Event — Conference

Language, Power and Identity in Asia: Creating and Crossing Language Boundaries

This three-day international conference (14-16 March 2016) is organised by IIAS in collaboration with LeidenGlobal and the Language Museum in Leiden, the Netherlands.

Organised by IIAS, in collaboration with LeidenGlobal and the Language Museum (Leiden).

Conference dates: 14-16 March 2016

It is no longer possible to submit proposals.

The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden, The Netherlands, is hosting an international conference to explore the interrelations between language, power and identity in Asia.

The conference explores how linguistic differences, practices, texts and performances are of critical importance to political, social and intellectual power structures among communities in the past and in the present, especially through processes of identity formation. How do (and how did) languages shape borders - social, ethnic, religious, or “national”? Likewise, how do languages and linguistic communities move across these limits?  In what ways do processes of hybridisation and multilingualism affect the formation of transnational or translocal identities, and how have they done so in the past? How have policies of language standardisation impacted on the political and intellectual spheres? What is the power of orality and performance vis-à-vis a variety of textual productions, through manuscript culture, epigraphical practices, print media, and the Internet?

About the conference

Asia today, as in the past, is home to a great linguistic diversity. Language continues to be a powerful factor in both solidifying and challenging cultural, religious, social, and political boundaries - whether through the building or deconstructing of political affiliations, systems of standardisation, the dissemination of inscribed texts, printed media, or oral performances. The conference aims to explore language policies that impact related speech communities separated by national borders – such as the Pashtun and Malay – and the role of policies and legislation in identity formation, and relates this back to lived realities of modern multilingual states, such as India, Indonesia and China. The conference will also address the position of small-scale linguistic communities within the large empires of the past and nation-states of the present, and within a rapidly globalising world. The conference will explore the role of modern, global languages such as English and Mandarin, and of high-status literary and liturgical languages such as Sanskrit and (standard) Arabic in innovative and interconnected ways.

Keynote speakers

The keynote speakers include: 

Professor G.J.V. Prasad, Director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study, New Delhi, India
Professor Mark Turin, Chair of the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


More than 150 scholars will present their work in 43 panels. Please download the Program Overview and Book of Abstracts.


The registration fee includes coffee breaks, lunches, a dinner on 14 March and a conference package.

On-site: € 150

(PhD) students:
On-site: € 100

To register, please visit our online registration portal at https://express2.converia.de/?sub=56 If you would only like to attend one or two sessions, please contact Ms Martina van den Haak at m.c.van.den.haak@iias.nl


The conference organisers have blocked a number of rooms at hotels in Leiden for conference participants. For suggestions, please click here. Participants are requested to make their own reservations.


The conference takes place in Leiden. The closest airport is Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

Schiphol Airport has a good train connection to Leiden Central Station (every 15 minutes).  The journey to Leiden Central Station takes 15-20 minutes. A single ticket costs about € 5,50. Should you wish to view the train schedules beforehand, please visit the website of the Dutch train service at http://www.ns.nl.

Organising team

Dr Tom Hoogervorst (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, Leiden)
Prof. Maarten Mous (Leiden University Centre for Linguistics)
Dr Philippe Peycam (director IIAS)
Dr Dick Smakman (Leiden University Centre for Linguistics)
Prof. Mark Turin (First Nations and Endangered Languages Program, University of British Columbia)
Dr Willem Vogelsang (IIAS)