Who has the authority to speak? – Linguistic intolerance, anonymity and monolingual regimes

Presentation by Professor Bernie O’Rourke, Heriot-Watt University, on Minority Languages.

Free event: Book online


Over recent decades there have been important changes taking place in the linguistic ecologies of contemporary societies. This is as a result of globalization, increased mobility and transnational networking. There have been attempts at transnational and national levels to address the opportunities and challenges brought about by increased linguistic diversity, the management of such diversity on many levels is still influenced by the traditional foundations of linguistic nationalism. Such foundations have tended to be based on the principles of linguistic homogeneity, nativeness and monolingualism. These principles have kept in place a social order which has come to be characterized by socioeconomic hierarchies and inequalities with linguistic difference playing a key role. Such principles also constituted and continue to penetrate the basic epistemologies of linguistics itself, giving primacy to the “native”, “first language”, “mother tongue” speaker of a language as a linguistic model over the “non-native” or “second language” speaker. As a result, the social and linguistic practices of “non-canonical” speakers have been at best ignored and at worst disparaged (O’Rourke and Pujolar 2013). 

In the current social and political climate we are seeing an even greater return to monolingual regimes leading to linguistic intolerance at many levels. In this talk I will examine the ideologies behind such intolerance and why certain profiles of speakers (new speakers, native speakers) and users of particular languages (majority or minority languages) are given more authority than others. I will draw specifically on the concept of anonymity as explored by Gal and Woolard (2001: 6) which they use to refer to the “ideological foundation of the political authority of the Habermasian bourgeois public sphere” (which supposedly includes everyone but which in fact gives voice to some speakers and not to others).

Speaker bio

Bernadette O’Rourke is Professor of Sociolinguistics (with Spanish) at Heriot-Watt University. Her research interests focus on the role of language in the construction of social difference and social inequality in multilingual societies. She is the author of numerous publications in this field including Galician and Irish in the European Context: Attitudes Towards Weak and Strong Minority Languages (Palgrave Mcmillan, 2011). She is Chair of the EU COST Action IS1306 New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: Opportunities and Challenges (2013-2017).


Lunch: 12.00-2.00pm
Talk: 2.00pm-4.00pm

Those willing to join us for lunch at the The Bella Italia restaurant (very near the hotel, at the junction of North Bridge and the Royal Mile) are more than welcome to do so. This is a good opportunity to get to know each other and network. Please note that while attendance at the afternoon session is free, individuals are required to pay for their own lunch.


Free event: Book online

This event is free, but you must book in advance.

There are two ticket types, indicating whether or not you will attend the lunch (which individuals are required to pay for).

November 25th, 2017 12:00 PM   to   4:00 PM
Hilton Edinburgh Carlton
19 North Bridge
Edinburgh, EH1 1SD
United Kingdom
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Category Scottish Society
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Scottish Society