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Hard to Reach: The Role of the Sylheti-Bangali Diglossia, Orality and Multilingualism in Promoting Public Health and Community Resilience Amongst UK Bangladeshis during Extreme Weather Events

07/02/2019 @ 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM

During a natural disaster, poor communication can contribute to easily preventable morbidity and mortality, particularly among groups designated as “hard to reach”. This talk draws on data from an applied linguistics study looking at communication practices about the health risks of hot and cold weather in an area of London with a predominantly Bangladeshi and white British population. In the UK, warning messages about heatwaves and cold spells are typically communicated through the use of colours (e.g. yellow and amber) and numbers (level 2, 3, etc), accompanied by health messages about what actions to take. The white British and Bangladeshi participants in the study were given a health literacy assessment comprising of a series of tasks that required them to interpret typical language and key semiotics deployed in official and unofficial communication. Older Bangladeshis in the study, who had low levels of literacy and English language proficiency were given an adapted, orally presented version of the assessment in Sylheti, Bengali and English.

The assessment revealed how both the choice of language (e.g. English or Bengali) and language choices (e.g. heatwave or hot weather) were crucial to message interpretation. The comparison between the older Bangladeshi participants and other participants and the study also illustrated the centrality of universal cognitive constructs (e.g. the conceptualisation of risk as “high” or “low”), as well as the differences between oral and written ways of understanding the world to how people make sense of key messages and evaluate risk. I will discuss the implications of these findings for developing more inclusive and effective disaster and health communication practices for linguistically and culturally diverse population groups.


Speaker: Dr. Chris Tang, King’s College London, UK

Dr. Chris Tang is a Lecturer in International Education and teaches on four programmes at the School of Education, Communication and Society, King’s College London, UK. His research interests centre on the development and use of applied linguistic methodology and tools in public health communication, risk and disaster communication and language education contexts, particularly those situated in linguistically and culturally diverse environments. His research experience has primarily involved projects that combine applied linguistic and social science methods and methodology to improve communication practices. Within a disaster risk reduction and public health domain, he is specifically interested in the role of language, culture, (language) education and community networks as a means of engaging hard to reach groups with low literacy and English as an additional language. His most recent work has focused on applications of corpus linguistics and cognitive semantics in the assessment of health literacy within a project seeking to improve health and disaster risk communication about the dangers of heatwaves and cold spells. He has published in internationally reputed journals, such as Applied Linguistics and Journal of Pragmatics. Dr Chris Tang is the co-founder and coordinator of the Corpus Research in Linguistics and Beyond seminar series. In addition to his academic work, he has over 15 years experience teaching English as a foreign language.


3:00 PM - 4:00 PM
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Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka
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Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka
University of Dhaka
Dhaka, Bangladesh
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