Dr Naomi Wells

Contact details

Dr Naomi Wells
BA Spanish and Italian (Leeds 2007), MA by Research (Leeds 2009), PhD (Leeds 2013)
Post-Doctoral Research Associate (Translingual Communities, European Languages and Digital Humanities)
Institute of Modern Languages Research
Institute of Modern Languages Research School of Advanced Study University of London Senate House Malet Street London WC1E 7HU
020 7862 8766
Email address:

Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
Culture, Digital resources, Digitisation, Language and Literature (Italian), Language and Literature (Spanish)
Research keywords:
Digital Humanities, Multilingualism, Transnationalism, Ethnography, Cultures of Migration and Mobility, Language Ideologies and Policies
Europe, South America
Summary of research interests and expertise:

I joined the IMLR in 2017 as a Research Associate on the AHRC-funded Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community project (Open World Research Initiative). My research for the project focuses on technology-driven forms of communication and representation, concentrating on social and other digital media generated by language communities in the UK. I am also collaborating with key project partners, and in particular with the British Library where I will be working with their web archives and digital collections experts in the development of new research questions and methodologies for working with digital media.

I was previously a research fellow on the AHRC-funded Transnationalizing Modern Languages project, focusing on the linguistic and cultural practices of migrant and intercultural associations in the city of Bologna (Italy) which forms the basis of my forthcoming monograph. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, the research draws on applied and sociolinguistics, cultural and translation studies, and cultural and social geography. An additional strand of my research centred on Italian-speaking communities in Chile, and the translingual and transcultural practices of representation and memory within these communities.

My previous PhD research focused on language policy and linguistic minorities in Spain and Italy, and in 2010 I received the Society for Italian Studies postgraduate prize for my MA thesis on language politics and policy in the Veneto and Asturias.

I am equally committed to public engagement and impact activities which bring research in Modern Languages to wider audiences. I previously co-organised two series of creative writing workshops at Sandwell Arts Cafe and the Birmingham Ikon Gallery, attracting new and experienced writers from diverse backgrounds in the West Midlands keen to explore with us how they respond creatively to living in a multilingual and multicultural environment. I have also taken an active role in discussions concerning the future of Modern Languages, co-organising a major event in collaboration with the British Academy on reshaping the discipline and presenting my work in Modern Languages forums across the UK and abroad.

Spoken Written
Italian Fluent Fluent
French Intermediate Intermediate
Spanish Fluent Fluent
Other: Beginner's Arabic; Beginner's Catalan
Publication Details

Related publications/articles:

Date Details
11-Nov-2018 Translanguaging and Collaborative Creative Practices: Communication and Performance in an Intercultural Theatre Group


In Gerardo Mazzaferro, ed. Translanguaging as Everyday Practice, Springer. 

01-Apr-2016 The Territorial Principle: Language Rights and Linguistic Minorities in Spain and Italy


In Gill Valentine and Ulrike Vieten, eds. Cartographies of Difference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Living with Difference. New Visions of the Cosmopolitan Series. Bern: Peter Lang, pp. 157-82.

01-Jan-2012 Multilinguismo nello stato-nazione: lingua e identità sarda all’interno dello stato italiano (1992-2010)


 In Silvia Contarini, Margherita Marras and Giuliana Pias, eds. L’identità sarda del XXI secolo: tra globale, locale e postcoloniale. Nuoro: Il Maestrale, pp. 155-70.

24-Oct-2011 The Linguistic Capital of Contested Languages: The Centre-Left and Regional Languages in Asturias and the Veneto, 1998-2008

Journal articles

Language Problems and Language Planning, 32(2) (2011), 117-38

Publications available on SAS-space:

Date Details
Jul-2018 State recognition for ‘contested languages’: a comparative study of Sardinian and Asturian, 1992–2010


While the idea of a named language as a separate and discrete identity is a political and social construct, in the cases of Sardinian and Asturian doubts over their respective ‘languageness’ have real material consequences, particularly in relation to language policy decisions at the state level. The Asturian example highlights how its lack of official status means that it is either ignored or subjected to repeated challenges to its status as a language variety deserving of recognition and support, reflecting how ‘official language’ in the Spanish context is often understood in practice as synonymous with the theoretically broader category of ‘language’. In contrast, the recent state recognition of Sardinian speakers as a linguistic minority in Italy (Law 482/1999) illustrates how legal recognition served to overcome existing obstacles to the implementation of regional language policy measures. At the same time, the limited subsequent effects of this Law, particularly in the sphere of education, are a reminder of the shortcomings of top-down policies which fail to engage with the local language practices and attitudes of the communities of speakers recognized. The contrastive focus of this article thus acknowledges the continued material consequences of top-down language classification, while highlighting its inadequacies as a language policy mechanism which reinforces artificial distinctions between speech varieties and speakers deserving of recognition.

