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Language, Community, Identity

Joint British Academy/Philological Society panel discussion, held on 11 May 2012 (venue: The British Academy).

Chaired by Professor Peter Trudgill FBA

Language is central to our sense of our own and others’ identity and value. The way we speak – or react to others speaking – is profoundly influenced by our (conscious or unconscious) desire to express allegiance to (or distance from) communal groupings based on nationality, region, class, gender, age, religion or occupation. The existence of these groups creates a multi-dimensional social context which demands remarkable multi-lingual adroitness on the part of language-users, since we are all members of several communities simultaneously, yet their speech codes may differ widely and their values may be in active conflict. How did the differences arise? How are the conflicts resolved? How far does language enable individuals and communities to create, maintain and harmonise their identities? Or was George Bernard Shaw right to claim that ‘it is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him’?

In this panel discussion, co-sponsored by the Philological Society and the British Academy’s Languages and Quantitative Skills Programme (LQS), the findings of recent research will be reviewed and debated by a panel of distinguished sociolinguists, chaired by Professor Peter Trudgill FBA (Agder University) and including Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett (University of Cambridge), Professor Jenny Chesher FBA (Queen Mary, University of London), Dr Devyani Sharma (Queen Mary, University of London) and Professor Dennis Preston (Oklahoma State University)

Question 1: How do you study 'language, community and identity'?

Question 2: What role do identity and community play in language change?

Question 3: To what extent are different linguistic levels (phonetics, phonology, syntax, etc) important for identity and community?