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Research in languages, societies and cultures

Nicola McLelland | June 2023 | Dialogues

In 2022, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) issued a call for two Future of Language Research fellowships to “conduct horizon scanning and gap analysis and related tasks”, in order to “inform the future of possible AHRC investment in languages research”, and “identify new and emerging research themes and relevant policy areas that languages research could address”. For the AHRC, the fellowships were an opportunity to take stock following their unprecedented investment of £16 million in four major languages-based research projects through the Open World Research Initiative (OWRI, 2016-2020), which had been intended to help reinvigorate languages in Higher Education and so help address long-standing concerns about declining enrolments in languages in schools and in university degree programmes. In the event, the AHRC chose to fund three Future of Languages Research Fellowships, which between them covered different areas of interest to the AHRC. McLelland undertook a wide-ranging, bottom-up survey of language researchers’ expertise and capacity, to map against current and future government, business and third-sector research needs. Labeau’s BRUM project treated Birmingham as a case study to map existing languages expertise in the city against languages needs in business and public services. Macleod, a specialist in Gaelic, examined the research capacity and research needs to support the UK’s indigenous languages. This Dialogues collection presents some key findings and recommendations from each of the three projects. (Confidential joint and individual reports and recommendations were also submitted to the AHRC; see also Harrison & McLelland 2023, in press.) In a fourth article, Liz Wren-Owens, the Vice-Chair for Research of the University Council of Modern Languages, reflects on the three Fellows’ findings and recommendations.

Dialogue papers in this collection:

By Nicola McLelland

In this article, Nicola McLelland (one of three 2022 AHRC Future of Languages Research Fellows) outlines key findings from a survey of UK languages researchers, and argues for actions to secure the languages research pipeline and the diversity of languages research.

By Emmanuelle Labeau

In this article, Emmanuelle Labeau, AHRC Fellow for the Future of Language(s) Research, presents the main findings of her BRUM (Birmingham Research for Upholding Multilingualism) project. She outlines the presence of and need for languages in education, business, public services and the community and suggests innovative ways in which higher education institutions could support the existing multilingualism of the UK and bring added value to it.

By Michelle Macleod and Dawn Leslie

In this article Michelle Macleod, AHRC Future of Languages Research Fellow, and Dawn Leslie identify the current research practices and focus of government agencies and stakeholder organisations involved in promoting the UK’s indigenous languages and suggest future research themes which would support policy ambitions and interventions.

By Liz Wren-Owens

In this article, Liz Wren-Owens (Vice-Chair (Research) of the University Council of Modern Languages) responds to the reports of the three Fellows of the AHRC Future of Languages scheme, focussing on how we mobilise the strengths of modern languages research to respond to inequalities in languages provision and the needs of stakeholders within and beyond the languages community.


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