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Exploring languaging through an ontological register

Law and Mol (2020) provide an insightful critique to dominant approaches to language, arguing that “to talk of language is to imply that it is possible to disentangle how people talk (or sign or write) from the practices in which they do so. It is to suggest that vocabularies and grammars (or signs and syntax) lead lives of their own on a plane removed from their mundane incarnations” (emphasis added, 268). What is effectively being critiqued is the notion of language(s) as clearly bounded and stable systems, existing ‘out there’ beyond specific instances of use, rather than as language—or rather, languaging—coming into being through performances, practices, and enactments. As researchers with a keen interest in language studies and applied linguistics, a key component of our work has been to theorise what language might be—in other words, what are its constituent parts, what does it do, and where may it be found? What makes something ‘language’? This text explores these questions in line with Law and Mol’s (2020) concerns, and discusses the notion of languaging across two axes: firstly, language is addressed in an ontological register in an effort to rearticulate language from ‘object’ to ‘practice’; secondly, we trace the emergence of languaging as a concept derived from outside English-language academia and beyond scholarly fields which study language per se. While in recent years the so-called multilingual turn within language studies has led to a substantial body of work on languaging (as well as on associated concepts such as translanguaging and metrolingualism), the term is seldom examined in relation to its roots outside this field or the English language academe, and beyond human language practices.
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This article has been published in the journal: NatureCulture. Used with permission. © 2022 NatureCulture.