The privilege to introduce the latest issue of Sustainable Multilingualism requires an effort to reflect on the nature of the studies published during the past decade. It is a retrospective endeavor aimed at identifying valuable perspectives for future integrative discussions within the frame provided by this platform.
Since the publication of the first volume of this scientific journal in 2012, the semiotic need to investigate the shared meaning of “sustainability of multilingualism” has been opportunely marginalized to facilitate multidisciplinary approaches (Mačianskienė, 2017). Despite the impossibility to univocally classify perspectives of investigation, the survey of previous volumes confirms the variety of methodologies adopted to study topics as disparate as teaching and learning in multilingual and multicultural settings (48 articles); issues for language policy (28), with particular focus on national policies; plurilingual competence development in higher education (20); how identities react to, influence or confront multilingualism (32); how society creates and perceives multilingualism (18), often touching upon dynamic phenomena such as social interaction and mobility; linguistics of pop-culture and the influence of new technologies (14); the cultural clash between monolingualism and plurilingualism (12). Even though multilingual education, together with its social and political ramifications, lies at the core of this journal, anthropological (lato sensu) and sociolinguistic studies point at new possibilities for the investigation of plurilingualism and multilingualism in certain physical environments.
While the theoretical discussion usually refuses such obsolete oppositions as ‘native vs. foreign, ours vs. theirs […], the prestigious vs. the marginalized’ (Bijeikienė, 2021), the phenomenal reality (Erscheinungswelt) of border communities, schools receiving immigrants, national language policies or those of citizens required to choose and proclaim their belonging to a distinct identity, etc. prove these clashes – or conflicts – are still relevant to the empirical studies. With reference to multilingualism, this interest means the expansion of the investigation beyond the merely anthropological frame of the cultural construction of the Self in opposition to what is perceived as the Otherness (see Francesco Remotti, Contro l’identità [Against Identity]). Rather, it means the necessity to investigate the faded boundaries of Identity and Alterity, for multilingualism is one of the most manifest forms of intercultural and transnational relation. It is the result of the interaction between spaces, not of the juxtaposition of spaces. It is an ever-changing flow, that is a form of communication benefitting from any new influence, as opposed to the rigid structure of “national languages”. The potential of an anthropological interest for the process of imagining identities through language, as well as for the spaces where these identities form and interact, has been consistently emerging in many studies circulated in this journal since 2012.
In semiotic terms, ten years of publications focused mainly on expression-based communication in which active, intentional subjects respond to affordances of objects appearing in the physical space through Bedetungen – “expressive exchanges of signified meanings”. While in this entire process language and speeches lay at the center – for they carry meaning and convey information capable of identifying the speaker – the process itself assumes the traits of a kinaesthesia – “a movement producing an exchange of information” between agents acting in a social space. Specifically, the concept of agency refers to a subject’s ability to perceive, conceive and represent distinct objects, including the subject itself. It presupposes the existence of an object and that of a space in which to collocate the object and the subject, but it also involves some sort of movement in that space. As an example, this is the typical situation of a foreigner crossing a border into another community where he or she studies, lives, and tries to integrate while reflecting on his or her new and past identities in that environment. It is a paradigmatic condition that emerges at the micro-level of the family and in the macro-processes of national policies. However, a quite relevant number of articles published in Sustainable Multilingualism touching upon contemporary pop culture and the influence of innovative technologies hinted at the possibility to explore unexpected and still poorly investigated phenomena involving the perception of the Self, the space around it, and movement.
The last decade marked the triumph of the ethereal “collective Self” known as the World Wide Web. In turn, the Internet allowed for the creation of identities which are “transversal” to traditional political, national, or cultural partitions. Furthermore, the Web made possible the existence and sharing of virtual objects stored on immaterial clouds. More recently, the pandemic inhibited most forms of movement and physical interaction. Nonetheless, during the last three years people continued acting together resorting to “hegemonic” languages, using means and forms of communication often unseen before. In contrast with abstract theorizations, the practice of daily life proved agency can occur outside a physical space too, and even without physical objects, for the language can conceive things it created itself.
These cogitations lead me to conclude that the reflection on multilingualism and its sustainability could greatly benefit from an even higher degree of interdisciplinarity and, occasionally, from a shift of focus from purely linguistic phenomena to the frame in which they manifest themselves. Explicitly, potentially valuable could be the study of the spaces in which multilingualism occurs, rather than of multilingualism itself. Particularly, occurrences of multilingualism in absence of physical space could lead to radical reforms of existing semiotic models. Likewise, greater attention could be paid to the mechanics of interaction without movement since interaction is among the most relevant factors in creating the conditions for a multilingual environment. Furthermore, considering the variety of innovative virtual means of interpersonal contact, in the source-message-channel-receiver model of communication, a shift of focus from the message to the properties of the channel would possibly reveal the relevance of the channel itself in determining the nature of certain forms of multilingualism.
Lastly, reviewing ten years of publications, I noticed (in several studies about language policy and the cultural clash between monolingualism and plurilingualism) a certain interest for the conflictual relation between personal ideology or values on the one hand, and collective/governmental practices on the other. Not rarely plurilingualism has been described in terms of English ‘language hegemony’ (Lūžys 19/2021) or ‘neglected identity’. Accordingly, psychological aspects and value theory seem to deserve more structured investigations focused precisely on the subject experiencing instances of multilingualism rather than on the language spoken or influencing the subject.
While I hope some of these personal reflections could be of any utility to past and future contributors, I noted with pleasure several studies published in this number of Sustainable Multilingualism already address some of the issues discussed above. ‘The Age of Artificial Intelligence’ is the meaningful timeframe in which D. S. Low, I. Mcneill, and M. J. Day investigate the subjective perception of ‘Endangered Languages, Language Death, Identity Loss and Preservation’. Similarly, the above-mentioned mechanics of interaction are studied in a sociolinguistic perspective and in terms of ‘Dynamics of Power and Solidarity in German-Lithuanian Business Negotiations’ by G. Gelūnaitė-Malinauskienė. The psychological interest in the acting subject emerges as attitude in D. Laiveniece and L. Lauze’s sociolinguistic survey conducted (just before the pandemic) with the intent to characterize students’ perception of errors in learning and using a foreign language.
Moreover, the present issue introduces some important questions related to the field of Education in Multilingual and Multicultural Settings, for instance, the role and influence of digital technologies which are perceived both as precious didactical tools with immense potential for career perspectives (O. Ural & K. Dikilitas), and as serious challenges to higher education institutions (V. Inci-Kavak & Y. Kirkgoz). These problems are integrated by reflections on good practice in the section Issues in Language Didactics in which language-specific and cultural-specific challenges are investigated not only with reference to ‘the hegemonic’ English language but also Spanish and Latvian. The practical implementation of teaching techniques and a variety of writing exercises (A. Babina) discussed in this issue of the journal could be of great interest to language teachers and educators in general.