Crispin Thurlow

No strings attached?

Multilingual performance and fleeting conviviality in host-tourist encounters


This paper is grounded in my long-standing research on tourism discourse which I have done in close collaboration with my colleague Adam Jaworski (e.g., Jaworski & Thurlow, 2010; Thurlow & Jaworski, 2011). In fact, for this presentation I will focus on a host-tourist interaction which we have always found intriguing but never actually written about. In a transaction between two tourists from Germany and a vendor at a market in Seoul, we find the vendor not only selling his sweets but also narrating the production process as a rather spectacular “multilingual performance”. Although the dominant language of the interaction is English, the vendor uses (mock) German in several instances of code-crossing. The interaction is also replete with numerous metapragmatic comments (e.g., tourists’ praise for the vendor’s skill) and other metadiscursive features (e.g., laughter). In this regard, we see how multilingual performance becomes a tool for the vendor to assume agency; he thus takes his sales pitch beyond a mere economic transaction and into the realm of flirtatious, convivial solidarities (cf Williams & Stroud, 2013). This is not to romanticize host-tourist exchanges, which are inextricably hegemonic, but rather to humanize them – to acknowledge that besides commodification sits a world of friendly co-existences.



Jaworski, A. & Thurlow, C. (2010). Language and the imagined communities of tourism: A sociolinguistics of fleeting relationships. In N. Coupland (ed.), The Handbook of Language and Globalization (pp. 256-286). Oxford: Blackwell.

Thurlow, C. & Jaworski, A. (2011). Tourism discourse: Languages and banal globalization. Applied Linguistics Review, 2, 285312.

Williams, Quentin & Stroud, Christopher. (2013). Multilingualism in transformative spaces: Contact and conviviality. Language Policy, 12(4), 289–311.