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Sociolinguistics Symposium 19: Language and the City

Sociolinguistics Symposium 19

Freie Universität Berlin | August 21-24, 2012

Big Cities in the 21st Century – Portraits of Urban Linguistic Ecologies

Central Poster Session at the Sociolinguistics Symposium 19

In 2007, mankind passed an important demographic threshold: For the first time in history, more people lived in urban agglomerations than in rural settlements. Since social conditions and goals structure our communicative behaviour, linguistic performance necessarily reacts to changing social worlds. – What sociolinguistic realities do we find in the medialized, accelerated, multicultural cities and mega-cities of the 21st century? How do immigrant and resident languages interact? How do linguistic means contribute to the construction of social meaning in complex urban contexts? These are but a few of the challenging questions related to linguistic urbanicity.

William Labov’s seminal work Language in the Inner City (1972) arguably is the prime reference to show that cities have always been the scenarios of important sociolinguistic research. Nevertheless, in this tradition cities are treated primarily as local settings for particular studies on the social diversity of languages, but the relation between the social phenomenon urbanicity and linguistic variation and change has rarely been put to the centre of theoretical attention. The comparison of cities by the same sociolinguistic parameters should help to shed some light on this relation, since we hope to get insights into what is general for linguistic variation in urban contexts and what is particular to individual cities.

Since Labovˈs studies, several developments have changed sociolinguistic work and can contribute substantially to a theory of linguistic urbanicity. Some of the main concepts and methodologies of these developments will structure the contributions in order to make them comparable and ensure their connection to recent sociolinguistic theory building. First, the big demographic categories which formed the main co-variables in the beginning of quantitative sociolinguistics, like socio-economic class, gender and age, are being substituted by the more fine-grained concepts of social networks and communities of practice. Other important developments which we expect to help us understand the relation betwen urbanicity and linguistic variation and change are the concepts of linguistic ecology as well as the exploration of linguistic space as discussed in migration linguistics.

Put together, these concepts and perspectives form a powerful theoretical toolbox for the study of linguistic urbanicity and are thus the backbone of the five main topics to be adressed by the posters in this exhibition: geography, historical demography, linguistic diversity, functional distribution and social networks.

These posters will form the basis of articles to be included in a handbook that will be published by a major international publisher. The exhibition and the subsequent book are intended to provide the first global overview of language(s) in big cities in a unified handbook-style manner; they can thus serve as a point of departure for all future comparative work.

If you have any questions regarding this specific session, please contact the organizers, Horst Simon and/or Uli Reich.

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