The ongoing transformations in the Global South involve not only a redirection of flows of migrants, labourers and citizens, money and debts, products and modes of social integration, but also the ways in which these flows are perceived and mediated through communication. The processes themselves are at least partly driven by expectations and apprehensions relating to new connections (and disconnections) which in turn rely on access to a variety of means of communication. Language - and more broadly the communicative skill of which it constitutes the centerpiece - is key for formulating such apprehensions or expectations and it is part of the action directed towards achieving what is anticipated and for avoiding what is feared. The distribution of communicative means and of what may be called symbolic capital is currently changing rapidly - with immediate and far-reaching consequences for individuals and groups and their position in the regional and global ecology of languages (Mufwene 1997, Dimmendaal 2008, Maffi and Woodley 2010, Lüpke and Storch 2013, Crevelt et al. (forthcoming)).
The adaptions of linguistic practices and the choices of communicative repertoires characterizing the newly emerging livelihoods and social worlds in the Global South have been variously investigated in comparative research under the labels of language endangerment (Hill 2002) and late impacts of linguistic imperialism (Phillipson 1992). Within the GSSC an innovative approach to this domain of research will be developed, combining methods from media studies, sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. Core research methods include conversation and discourse analysis, participant observation, and behavioural experiments (inter alia, Scollon and Wong Scollon 2009).
The point of departure for our investigations will be a questioning of the conventional divide between urban and rural settings with regard to communicative practices. Inasmuch as increased mobility and, especially, the wide availability of mobile communication and digital media are key characteristics of current developments, it is likely that there are no longer any fundamental differences between "the city" and "the village". Instead, we hypothesize that we are dealing with a dynamic web of interlocking practices which allows for a very fast and comprehensive spread of new practices and styles across large areas, uniting inner cities with the most remote outposts of their hinterlands.
Our key concern is a detailed study of the communicative, and more generally symbolic, repertoires available to speakers in different settings in the Global South, in terms of the different codes being used, the different functions that they serve, and the different communicative situations in which they unfold. We aim to account as precisely as possible for the changing dynamics of codes, functions and contexts. To briefly illustrate but one aspect of these dynamics: a major role in these repertoires is typically played by (formerly) colonial and national languages, which often, though not necessarily, coincide. Here, we are currently observing a continuously accelerating process of what could be variously called indigenization or regionalization (as seen in the rise of the New Englishes, new regional variants of Indonesian centering around provincial centres, etc.). At the same time, “strong” languages in a given area are expanding their domains (e.g. Yoruba in Nigeria, Tagalog in the Philippines) and interact with these linguistic “superpowers”. In digital media and mobile communication a third layer of linguistic codes is being used, defining different types of (often) smaller networks.
The approach to be developed here is comparative along two axes: it compares developments across different regions of the Global South with the goal of identifying common tendencies and more locally confined features. But it also contrasts developments in the Global South with what has happened (and continues to happen) in “the North”, which still defines the sociolinguistic mainstream. Put differently, research in this field will also make major contributions to a considerably revised and extended theory of language and society which takes into account characteristic developments occurring outside the extensively investigated Western industrialized countries. Here, our approach also aims directly at one of the central debates on the Gobal South: megacities such as Lagos, Jakarta, and so on, which are increasingly seen as “laboratories of the future” insofar as they not only symbolize the homes of almost half the people living in the countries of Global South, but are also spaces where the state and its infrastructure lose control and are substituted by vigilantes, occult networks, and violent competition – a situation that is considered an emerging possible future scenario in Western countries as well. Communicative practices as a form of social and symbolic capital (Bourdieu 1983, Hanks 1996) will be investigated as an integral part of the economic relationships and social networks in which individuals and groups are positioned and which they in turn shape through the use of language repertoires.
By investigating transformations in linguistic practices and the symbolic capital attributed to them, we will shed light on how power relations change and on how this is negotiated on a daily basis (Hill 2001, Lacoste et al. 2013). Finally, we shall also include, reflectively, the way in which the discourse about the Global South itself relies on certain forms of language use and the way in which it enters local, regional and trans-regional language repertoires. In this context we shall also ask whether ideas about the Global South as a negative counter-image of the Global West are reproducing existing inequalities, inversions and oppositions.