Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies



MEL 381  (41185)

Course Description:

In this course, we will learn about the theory and practice of multiliteracies. The term multiliteracies was developed by the New London Group (NLG), a group of ten researchers, educators, and visionaries, in 1994 in New London, New Hampshire. Based on their assessment of how new technologies were influencing society, the NLG devised the multiliteracies approach to language learning to address these changes; in particular, how digital technology and globalization were affecting education. In general, the term multiliteracies refers to the convergence of two major aspects of language use today: multilingualism and multimodality. Mass migration and Internet communication technologies have given rise to an increase in the variability of meaning-making in different cultural, social or domain-specific contexts. This means that it is no longer enough for language teaching to focus solely on the rules of standard forms of a single national language. Rather, the representation of meaning today increasingly requires that learners be able to figure out differences in patterns of meaning from one context to another. These differences are the consequence of any number of factors, including culture, gender, life experience, subject matter, social or subject domain and the like. In this approach, every meaning exchange is considered “cross-cultural” to a certain degree. The second aspect of language use today arises in part from the characteristics of the new information and communications media. Meaning is made in ways that are increasingly multimodal—in which written-linguistic modes of meaning interface with oral, visual, audio, gestural, tactile and spatial patterns of meaning. The convergence of multilingualism and multimodality means that we need to update and to expand language teaching so that it does not focus exclusively on linguistic signs, but brings into the classroom multimodal representations, particularly those typical of the new, digital media. This makes language pedagogy all the more engaging for its connections with today’s forms of digital communications. Ultimately, the NLG argued “dealing with cultural differences and linguistic diversity has now become central to the pragmatics of our working, civic, and private lives” (New London Group 1996: 7). Therefore, the goal of language and literacy instruction in the 21st century should be to support “an epistemology of pluralism” (p. 72). In this course, we will explore not only the theory of multiliteracies, but also the accompanying pedagogical and curricular practices that such a theory of language entails. In short, we will explore how the concept of multiliteracies completely reframes the learning and teaching of foreign languages in higher education.



Meet the Professor

I am an applied linguist with a background in interactional sociolinguistics, pragmatics and technology.  My research lies at the intersection of language, culture and interaction, with a focal interest in cross-cultural and intercultural pragmatics.  Currently, I am writing a monograph entitled "Understanding languaculture: A multiliteracies approach" (under contract, John Benjamins). The book aims to demonstrate the concept languaculture to specialists in foreign language learning and teaching. The title “Understanding languaculture” refers to the process of becoming aware of language as a cultural system for making meaning. The subtitle “A multiliteracies approach” refers to pedagogical practices that foster this particular awareness. Defined simply as the “cultural aspects of language” or “verbal culture” (Risager 2007), languaculture is a neologism that highlights the complex relationship between language, culture, and the human mind. I believe that the term languaculture promises to help learners and teachers to rethink outdated, structuralist conceptions of language-as-code and to embrace a more dynamic conception of language-as-meaning-making, a move that is in line with current research in the “linguistics of communication”. — Carl Blyth

  •   Map
  • Middle Eastern Studies

    The University of Texas at Austin
    204 W 21st Street Stop F9400
    Calhoun Hall (CAL) 528
    Austin, TX 78712