Folk Linguistics

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Folk Linguistics

< Overiew of ReNs


Maria Rieder

Anne-Charlotte Husson



The AILA Research Network (ReN) on Folk Linguistics (formerly: Lay Theories and Folk Beliefs about Language(s), Language Learning and Communication) decided to change the name of the ReN to the shorter and more widely known Folk Linguistics. This is one of the results of the first workshop on December 5, 2009 in Salzburg at the ÖLT (Österreichische Linguistiktagung) and the subsequent discussion.

At the ReN workshop, we were able to welcome guest speakers to share their research findings with us. We would like to say thank you to Marie-Luise Voggler, Christiane Dalton-Puffer and Julia Hüttner for their interesting presentations. Furthermore, we are happy to welcome Dennis Preston as a new member of our ReN.

The next ReN workshop took place in Bergen, Norway, from September 10-11, 2010. In Bergen, we prepared the application for a ReN Symposium at the 16th AILA World Congress in Beijing in August 2011.

At the ReN symposium in Beijing on August 25, 2011, the members of the ReN introduced various areas of folk linguistic interest in short presentations, allowing ample time for discussion with other reseachers and guests. We were pleased to welcome many interested colleagues to this event.

Issue (24) of the AILA Review was edited by the convenors of the ReN, Antje Wilton & Martin Stegu, and contained contributions by ReN members on a number of topics relating folk linguistic research to applied linguistics.

The ReN held a very successful thematic session at the Sociolinguistics Symposium 19 in Berlin in 2012. The call for papers invited contributions on our session topic, Folk linguistics and society: People's ideas about language use and social identity, and was met with an overwhelming response of 35 submissions of which 19 were heard over three days. The papers presented research on non-linguists' perceptions of language in the formation of social identity from various regions of the world and stressed the necessity of taking such views into account in any situation in which decisions about language are made, such as language teaching and language policy and planning. The session finished with a discussion on folk linguistic issues.

At the AILA World Congress in Brisbane in August 2014, the ReN symposium included three presentations on the topic of Folk Linguistics and Language Policy. Unfortunately, due to the lack of funding, most ReN members were not able to join the symposium. Nevertheless, the session was successful in that the three presentations sparked off a lively discussion with an interested audience.

The ReN is currently preparing a roundtable discussion at the ALA conference 2016 in Vienna and their symposium at the upcoming AILA World Congress 2017 in Rio de Janeiro.

We can safely claim that folk linguistic research, its interest and its methodologies has firmly established itself among the approaches in sociolinguistics as well as applied linguistics and we are very satisfied with the successful work of the Research Network over the last seven years.

ReN Outline

This research network comprises applied linguists who address various aspects of folk beliefs or lay theories as applied linguistic issues in their research. In general, the focus lies on beliefs on language, language learning and communication and their relevance for decisions in people’s everyday and working lives.
Well established in the study of second language acquisition, the quantitative as well as qualitative investigation of learner’s attitudes and beliefs provides insight into the motivational sources of language learning. Thus, knowing about folk beliefs can significantly improve the understanding of and the influence on teacher behaviour, teacher training, and the design of curricula and teaching materials.

More generally, the beliefs and decisions of the layperson have become more important and relevant for scientists of quite a number of disciplines mainly for two reasons: On the one hand the non-expert, lay person is flooded with a vast amount of information on any subject, and quite often this is scientific information diluted by didactic or journalistic procedures. The growing demand for information is reflected in the popularity of guide books, ‘docutainment’ programmes on television, presentations for the public on scientific topics as well as the introduction of systematic teaching of knowledge in early education. In addition, the internet makes information available on a large scale and of varying quality and detail. On the other hand, the growing trend of bringing one’s private opinion to public attention forces researchers to take more notice of such opinions and their relevance for people’s decision making processes. Chat shows and blogs are prime examples of settings in which lay people voice their opinions and theories.

These developments are becoming increasingly relevant for applied linguists especially in linguistically diverse regions. With the investigation of folk beliefs in areas that are relevant to the individual the linguist can gain insight into the formation processes, the manifestation in various forms of discourse and the relevance of such beliefs for people’s decisions and actions. Furthermore, the investigation of lay beliefs on the nature of translation and interpreting, language acquisition, multilingualism, language policy, intercultural and any other kind of communication problems etc. might raise the linguists’ awareness of people’s need for information on linguistic issues and might ultimately help to bring Applied Linguistics (and its researchers) to public attention.

Programme for Activities

The members of this ReN are currently engaging in the following activities:

  • providing an overview of and bringing together the field of lay theories and folk beliefs about language(s), language learning, and communication as a distinct research area within Applied Linguistics;
  • exchanging information with each other about the various aspects and findings in the field;
  • document joint research activities in joint publications;
  • fostering the multinational and multilingual potentials of the network;
  • encouraging more new researchers to work on the topic of lay theories by promoting and supporting PhD studies and similar projects;
  • providing information on activities and news publications on this webspace;
  • preparing a slot reserved for AILA Research Networks with a symposium at AILA 2017.


Prof. Dr. Antje Wilton

Current members

Prof. Dr. Martin Stegu (Convener)
Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria

Prof. Dr. Antje Wilton (Convener)
University of Siegen, Germany

Prof. Dr. Karol Janicki
University of Bergen, Norway

Dr. Michael Pasquale
Cornerstone University, USA

Dr. Holger Wochele
Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria

Prof. Dr. Dietmar Osthus
University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

Prof. Dr. Paveau, Marie-Anne
University of Paris, France

Prof. Dr. Achard-Bayle, Guy
University of Paul-Verlaine-Metz, France

Dr. Alessia Cogo
University of Southampton, Great Britain

Prof. Dr. Dennis Preston
Oklahoma State University, USA

Dr. Robert McKenzie
Northumbria University, Great Britain

Dr. Madalena  Cruz-Ferreira

Prof. Dr. Matteo Santipolo
University of Padua, Italy

Katiuska Santibanez
Universidad Catolica de la Santisima Concepcion, Chile and China

Dr. Támas Péter Szabó
Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary

Dr. Barbara Soukup
University of Vienna, Austria