Queering Multilingualism and (Im)Mobility

Lecture by Tommaso Milani, professor of multilingualism at the University of Gothenburg 

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Tommaso M. Milani is Professor of Multilingualism at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. His research interests include discourse analysis, language ideologies, language policy and planning, linguistic landscape, as well as language, gender and sexuality. Among his publications are the edited collection Language and Masculinities: Performances, Intersections and Dislocations (Routledge, 2016) and the special issue of the journal Linguistic Landscape on Gender, Sexuality and Linguistic Landscapes (2018)He is general co-editor of the journal Language in Society.

Nearly 20 years have passed since the observation that while “language and gender studies have been characterized by a widespread monolingual bias, research in mainstream bilingualism and SLA has suffered from just as widespread gender-blindness” (Piller and Pavlenko 2001:3). Since then, however, an increasing interest in the relationship between bi/multilingualism/SLA and gender has left the important domain of sexuality relatively unexplored (see also Akiyama and Ortega 2019). Holly Cashman’s (2017) book-length inquiry into bilingual practices among a group of queer Latinx in Phoenix, Arizona, is a notable exception. In theoretically framing the relationship between bilingualism and sexuality, Cashman provides two important notes of caution:

I do not want to fall into the trap of essentializing LGBTQ language practices. I am interested in queer languaging rather than queer languages. I am also interested in queering the notion of bilingualism rather than claiming the existence of a queer bilingualism. (Cashman 2017:66)

It is precisely the queering of bi/multilingualism that this presentation seeks to further develop, with the help of empirical case studies from a variety of contexts. The analysis is informed by the following questions: What ideological resources are offered by different languages for the production of sexual subjectivities? How are these resources mobilized? For what purposes? And under which constraints? Crucially, while Cashman foregrounds queer (i.e. non-heterosexual) subjectivities, the project of queering multilingualism entails a critical scrutiny of both same-sex desire and heterosexuality. I will argue, furthermore, that space/place and mobility/immobility play a key role in multilingual negotiations of sexuality. By focusing on the nexus point of space/place, multilingualism and sexuality, I seek to offer a queer contribution to current conversations in applied linguistics about how “a post-structural orientation to language has to grapple with spatiality” (Canagarajah 2017).


Canagarajah Suresh (2017) Innovations and challenges in language as a spatial resource. Invited panel at AILA 2017, Rio de Janeiro 23-28 June 2017.

Cashman Holly (2017) Queer, Latinx and Bilingual: Narrative Resources in the Negotiation of Identities. London: Routledge.

Akiyama Yuka and Ortega Lourdes (2019) ‘I live with my girlfriend’: Coming out, virtual friendships and language learning. Paper presented at Lavender Languages 26, University of Gothenburg 2-4 May 2019.

Piller Ingrid and Pavlenko Aneta (2001) Introduction: Multilingualism, second language learning and gender. In Aneta Pavlenko, Adrian Blackledge, Ingrid Piller and Marya Teutsch-Dwyer (eds) Multilingualism, Second Language Learning, and Gender. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, pp. 1-13.

Tags: Multilingualism, Gender Studies, Queer Theory, Mobility, Space
Published Jan. 7, 2020 9:20 PM - Last modified Jan. 13, 2020 9:09 PM