Robert Eaglestone

Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at the Department of English at Royal Holloway, University of London
Keynote address: English in an Age of Populism

Abstract: We are living through an age of populism, exacerbated by Covid, where, in a phrase now well known in the UK 'we have had enough of experts'. Of course, populists have no time for literature, and, if they could, would just get rid of us as (again, a UK phrase) 'enemies of the people'. Many of our usual steps to 'defend the humanities' simply have no purchase here. In my talk, I suggest we can learn from recent work in nature and conservation: I am going to suggest 'rewilding' literary studies. Rewilding is not abandoning the land nor an attempt to recover some primitive 'garden of Eden'. Rather, it’s an approach that emphasises the 'importance of ecological networks' and recognises that there are a range of biological, ecological, social and cultural goods produced by managing the land differently. What might this approach, as a metaphor, mean for literary studies?

more about Robert

Robert specialises in contemporary literature, literary theory and contemporary European philosophy, and in Holocaust and Genocide studies. With regards to the conference theme, Dr. Eaglestone's work addresses how literature 'thinks', which will help the conference participants to rethink English literature in the study of English, especially in relation to issues of ethics:

"Literature thinks. Literature is where ideas are investigated, lived out, explored in all their messy complexity […]. Perhaps 'think' is not the right word: 'think' is too limiting a description of the range of what a novel can do with ideas. In any event, the way literature thinks is bound up with what it’s like to be us, to be human. Literature is how we make ourselves intelligible to ourselves. And contemporary fiction matters because it is how we work out who we are now, today." (A very short introduction to contemporary fiction, 2013)

Dr. Eaglestone is also interested in the teaching of literature, and has written Literature: Why it matters (Polity Press, 2019) and Doing English. A guide for literature students (Routledge, 2017). He is the co-editor of English: Shared futures (Brewer 2018).

Elizabeth Peterson

Associate Professor of English Philology at the Department of Languages, University of Helsinki
Keynote address: Pride and Prejudice: the Role of English in Nordic Exceptionalism

Abstract: In the Nordic countries, widespread proficiency in English is often framed as a positive asset, a critical component of what makes these relatively peripheral societies modern, competitive, and viable players in the global market. Indeed, maps demonstrating who speaks the "best" English in Europe show a swath across the Nordic countries, with the number of people in these countries claiming proficiency not far below the levels claimed in the UK and Ireland. Alongside these rankings about proficiency in English, the Nordic countries are routinely listed as the "happiest, the most egalitarian, the most classless, least corrupt, and an epicenter for 'tender values'" (Levisen, 2012).

In this talk, I demonstrate that commonly-held views-attitudes-about English in the Nordic countries is at odds with these supposedly egalitarian values. That is, even though the Nordic countries (curiously) sidestep the colonial history (Keskinen, 2019) associated with global languages such as English, in many ways Nordic societies have integrated attitudes about English that bely their egalitarian ideologies and rather match up with those colonizers, namely Great Britain. As proficiency in English has increased, so have attitudes about what constitutes "good" and "bad" English. This raises a critical question: why would supposedly egalitarian societies want to take on the linguistic prejudices inherent to a class-based society like the UK?

While there has been an increase in attention and research on English as a Lingua Franca research in recent decades, I argue that the practical values associated with ELF - while a step in the right direction - are not enough. Rather, as English language educators we should explicitly teach students and English language users about the colonial history of the English and the linguistic injustices that are the direct outcome of this history. Only then is it possible for citizens of the Nordic to achieve the balance between high overall proficiency in English without adopting proxy elitist attitudes at odds with Nordic values.

  • Keskinen. (2019). Intra-Nordic Differences, Colonial/Racial Histories, and National Narratives: Rewriting Finnish History. Scandinavian Studies, 91(1–2), 163.
  • Levisen, C. (2012). Cultural semantics and social cognition: a case study on the Danish universe of meaning. De Gruyter Mouton.

more about Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a sociolinguist specialising in heritage Scandinavian languages and English as a contact language. Her publications explore the manifestations of foreign language contact with English, looking at Finnish-English interaction in Finland, and Danish-English interaction in the United States, such as in Utah and Wisconsin. With regards to the conference theme, Dr. Peterson's recent work on language ideology and phenomena such as native-speakerism is most relevant, asking us to rethink who represents English, and whom does English serve:

"Those English users who constitute the educated and elite group [...] can consider themselves extremely fortunate. They have access to the highest level of written and spoken norms of English, which opens all kinds of doors for them. They participate in standard language culture - and they have probably worked hard to achieve such status. They do not need to decide whether to alter the way they speak rather than face ridicule when they are in public places like work or schools. In short, they are not likely to face discrimination based on the way they speak or write English. In fact, they may be such privileged users of English that they have never had the opportunity to notice what they gain from their aptitude in English, and the opportunities which others do not have because they are not part of the standard language culture." (Making sense of bad English, 2019)

Dr. Peterson is the sociolinguistics and pragmatics editor for the journal Ampersand, and co-editor of Dynamics and innovations in discourse-pragmatic variation and change (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

Pia Sundqvist

Associate Professor of English Language Education at the Department of Teacher Education and School Research, University of Oslo
Keynote address: English Only or English Mainly? Reconsidering Language Use and Teaching Practices after Intervening in Multilingual L2 English Classrooms

Abstract: Following in the wake of increased mobility, language teachers are experiencing a shift towards greater linguistic diversity in additional/foreign/second language (L2) classrooms. In my presentation, I will address various approaches to teaching L2 English and discuss language use in L2 English classrooms in secondary school in Sweden. More specifically, I will relate language use to the teaching and learning of L2 English in multilingual classrooms. I will draw on data from an ongoing project, MultiLingual Spaces, in which colleagues and myself, among other things, have conducted an intervention study in real, multilingual L2 English classrooms.

more about Pia

Pia is Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Oslo, Norway. She has a wide range of research interests across applied linguistics, such as informal language learning, computer-assisted language learning (especially gaming), L2 vocabulary acquisition, and the assessment of L2 oral proficiency. Current projects involve English language teaching in multilingual classrooms. She researches 'extramural English', which is the varieties of English that students encounter outside of the classroom, especially via digital means ("Extramural English in Teaching and Learning" (with Sylvén, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

Sundqvist's work on English-language fandom in Sweden has highlighted the international reach that the digital forum entails and its linguistic consequences:

"The fact that Sweden is a highly connected country seems to contribute to a high level of proficiency in English. In turn, this language proficiency contributes to widespread online activities among Swedish young people. Technological advancement, English proficiency, and fandom activities are all closely interrelated. However, being connected to the Internet and being heavily involved in digital fan activities do not necessarily imply that one's main focus is international. Instead, digital activities are associated with closeness, both in terms of relationships (friends sitting on the same couch when going online) and geographical locations (attending local cosplay or gaming conventions). This way of being and acting as a fan is likely not limited to Sweden or Swedish fan communities; it is probably also the case in other areas with ubiquitous Internet access and English-language proficiency. Nevertheless, Sweden offers particularly fertile ground for digital fandoms." (A connected country: Sweden—Fertile ground for digital fandoms, 2015)

Dr. Sundqvist's extensive work on extramural English in the primary and secondary school contexts has prompted a widespread rethinking of what language skills school pupils bring with them to the classroom. This line of research is particularly relevant to subject didactics and the pedagogical perspective of the conference.