Institute of Modern Languages Research success in AHRC’s Open World Research

Monday 21 March 2016

The School of Advanced Study’s Institute of Modern Languages Research (University of London) is a core contributor to one of four major research programmes that the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is funding as part of its Open World Research Initiative (OWRI). The IMLR’s researchers are part of a consortium, led by Professor Stephen Hutchings (University of Manchester), which has been awarded £3.9 million to develop a large interdisciplinary programme of research titled ‘Cross-language dynamics: reshaping community’.

The aim of AHRC’s multi-million pound investment in its priority area of modern languages is to explore and foreground the central role that languages play in relation to key contemporary issues, such as social cohesion, migration, health, business and diplomacy. The initiative seeks to have a significant impact on the study of modern languages in the UK.

‘The OWRI initiative aims to transform the discipline of modern languages and to find a new voice, a new vision and, above all, a new identity for languages,’ said the chair of the Open World Research Initiative Professor Michael Worton, CBE. ‘The challenge for each of the successful four-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 ‘Cross-language dynamics: reshaping community’ consortium is made up of three core partner institutions – University of Manchester, Durham University, and the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS). It includes collaboration with several universities, in the UK and abroad, as well as a wide range of non-academic organisations, from sixth-form colleges and local councils to arts institutions, cultural diplomacy networks and foreign-policy think tanks. Collaborating universities include East Anglia, Edinburgh, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Humboldt, Leeds, Maribor, Manchester Metropolitan, Oxford, Queen Mary, Salamanca, SOAS, Swansea and the University of the South (Argentina). Case studies concentrate principally on a number of community languages (primarily Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese and German).

Professor Stephen Hutchings, the project’s principal investigator, said: ‘We are delighted to have been awarded this grant, which we hope will strengthen community wellbeing and establish modern languages at the cutting-edge of humanities research more broadly. It aims to enhance the audience-building capacities of arts organisations, improve inter-community relations and deepen public understanding of the importance and complexity of language as a driver of community values.’

The consortium’s programme is structured into three interconnected research strands – the multilingual (led by Professor Yaron Matras University of Manchester), the translingual (led by Professor Catherine Davies, IMLR), and the transnational (co-led by Dr Andy Byford and Professor Anoush Ehteshami, Durham University). SAS’s team includes Dr Godela Weiss-Sussex, Dr Katia Pizzi and Dr Paul Archbold (IMLR) and Professor Jane Winters (SAS's chair in digital humanities). Post-doctoral and doctoral researchers will also form part of the team. Core non-academic partners with whom the SAS team will be collaborating particularly closely include Southwark Council, the Royal Opera House and the British Library. Other partner organisations include the Cervantes Institute, the German Embassy, the 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.'

SAS and IMLR-led research will focus on translingual communities, questioning language’s importance in community formation. Translingual communities transcend perceived language barriers by negotiating across and between languages and by maximising the community-creating potential of translanguaging, translation, multimodal communication and non-verbal or semi-verbal forms (music, visual culture, internet). 

Case studies will investigate:
• translingual and Europe: minority identities, nationhood and cultural memory
• translingual modernity: migration and global consumerism
• translating modernity: Europe and China
• virtual activism and communities of affect across linguacultures
• translingualism in contemporary opera, music theatre and film