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Keynote speakers

At Lavender Languages and Linguistics 24, we will have two plenary speakers: Dr Helen Sauntson (York St John University) and Prof. Paul Baker (Lancaster University). We are also lucky to have the founder of the conference series, Prof. William Leap (American University and Florida Atlantic University), speaking on the past and future of language and sexuality research. These speakers’ abstracts are below.

Helen Sauntson | Queer/ing Applied Linguistics: Researching Language and Sexuality in Schools

This presentation responds to calls for more attention to be paid to how linguistic analysis can offer important insights into sexualities and education, and for greater dialogue between applied linguistics and queer linguistics (Nelson, 2012). I propose that a ‘queer applied linguistics’ (QAL) approach may be used effectively to investigate how gender and sexual identities are constructed through language in schools, and what the application of methods of spoken and written discourse analysis reveal about the relationship between language and sexuality in school settings. I argue that QAL may be defined as critical applied linguistics (Hall, Smith & Wicaksono, 2011; Pennycook, 2008) which is informed by queer theory and queer linguistics and applied to real-life contexts. QAL is primarily concerned with inequalities around gender and sexuality and has a social justice orientation in its intended applications.

The presentation exemplifies this approach by drawing on a recent research project which conducts a detailed and systematic examination of the diverse ways that language can play a role in constructions of sexual identities in school contexts. Throughout this examination, I address three theoretical issues in queer linguistics currently receiving much attention – temporality, space and normativity – and consider their applications to the analysis of language in school contexts.

The presentation draws on data comprising spoken interactional data taken from Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons; interviews with LGBT+-identified young people; interviews with teachers and trainee teachers; and PSHE and Health Education curriculum documents. Data are analysed using a combination of corpus linguistics, critical discourse analysis, tactics of intersubjectivity and appraisal analysis within an overarching QAL approach.


Paul Baker | What Polari did next

Polari was an anti-language (Halliday 1978) used by gay, bi and trans people in the UK in the first 70 years of the 20th century. When homosexuality was illegal, Polari was part of a toolkit for survival, used for secrecy, identification and to project a defiantly camp identity. As a result of social change in the 1960s, it had largely been abandoned by the 1970s and was classed as an endangered language by the World Oral Literature Project in 2010.

In the early 2000s I published the findings of my doctoral research on Polari (Baker 2002, 2003) and have regularly given talks on the topic since then. This talk compares the users, uses and meanings of Polari in the years since I finished my research with previous decades. It examines the role that Polari now plays for LGBT people in an age of social media and iphone apps, celebratory Gay and Lesbian History Months and council-funded grants. I argue that the numerous conceptualisations of Polari reflect the changing status of gay identity in the UK. Additionally, I reflect on the unexpected consequences of my research on the trajectory of this language, as well as considering the extent to which we can ever give a “voice” to those who were historically silenced.


William Leap | (Lavender) Language Matters: Reflections on the Past and Future of the Lavender Languages Conference

The first Lavender Languages Conference was held in 1993, at American University in Washington DC. While there have been 23 Lavender Languages Conferences since that time, this is the first year that we have met in a location accessible to colleagues based outside of US borders; this is a practice that may need to continue. Also unlike the case in 1993, there is now is a field of language and sexuality studies and there are many sites where scholars can report on research within this field. So the Conference has not remained vital for 24 years simply due to its intellectual uniqueness.

Since 1993, the Conference has offered a safe place for exploring ideas on the margins of inquiry, even when voices of power inside and outside of academe have labeled this inquiry ill-focused and ill-advised. And since 1993, the Conference has maintained a definition of “language” that is broad enough to allow structural descriptions to find common ground with literary criticism, visual display and performance pieces.

The visibility of the Lavender project remains a problem, however. Conference activities have yet to make a sustained impact on discussions of (language and) sexuality outside of our own academic circles.  To sustain viability at Lavender 25 and beyond, conference-related activities must do more than reauthorize the method and theory generated elsewhere. Instead, Conference activities (papers, panels, presentations, interventions) must embody the subject-matter we claim to explore, including: transgression, disidentification, refusal, marginality, the anti-normative, rhizomatic desire, or simply queer filiation.


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