Subaltern Linguistics: Why, What and How? – School of Literature, Art and Media Subaltern Linguistics: Why, What and How? – School of Literature, Art and Media

Subaltern Linguistics: Why, What and How?

A/Prof. Ahmar Mahboob
Subaltern Linguistics: Why, What and How?

Subaltern linguistics encourages the use of socio-semiotics in creating activities, economies, material, policies, and resources that are deemed necessary by people for who engage in it. Subaltern linguistics is practice. In order to develop this practice, we have to move away from more traditional approaches of doing linguistics.

In this presentation, I will first outline some of the limitations of linguistics in its ability to support disempowered people, communities, and languages. I will highlight some of the reasons why a proportion of current linguistics research has little real-world implications; and, in some cases, has significant negative consequences for people and the environment.

I will then introduce Subaltern Linguistics as an alternative, community-engaged, and sustainable approach to doing language-focussed projects. One goal of these projects is to do things that address the community needs of the people who engage in these projects. In doing so, subaltern linguistics draws on a distinction between material, biological, and socio-semiotic systems, a view based on work by Prof Halliday and Prof Matthiessen, and considers how socio-semiotic systems relate to material-biological systems. Drawing on this, our projects consider how we make meaning through all our material senses, which includes, but is not limited to, sound – one aspect of which is language.

Language, in subaltern linguistics, can be defined in at least four interrelated ways: a) language is a semogenic system, which operates through sound (sign language and reading operate through sight; Braille operates through touch); b) language is a socio-semiotic inheritance; c) language is science; and, d) language is a complex-dynamic system.

The complex understandings of language that these four definitions together generate are useful in understanding the role socio-semiotics play in social harmonisation and prosperity; and, how, on the other hand, a lack of understanding of and attention to these issues can lead to chaos and problems.

Equipped with these understandings of language, which displace the primacy given to structural or formal properties of language, subaltern linguistics leads practitioners into developing and carrying out projects that can make a contribution – as identified by them and their people – to their contexts.

In this presentation, I will share some of the projects that I have been engaged in over the last year or so to demonstrate how a subaltern linguistics, working at the grassroots, can create projects that impact aspects of economics, environment, language, and health. I will also share examples of how teachers have drawn on this work to alter the content, goals, and assessments for their classrooms.

Recommended reading: Doing Subaltern Linguistics



Mar 06 2020


4:00 pm - 5:30 pm




Seminar Room 209
RC Mills Building, The University of Sydney, Camperdown

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *