our words make worlds

What We Do

Language Acts and Worldmaking argues that language is a material and historical force, not a transparent vehicle for thought. Language empowers us, by enabling us to construct our personal, local, transnational and spiritual identities; it can also constrain us, by carrying unexamined ideological baggage. This dialectical process we call ‘worldmaking’. If one language gives us a sense of place, of belonging, learning another helps us move across time and place, to encounter and experience other ways of being, other histories, other realities. Thus, our project challenges a widely held view about Modern Languages learning. While it is commonly accepted that languages are vital in our globalised world, it is too often assumed that language learning is merely a neutral instrument of globalisation—a commercialised skill set, one of those ‘transferable skills’ that are part of a humanities education. Yet Modern Languages learning is a unique form of cognition and critical engagement. Learning a language means recognising that the terms, concepts, beliefs and practices that are embedded in it possess a history, and that that history is shaped by encounters with other cultures and languages. To regenerate and transform Modern Languages research and learning we must foreground language’s power to shape how we live, and realise the potential of Modern Languages learning to open pathways between worlds past and present.

Transforming Modern Languages learning

Our project realises this potential by breaking down the standard disciplinary approaches that constrain Spanish and Portuguese within the boundaries of national literary and cultural traditions. We promote research that explores the vast multilingual and multicultural terrain constituted by the Hispanic and Lusophone worlds, with their global empires and contact zones in Europe, the Americas, and Africa. Understanding Iberia as both the originator and the product of global colonising movements places Iberian Studies on a comparative, transnational axis and emphasizes diasporic identities, historic postcolonial thinking, modern decolonial movements and transcultural exchange.

Our research follows six paths linked by an interest in the movement of peoples and languages across time and place. Travelling Concepts researches the stories and vocabularies that construct Iberia as a cultural crossroads, a border between East and West, a homeland for Jews, Muslims and Christians. We examine the ideological work performed by the cultural semantics Iberia, al-Andalus, and Sefarad in Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, German, Arabic, Hebrew and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), from the Middle Ages to the present, in Europe and beyond. Translation Acts turns to the theatrical narrative, investigating how words, as performed speech and embodied language create a world on stage. Through translation, we travel across time and space, interrogating the original words and bringing them to our time and place. This strand exploits theatre’s capacity to (re)generate known and imagined worlds. Digital Mediations examines the effects of digital, mobile and networked technology upon our concept of ‘global’ culture, and what kinds of ‘translation’ are enacted as information enters and leaves the digital sphere in the context of Hispanic and Lusophone cultures. Loaded Meanings demonstrates the centrality of historical linguistics to cultural understanding, by investigating the process and significance of the learned borrowings in Ibero-Romance. Such borrowings acquire 'loaded' meanings that reflect and shape people's attitudes and worldviews. The agents of language learning—teachers—are the focus of the fifth strand, Diasporic Identities and the Politics of Language Teaching. This strand analyses the life stories of native teachers of Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan to identify the vocabularies and narrative patterns that help them make sense of and interrogate their professional and personal identities as transnational cultural agents in the UK. Our sixth strand, Language Transitions, develops outreach work with Modern Language Centres, Routes into Languages, and Network for Languages London, targeting transitions—the border zones of learning.