Multilingualism in transformative spaces: contact and conviviality

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Peer-Reviewed Research


South Africa is a highly mobile country characterized by historical displacements and contemporary mobilities, both social and demographic. Getting to grips with diversity, dislocation, relocation and anomie, as well as pursuing aspirations of mobility, is part of people's daily experience that often takes place on the margins of conventional politics. A politics of conviviality is one such form of politics of the popular that emerges in contexts of rapid change, diversity, mobility, and the negotiation and mediation of complex affiliations and attachments. The questions in focus for this paper thus pertain to how forms of talk, born out of displacement, anomie and contact in the superdiverse contexts of South Africa, allow for the articulation of life-styles and aspirations that break with the historical faultlines of social and racial oppression. We first expand upon the idea of (marginal) linguistic practices as powerful mediations of political voice and agency, an idea that can be captured in the notion of linguistic citizenship, the rhetorical foundation of a politics of conviviality. We then move on to analyze the workings of linguistic citizenship in the multilingual practices of two distinct manifestations of popular culture, namely hip hop and a performance by a stand-up comedian in Mzoli's meat market in Gugulethu, Cape Town. The paper concludes with a general discussion on the implications for politics of multilingualism and language policy.