LINGUIST List 27.692

Fri Feb 05 2016

Confs: Anthropological Ling, Applied Ling, Discourse Analysis, Forensic Ling, Lang Acq, Socioling/UK

Editor for this issue: Ashley Parker <>

Date: 05-Feb-2016
From: Lisa McEntee-Atalianis <>
Subject: Migrants & Language(s)
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Migrants & Language(s)

Date: 21-Mar-2016 - 22-Mar-2016
Location: London, United Kingdom
Contact: Elena Zelibabkova
Contact Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics; Discourse Analysis; Forensic Linguistics; Language Acquisition; Sociolinguistics

Meeting Description:

The current migration crisis faces the UK and other countries with urgent issues within which language plays a significant role. These include for example: decisions about who gets refugee status, which depend partly on origin and may be determined on linguistic grounds; how to integrate migrant children in schools, and adults in employment, when they do not speak the host-country language well (or at all); how they are to communicate in hospitals, banks, with landlords and administrations. Less immediately obvious, but equally significant linguistic issues include:

- how politicians and the media construct discourses about migrants which affect how they are perceived
- the role of maintaining the migrants’ languages of origin in their integration process and sense of identity, and attrition of their mother tongues
- how the languages of origin impact on the host country, bringing in new linguistic skills but also potentially transforming the host country language: young people’s multicultural vernaculars are recognised by linguists as a significant source of language change

A public event and conference organized for March 21 and March 22 will bring together a range of experts on migration and linguistics and draw attention to the role played by language in this crisis. Although there are other research projects investigating migrants from a linguistic perspective they do not normally involve the participation of practitioners. The conference will address the particular responsibility of linguists to carry out and disseminate research which will enable policy-makers to take well-informed decisions affecting both the migrants’ futures and those of the host society.

Links for registration at one or both events are provided below:

The Language(s) and Migrants public event (March 21) booking form:

The Language(s) and Migrants Conference (March 22) booking form:


PUBLIC EVENT: 21 March 2016, 6-8pm
Title of Event: Migrants and Language(s): Issues arising from the current crisis
Location: Clore Lecture Theatre, Birkbeck, University of London

Introduction: Language and the Refugee Crisis
Penelope Gardner-Chloros and Lisa McEntee-Atalianis
(Birkbeck, University of London)

18.15-18.30 European Perspectives on Promoting Multilingualism & Their Relevance in the Current Migrant Crisis
Guus Extra (Tilburg University)

The constellation of languages in Europe functions as a descending hierarchy with the following ranking:

- English as “lingua franca” for transnational communication
- National or “official state” languages of European countries
- Regional minority (RM) languages across Europe
- Immigrant minority (IM) languages across Europe

Whereas the national languages of the EU with English increasingly on top are celebrated most at the EU level, RM languages are celebrated less and IM languages least. IM languages are only marginally covered by EU language promotion programmes and - so far – are mainly considered in the context of provisions for learning the national languages of the “migrants’ countries of residence”. There is a great need for educational policies in Europe that take new realities of multilingualism into account. Against this background, the following topics will be addressed:

- The status of IM languages vs. RM languages in Europe
- The current migrant crisis from the perspective of EU policy makers vs. asylum-seekers

How (well) does language-testing of asylum seekers work?
Peter Patrick, (University of Essex)

The UK, plus a dozen other countries around the world, relies partly on language testing to assess whether to grant asylum – usually for people without documents, claiming to originate from a handful of high-volume source countries. This testing is based on what an asylum seeker claims as their native language – e.g. if they claim to natively speak a Syrian Arabic dialect, they are tested to determine if their speech matches what is known about Syrian Arabic. Some key questions about this process include:

- What sort of knowledge about language is needed for testing to be valid and reliable?
- How accurate is it? (How) Can procedures be improved to make it more accurate?
- Do some countries/procedures do a better job than others? Why?
- Are some languages more difficult to test than others? Why?
- Do such differences make it unfair to base asylum decisions on language testing?

As a linguistic expert who has evaluated 75+ government tests in a dozen languages, researched language testing in asylum cases, and convened meetings of people on all sides of the debate, Prof. Peter L. Patrick will give a view, and take questions, about the value of language testing for asylum decisions.

''Stop calling it a crisis!'' said the linguist
Sofia Ali (Language and Literacy Consultant)

The integration of migrant children into UK schools is not a new phenomenon, much has been written about how schools and local authorities can address this in a uniformly positive way. Government policy with regard to provision for English as an additional language (EAL) can be traced from the introduction of Section 11 (of the local Government Act) in 1966, when specialised funding was first introduced, to April 2012 when the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant (EMAG) stopped being ring-fenced and schools were no longer required to spend the funding on EAL learners or ethnic minority pupils at risk of underachievement. The end of EMAG, cuts to local authority EMA services, and the absence of any government guidelines on how to manage the integration of EAL pupils in our schools has led to a diversity of practice across the UK. This short presentation will highlight some of the issues faced by schools and will argue that creating a language rich, multilingual, inclusive school environment is not only beneficial to all pupils but to wider society in general. I argue that the current mass movement of people across the globe and the arrival in the UK and other countries of children and young people who have English as an additional language (EAL) can be seen not as a crisis but an opportunity which we should embrace.

