Ethnicity, Race and Racism Talk: Dr Mark Sebba

4th May 2011 - 1:00pm

Edge Hill University

‘Unimagined Communities: Print Languages, Prescription and Language Contact in Writing’

Dr Mark Sebba from Lancaster University presents a talk at Edge Hill University on Monday 4th May 2011 as part of the Ethnicity, Race and Racism series of events.

In Benedict Anderson’s (1983) notion of imagined communities, print languages have a central role in creating national consciousness, the ‘nationally imagined community’, by creating ‘unified fields of exchange and communication’, by giving language fixity, and by empowering certain dialects and vernaculars at the expense of others. This goes some way to explaining the dominant language ideologies of prescription, purism and – particularly – monolingualism which still pervade the writing practices of many or most societies.

Alongside the highly standardised monolingual texts which epitomise the monolingual nation-state, there are genres based on other models, where two or more languages may coexist, side by side, each making different contributions to the content of the text. Such multilingual texts, though less widespread than monolingual ones, are not uncommon yet they have been studied surprisingly little by linguists.

Recent developments in the study of multimodal semiotics have provided linguistics with some new tools for the analysis of such texts. In this presentation, Dr Sebba will give examples of multilingual texts of different genres – newspapers, advertising signs, web pages – from several contemporary societies. He will propose an analytical framework for such texts and suggest how they may be instrumental in forming previously ‘unimagined communities’ based on multilingual and multimodal literate practices.

Dr Mark Sebba has undertaken research on pidgin and creole languages, and bilingual communities. Through this work he developed an interest in in the Sociolinguistics of Orthography, a relatively unexplored field which examines the cultural and social aspects of spelling and writing systems. His most recent interest is in written bilingual and multilingual texts – magazines, websites, emails and other texts which contain a mixture of languages. He is the author of Spelling and Society: The Culture and Politics of Orthography Around the World (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

The talk takes place in Room M39 in the Main Building of the Ormskirk Campus and starts at 1pm. For more information, contact James Renton on 01695 657254 or email