Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Language and Discourse Seminar Series

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Who this event is for

  • Everyone


JHB 202, John Henry Brookes Building , Headington Campus, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site


Social media, language ideologies and Canadian politics with speaker Rachelle Vessey, Birkbeck, University of London


Language ideologies and Canadian politics: Evidence and examples from the media


In the uncertainty of current times, when the status of the nation and its place in globalisation are called into question, the role of languages is changing. While for nationalists languages tend to serve as hallmarks of “authentic” identity, for the cosmopolitan elite of the globalised world languages have become assets for social – and geographic – mobility (Heller et al., 2016; Ignatieff, cited in Taub 2016). The tension between these positions is particularly salient in the Canadian context, where languages have long had an overt political role. As a country with two official languages (English and French), Canada has struggled with unity and has relied on tools such as media to support the national project (Chartrand, 1986). While media have been effective in streamlining debates about some issues, when it comes to debates about national languages, the medium really does become the message (Macluhan, 1964). In Canada, traditional media such as newspapers tend to exist in parallel in English and French with little interaction between them, polarising debates on language according to the language of use. The emergence of new media has presented new opportunities to bridge the linguistic gaps, but these have also introduced an influx of debates about language from other international perspectives. This paper explores debates about Canadian official languages in traditional and new media, highlighting some of the linguistic manifestations of political divisions set to define the 21st century (Ignatieff, in Taub, 2016).


Chartrand, M. (1986) Technological nationalism. Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, X, 1-2, 196-220.


Heller, M., Bell, L. A., Daveluy, M., McLaughlin, M., Noel, H. (2016). Sustaining the nation. The making and moving of language and nation. Oxford UP.


Macluhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. MIT Press.


Taub, A. (2016). A Central Conflict of 21st-Century Politics: Who Belongs? New York Times, 8/7/2016. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/09/world/europe/a-central-conflict-of-21st-century-politics-who-belongs.html