WP267 The Urban Myth: A critical interrogation of the sociolinguistic imagining of cities as spaces of diversity
In this paper, I critically question the focus on ?the city? that has characterized much of recent sociolinguistic research. Besides uncertainty on how to define a city, the assumption that demographic density and territorial closeness of users of different linguistic resources (as is typical for cities) necessitates contact-based language patterns is not always plausible. The article gives insight into linguistic anthropological theories on the relationship of language, social space and place-making. These indicate that it is particular political economies and the related institutional practices that cause interactional networks and thus contact ? or non-contact ? among speakers of different languages, not territorial proximity. In the third section, I present empirical data from different socio-geographical contexts that demonstrate that rural places may well be diverse, while urban contexts, despite displaying statistical diversity, have a potential for reproducing patterns of homogeneity in specific contexts (which implies that the term diversity should be specified in relation to different social scales, such as territorially conceptualised social spaces, social networks or individual practices). Overall, I emphasise that (a) ?the city? is a fuzzy concept whose effects on language practice need to be empirically verified, (b) if we mean by cities densely populated environments that are discursively constructed as cultural centres of globally connected economic activity (and in this role function as cultural model), we can show that such places have not only the potential for cultural and linguistic diversity but may foster patterns of social and linguistic segregation, (c) an uncritical construction of cities as places where linguistic mixing and cultural contact occur ?by nature? is epistemologically related to modernist language ideologies. Here, territorial belonging is typically conceived as defining language use. Thus, besides the attractive ?aura? (Spitzm?ller 2019) that concepts like urbanity and the city entail for the researchers who study them, a celebration of the city runs danger of reproducing modernist, essentialist paradigms on the smaller scale of ?the city?. This may erase reproductions of homogeneity ? with which academics may be complicit.