Youth languages: the age of maturity?

On the 7th and 8th June, Françoise Gadet organized a two-day workshop at the Université Paris Nanterre as part of Strand 3 of the MEITS project. The event served as a moment to take stock of current research and debates in the field of ‘youth languages’, a term chosen as representative of lay commentary on language as it is used in contexts of urban multilingualism and multiculturalism, but which was problematized in a majority of contributions to the workshop. Indeed, the difficulties of terminological choices in this remained a constant in the event from its call for papers right through to the closing round table.

Six keynote speakers presented wide-ranging papers that touched on aspects of policy implementation, perception and mediatization, identity, racialization, language ideologies, as well as on theoretical issues. Paul Kerswill focussed on demography and identity in Multicultural London English (MLE) (For more on MLE, please see our policy paper here). Heike Wiese used specific examples from German Kiezdeutch to explore models of linguistic diversity, multilingualism and urban contact dialects in cities. Philippe Hambye took a more ethnographic approach toward the use of contemporary urban vernacular French in Belgian schools, focussing on style shifts and clearly defined moments of stance-taking in specific interactions. The second day of the workshop saw Maria Candea present media and academic discourses of a so-called ‘banlieue accent’, and their potential negative implications for essentializing conceptions of urban youth language practices in French. Bente Svendsen gave an overview of sociolinguistic approaches to urban speech with specific reference to Norwegian Kebabnorsk and pointed out future directions for research, stressing the need for diachronic studies. Jürgen Jaspers brought the discussion back to Belgian schools, this time addressing the role of teachers as agents in language policy implementation in Dutch-speaking schools in Brussels with multilingual student bodies.

Over the two days, other interventions brought in German youth practices in the digital domain, issues of pride in place, identity and dialect in Oslo Norwegian, outsider perceptions and the social meanings of urban vernacular French, the characteristics of an emergent syntactic feature of French in the Paris region, and translanguaging practices among Swedish-Finns across three cities in Sweden and Finland.

A final round table organised by Médéric Gasquet-Cyrus, tied together the diverse threads of enquiry, and assessed the extent to which the workshop had succeeded in addressing the questions posed in its call for papers. The event presented an opportunity for leading experts in urban contact varieties (or styles, or multiethnolects, or youth languages, or contemporary urban vernaculars etc.), as well as early career researchers in the field to come together for meaningful discussion representing a range of contexts across Europe, and a concentrated outworking of current issues. Lively and fruitful exchange took place both during the formal question and answer sessions and over the informal coffee breaks. It is expected that an edited volume will be produced as a result of the conference.

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