zum Inhalt springen

LingCologne 2021: Multilingualism

Conference on the myth of monolingualism

Online conference | 10-11 June 2021

The LingCologne2021 conference highlights the ubiquity of multilingualism in our lives and around the world. In the language sciences, multilingualism is often still treated as a special phenomenon. This conference turns the assumption of the monolingual language user as the norm on its head by focusing on the centrality and importance of multilingualism in various contexts, providing insights into how historical, societal, and multimodal aspects shape different realms of multilingualism.

Although multilingualism has been around as long as human language has, the field is anything but clear: Many associated phenomena have not been sufficiently described nor explained, and further facts and insights are waiting to be explored. The workshop will address this issue, taking on different perspectives and putting realms of multilingualism in the crosshairs that are too often ignored. Four key areas will serve as a frame to zoom in on multilingualism:

  • Educational and Cognitive Perspectives
  • Institutional Settings
  • Interactional Practices
  • Diachronic Contexts

In these multilingual situations, the semiotic repertoires of language use become a vital notion, fundamentally including multimodality into the conception of multilingual communication (Kusters, Spotti, Swanwick & Tapio 2017). Our focus on multilingualism thus includes expression in the visual modality (notably signed language and gesture) as well as writing/text and drawing. The conference highlights the use of these repertoires across a range of domains and functions: supporting understanding and clarity of communication; supporting development and acquisition of language (L1, L2 and beyond); indexing linguistic registers and functions of language; stages of development of a language. Bringing together multilingualism and multimodality is desirable because research on multilingual communication often ignores multimodal communicative resources, while multimodality studies often ignore multilingual communication (Kusters et al. 2017). However, both fields focus on diverse semiotic repertoires and dynamic language practice, and thus there is a benefit of bringing the fields together. In particular, the language practices of signers (bilingual; constant negotiation of different linguistic repertoires in both hearing and deaf communities) can offer unique insight into use and negotiation of both multimodal and multilingual repertoires.

A central question is how individuals acquire and use two or more languages. These mechanisms will be examined in the section educational and cognitive perspectives of multilingualism. On the one hand, this issue pertains to aspects of educational success, language skills as well as teacher/educator training and professionalization. The educational success of children and students, for instance, is closely connected to their language proficiency. Findings from interdisciplinary language research in the interface between linguistics, didactics, psychology and educational science can be used to develop concepts, measures and tools for (multilingual) language development and improvement in education, thus promoting equal opportunities. We also focus on cognitive aspects of the acquisition and use of more than one language, looking in particular at the interplay and integration of information expressed in speech and gesture in the development of bilingual linguistic and conceptual representations.

The section institutional settings of multilingualism is focused on the fact that maintaining and fostering multilingualism on an individual and societal level requires institutional and political support. The European Union sets a good example: not only does it promote multilingualism of its citizens, but it operates on a multilingual basis itself, especially by its legal acts being equally authentic and legally binding in all of its 24 official languages (cf. Burr 2013) and legal interpretation taking all these versions into account. No version counts as original. This requires language versions of equal content (cf. Sobotta 2015) despite heterogeneous linguistic structures, both in grammar and lexicon, and despite heterogeneous legal systems. Developing linguistic instruments and training for legal professionals both in drafting and interpreting legal texts is a still largely unmet need and crucial in maintaining the multilingual set-up as a beacon tribute to the linguistic identity of its citizens. We address the issue of institutional and political support also in particular with respect to language planning and policy as related to the multilingual and multimodal practices of deaf signers (De Meulder, Werner & De Weerdt 2017). In the vast majority of cases, language rights for signers means access to information through interpretation and/or translation. This is very different from a conception of language rights that recognises the cultural and linguistic identity of language users as constitutive of these rights.

The section interactional practices of multilingualism will investigate how translanguaging actions give room for negotiation processes and crossing borders (Kusters et al. 2017). Within dyads or small groups, an individual may use their multilingual repertoire for mere communication, but, for instance, also for expressing their identity and values. In this context, special attention has also been paid to minority languages (Whynot 2016). Those often being associated with a different status in societies, what effect does this have for interactional practices of multilingualism on individual or community level? How do hybrid practices in education shape the multilingual repertoire of an individual? From language revitalization projects to heritage speakers to multilingual communities emerging through migration movements, the contexts and strategies of employing one’s language repertoire are diverse.

The section diachronic contexts of multilingualism seeks to investigate multilingualism from a historical comparative perspective, focusing in particular on multilingualism in ancient societies. Here, we focus on evidence of language contact phenomena and code-switching through an investigation of a large variety of different text types (e.g. inscriptions, documentary papyri, ostraca, curse tablets, wooden tables), including historic multilingual legal texts. For example, the documentary papyri attest the ancient Greek with an uninterrupted and direct tradition spanning more than a millennium (i.e. 4th cent. BC – 8th cent. CE). Moreover, they give us testimony of the coexistence of three different languages in Egypt (i.e. Egyptian, Greek and Latin). The language of specific social groups (e.g. language of the soldiers) and the cultural background of the scribe as well as of the people involved in the text are interesting topics to explore in the context of multilingualism in ancient societies.


Adams, J.N., Janse, M. & Swain, S., eds. (2002). Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Text. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Burr, I. (2013). Article 55 [Languages and Deposit of the Treaty]. In: Blanke, H.-J. & Mangiameli, S. (eds.): The Treaty on European Union (TEU). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. 1461-1525.

De Meulder, M.; Werner, E. & De Weerdt, D. (2017). Comparing Minority Languages – a Case Study of Flemish Sign Language and Upper Sorbian. Europäisches Journal für Minderheitenfragen, 3-4, pp. 285-321.

Hay, D. (2016). Multilingualism and equal rights in the EU: the role of sign languages. European Union of the Deaf, URL: https://www.eud.eu/news/multilingualism-and-equal-rights-eu-role-sign-languages/ (zuletzt aufgerufen am 30.7.2020)

Hufeisen, B. (2003). L1, L2, L3, L4, Lx – alle gleich? Linguistische, lernerinterne und lernerexterne Faktoren in Modellen zum multiplen Spracherwerb. Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht 8 (2/3), pp. 97-109. http://tujournals.ulb.tu-darmstadt.de/index.php/zif/article/view/537/513 (accessed 26.7.2020).

Kusters, A., Spotti, M., Swanwick, R. & Tapio, E. (2017). Beyond languages, beyond modalities: transforming the study of semiotic repertoires. International Journal of Multilingualism, 14 (3), pp. 219-232.

Leiwo, M., H. Hallaaho & Vierros M. (2012). Variation and Change in Greek and Latin. Papers and Monographs of the Finnish Institute at Athens 17. Helsinki: Foundation of the Finnish Institute at Athens.

Mullen, A. & James, P. (2012). Multilingualism in the Graeco-Roman Worlds. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sobotta, C. (2015). Die Mehrsprachigkeit als Herausforderung und Chance bei der Auslegung des Unionsrechts.Zeitschrift für Europäische Rechtslinguistik (ZERL) http://zerl.uni-koeln.de/sobotta-2015-mehrsprachigkeit-unionsrecht.html, URN of PDF and MP3: urn:nbn:de:hbz:38-75283.

Whynot, L. (2016). Understanding International Sign. A Sociolinguistic Study. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press.