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Creative Multilingualism (2016–2020) was a four-year research programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity.

The programme was funded by the AHRC's Open World Research Initiative.

Responding to the Modern Foreign Languages crisis

The research was being conducted in the context of an unprecedented crisis in language learning in UK schools, which is in turn undermining the health of Modern Languages departments in universities. The crisis has many causes, but the bigger picture is globalisation and the gradual rise of English. Native English speakers can now travel anywhere in the world and rely on getting by fairly comfortably with the global lingua franca in the main tourist centres. And the internet gives us the illusion that the world now speaks English. So the most obvious incentive for learning another language has disappeared over the last few decades.

Meanwhile – and somewhat paradoxically – school syllabuses for Modern Foreign Languages have focused more and more exclusively on the practical language skills, excluding those dimensions of language learning that go beyond their functional use.

Our research proceeded from the premise that there is more to languages than their practical benefits for communicative transactions. This is not just ‘added’ value. Languages are our key medium for self-expression, and as such they are at the heart of individual and collective cultural identity. That gives them immense creative potential which is fundamental to our lives as human beings and an invaluable resource in its own right, while also being inextricably connected with practical use.

Our research programme was designed to develop a new paradigm for Modern Languages that is predicated on the intrinsic connection between multilingualism and creativity. This has the potential for giving learners confidence in their innate ability as linguists, and it makes language learning lastingly rewarding. It also holds the key to establishing a common identity for the subject of Modern Languages across educational sectors.

Born linguists

British society perceives itself as monoglot, but nothing could be further from the truth: many schools teach pupils with some 100 languages between them, and many workplaces are veritable hubs of multilingualism. Nationally, this is an under-valued resource, not only economically but also educationally and culturally. One aspect that is under-valued is the creative potential of a linguistic diversity that interacts productively with cultural diversity.

Even those of us who grow up using only one language are born with the capability of using more than one, and we never completely lose that talent. In fact we deploy it routinely in our day-to-day lives as we move between different linguistic contexts at home, at work or at school, and in leisure pursuits. This involves a continuous process of creative adaptation. When using our language skills, we draw all the time on an individual creative capability that may also inspire us to experiment with language in monolingual or multilingual language play or poetry.

Rethinking Modern Languages from the ground up

The research programme directed the spotlight on the value of linguistic diversity, and it used creativity as the focus for rethinking that value. We looked in particular at the following questions:

  • How does multilingualism stimulate creativity?
  • What kinds of creativity are involved in multilingualism?
  • How do these different kinds of creativity manifest themselves in multilingual processes?

Our research involved researchers with collective expertise in over 40 languages. It was ambitiously interdisciplinary, providing us with a wide range of research methodologies and opening up a wealth of perspectives from which to gain an enhanced understanding of the creative dimension of linguistic diversity, and the contribution it makes to our creative potential as human beings.

Find out more...

What events has the research programme put on?

Who were the researchers conducting the research?

Which universities contributed to the research programme?

Who were the Partners in the programme?