Dr Godela Weiss-Sussex, Reader in Modern German Literature at the IMLR, describes the exciting launch of the OWRI project in Manchester
Monday 10 October saw the launch of the AHRC-funded Open World Research Initiative research project entitled ‘Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community’, led by the University of Manchester and partnered by Durham University and the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. And what a day it was! The genuine excitement of all the researchers was palpable, from the three core institutions, the nine satellite universities, and the representatives of the cultural institutions and civic initiatives supporting and complementing the work.
The aims set for this multi-strand project are ambitious: we hope to develop new models for understanding the relationship between language and communities and to raise awareness of the importance of language learning – in the words of the project leader, Professor Stephen Hutchings: ‘to position languages at the core of a changing world’. The leaders of the three main strands of enquiry outlined the vision and the agenda set for the four-year duration of the research programme:
The multilingual strand, led by Professor Yaron Matras (Manchester), will build on the hugely active and successful ‘Multilingual Manchester’ initiative, which has made great steps already towards making people understand that language variety is not divisive but, on the contrary, has the potential to bring people together in a celebration of diversity. Professor Matras and his team vow to continue their work of ‘eradicating people’s fear of linguistically diverse environments’.
The transnational strand at Durham which comprises, among others, highly complex and intriguing sub-projects on diasporic communities of Russians (‘Global Russians’) and on the rhetoric and social media narratives of the so-called Islamic State organisation, will investigate the significance of language in building (or proclaiming) communities across national boundaries.
Finally, the translingual strand, based at the School of Advanced Study’s IMLR and led by Professor Catherine Davies, contains enquiries into the use of languages other than the mother tongue – and beyond this, into the relationship between minor/minority and majority literatures. Other sub-projects look at activist sub-titling of films as a means to building translingual networks and, moving away from the spoken or written word to language that is sung, experiment with the impact of language on music in two new opera projects that are being developed in conjunction with the Royal Opera House and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Two early-career performers, one first-year student and one recent graduand of the Guildhall School’s opera course, treated the audience to excerpts from the forthcoming opera ‘The Tale of Januarie’, a work based on ‘The Merchant’s Tale’ from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The libretto – written in Middle-English – conveys the astonishingly multilingual nature of medieval language. (Did we really hear a love-song to a young woman addressed with the French endearment ‘cherie’ – juxtaposed with that same young lady’s exasperated reply from the only place that grants her peace to think, the – equally French-rooted – ‘privy’?)
Closing the day’s events in style, musicians and dancers from the Manchester Xinhua Chinese Association performed traditional songs, orchestral pieces and an exuberant fan dance. The ethereally uplifting and vibrant sound of the popular piece ‘Clouds Chasing the Moon’ set an appropriate tone for the optimistic and energetic start of our four-year research project.
Dr Godela Weiss-Sussex, Reader in Modern German Literature, IMLR