Language@Work

Currently in its initial stages – and with significant start-up funding from the University of Bern – this project aims to get inside the rich, diverse “working life” of language nowadays and to better understand the experiences of a range of contemporary wordsmiths or professional language workers. Nowadays, we find more and people doing work and being trained for work where wordsmithery is not only an essential skill for securing work but is also the very product of this work. Something to be bought and sold, something to be controlled and crafted. While sociolinguists and discourse analysts have paid close attention to certain working contexts increasingly restructured by a demand for language/s, applied linguistics and linguistic anthropologists have continued to devote a lot of attention to studying “workplace discourse”. But there have been two striking oversights: one the one hand, whole domains of otherwise explicit language work remain largely unexamined; one the other hand, workers and workplaces have consistently been treated as objects of study – as sites or texts to be analysed – rather than as sources of valid linguistic insight from which we might learn. With this in mind, Language@Work seeks to understand language from the perspective of – and in the words of – language workers themselves. The project therefore aims to consider not only new possibilities for scholarly understanding, but also to explore new ways for scholars to engage more reciprocally with “non-academic” language workers.

I first presented my ideas for this project in a keynote talk for the Finnish Association of Applied Linguistics (Turku, November 2013). The project was outlined further as part of an invited panel titled "Engaging the World of Language Workers" which I organized for the Sociolinguistics of Globalization conference (Hong Kong, June 2015). In January 2016, I will be hosting a "Wordsmiths Take 2" roundtable Bern which reconvenes the Hong Kong panel along with several additional speakers. An indicative publication arising from the project is: