The theme

The role of language use in creating plural social settings today : a challenge for applied linguistics

Contemporary societies find themselves in a situation where they are confronted with realities and processes which are by their very nature in opposition to each other: regionalisation vs globalisation, diversity vs uniformity, normalisation vs deregulation. In language use or in attitudes towards languages and speech, these tensions manifest themselves, for example, by reversion to dialects vs acceptance of the illusion of a lingua franca; purism vs a mixture of languages and “lects” (socio-, dialects); a representation of monolingual practice vs a representation of plurilingual practice.

Applied linguistics considers itself to be action-oriented linguistics. As such, it investigates complex modalities, for example, whereby those who speak or write intervene as actors in creating social settings. These settings include education and training, the media, politics and health care, as well as the economy, law and scientific research.

The aim of this thematic and interdisciplinary conference in Lausanne is to explore this situation of tension which language use contributes to initiate, maintain, maximise or minimise. Not only does this colloquium aim at identifying and describing the locations and modalities of expression in these settings – perhaps deconstructing them – but also at debating compromises and solutions which would enable us to manage these settings in terms of language.

There are a number of questions we can ask ourselves. For example, which modes involved in fixing these modalities are given preference in these situations of tension, which social and discursive practices? How do the latter favour or prevent a means of participation in the social, economic or political world? Which discursive forms of mediation should be considered: intercultural, political, economic, legal, media-related? Which new discursive forms, either mixed or hybrid, can be imagined?

In order to contemplate such a line of questioning more precisely, the following seven thematic tracks can be considered. Each assumes, as a framework for reflection, that language use is rooted or fixed in a particular social setting:

  • 1. Language use in the field of education and training
    Language use contributes in an essential way to the construction of individuals and their knowledge, inscribed notably in the tension between individualisation and socialisation, between monolingual and plurilingual settings, between the necessity of being rooted locally and that of opening up to internationalisation (especially in higher education).

  • 2. Language use in the fields of media and politics
    Language use constitutes “media-related tension” between our mission as citizens to provide information on the one hand, and the commercial demands to sell on the other. It also constitutes “political tension” between collective, public identity and individual, private identity.

  • 3. Language use in the world of scientific research
    Language use in the scientific fields lies in the dual need for international competition and increased value of scientific cultures. This implies at the same time promoting a lingua franca in science and leaving space for other languages.

  • 4. Language use in the health care sector
    Language use in the area of health care organises a setting in which there is tension between the practices which serve to organise the workplace – those which are focused on the production of an internal order – and those which serve to communicate with the patients.

  • 5. Language use in the world of economics
    Language use at the heart of corporations today is subjected to two antagonistic demands: requiring it to respond to local needs while at the same time attempting to realising its ambition to open itself up to international markets.

  • 6. Language use in the field of law
    Language use in the law field has been transformed by the necessity to coordinate both national and international law at the same time. As a result, it is caught in the tension between specific rules and practices and standardised rules and practices.

  • 7. Language use in the field of new technologiesThe mutually opposing constraints of immediate communication and textual elaboration impact on language use in the field of new technologies. Moreover, the emergence of social networks has led to a rethinking of the opposition between private and public communication.

Conference participants are invited to submit a proposal according to the thematic track of their choice.

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