The poetic function of language in intercultural education

Talk by professor emerita Claire Kramsch (UC Berkeley) in the Digital series of talks on plurilingualism and interculturality.

Digital capitalism has transformed the meaning of language from an entry point into different ways of speaking, thinking, and living to a flat landscape of total equivalences and total translatability between languages. This paper revisits Jakobson’s poetic function of language and principle of equivalence (Jakobson 1960) in light of the recent developments in machine translation and in the digital “Cross-linguistic information retrieval platforms" (CLIR) developed between 1997-2016 mentioned in Gramling (2021). I will argue that the three savoirs that in Byram’s model pertain to language competence: savoir, savoir faire and savoir comprendre are rapidly being resignified by a view  of language as commodity or tool,  and communication as the efficient transmission of information. Such a resignification affects also the two other savoirs: savoir s’engager and savoir être which are in danger of being reduced to sloganized activism and belief in the total translatability across languages respectively.  I compare “political education” (Byram 2021) and “translingual activism” (Pennycook 2010) and show how a focus on the poetic function of language could better prepare teachers to deal with these two dimensions of intercultural language teaching.

Claire Kramsch has kindly given permission to record her presentation and share her PowerPoint presentation.


Claire Kramsch (2020). Language as Symbolic Power. Cambridge University Press.

David Gramling (2021). The Invention of Multilingualism. Cambridge University Press.

David Gramling will discuss his recent book with series editors, Claire Kramsch and Zhu Hua, on Monday September 20 at 5:00 pm BST in a webinar. Please, register here.