May 21, 2003
Presenter: Philipp Angermeyer
Facilitator: Elizabeth Potamites
Philipp Angermeyer presented his dissertation research in linguistics.
Philipp gave a brief introduction to the ways linguists think about language, focusing in particular on language contact studies, an area of inquiry that is concerned with the linguistic and social consequences of multilingualism. The presentation and the ensuing discussion centered on several related questions: How does language contribute to the formation of social groups and what relationships exist between these groups? How do societies disadvantage or privilege individuals based on their language? How do multilingual speakers alternate between languages, and how do languages change as a result of these factors?
These questions all relate to Philipp's dissertation research on interpreting in New York small claims court, in which he investigates how immigrant litigants from a variety of linguistic backgrounds alternate between languages, speaking either through an interpreter or making use of their limited knowledge of English to communicate directly with court officials or with other litigants. Treating the courtroom interaction as emblematic of immigrants' encounters with English as the language of institutional power in the US, he seeks to analyze both the strategies that litigants use to be heard in court and the role that the interpreter plays as a mediator between languages, between cultures, and between the individual and the institution.
The Forum members discussed the ways in which these issues involving language are relevant to our various disciplines, drawing also on readings concerning the way English became the dominant international language of science, and the social, political and economic consequences that this has (Ammon 2001).
Reference: Ammon, U. (ed.) 2001. The dominance of English as a language of science: effects on other languages and language communities. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.