Interrogating "Common Language"

deadline for submissions: 
March 31, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
English Dept Graduate Conference, Simon Fraser University
contact email: 

Interrogating “Common Language”

Simon Fraser University, Department of English

June 22nd-24th, 2018

Deadline for submissions: March 31, 2018

“English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now a global lingua franca.” – entry for “English Language” (2018)

“Writers – journalists, essayists, bloggers, poets, playwrights – can disturb the social oppression that functions like a coma on the population, a coma that despots call peace.” – Toni Morrison, Burn This Book (2009)

“To speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to bear the weight of a civilization.” – Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952), trans. Richard Philcox (2008)

What are the problems with taking English as a “common language” for granted? Whether on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), Katzie, and kwikwəƛ̓ əm (Kwikwetlem) peoples where Simon Fraser University operates, to the treaty land and other occupied lands where English circulates, what is the full social effect of this colonial norm? Simon Fraser University’s 2018 English Graduate Conference seeks to interrogate, unpack, and problematize the notion that English is “common,” and asks how language is part of the definition and assimilation of cultures, the creation of liberatory art, and the destruction of civilizations. Alongside such interrogations, we hope to open up space for presentations that show how English is being “commoned,” turned toward the promise of an equitable and shared culture that “common languages” routinely fail to keep.

The role of English within colonial government (since at least 1277) is now complemented via the distortion of public language through corporate-controlled news media (“the colonization of the unconscious”). We should ask, then, how this mandated linguistic system continues to reshape our cities, our cultures, and our academic research: since hierarchies of language impact linguistic forms, what happens to research when “common language” is falsely taken as given?

We invite proposals from graduate students at all levels, intellectuals both inside and outside the university, and those who do not identify within these categories. We actively encourage collaborative, creative, and multimedia work alongside strictly academic work. We invite work that addresses the following questions across disciplinary approaches:

  • How is language used as a tool for re/claiming territory?
  • Where does resistance to colonization occur in, around, through, and against English?
  • How might reframing cultural appropriation as a tactic - with a history of use for various ends, including oppression, solidarity, appreciation, and resistance - contribute to understanding our contemporary cultural moment?
  • Where and how does corporate language infiltrate the public and/or domestic sphere?
  • How does language incarcerate persons, identities, and cultures?
  • What is the relationship between non-academic language and English education?
  • How do imperialistic identity politics affect the gendering of language?
  • What is the function of language in non/unwritten Englishes, ie. orality, discourse, or poetics?
  • How might we reconcile the aesthetics of language, feeling, and art after postmodernism?
  • What is implied when we used linguistic systems to categorize art?
  • Where can we find symbolic violence in political language?
  • How is the poetry slam a place of prologue?
  • Can we predict the ongoing colonial impacts of "Trudeau's" language of Truth and Reconciliation?
  • In what ways does language impact and limit literary forms and pedagogy?
  • Where do we see language shaping cities and appropriating cultures in those cities?
  • How might we combat the privatization of code in technology and digital media?
  • Are there identifiable theories and practices in linguistic value systems?
  • Can we think anew about the history of sexual practice and labeling - queer, feminist, femme, and any non-binary identites - when we take systemic language into account? In doing so, how might we remake exclusionary discourses?
  • How does the language of quantification and the power of numbers create another false common language? Are these two (English and quantification) historically related?

Please send proposals via email or post, no later than March 31, 2018, to:


Graduate Conference Committee

c/o English Department

8888 University Drive

Burnaby, BC

V5A 1S6

Proposals should include:

1) An abstract of no more than 300 words describing the genre and topic of your presentation

2) Your name and details for your preferred mode of contact (postal address, email, phone number, or literary code)

3) A brief biography of no more than 250 words

4) Any institutional or organizational affiliation (optional)

5) Any technical (Audio/Visual) requirements for your presentation

Note: these proposals may be for individual presentations or panels. Those who do submit individually will be matched by our conference organizers.