Multilingualism and popular culture

Authored by: Mela Sarkar , Bronwen Low

The Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  May  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415496476
eBook ISBN: 9780203154427
Adobe ISBN: 9781136578144


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From our current standpoint, it may appear normal and inevitable that peoples and cultures have been mixing and mingling as they have for well over half a century. To many people in the English-speaking world, being multilingual no longer seems rare and exotic; to many people elsewhere, it never did. University-age readers of a comprehensive handbook on multilingualism published around 2011 will not remember an era when most people stayed in the place where they were born, and when languages seemed tied down to specific nations and locations. Indeed, their parents are almost certainly too young to themselves remember the pre-Second World War (1939–45) years when the boundaries of Europe seemed indissoluble, and the colonized nonwhite peoples of Africa and Asia had not yet moved to take their political futures back into their own hands (see Canagarajah and Liyanage this volume; Ramanathan this volume; May 2001). Around this time — during the decades just before and after the Second World War years — British and European thinkers began to explore the idea that ‘mass’ or ‘popular’ culture, as distinct from either the ‘High Culture’ of the educated elite or the ‘Folk Culture’ collected by nineteenth-century scholars such as the Brothers Grimm, might actually be theoretically interesting, rather than deplorable (Strinati 2000). The idea that popular culture is a phenomenon deserving of study in its own right is therefore no longer new, as we shall see in more detail below.

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