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Expert in the Spotlight in 2011: James Costa

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Featured Expert / Area of focus:

James CostaJames Costa (picture) is working at the Institut Nationale de Recherche Pedagogique / National Institute for Pedagogical Research in Lyon, France. The INRP is a public agency whose purpose is to encourage and enhance research in the fields of education and training. It offers its expertise and teams to all researchers, trainers and decision-makers in the sphere of education.

Face to face with James Costa:

What is your background in the field of regional and minority languages/education/multilingualism?

I became interested in several minority languages at a very early age, when my Grandfather gave me a very old copy of “Gaelic without groans”. I went on to do Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth (Wales) and Rennes (Brittany). In Rennes, I was a “lecteur” in Welsh for two years, and then went on to teach Occitan (Provençal) at secondary level in Provence for three years. I was thus able to develop sociolinguistic questions while teaching both languages in very different settings. I subsequently became a research assistant at the Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique in Lyon (France) and with ICAR Laboratory, concentrating on issues of minority languages and minority language communities in France and Britain, and completed a PhD in 2010 at the University of Grenoble on language revitalisation in Provence and Scotland from a critical sociolinguistic / linguistic anthropological point of view. In my thesis, I establish a new framework for describing and analysing language revitalisation movements, and I redefine language revitalisation as a primarily social phenomenon in which language is invested with particular ideological meaning, in view of redefining the terms of contact between a minority group and a majority group. I have also worked in connected issues such as the social aspects of bilingualism, language socialisation and language policy.

What do you think is the major challenge in your field of work?

If I stick to the questions of language revitalisation, I think one of the main issues is to anchor this domain firmly at the crossroad between linguistics, sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, and see it not as a series of marginal phenomena, but rather as a collection of discursively closely knit phenomena which aim at redefining through discourse and language the dynamics of majorities and minorities in the world today. Language revitalisation movements are thus not inward looking movements, but outward looking ones, in which language has come to bear fundamental importance. This has consequences for linguistics (contact linguistics in particular) but also for sociolinguistics and anthropology. As a contact phenomenon, language revitalisation should also be analysed in the light of recent research on globalisation, which implies changes in the configuration of contact, for example from bipolar to multipolar.

What is one of the hottest new projects / items you are working on?

In collaboration with several laboratories in France (DDL & ICAR in Lyon, Parole et Language in Aix-en-Provence) and England (SOAS) we are working on an international project on language revitalisation in Europe and Latin America, in which I will be able to test and modify my hypotheses in a Latin American context (in Mexico), while continuing my work in France and Scotland. Along with Patricia Lambert, at the ICAR Laboratory, we are also currently working on plurilingual socialisation in several contexts, including some involving minority languages in Provence.

Are there any important references such as articles, links, etc. you would like to mention?

I think anyone interested in language revitalisation should read what was written in anthropology on cultural revitalisation, in particular in a recent volume edited by Michael Harkin:

Harkin, M. E. (Ed.). (2004). Reassessing Revitalization Movements: Perspectives from North America and the Pacific Islands. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press.

Also, in terms of articles I have written or co-written I can recommend a few recent ones in French:

Costa, J. (2011). Patois, gaga, savoyard, francoprovençal, arpitan. Quel nom pour une langue?

Langues et Cité, 18, 6.

Costa, J. (2011). "Aviáu enveja de transmetre tres causas" : transmission  familiale  de  l’occitan  et 

idéologies de militants en Provence Travaux Neuchâtelois de Linguistique, 52, 93-107.

Grinevald, C., & Costa, J. (2011). Langues en danger: le phénomène et la réponse des linguistes.

Faits de Langues, 35-36, 23-37.

And also in English:

Costa, J. (2009). Language History as Charter Myth? Scots and the (Re)invention of Scotland.

Scottish Language, 28, 1-25.

Costa, J., & Lambert, P. (2009). France and Language(s): Old Policies and New Challenges in

Education. Towards a Renewed Framework?  CIDREE Yearbook: Language policy and practice in

Europe - emerging challenges and innovative responses (pp. 15-26). Brussels: CIDREE/DVO.


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Featured topic:
Our focus this month lies on Language Revitalisation