2019 Lectures in Linguistic Diversity series

2019 Lectures in Linguistic Diversity series

We’ll be kicking off the 2019 Lectures in Linguistic Diversity series with a guest lecture by Katrijn Maryns, Ghent University, Belgium, exploring language and vulnerability.

When: Tuesday, April 02, 2:00-3:30pm

Where: Australian Hearing Hub Room 1.602

What: Language and vulnerability: reflections on the management of linguistic diversity in the asylum determination procedure

Abstract: In response to the increasing numbers of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe since 2015, significant efforts have been made at EU level to manage its asylum and migration systems more efficiently. While EU policy is relatively cognisant of the technical-legal and medical-psychological complexities of the procedure, the discursive, multilingual challenges specific to the asylum process remain underexposed. When it comes to the determination of refugee status, it is particularly surprising and worrying how little attention is paid to the role of language in what are essentially discourse-based procedures, where spoken and written discourse form the main input for the representation and the assessment of asylum cases (Barsky, 1994; Pöllabauer 2004, Inghilleri 2005; Maryns 2006, Tipton 2008; Blommaert 2010, Smith-Khan 2017). In my presentation, I aim to explore two areas of tension in the discursive management of asylum cases: (a) the tension between the often very rigorous conditions for submission, representation and assessment of asylum applications on the one hand and the unreasonably high linguistic demands set by the asylum authorities on the other; and (b) the unclear and to some extent even conflicting roles attributed to language, either as a meaning-making tool (for the representation of asylum seekers’ accounts), as a categorisation tool (for the legal classification of asylum cases according to the Convention criteria of refugee status) or as a verification tool (for the evaluation of the veracity and credibility of asylum seekers’ accounts). Drawing on linguistic-ethnographic data from the Belgian asylum context, I will discuss some of the implications of these conflicting linguistic demands for the construction and evaluation of asylum identities. Specifically, I will focus on the multilingual ‘management’ of asylum cases. I will use data examples in which several multilingual strategies are being used, including lingua franca use and interpreter mediation. These examples will demonstrate how an ignorance of linguistic variation at different levels exacerbates linguistic vulnerabilities and inequalities in the course of the asylum process.

Finally, I will reflect on our position as academics in this domain, i.e. the challenges of being heard as language researchers in a setting where language is generally not given priority.

Katrijn Maryns (PhD in Linguistics) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication at Ghent University (Belgium), where she teaches multilingualism and interpreting courses. She is a member of the Research Centre for Multilingual Practices and Language Learning in Society (MULTIPLES) and the Centre for the Social Study of Migration and Refugees (CESSMIR). Her linguistic-ethnographic research examines the role of discourse, multilingualism and linguistic inequality in institutional contexts of globalisation, with a particular focus on asylum and migration. She is the author of The asylum speaker: Language in the Belgian asylum procedure (Routledge 2006), editor (with Philipp Angermeyer) of the book series Translation, Interpreting and Social Justice in a Globalised World (Multilingual Matters), and she has published in various international peer-reviewed journals (Applied Linguistics, Language in Society, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Language & Communication).


Barsky, R. (1994) Constructing a productive other: Discourse theory and the convention refugee hearing. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Blommaert, J. (2010) The sociolinguistics of globalization, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Inghilleri, M. (2005) Mediating Zones of Uncertainty: interpreter agency, the interpreting habitus and political asylum adjudication, The Translator, 11 (1), 69-85.

Maryns, K. (2006) The Asylum Speaker: Language in the Belgian Asylum Procedure. London: Routledge.

Pöllabauer, S. (2004) Interpreting in asylum hearings: Issues of Role, Responsibility and Power, Interpreting 6, 2: 143-180.

Tipton, R. (2008) Reflexivity and the social construction of identity in interpreter-mediated asylum interviews, The Translator 14 (1), 1‒19.

Smith-Khan, L. (2017) Different in the same way? Language, diversity, and refugee credibility. International Journal of Refugee Law, 29(3), 389–416.

Reports of and debates resulting from previous Lectures in Linguistic Diversity:

·         Are bilinguals better language learners?

·         What do migrant parents expect from schools?

·         Bilingual children refusing to speak the home language

·         How can we change language habits?

Please help us promote this event by sharing this link: http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-and-vulnerability/

Content owner: Department of Linguistics Last updated: 18 Mar 2020 9:19am

Back to the top of this page