A team, which includes University of Westminster academic Debra Kelly, has been awarded nearly £3 million to fund a research programme under the Open World Research Initiative.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is awarding grants to four research projects that study the way in which language plays a part in social issues (such as social cohesion, migration, security, health, business and diplomacy).

Debra Kelly, who is Professor of French and Francophone Literary and Cultural Studies, is part of a research project called Language Acts and Worldmaking. The project is led by Professor Catherine Boyle from King’s College London, and is in partnership with Queen Mary University of London and the Open University.

Language Acts and Worldmaking challenges a widely held view that recognises languages as a key part of a global world, but considers them a 'neutral' instrument of globalisation and a commercialised 'transferable skill'. This research programme argues that learning modern languages develops a unique form of cognition and critical engagement. Learning a language means understanding that the terms, concepts, beliefs and practices that are embedded in it possess a history, and that history is shaped by encounters with other cultures and languages.

Debra’s role will be the Deputy Director of the research project and its research centre. In her role, she will liaise with sixteen academic and cultural partners from around the world. She will also deal with the outreach of the project, as well as helping language academics becoming researchers.

Speaking about the project, Debra said: "This is a hugely important moment for modern languages research in the UK. The AHRC has shown tremendous confidence in the conception of these awards, and its call presented at once a provocation and an opportunity to the higher education modern languages sector.

“By focusing on the spaces between peoples, places and periods, we'll use the idea of 'worldmaking' to provide us with a creative conceptual framework to explore language as a material and historical force. It's testimony to the long history, reputation and sheer tenacity of modern languages at Westminster that we are taking our own place in this world-class interdisciplinary research programme".

The projects will work with over 100 partners including schools, the government and the BBC. They will also work internationally.

Find out more about the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Westminster.

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