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Welcome to Linguistics

South Africa is a highly multilingual society and recognizes eleven official languages and hosts many more spoken varieties within its borders. 



 Department of Linguistics


South Africa is a highly multilingual society and recognizes eleven official languages and hosts many more spoken varieties within its borders. In this respect South Africa is typical of our world of complex translocal communities characterized by a linguistic dispensation where multilingualism is the norm.

Here individuals in the global community no longer engage single languages to communicate or to think and construct their identities, but rather they use sets of languages. According to Aronin and Singleton, in the International Journal of Multilingualism, just about “every facet of human life depends on multilingual arrangements and multilingual individuals”. At the same time multilingual arrangements are in flux and are continually being reorganized, and multilingual individuals form a diverse body of speakers. In times of social transformation, language debates on the significance and use of varieties in multilingual contexts take on added importance. What languages are used officially affects people's chances of participation in state power structures, as well as their access to government agencies and services. Importantly, multilingual sets of resources are unequally distributed and used in ways that transform and reproduce social structures and relations of power. Policies that acknowledge the importance of local, indigenous languages are therefore essential in the politics of broad popular participation in a program of social reconstruction. We approach the study of multilingualism from a range of perspectives, exploring its implications for education and for service provision, its role in literacy, including media, as well how to formulate a politics of language around multilingual realities.

The Department of Linguistics brings together experts from its various fields and sub-disciplines to address the questions that arise when we seek to understand the role of multilingualism as a resource for participatory linguistic citizenship. Prime among these approaches are Systemic Functional Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis.  

The Department of Linguistics aspires to live up to what could be expected of African academia in times of social transformation, namely a serious engagement with (super-)diversity on a day-to-day basis, an acute awareness of the importance of history in understanding multilingual dynamics, social relevance and critical engagement with discourses of change and development. To achieve this aspiration the department hosts monthly special seminars facilitating discussions with national and international scholars on theoretical and empirical issues around the areas of strength expressed above. Also, a number of research projects are pursued by senior staff with limited scholarships available for postgraduate study. On ocassion, the UWC Arts Faculty advertises postgraduate and post-doctoral scholarships.   

Mission Statement

The Department of Linguistics, Language and Communication at the University of the Western Cape is dedicated to a socially responsible study of language within a framework of social transformation, individual and group empowerment, citizenship and voice. In this, the department is heir to a proud tradition at the University of the Western Cape of putting research and teaching at the service of the local community and its striving for equitable transformation. ​​

Upcoming Conferences in 2017

The 19th Diachronic Generative Syntax Workshop

Call Deadline: 17-Feb-2017 

Meeting Description:

DiGS is an established international conference, first launched in 1990, which has, until now, alternated between venues in Europe and the Americas (see for an overview of DiGS's history). Taking place annually since 2008, with 2009 having produced the first foray beyond Europe and North America (to Brazil), the conference is now widely recognised as a privileged forum for the presentation of research on formal diachronic syntax, combining historical and more broadly comparative investigations of syntactic phenomena from a generative perspective. 

In 2016, DiGS will be making (more) history: for the first time in the conference's now more than a quarter century-long history, it will take place in Africa! South Africa's Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape are proud to announce the 19th Diachronic Generative Syntax Conference (DiGS 19), which will take place in the fairest Cape 5-8 September 2017. 

As has become traditional, the main conference will be preceded by a themed workshop. The theme of this workshop will be 'Language Variation and Change in Contact Situations'. Abstracts may be submitted to both the main conference and the workshop. 

DiGS 19 welcomes submissions on any topic in formal diachronic syntax, but especially encourages research that reports novel linguistic data and/or sheds light on the internal and external sources of language change and the courses that this change can and can't take. As always, our aim is, on the one hand, to harness diachrony to probe the properties of natural language, and, on the other, to contribute to our understanding of how those properties constrain language change. 

Invited Speakers: 

Enoch Aboh (Amsterdam) 
Charlotte Galves (Campinas) 
David Lightfoot (Georgetown) 
Pieter Muysken (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen/Stellenbosch) 
Jenneke van der Wal (Harvard)

Call for Papers: 

We invite abstracts for 30-minute talks (followed by 10 minutes of discussion) on any aspect of diachronic generative syntax. Given the location of the conference, we would particularly this year like to encourage research focusing on: 

- variation and both change and stability in Africa and other contact situations 
- variation and change in more extreme ''poverty of the stimulus'' situations (e.g. creolisation, home-sign and sign-language contexts) 
- language attrition 
- the impact of multilingualism - also including multilectalism - on language structure over time, including the ways in which having knowledge of both formal (and potentially prescriptively imposed) and informal (and potentially exclusively spoken) varieties may produce change. 


Language Variation and Change in Contact Situations 

In addition to the main conference (which will also include a poster session), there will be a workshop focusing on the theme of variation and change in contact situations. This workshop will take place on 5 September, and we welcome papers focusing on any (synchronic or diachronic) contact-related topic. The workshop is intended as a venue both for primarily empirical and for more theoretically oriented papers. Topics of interest thus include, but are not limited to: 

- descriptions of un(der)studied contact varieties and of (apparently) contact-induced structures 
- linguistic situations where acquirers/speakers can be shown to have ''gone beyond the input'' 
- the aspects of syntax and language structure more generally that seem to be either particularly contact-sensitive or particularly contact-resistant (i.e. stable) 
- formally motivated discussion of what 'convergence' in language-contact situations means, and of the extent to which simplification plays a prominent role here 
- the role of L2 acquisition, code-switching, and other multilingualism-related phenomena in the shaping of contact varieties 
- the types of optionality observed in contact situations. Here we are, among other things, particularly interested both in contact scenarios where a prescriptively imposed standard is and where one isn't in the picture. 
- attrition 
- contact modelling 

Papers will be 20- or 30-minutes long (with 10 minutes for discussion in each case). Please indicate on your abstract (in the header) if you have a preference for a 20- or 30-minute talk. 

Abstract Guidelines: 

Abstracts for both the workshop and the DiGS main conference should not exceed two pages, with 2.5cm margins on all sides and a font size of 12pt. This includes data, references and diagrams. 

Each author may submit no more than one single-authored and one co-authored abstract, or two co-authored ones. The workshop and the main conference ''count'' as one event in relation to this constraint, i.e. no more than 2 abstracts in total by a single author. 

Abstracts must be anonymous and prospective presenters should submit their abstract in pdf to: 

If you wish your abstract to be considered specifically either for the workshop or for the main conference, please indicate this in the header of your abstract, and register the choice on EasyAbs when you submit. Abstracts lacking a specific Header indication will automatically be considered for both. 

The deadline for submission is Friday 17 February 2017. 
Notification of acceptance by Monday 20 March 2017.








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