Research Area 5: Media and Multiliteracy Studies
This RA focuses on the role of language as a system shaping cultural production and on the media as forms of cultural meaning-making, exploring the extent to which they influence and form what we see as ‘culture’. Especially when culture is conceived as a complex sign system (cf. the survey in Günthner/Linke 2006), language, with its highly complex semiotic mechanisms, is seen to interact directly with cultural formation processes. Another research focus is on digital media and foreign language learning and teaching. More specifically, this RA explores how language manifests itself, cognitively and technologically, in the cultural techniques of speaking, listening, reading and writing, and the complexities involved in their acquisition. The RA also takes into account that technological conditions are in a state of constant flux, and that this has consequences for how the techniques are practised. For instance, owing to the possibilities of loss-free, automatic reproduction, the ease of manipulation and the integration of different sign systems (multimodality), the digitisation of the media directly changes cultural products. Research into the acquisition of cultural competences – traditionally focused on language – has shifted to encompass the multimodality of social interaction (cf. the manifesto of the New London Group 1996). Discussions in this RA are currently revolving around linguistic approaches to the study of culture. As a result of these debates, a conference on “Corpus – Communication - Culture: Linguistics as Study of Culture” was held in November 2011, bringing together numerous distinguished scholars in this field. It focused on how linguistic and cultural perspectives can benefit from each other and open up new horizons for the respective research traditions. In the second funding period, RA 5 intends to focus on the development of a general model of semiotic approaches to culture from the viewpoint of linguistics, and to explore the role of the new media and multiliteracies as factors with far-reaching implications for the study of language and culture.
The key concept of this research area is the dual functions both of language and of the new media. Language is, on the one hand, a communicative instrument by means of which we refer to cultural entities in the process of verbal interaction; on the other hand, it is a vehicle of culture and a cultural product in and of itself. In a similar vein, the new media provide channels for communicative processes (leading, for example, to new forms of written speech in Internet-based communication), but also influence cultural processes and shape cultural entities (as the emergence of book-printing did in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries).
Interdisciplinary Approach In terms of the material dimension of culture, linguistic and medial forms and structures function as semantic systems and repositories of cultural entities. Issues of politics and education and their cultural relevance (for example, multilingualism in Europe), as well as their pedagogical implications (such as the use of digital media in e-learning scenarios), constitute the social dimension. The cognitive dimension refers to the description of language and media as vehicles of cultural identity (as in language contact situations). The activities in this research area foster an interdisciplinary approach to culture, language and the new media in which linguistics and research into the new media are interlinked to contribute to a better understanding of a wide range of relevant dynamic concepts, such as the evolution of scholarly communication as a specific and linguistically marked practice of encoding cultural knowledge, or the emergence of creolized genres in the World Wide Web.
Looking backIn July 2009, the Research Area "Language, Culture and the New Media" (RA5's name until Oct 2012) hosted the international conference Web as Culture. Ethnographic, Linguistic & Didactic Perspectives. This international symposium tackled the processes and practices of constructing and perpetuating memories, knowledge, language, social structures and cultural narratives in the World Wide Web.
Furthermore, the Research Area presented research-related activities at Justus Liebig University's Open Day on 20 October 2007: visitors were invited to join in for a game of scrabble on a huge Smartboard, linguistic corpora were made accessible to visitors so that visitors could generate their own concordances of English words in authentic and typical contexts, and the chances and problems of learning foreign languages with learning software were discussed by referring to video recordings of classroom interactions at German grammar schools.
Members of the research area were involved in the symposium "Norms in Educational Linguistics" (1.-2. September 2008). It brought together scholars from linguistics, language teaching and cultural studies to allow a comprehensive view on the concept of norms in Educational Linguistics.
In winter semester 2011/12, Research Area 5 organized the workshop "Corpus - Communication - Culture: Linguistics as Study of Culture" which took place on 4 November 2011, bringing together methodologies from linguistics and cultural studies. Currently, we are working on the publication of the findings of the workshop. Several guest talks and master classes were organized or supported by Research Area 5 over the last semesters. The next upcoming event will be the master class by David Nunan (Anaheim University) on "The Emergence of Identity: Reflective Narratives in Language Culture and Research" which will be held on 4 November, 14-1 (see below for more information).