language ecosystem

Oana Avasilichioaei on the language ecosystem

The following eco-fragments delve into the ecosystem of language to consider some of its aspects and explore how the polylingual and the poetic can act as forces of resistance to dualistic or monolithic thought in order to celebrate the diverse, the uncomfortable, the noisy, the deviant, the non-territorial of messy, yet generous and generative, linguistic environments. These fragments do not attempt to formulate a definitive pronouncement but to sound out some echoes of language’s ecosystem. Incomplete and in development, they are open to interpretation, reformulation, expansion, and contestation.

(All poetry stanzas are excerpts from my poem “Borne,” published in Limbinal, 2015.)

This poem-essay was originally written to be presented as part of a seminar on New Poetic Ecologies at the Poetics: (The Next) 25 Years conference, held at the University of Buffalo on April 9–10, 2016).

Language Ecosystem

To consider language as an ecosystem, complex, alive, unstable, and struggling in a fraught environment.

To attempt a definition:

language ecosystem: the complex of a community of organisms morphemes and its environment functioning as an ecological ecolinguistic unit.

To account for language’s complete environment.

The sensory, perceptual, technological, but also historical and sociological dimensions of language’s production and living environment. Also, the ‘noise,’ the ‘dirt,’ the often unaccounted for elements that sustain it. What surrounds and generates language instances and shapes dialogic encounters. From discrete somatic, intimate gestures and splutterings to physiological availabilities and collective slangs, language machines, urban, environmental networks.

To invoke the area of ecolinguistics, which is about “critiquing forms of language that contribute to ecological destruction, and aiding in the search for new forms of language that inspire people to protect the natural world.”

Is to shape a minimal equation between ecology and language, connected quite simply because the way humans treat each other and the natural world is influenced by their ideologies and worldviews, as well as their ways of thinking and conceptualizing, which is in turn shaped by language? Language has productive power; it has the force to redirect destructive tendencies into constructive possibilities, to open what has been closed, and to reinvent what has been stagnant and dogmatic. Language continually changes us, its interlocutors and its makers, its assimilators and its agents, and we continually change it. It is up to each of us to decide how active a role we play in this exchange, what we encourage and what we resist.


Monolingualism doesn’t just suggest the presence of one language. “It constitutes a key structuring principle that organizes the entire range of modern social life, from the construction of individuals and their proper subjectivities to the formation of disciplines and institutions, as well as of imagined collectives such as cultures and nations.”

The monopoly of terms taken up, made current and popular, is an academic fetish, repeated ad infinitum. It is the dreariness of the monolithic versus the intrigue of the idiolect.

Monolingualism idealizes the “mother tongue.”

The uniqueness and organic nature of language imagined as ‘mother tongue’ lends its authority to an aesthetics of originality and authenticity. In this view, a writer can become the origin of creative works only with an origin in a mother tongue … The result is a disavowal of the possibility of writing in non-native languages or in multiple languages at the same time.

The English with which I write is neither my “mother tongue” nor is it singular. It is an English cognizant of other languages. It is an English that activates its syntax through the syntax of both itself and others. It is an English that is increasingly interrupted by and intersected with other lexicons, with the “foreign” words it has assimilated over centuries, and with other sounds. It is an English that rejects any authority of “authenticity” and instead revels in its bastard status because my context has never been and will never be monolingual. Does such a context even exist? The utopia of monolingualism—“the notion of the mother [acting as] a vital element in the imagination and production of the homogeneous nation-state”—has tried and keeps trying to convince us it does.

Polylingual Terrain

The polylingual terrain is a place of resistance. The polylingual terrain stimulates, exists through difference, slippage. An encounter with the difference in the other. A recognition of one in the other, of the other in one. A terrain that is uncertain yet diverse, alive in its diversity, surviving through its diversity.

Breathing, I come to you, in you. Ton territoire devient le mien. I come as drift, juncture, ouverture dans les parois de ton terrain radical.

The polylingual terrain resists sameness and flattening. It is restless, uncomfortable, searching.

Recent decades have witnessed an unprecedented movement of people, language traffic, migrations, virtual and electronic exchanges, exodus, and relocation. As such, languages have once again, visibly and manifestly, increased in circulation. Some languages dominate while others struggle for air. Yet in this flow of people and their tongues, in this adjacent and interactive coexistence of linguistic multitudes, the need for communication remains urgent, present, and necessary. As distinct languages rub against each other, traffic their vocabularies, strain their syntaxes, and forage their phonemes, they form an interstitial linguistic space—an in-between polylingual space.  

What is the impact of this space? What does “language” mean here? How will language evolve through this terrain? How is language stuttered, voiced, and acquired here? A need to reimagine how we identify with and through language emerges.

Notre constitution nous donne une existence propre à nous. Passage ou contour. We are today all weather wind gusts an ousted leader étendards en flamme copious winged crossings citizen avec citizen, citizen contre citizen, non-citoyenne.

Language Habitats

These habitats are always plural, because one habitat touches another and because any habitat is refracted.

While globalism appears unstoppable as a force, ever eager, ravenous, and devouring, the niche too does its quiet yet resilient work. While English grows into a lingua franca, a vernacular of commerce, technology, and trade, it is constantly altered. Any English is a cluster of Englishes, impure and striated. This is not a criticism but an exultation.

Acuma, our weathers weep, le contenant ne peut plus nous contenir. Obliterated contentment of containment. Accumulated.

Languages are communal and of the body. A body is altered through its phonemes, its noise and stammer.


A celebration of the blurred boundary, mixed allegiance, and non-territoriality. Unrooted and uprooting. Revelling in deviation, hodgepodge, mishmash, digression, departure, dispersal, coalescence, miscellany, and diversity.

Moi, limite, native d’aucune place, d’aucune langue, d’aucun sol natal to call my soul (ce suflet ar putea sufla în mine?), néanmoins les êtres m’utilisent incessamment à travers des ères, me soumettent pour donner forme aux terres, aux espaces, aux idées qu’ils veulent nommer leurs. Dans cette langue que j’emprunte, la notion de home ne se manifeste pas.

The diversity of registers, tenors, lexicons, the high, the low, and everything in between. Resilience through variation and disturbance. Fearless in mutation through alteration, deletion, insertion, or rearrangement.

Language Ecotone

A region of transition between two linguistic communities. A region of productive linguistic tension and friction.

Un île qu’il veut défendre, mais les marges s’abîment. Față în față, o resonanță.

The oral, the tonality, musicality, and noise of language as a possible ecotone between sense and sound, the sound of sense and the sense of sound.

Poem Biome

“The poetic is still the most important space for examining and for spinning language and language-based work.” (From Bergvall again.) The poem is an expansive place of potential that can challenge linguistic restrictions and institutionalizations, enact a polylingual space, investigate syntax, be glossal, and put pressure on the monoliths, the rigid, and the entrenched. The poem is responsive and responsible. The poem is trace and transgression.

Material matter of utterance, the struggle to persist, lift, take flight, l’angle de la provenance, pointed, aimed, ready to retaliate the retaliation.


Oana Avasilichioaei’s current interests include polylingualisms and porous, intermediary spaces between words, sound and image. She explores the transgressions and aural possibilities of these terrains through poetry, translation, performance, and sound work. Her five poetry collections include We, Beasts (2012) and Limbinal (2015), a hybrid, multi-genre work on notions of borders, and her most recent sound performances include THRESHOLDS (2015) and MOUTHNOTES (2016). Based in Montreal, she regularly performs in Canada, USA, and Europe.

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