By Santhosh Muthalath — As a renowned academician specialised in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, Prof. Blommaert receives at least 60 to 80 invitations from different parts of the world to deliver lectures on various topics in these fields. Considering the practicalities of extensive travelling and other issues, he declines most of such invitations for talks. However, when he got an invitation from the Sultanate of Oman, Prof. Blommaert did not think twice. He immediately accepted the invitation from Dr Najma Al Zadjaly, the chair of the Third International Conference of the Department of English Language and Literature of the College of Arts & Social Sciences at SQU. The reason is simple: Prof. Blommaert has heard of Oman as a meeting point of different cultures across the world from hundreds of years ago; and his own academic background goes back to East Africa to which Oman has historical links.
He gave a talk entitled “Connecting the Dots Nonlinearly: Language, Globalisation and Complexity”
“I started my academic life as a Swahili specialist”, Prof. Blommaert said. “I spent the beginning of my academic life in mainland Tanzania. During my days in Tanzania, I had the opportunity to read a lot about Oman and the historical relations between the Sultanate and East Africa and especially to the Zanzibar islands which are part of the Republic of Tanzania today. A variety of Arabic dialects spoken in different parts of Oman is the basis of Swahili language. So, as I got an invitation from Oman, I accepted it straightaway; because I like to go to places where I can really discover new things, people and new environment”, a delighted Prof. Blommaert said.
“It was totally a new experience for me in Oman! At SQU and outside, I could meet scholars from different parts of the world. It was a unique experience for me to meet scholars from the Middle East, India, Bangladesh and other Asian countries. Meeting such people opened up a new intellectual environment in me. I rarely meet linguistic scholars from these areas. As a researcher in globalisation, I should learn more about the world and my visit to the country immensely helped me to expand my knowledge by interacting with scholars from various parts of the world”, Prof. Blommaert added.
The visit to Oman, helped Prof. Blommaert understand Zanzibar a lot better. “As I lived in mainland of Tanzania, I always looked at Zanzibar and its people from the perspective of the mainland. Now I have many perspectives to look at this island. Tanzania is often seen as an exceptional case of successful language planning in Africa, with Swahili being spread to all corners of the country. Yet, this objective success has always been accompanied by a culture of complaints proclaiming its utter failure. I have written a book titled “State Ideology and Language in Tanzania” which sets out to explore this paradox through a richly documented historical, sociolinguistic and anthropological approach covering the story of Swahili. After my visit to Oman, I feel that I should rewrite this book so that I can highlight the intricate and historical relationship between Oman and East Africa. Oman has always opened its doors to other cultures, thanks to its seafaring tradition and historical trade connection with Asia, Africa and the rest of the world. Oman has always been a globalised society. This land has embraced globalisation long before we started using the word ‘globalisation’. Due to this great tradition of Oman, we can learn a lot by going to different places in Oman which still carry traces of the early forms of globalisation”, he said.
“Oman also features the superdiverse environment which is an extension of its diversity in the past! Oman is very good in terms of fostering superdiversity. This is reflected in its diverse workforce including foreigners from different countries, food, customs, religious systems, and whatnot! I would say that the language Swahili is a product of the superdiversity existed in the Sultanate of Oman. It was created by the people of Oman and Tanzania. At this point, we should remember the vibrant Indian community in Tanzania who immigrated there centuries ago. All forms of diversity create new things in society”, he explained.
It is clear that not only Prof. Blommaert has enjoyed his stay in Oman, it has inspired him to create new theories and methodologies that would benefit both academia and life in general.
Prof Jan Blommaert is a full professor at the Department of Cultural Studies of the Tilburg School of Humanities in Tilburg University, The Netherlands. He is the director of the Babylon, Center for the Study of Multicultural Societies, and the coordinator of an International Consortium on Language and Superdiversity (INCOLAS).