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Open World Research Initiative (OWRI)

As part of The Open World Research Initiative (OWRI), the AHRC has invested £16 million in four major research programmes that will help demonstrate the value of modern languages in an increasingly globalised research environment. These projects will help showcase the crucial role that languages play, not just within arts and humanities but also on a wider scale in relation to key contemporary issues.

Janice Carruthers, AHRC Leadership Fellow, Modern Languages, explains more:


“As Leadership Fellow in the priority area of modern languages, one of my roles is to work closely with the four Open World projects. These are challenging times for modern languages and the Open World projects have a series of ambitious common objectives: to raise the profile of research in languages, to grow innovative emerging areas of research (both disciplinary and interdisciplinary), to work with non-HEI partners in articulating the value of languages in the contemporary world, and to leave a legacy in terms of the modern languages curriculum that will re-energise the discipline. 

"We hope that researchers outside the projects will participate in conferences and workshops and collaborations will evolve beyond the life of these projects. This is also a wonderful opportunity to train a new generation of researchers in languages through the fantastic team of PDRAs and PhD students across the projects.”

Creative Multilingualism


Creative Multilingualism investigates the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. This research programme, led by Professor Katrin Kohl at the University of Oxford with co-Investigators at:

  • Birmingham City University, School of Oriental and African Studies
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Reading

will put the spotlight on the value of modern languages, while using creativity as the focus for rethinking that value.

The programme will focus in particular on the following questions:

  • How does multilingualism stimulate creativity?
  • What kinds of creativity are involved in multilingualism?
  • How do these kinds of creativity manifest themselves in multilingual processes?

Languages are our key medium for self-expression, and as such they are at the heart of individual and collective cultural identity. This gives them immense creative potential which is fundamental to our lives as human beings and an invaluable resource in their own right.

There are seven strands to their research:

You can also visit them on their Twitter and Facebook pages.

Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies (MEITS) 

Linguistic competence in more than one language, being multilingual, sits at the heart of the study of modern languages and literatures, distinguishing it from related disciplines. Through six interlocking research strands, Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett at the University of Cambridge with co-Investigators at:

  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Nottingham
  • Queens University Belfast

will investigate how the insights gained from stepping outside of a single language, culture and mode of thought are vital to individuals and societies.


The project will analyse situations that give rise to multilingualism and the relationship between languages, cultures, identities, norms and standards. They will also explore ways of maximising motivation and achievement in language learning as a life-long activity.

MEITS objectives:

  • Create new knowledge about the opportunities and challenges of multilingualism for individuals, communities and nations
  • Change attitudes towards multilingualism in the general public and among key stakeholders and policymakers
  • Develop new interdisciplinary research paradigms and methodologies
  • Demonstrate how an innovative interdisciplinary project can integrate language-led research with literary-cultural studies, thereby address key issues of our times

Transformative impact will be achieved through creating new synergies across a range of disciplines, through collaboration with international partners, and, crucially, through exchanging ideas and insights with non-HEI partners.

For more information visit the MEITS website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community

This multi-disciplinary programme led by Professor Stephen Hutchings at the University of Manchester with Co-Investigators from the University of Manchester, University of Durham and University of London, aims to develop new modern languages research paradigms capable of re-conceptualising the relationship between language and community for the benefit of a more open world.


The project will identify three intersecting community configurations attributing different roles to language, and attracting distinct methodologies: the multilingual (urban communities whose identity is shaped by language diversity), the transnational (sharing a single language but dispersed across nation states) and the translingual (formed through cultural creativity across language boundaries).

In each case, it investigates ties and disjunctions between language and nationhood, and the dynamic of top-down institutional and grassroots networking dimensions of community-building. Tackling these issues across all three configurations, with each corresponding to a research strand, the project aims to recast modern languages agendas; reshape adjacent disciplinary priorities, offer insights to policymakers, and invest the civic university with new purpose.

Our main languages represent some of the world's largest language communities. They have the capacity to traverse the strands: Arabic, Chinese, German, Russian, and Spanish, which are at once community languages, the glue binding transnational networks, and a medium through which language communities embrace translingual values.

Find out more information on the Cross-Language Dynamics webpages, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Language Acts and Worldmaking

Led by Professor Catherine Boyle at King's College London with Co-Investigators at Open University, University of Westminster and Queen Mary University London, Language Acts and Worldmaking examines language as a material and historical force which acts as the means by which individuals construct their personal, local, transnational and spiritual identitiesa process we call ‘worldmaking’. Learning a language means recognising that the terms, concepts, beliefs and practices that are embedded in it possess a history, and that that history is shaped by encounters with other cultures and languages.


This project realises this potential by breaking down the standard disciplinary approaches that constrain Spanish and Portuguese within the boundaries of national literary and cultural traditions. Our case study is Iberia; its global empires and contact zones, which stretch across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

This vast multilingual and multicultural terrain dramatically illustrates the potential of modern language learning to understand and shape the world we live in. The project’s research and partnerships demonstrate the indispensable value of language learning for understanding how societies are structured and governed and for empowering culturally aware and self-reflective citizens.

Find out more information on the website or keep up to date with all the latest news and updates on Facebook and Twitter.