IMLR in multi-million pound research bid to demonstrate global value of modern languages

Tuesday 22 March 2016

How can modern languages make our lives better? It’s the theme running through a major new research project in which the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, will play a central role.

The brief is to investigate the impact of modern languages learning on contemporary issues such as social cohesion, migration, business and diplomacy. ‘Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community’, is one of four interdisciplinary projects to be given funding under the £3.9 million Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Open World Research Initiative (OWRI).

It will be run by a consortium of three core partner institutions – the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) and the University of Durham led by the University Manchester. The four-year programme, which seeks to have a significant impact on the study of modern languages in the UK, will develop transformative new ways of understanding the relationship between language and community.

Professor Catherine Davies, IMLR’s director and professor of Hispanic and Latin American Studies, says: ‘This is a one-off opportunity for modern languages researchers to make the case that the UK cannot operate in a global economy without a deep understanding of other languages and cultures. Modern languages researchers have this knowledge and expertise. We have government funding. Let’s work together to prove our point, to use our skills to create a better world.

Led by Professor Stephen Hutchings (University of Manchester), the new programme has three interconnected research strands – translingual, which is led by Professor Davies, multilingual (Professor Yaron Matras University of Manchester) and transnational (Dr Andy Byford and Professor Anoush Ehteshami, Durham University). Working closely with national and international colleagues and a range of non-academic organisations - from sixth-form colleges and local councils to arts institutions, cultural diplomacy networks and foreign-policy think tanks - they will concentrate on a number of community languages, primarily Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese and German.

The School of Advanced Study’s team includes Dr Godela Weiss-Sussex, Dr Katia Pizzi, Dr Paul Archbold and Professor Jane Winters, SAS’s new chair in digital humanities. Their research will use case studies to focus on translingual communities, questioning language’s importance in community formation and cultural activity.

Collaborating universities include East Anglia, Edinburgh, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Humboldt, Leeds, Maribor, MMU, Oxford, Queen Mary, Salamanca, SOAS, Swansea and the University of the South (Argentina). And core non-academic partners include big hitters such as Southwark Council, the Royal Opera House, the British Library, the Cervantes Institute, German Embassy, Goethe Institute and language-learning software publisher Rosetta Stone. 

Professor Roger Kain, CBE, FBA, dean and chief executive of SAS said: ‘The brief for the Open World Research Initiative asks us to consider what opportunities exposure to other cultures and languages could provide - increased job prospects, feeling more comfortable visiting other countries and building our self-confidence in communicating with other people in our day-to-day lives. And we know this is true. That is why we at the School of Advanced Study and the Institute of Modern Languages Research are delighted to be part of such an important project that will not only reshape modern languages research, but will raise its profile and visibility.’

OWRI’s chair Professor Michael Worton, CBE, says the aim of the initiative is to ‘transform the discipline of modern languages and to find a new voice, a new vision and, above all, a new identity for languages. The challenge for each of the successful 4-year projects is to achieve all this through research which is more radically interdisciplinary than hitherto and more imaginatively collaborative with dynamic partnerships with other universities, with schools and, crucially, with non-academic organisations in the UK and abroad. The transformations which they envisage should change the place and profile of languages in universities and, more broadly, should help us all better to understand why languages matter so very much today.’

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Notes for editors:

1. For further information please contact Maureen McTaggart at the School of Advanced Study, University of London at / 020 7862 8653. Images available on request.

2. The Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) was established in 2004 through a merger of the Institute of Germanic Studies and the Institute of Romance Studies, founded in 1950 and 1989 respectively. Until August 2013, IMLR was known as the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies when it was renamed to emphasise its national research role and to embrace its wider remit. The Institute is committed to facilitating, initiating and promoting dialogue and research for the Modern Languages community.

3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London  is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2014-15, SAS: welcomed 805 research fellows and associates; held 2,073 research dissemination events; received 23.1 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 213,456 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews

4. The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University is recognised globally as a world leader in Higher Education. Its members are 18 self-governing institutions of outstanding reputation, together with a number of prestigious central academic bodies and activities. Learn more about the University of London at

5. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology. digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. Contact Danielle Moore-Chick, AHRC: 01793 41 6021 /, for further information.