International conference on Multilingual identity: interdisciplinary perspectives in Cambridge

Researchers from all over the world made the journey to Cambridge to contribute to the MEITS conference on multilingual identity from 11-13th September 2019.


As world-leading scholars took to the stage at Murray Edwards College to deliver keynotes, one delegate described the line-up of speakers as reading “like your favourite bibliography”! After an introduction from conference organisers Wendy Ayres-Bennett and Linda Fisher, Patricia Duff got us underway with a talk on multilingualism, globalisation and identity. Through five case studies she demonstrated the changing status of “Chinese” (in its various forms) and illustrated vividly the complexity of the relationships between “multilingualisms” and the identities they engender. Alastair Pennycook presented the second keynote exploring the connections between languages and cities in a talk entitled: “Metrolingual practices and distributed identities: people places, things and languages”. His fascinating argument here is that objects produce our identities and that the notion of distributed identity must include people, places and things.




The parallel sessions that followed were led by emerging and established scholars in settings as diverse as Japan, UAE, the US and Norway and focused on multilingual identities in higher education, schools, urban and rural communities. Our third keynote speaker, David Block, then led us into the evening sessions with his keynote on how higher education lecturers working within science and engineering disciplines negotiate their identities when working with English as the medium of instruction. The examples he chose were intriguing reminders that the self-positionings of each lecturer will vary, and not in ways we might expect, with regards to the demands of the new teaching context.



Having enjoyed a reception hosted by CUP the evening before, dinner at Murray Edwards on Thursday evening provided delegates with an opportunity for continued camaraderie and community building, before talks began early next morning.

This time we were honoured to have John Joseph present his talk on the geographical and cognitive mapping of multilingualism and identity, where he argued that we must recognise the extent to which all representations of multilingualism and identity are limited by the position of the person who does the representing.



Arising directly from their work on theorising and researching multilingual identity, Linda Fisher and the Strand 4 MEITS team presented their most recent findings on multilingual identity in school and referenced the teaching materials for developing learners’ multilingual identity in languages classrooms, available at

The final keynote of the morning was presented by Alison Phipps and addressed the problems of decolonising of languages in rural settings. This, at times moving, multimodal talk, some of which was delivered in te reo, the Māori language, called for a resistance to certain forms of knowledge and practice and a decreation of traditional ways of seeing and researching.



We were delighted that Bonny Norton could be in Cambridge to close the conference with a very well-attended public lecture on Friday 13th. Her talk on multilingual literacy and transnational identities drew on her global project, a digital resource providing reading materials in over 19 languages, which aims to promote literacy, reader identity and multilingualism.




The conference, organised by Linda Fisher and Wendy Ayres-Bennett, followed on from a workshop for a group of authors who will contribute to a book of the same name to be published by CUP in 2020. Look out for it!

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