Invisible Borders: Translation and Multilingualism in an Unequal World

  • Eva C. Karpinski
Keywords: Monolingualism, multilingualism, super-diversity, globalization, inequality


Inspired by Jan Blommaert’s approaches to linguistic landscaping and his studies of linguistic mobility, this article traces the changing meanings of multilingualism and monolingualism in a world fractured by uneven vectors of globalization and super-diversity. Drawing on such examples as Polish anti-racist billboards, the commercial, transnational space of the mall, or translation policies in the European Union, it is possible to see the paradoxical effects of neoliberal transformations on linguistic diversity, with the hegemony of English on the one hand, and the revival of ethno-linguistic particularity on the other. Alison Phipp’s theories of multilingualism from above and from below, as well as Yaseem Noorani’s concept of “soft” multilingualism are used to make further differentiations between assertive nationalist monolingualism from below and aggressive global monolingualism from above. These different kinds of multilingualism and monolingualism, produced at intersections of complex historical, political, and economic factors, not only uphold the existing legacies of colonialism and modernity, but also create new hierarchies of global/cosmopolitan and national/local languages and identities.


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