Jan Blommaert

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Jan Blommaert
Jan blommaert-1466016595.JPG
Born (1961-11-04) November 4, 1961 (age 57)
Alma materGhent University,
University of Antwerp
Known forDiscourse: A Critical Introduction, Grassroots Literacy, The Sociolinguistics of Globalization
Scientific career
FieldsSociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, discourse analysis, linguistics, literacy studies
InstitutionsTilburg University
InfluencesDell H. Hymes, John Gumperz, Johannes Fabian, Michael Silverstein, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Steven Vertovec, Ben Rampton

Jan Blommaert (November 4, 1961) is a Belgian sociolinguist and linguistic anthropologist, Professor of Language, Culture and Globalization and Director of the Babylon Center at Tilburg University, the Netherlands. He is considered to be one of the world's most prominent sociolinguists and linguistic anthropologists, and has contributed substantially to sociolinguistic globalization theory, focusing on historical as well as contemporary patterns of the spread of languages and forms of literacy, and on lasting and new forms of inequality emerging from globalization processes.


Born in Dendermonde, Belgium, Blommaert received his PhD in African History and Philology from Ghent University in 1989.

After graduation Blommaert started as research director at the International Pragmatics Association hosted at the University of Antwerp. In 1999 back at the Ghent University he became Associate Professor and head of the Department of African Languages and Cultures. In 2005 he was appointed Professor and Chair at the Institute of Education, the University of London. In 2008 he moved to Finland, where he was appointed Finland Distinguished Professor at the Department of Languages of the University of Jyväskylä, which he held until 2010. In 2007 he was appointed Professor of Language, Culture and Globalization and Director of the Babylon Center at Tilburg University. He is also Professor at Ghent University.

He holds honorary professorships at Beijing Language and Culture University, the University of the Western Cape and Hellenic American University.


Blommaerts work focuses on analysing issues of power and social inequality in language and society under conditions of contemporary globalization, from a discourse analytical and ethnographic perspective. His main focus is the ethnographic study of inequality in society, and particularly how it relates to language usage.

Apart from a voluminous academic body of work, Blommaert has written extensively in Dutch, empirically addressing broader social and political issues in Belgian and Dutch society: nationalism, populism and democracy, asylum politics, issues in language and education, and essays on the sociology of work under neoliberalism.[1] Blommaert's oeuvre in Dutch has also contributed to the debate on the status of the left on the political spectrum.[2]

Language and society[edit]

Blommaert argues that under globalized conditions, our basic understanding of language and society needs to be redefined, and the discipline of sociolinguistics to move in more materialist, semiotic, and ethnographic directions: all signs, whether written texts, shop inscriptions, internet memes, or bureaucratic interviews, are produced from and circulating within particular "orders of indexicality". Blommaert emphasizes the unequal access to universally valuable linguistic resources such as standard English or Dutch, and the social and political injustices as a result. Illustrations of this are given in his 2008 book, Grassroots Literacy, on marginal writing practices in Central Africa.

Sociolinguistics of globalization[edit]

Since 2002, Blommaert moved towards a sociolinguistics of globalization, which was basically a new platform for thinking about language in society taking in mind the fact that "old sociolinguistics" and its terminology could no longer address and do justice to new and unstable sociolinguistic realities, resulting from superdiversity.[3]

Blommaert, drawing on Vertovec described this superdiversity in terms of an increased mobility and an explosion of new technologies so that consequently, the idea of stability in social, cultural and linguistic formations can no longer be presupposed because of the disappearance of predictability.[4] This superdiversity leads to issues of complexity, and Blommaert addressed these issues in Chronicles of Complexity, in which he argues that seemingly 'chaotic' sociolinguistics environments, turn out to have a particular (but changing) order.


The key to Blommaert's work is 'ethnography', including issues on methodology and empirical practice. Ethnography is however not reduced to those elements, but rather sketched as a paradigm, a robust theoretical and methodological framework through which the world is observed. To achieve such a wide view, Blommaert argues for a historical and patterned understanding of real language usage in society.

To build the historical component, he frequently draws on Bourdieu's oeuvre, arguing that precisely because of its eclectic methodological approach (ranging from observations to long-term surveys etc.) it is ethnographic; on Braudel, rethinking his concept of 'longue duree' for considering sociolinguistic complexity, and Wallerstein's views on the compression of time and space in World Systems Analysis. To build the patterned component, Blommaert largely draws on Dell Hymes' concept of ethnopoetics, a methodological instrument to analyze narratives in patterned ways.

As for Hymes, Blommaert recognizes unfamiliar patterns to have a relevant and particular structure to the speaker, but finds that they are mis-recognized in e.g. bureaucratic encounters, in situations where "systems of meaning-making meet".[5] But whereas Hymes largely focused on print data and the reanalysis of others' data, Blommaert refined the methodology by using first-hand, real-life data from Belgian asylum seekers and subsequently developed an applied ethnopoetics.


Awards and honours[edit]

  • Ark Prize of the Free Word, 1993.
  • Emile Verhaeren chair, Free University Brussels (VUB), Belgium, 2002-3.
  • Finland Distinguished Professor, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, 2008-10.
  • first Barbara Metzger Prize, Wenner-Gren Foundation and Current Anthropology, 2010.


  1. ^ see the following titles, published by EPO in Berchem: "Ik stel vast" (2001); "Het Belgische asielbeleid: Kritische perspectieven" (with Ronald Commers); "Populisme" (2004, with Eric Corijn, Dieter Lesage & Marc Holthof); "De crisis van de democratie" (2007); "Taal, onderwijs en de samenleving" (with Piet Van Avermaet); "De 360°-werknemer" (2012, with Paul Mutsaers & Hans Siebers).
  2. ^ See for instance "Socialisme voor [her]beginners" (2010); "De heruitvinding van de samenleving" (2011); "Links van de Kerk. De linkerzijde en de multiculturele samenleving" (2011) - all published by EPO in Berchem.
  3. ^ Blommaert, J. "Commentary: A sociolinguistics of globalization." Special Issue: Sociolinguistics and Globalization, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Volume 7, Issue 4, pages 607–623, November 2003
  4. ^ Blommaert, J. & Rampton, B. Language and Superdiversity. Diversities. 2011, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. , UNESCO. ISSN 2079-6595
  5. ^ Blommaert, J. 2006. Ethnopoetics as functional reconstruction: Dell Hymes narrative view of the world. Functions of Language, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp. 229–249. John Benjamins Publishing Company

External links[edit]