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Durham University

Durham University News


What is the future of modern languages in the 21st century?

(13 April 2018)

The future of modern languages as a university discipline is the topic of a major conference at Durham University from 16-18 April.

The conference, Our Uncommon Ground, brings together experts from around the globe to discuss the pressing need for the study of modern languages and cultures in a world which is increasingly – and acrimoniously – divided.

Diverse and lively field

Professor Janet Stewart, Head of Durham University’s School of Modern Languages and Cultures said:

“You often hear that these are difficult times for the discipline but we want to avoid complaining about crises and instead to think about what modern languages can and should do. It’s a diverse and lively field, interpreting and sharing languages, images, and ideas from across the globe.”

Cutting edge research

Delegates are being told about cutting-edge research carried out in the field and discussing the current state and future direction of the discipline. Items for discussion include how studying other cultures can change the way we think about energy and the environment, and the role of modern languages and science.

Speakers include Alberto Manguel, Director of the National Library of Argentina; Professor Janice Carruthers, Arts and Humanities Research Council Leadership Fellow for Modern Languages; Professor Catherine Davies, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research, London; Professor Neil Kenny FBA, Senior Research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford and Professor Nigel Vincent FBA, former Vice-President of the British Academy.

Haphazard quality of writing

Keynote speaker Alberto Manguel examines a paradox at the core of our use of language, in his presentation entitled The Tears of Isaac.

He says: “We know that every piece of writing is a haphazard and ineffectual approximation to the chaotic tangle of knowledge, dreams, affects, thoughts and events present in every moment of our lives, without ever reproducing it faithfully. But we also know that, at times, that same haphazard quality can give us four of five words that seem to contain the universe itself.

“Our societies exist in the tension between what we put into words and what we attempt to interpret through those words. The culture of language depends on the art of reading between the lines.”

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