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2017 Conference - Heteroglossia: A Linguistic Ethnography Approach
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In this presentation we propose an approach to the investigation of social life which acknowledges and engages with the changing nature of complex societies. We will argue that Linguistic Ethnography is particularly well equipped to contribute to the generation of knowledge about social diversity when it is deployed in conjunction with the notion of ‘heteroglossia’. Heteroglossia is a term developed from the work of Russian literary scholar and language philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, and refers to the simultaneous use of different kinds of forms or signs, and the tensions and conflicts among those signs. Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia also gives us analytical purchase on the notions of ‘indexicality’ and ‘voice’. We will exemplify key points in the discussion with reference to an ongoing multi-site linguistic ethnography across sixteen sites in four cities in the UK. We will suggest implications of a focus on heteroglossia in the investigation of complex societies, and we will propose future directions in this research programme. A heteroglossic analysis allows us to make visible the affordances gained through the deployment of specific signs at particular times in certain places. Furthermore, such an analysis asks how multiple voices are represented. The linguistic diversity of these signs, and of these voices, indexes social diversity. There may be much to learn from adopting a heteroglossic lens through which to examine language practices, to ensure that we bring into play voices which index speakers’ localities, social histories, circumstances, and identities. A heteroglossic orientation to communicative practice extends our knowledge of linguistic diversity, and as a consequence expands our understanding of social diversity.

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