Performing Multilingualism in World Literatures: Aesthetics and Activism

20 - 22 September 2018
University of Oxford (Exeter College)


Drawing of books

Organisers: Prof Jane Hiddleston, Prof Wen-chin Ouyang, Dr Laura Lonsdale, Dr Nora Parr

OWRI Creative Multilingualism

Strand 5: Creativity and World Literature: Languages in Dialogue

Project Key Words and Key Concepts

Following on from the Multilingualisms in World Literatures Conference at SOAS (18 - 20 January 2018), this conference at the University of Oxford will foreground the ability of literature and related cultural forms actively to dramatize linguistic plurality and encounter.

The January conference highlights the ways in which writings of the long nineteenth century, and of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, can be conceived as a treasure trove of instances of linguistic and conceptual blending. These, we suggest, are not only visible in and traceable to the translation of major works of a single genre circulated from one language into another, but also in quotation, paraphrasing and the adaptation of small or large parts of a work, or even a system of knowledge. Even words designating objects or ideas quite often unravel the multilingual fabric of a language.

The conference in Oxford (20 - 22 September 2018) will build on these reflections, and explore the ways in which literary works display and juxtapose linguistic forms in order actively to perform or enact both a multilingual aesthetic vision and a potentially ethically or politically inflected exposition of the status and role of linguistic diversity.

‘Performing multilingualism’, construed as a challenge to linguistic hierarchies and as a testimony to the importance of linguistic diversity and malleability for freedom of expression and democracy, investigates the potential of literary and cultural works as sites or forums of dramatic experimentation and creative multilingualism, where languages can work as active and dynamic forces that combine, collide, intersect, and conflict.

The multilingual aesthetics emerging in these stagings of linguistic juxtaposition and interplay may at the same time serve to probe and develop theoretical conceptions of the relationship between multilingualism and monolingualism, and to expose the ways in which language users of all kinds are able to activate languages in such a way as challenge ideological assumptions around linguistic categories. The performance of multilingualism is further explored as a form of activism in contexts where the institutionalisation of monolingualism takes place at the expense of diverse and plural linguistic forms, dialects, and idiolects.

Research questions:

  1. How do world literatures dramatise the creative effects of multilingualism?
  1. What forms of linguistic interaction are staged in world literatures and related cultural production?
  1. How can the translation and transposition, lexical borrowing, the transfer of ideas, metaphors, idioms and idiolects be conceived as performances within literary and cultural production?
  1. How can multilingual performance impact on our conception of aesthetics?
  1. What are the structures and effects of multilingual creativity?
  1. What are the potential implications of multilingual aesthetics as forms of activism? What sorts of challenges can multilingual literatures and other forms of cultural production levy against the ideology of monolingualism?
  1. What are the ways in which the dramatization of creative multilingualism in literature and culture makes a plea for the preservation of minority languages, for freedom of expression within and between multiple languages? How can the dramatization of multilingualism contribute to demands for freedom of expression?

Abstracts of 250 words maximum should be sent to Dr Nora Parr ( by 15 April 2018.