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Realist Social Theory and Multilingualism in Europe

Bob Carter and Alison Sealey

Abstract

This paper outlines a theoretical approach to multilingualism in Europe that draws on recent work in realist social theory (RST). It sets out the key concepts of culture, structure and agency, and develops a view of language as a cultural emergent property – that is, as an outcome of the dynamic interplay between these ontological components of the world. The paper provides an indication of the relevance of these ideas for language policy and planning in Europe and explores the methodological implications of our particular account of RST. It also provides an introduction to the subsequent papers, which discuss empirical examples of various European contexts where multilingualism is a feature.

Zusammenfassung

Dieser Beitrag entwirft einen Ansatz zur Analyse von Mehrsprachigkeit in Europa im Licht neuer Entwicklungen der Realist Social Theory (RST). Er bestimmt die Kernbegriffe Kultur, Struktur und Handeln und zeigt Sprache als emergentes Ergebnis des dynamischen Zusammenspiels dieser ontologischen Grundgrößen der Welt. Deutlich werden die Bedeutung eines solchen Ansatzes für die Sprachenpolitik und -planung in Europa; deutlich wird aber auch, was ein RST-Ansatz methodologisch voraussetzt. Schließlich führt der Beitrag in die weiteren Beiträge des Hefts ein, die Fallstudien von Mehrsprachigkeit in Europa aus dem Blickwinkel von RST diskutieren.

Résumé

Cet article propose une approche théorique du plurilinguisme en Europe qui se base sur les développements récents de la Théorie sociale réaliste (TSR). Il définit les concepts majeurs de culture, de structure et d’agentivité et affirme une conception du langage comme propriété culturelle émergente, c’est-à-dire comme le résultat de la dynamique dialectique articulant ces dimensions ontologiques (i.e. culture, structure et agentivité). A ce titre, l’article milite en faveur de la pertinence cette perspective pour les politiques linguistiques et leur planification en Europe au même titre qu’il en questionne les implications méthodologiques pour la TSR. Enfin, il fait office de cadre introductif aux autres articles plus axés sur des études de cas de différents contextes européens dans lesquels le plurilinguisme joue un rôle.

Acknowledgements

We should like to thank the editors, three anonymous reviewers and our fellow contributors for constructive comments on an earlier version of this article.

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Published Online: 2015-3-10
Published in Print: 2015-3-1

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