Understanding the language learning needs of Syrian refugees: experience from Syria's neighbours
Tony Capstick (University of Reading)

This talk provides an overview of the language context in Syria with a specific focus on the languages used in education. The first part of the talk explores the language learning that goes on in schools and at homes in Syria. Both spoken and written language practices will be discussed with reference to specific domains and locations in rural and urban areas. The second part of the talk looks in greater detail at family life and the role of language in the individual accounts given by refugees currently living in the neighbouring countries to Syria: Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Northern Iraq, Kurdistan. The findings draw on recent interviews and classroom observations carried out in the region during the winter of 2015/16. The findings are part of a British Council research project which seeks to identify how language use and language learning help refugees enhance their resilience during the crisis. By taking an ethnographic approach to the research, the talk aims to illuminate the discussion about the future for refugees from Syria by drawing on first-hand accounts of Syrians living in the four countries.

Migration & Characterisation: How UK Newspapers Narrate Migrant Groups and Why it Matters for Public Perceptions
William Allen (Oxford University)

Social scientific studies identify at least three key components of narratives: characters, plots or series of events, and a ‘moral’ or point to the story that is rarely explicitly stated. This paper explores how British national newspapers have characterised migrant groups since 2006, using corpus linguistic methods. It focuses attention on adjectives and verbs associated with mentions of ‘immigrants’ to identify patterns over time. Then, it links the analysis to ideas in political psychology about how members of the public build images of ‘who’ immigrants are—and what they supposedly do. Finally, it argues that mass media provide crucial sources of information that mediate public perceptions about immigrants (the group) and immigration (the issue). This opens up future research to questions about which kinds of narratives in media as well as civil society might be more ‘effective’.

Questions & Discussion

CONFERENCE: 22 March 2016, 9.30-5.30pm
Title of Event: Migrants and Language(s)
Location: Room 101, 30 Russell Square, Birkbeck, University of London

Objectives of Conference:

Our aim is to respond, as linguists, to the challenges posed by the current migrant crisis in Europe:
- by raising awareness of the linguistic aspects of the current crisis
- by discussing these issues with specialists in a 1-day conference
- by defining the type of research which linguists could engage in so as to contribute to effective policies for these groups.

Conference Programme: Migrants and Languages

Welcome and Introduction (L. McEntee-Atalianis & P. Gardner-Chloros)

A Political Contextualisation of the Current Migrant Crisis Eric Kaufman (Birkbeck, University of London)

This paper examines the causes and consequences of the Migrant Crisis. It sets the scene by outlining previous refugee crises, the war in Syria and ideas around the drivers of mass migration. It then goes on to consider the challenge that the Migrant Crises posed, and poses, for The European Union and individual member states.

The Constellation of Languages in Europe: Comparative Perspectives on Immigrant and Regional Minority Languages
Guus Extra (University of Tilburg)

The constellation of languages in Europe functions as a descending hierarchy with the following ranking:
- English as “lingua franca” for transnational communication
- National or “official state” languages of European countries
- Regional minority (RM) languages across Europe
- Immigrant minority (IM) languages across Europe

Whereas the national languages of the EU with English increasingly on top are celebrated most at the EU level, RM languages are celebrated less and IM languages least. IM languages are only marginally covered by EU language promotion programmes and - so far – are mainly considered in the context of provisions for learning the national languages of the “migrants’ countries of residence”. There is a great need for educational policies in Europe that take new realities of multilingualism into account.

Against this background, the following topics will be addressed:

- The role of language in identifying diversity of population groups
- The status of IM languages vs. RM languages: conceptual similarities and differences
- EU policies on promoting multilingualism in Europe and their relevance to the current migration crisis

10.45-11.15 Coffee

Expertise in Language Analysis for the Determination of Origin
Peter Patrick (University of Essex)

Language Analysis for Determination of Origin (LADO) is a recent application of linguistics to institutional, forensic and/or political contexts, used by governments in processing asylum seekers who are applying for refugee status. As part of testing their claim to come from a certain nation, region or group, some asylum applicants are interviewed by government agencies or commercial contractors seeking to ascertain whether they natively speak the language of a group they say they belong to. Many linguists and some judges have been critical about the standard of expertise used in these cases: Can language testing be done validly and reliably? For which sorts of cases? Are governments employing a useful tool, or paying for ''bad science''? I will focus on developments in the UK, including a 2014 Supreme Court case (in which I was consulted) which promises to raise standards for the use of linguistic evidence in asylum cases.

Politics, pedagogy and protest: teaching English to migrants in the UK
Melanie Cooke (King’s College, University of London)

Migrants to the UK are regularly exhorted to acquire competence in English in the name of community cohesion, integration and better citizenship and the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) sector is increasingly influenced by government driven curricula. At the same time, though, provision is subject to savage public spending cuts. In this talk I will discuss this and other tensions in the sector before focusing on teachers and learners themselves. Some of the questions I will raise are: what exactly are the English language learning needs of migrants? How are these addressed in formal language classes? What versions of Britain are transmitted during ESOL instruction? And, finally, drawing on my own research I ask: how do teachers mediate between their students and the official curricula of the state?

