Sociolinguistics and the study of transient social configurations

Talk by Janus Mortensen (University of Copenhagen).


Sociolinguistic research is often concerned with the study of relatively well-established and more or less tightly circumscribed social configurations such as speech communities or communities of practice. Recently, however, sociolinguists of various stripes have increasingly begun to take an interest in more ephemeral social configurations in which individuals from a variety of backgrounds come together for a limited period of time, typically to engage in some form of shared activity. In such contexts, the existence of sedimented social and linguistic norms cannot be assumed to be in place a priori but must be explored as emergent phenomena developing in situ as a joint effort of the participants, in an interplay with the wider social context. In this talk, I draw on research conducted as part of the TMC project to explore what a focus on transient social configurations, transient multilingual communities in particular, has to offer sociolinguistics as the study of social worlds through language. I shall be making the case that the notion of transience is valuable as a complexifying heuristic that may prompt sociolinguists to ask new research questions and try out familiar questions in new contexts.