradigm in the Study of Language History

1 June 2017, 13:00 – 14:30

Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, Room SR24

Multilingual Mirth: Communicating the Comic in Catalonia

by Dr Rhiannon McGlade

Although humour continues to be undervalued as a media form worthy of academic attention, the fact that it typically comprises an overall message built on multi-layered encoded meaning, often requiring several unpacking phases, is evidence that it is in reality a complex form of communication that benefits from careful consideration. Moreover, since humour relies on shared or recognisable perceptions and messages in order to be decoded or understood, its position in culture serves as an innovative source to gauge extant social perceptions and attitudes. In particular, its intricate relationship with identity construction offers a wealth of sociological and philosophical food for thought.

One aspect of the field that remains relatively unexplored is the unique locus of humour in a multilingual context; both in the sense of the presence of multiple languages as a tool for constructing humour and as a subject of the humour itself. In light of this, the present talk applies an interdisciplinary critical lens to the cultural case of Catalonia – a region in which there is both a strong tradition for humour and where the polemic surrounding language, status and identity has raged for centuries.


New Speaker Paradigm in the Study of Language History: Florentines and Learners in Early Modern Italy

by Eleonora Serra

Can the ‘new speaker’ lens provide useful insights into the study of language history? In this paper, I try to answer this question by exploring the dynamics which arose between Florentines and non-Florentines in sixteenth-century Italy. At the time, the political fragmentation was reflected linguistically in a multiplicity of dialects spoken across the peninsula; however, largely due to the influence of the Venetian printing press, the written language came to be progressively standardised around an archaic variety of Florentine (the fourteenth-century dialect used by Dante and Boccaccio). Florentines, at an initial stage, had no active role in this process. Indeed, their own language had undergone radical changes, and was therefore substantially different from the newly promoted written variety. Literary Florentine was living an autonomous life, becoming a ‘learner’ variety progressively influenced by its new users. On the other hand, the overtly negative attitudes of Florentine writers towards a variety which they criticised as less authentic meant that, more often than not, they would prefer contemporary forms to fourteenth-century ones. However, Florentines too were not immune to the influence of the newly emerging standard – an influence which grew stronger as the century progressed. The dynamics which arose between Florentines and learners in this context appear similar to the ones which exist between ‘traditional’ linguistic minorities and new speakers in some present-day revitalisation contexts. I argue that the new speaker lens, mainly employed in the field of endangered languages, may be fruitfully extended to historical sociolinguistics: it can be valuable for capturing the dynamics which originated between different groups during processes of language standardisation.

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Dr Rhiannon McGlade, MEITS Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Cambridge
Eleonora Serra, PhD student, Department of Italian, University of Cambridge

13:00 - 14:30


Room SR24, Faculty of English, 9 West Rd, Cambridge, CB3 9DP

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