New Arrivals: family communication, literacy and identity
Raymonde Sneddon (University of East London)

When families with young children first arrive in the UK, whether as new migrants or asylum seekers, their immediate focus is on survival in the new environment. While keen for their children to learn English as soon as possible, families are unprepared for how quickly children lose the active use of the family language once they start school and the resultant breakdown in family communication. The presentation will explore the role of community organisations and complementary schools, working in partnership with mainstream schools, to both maintain and develop children’s language and literacy skills as well as strategies for teaching literacy that help children develop confident personal identities.

12.45-1.45pm Lunch

Tracing the Migrant Voice in UK Print Media
Colleen Cotter (Queen Mary, University of London) & Lisa McEntee-Atalianis (Birkbeck, University of London)

Recent critical studies of news discourse have investigated the power of the media to construct and propagate myths about migrants, often delegitimising their status and negatively influencing public ideology. Within articles the voice of the migrant is frequently silenced however traces can be found in some news stories. In this paper we uncover the rhetorical function and the discursive and linguistic realisation of the migrant ‘voice’ in UK print media, focusing our analysis on direct and indirect (reported) speech, using a corpus of data gathered over a 12 month period (2015-16). We aim to analyse:
- the identity of the agents who are given voice by the journalists;
- how and why direct and reported speech is used, including its role as for example, a stance-taking device in the construction of the agent and their story, and
- how direct/indirect speech functions as an argumentative device in news discourse (e.g. as an epistemic evidential or affective marker) in order to lend accountability and authority to the reporting, and engender audience alignment with the news story.

Migrant & host country languages: Interaction and Possible Outcomes
Jacomine Nortier (Utrecht University) & Penelope
Gardner-Chloros (Birkbeck, University of London)

One of the issues of specific interest to linguists as an outcome of the current refugee influx is the effect of contact between migrant and host languages. The outcome of language contact can vary enormously – from crossing and code-switching to borrowing, grammatical change, the emergence of new vernaculars or contact varieties or even language death - as when Irish Gaelic speakers emigrated to the USA. In this paper we review some of the factors relevant in the present circumstances and discuss possible outcomes, using comparable examples from European settings where the results of contact have been studied, such as studies in London and Paris and among migrant groups in the Netherlands. We emphasize two aspects: (1) the variation within these populations, even when they come from the same country, in terms of language background, educational level and need for language instruction in the local language; (2) the role of relations with existing communities with the same origin, and with the communities ‘back home’ and worldwide, which have increased in significance thanks to social media. The paper takes the form of a dialogue or mini-debate between the two authors. One will argue that the influence will be all one-way: migrants will take over or even absorb standard languages from the host communities while their languages won’t influence host languages. The other will argue that various effects on the host country languages will be felt, for example through the development of youth vernaculars. An essential element will be to place the current influx in Europe in the context of previous comparable arrivals of large groups with similar language backgrounds.

Language, Mobility, and Citizenship: Ideologies and Institutional Practices
Melissa Moyer (UAB, Barcelona)

Mobility –including the recent arrival of refugees to Europe- constitutes a challenge for traditional ways of understanding citizenship that is defined by nation-states as a relatively homogeneous entity that includes persons who share a language, culture and a common worldview (Castles and Davidson 2000). The ideological underpinnings of this view of citizenship do not easily incorporate the multiple identities, languages, and transnational connections that migrants and refugees bring with them to their new country of residence. A careful examination of the language practices in a public health clinic attending recently arrived migrants (Moyer 2013) illustrates how institutional ways of thinking and acting (re)produce social exclusion and racism. This example intends to contribute to current debates about nation state stances on refugees and how legitimacy as a citizen is being constructed and the important role of language and multilingualism in this debate.

3.15-3.45pm Tea

The changing languages of migrants
Monika Schmid (University of Essex)

It is often assumed that knowledge is the one possession which is safe in situations of persecution or migration – it cannot be disappropriated or taxed, it does not have to fit into limited luggage and it can be easily transported across any border. And, in this context, what could be more stable and reliable than knowledge of one’s own native language?

This talk will demonstrate that the knowledge of a first language, even for healthy speakers, may to some extent be changeable for long-term migrants. I will present evidence that shows that, after a decade or longer of life in a new country and a different linguistic environment, native speakers of a language can no longer reliably be differentiated from non-natives who have learned that language later in life. I will illustrate some of the phenomena that regularly occur in languages that are undergoing such a process of change and deterioration (referred to as ‘language attrition’), and discuss these findings in light of their political implications.

The Council of Europe Project on the Linguistic Integration of Adult Migrants (LIAM)
Presentation by Prof David Little (Trinity College, Dublin & member of LIAM).

Summary and Discussion led by Nikos Gogonas (Luxembourg University)

5.00-5.30pm Refreshments

Page Updated: 05-Feb-2016