Jan Blommaert and the use of sociolinguistics: Critical, political, personal

Ben Rampton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


On 7 January 2021, Jan Blommaert died aged 59, after a ten-month battle with cancer. He was an extraordinary person and a brilliant academic, and there have been a great many very moving personal accounts of how much Jan meant to the people he interacted with. I knew and worked with him for over twenty-five years, and during his protracted illness, for me and for a lot of others, it was good to be able to tell him directly how much I owed him. But beyond the warm, hospitable, humorous and hugely energising individual we knew, Jan was profoundly committed to - indeed lived - a programme of sociolinguistics that he often traced to the writings of Dell Hymes, the founder of Language in Society. A number of this programme's core elements were spelled out in the introduction to Hymes' ground-breaking 1969 collection, Reinventing Anthropology, a 'book... for people for whom "the way things are"is not reason enough for the ways things are, who find fundamental questions pertinent and in need of personal answer' (1969:7). For my account of the value and vitality that Jan brought to sociolinguistics, I have borrowed from the title of Hymes' introduction, 'The use of anthropology: Critical, political, personal' and, as well as citing some of Jan's own words, I also draw on the reflections of others as evidence of the vigour, clarity, and coherence with which he articulated a practice and purpose for work on language in society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-342
Number of pages12
JournalLanguage in Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2021


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