Jan-2019 Ethnography and Modern Languages


While rarely explicitly recognized in our disciplinary frameworks, the openness and curiosity on which Modern Languages in the UK is founded are, in many ways, ethnographic impulses. Ethnographic theories and practices can be transformative in relation to the undergraduate curriculum, providing an unparalleled model for experiential and holistic approaches to language and cultural learning. As a form of emplaced and embodied knowledge production, ethnography promotes greater reflexivity on our geographical and historical locations as researchers, and on the languages and cultures through which we engage. An ethnographic sensitivity encourages an openness to less hierarchical and hegemonic forms of knowledge, particularly when consciously seeking to invert the traditional colonial ethnographic project and envision instead more participatory and collaborative models of engagement. Modern Languages scholars are at the same time ideally placed to challenge a monolingual mindset and an insensitivity to language-related questions in existing ethnographic research located in cognate disciplines. For Modern Languages to embrace ethnography with credibility, we propose a series of recommendations to mobilize these new research and professional agendas.

Jan-2020 Emplaced and embodied encounters: methodological reflections on transcultural research in contexts of Italian migration


This article explores the practical, ethical, and epistemological issues which arise when carrying out and sharing research in contexts of Italian migration, highlighting how greater reflexivity on our own geographic and historical location as researchers can productively inform and shape our understanding of sites of contact, exchange and confrontation in relation to contemporary Italy. Specifically, we write as researchers informed by ethnographic theories and practices, and who through our research have engaged in emplaced and embodied cultural encounters in sites which are identifiable as both transcultural and Italian. Drawing on vignettes from research in Italy and the UK, the article highlights some of the particular contradictions, opportunities and responsibilities generated by our respective positions. We address how our positionings as white, English and female scholars located within nationally-defined Italian Studies structures have raised pertinent questions of power, privilege and voice, as we place our own biographies and bodies, themselves shaped by specific colonial, national and local histories, into critical dialogue with those on and with whom we research. Through a discussion of these ‘irresolvable tensions’ of our research, we seek to practically engage with the broader imperative of finding new ways of studying and writing culture.

Research Projects & Supervisions

Research projects:

Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community

 Postdoctoral Research Associate, 2017-Present

Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Cultures

Postdoctoral Research Assistant, 2014-2016

Available for doctoral supervision: Yes

Professional Affiliations

Professional affiliations:

Name Activity
Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI)
Society for Latin America Studies (SLAS)
European Association of Digital Humanities (EADH)
International Association for the Study of Spanish in Society (SIS-EES)
Society for Italian Studies (SIS)
Relevant Events

Related events:

Date Details
05-Sep-2019 Plenary Speaker

Plenary presentation by M. Soledad Montañez and Naomi Wells ("Lemme hablar": Translanguaging Spaces and Latin American Community Engagement in London) at the Spanish in Society conference at the University of Edinburgh.

19-Jun-2019 Conference panel: Analysing and archiving the web presence of migrant communities in the web archives of the Netherlands and the UK

Panel at the RESAW (a Research Infrastructure for the Study of Archived Web Materials) conference at the University of Amsterdam. Speakers: Saskia Huc-Hepher, Kees Teszelszky and Naomi Wells.

06-Jun-2019 Digital Diasporas: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

International conference organised as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community'

21-May-2019 Digital Modern Languages seminar series

The Digital Modern Languages seminar series brings together research and teaching in Modern Languages which engages with digital culture, media and technologies. The series is convened by Paul Spence (King’s College London) and Naomi Wells (Institute of Modern Languages Research).’ It was launched in May 2019 as part of the AHRC-funded Open World Research Initiative, and is supported by the Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community and Language Acts and Worldmaking projects, and by the AHRC Leadership Fellow for Modern Languages (Janice Carruthers).

04-Apr-2019 Conference panel: Cross-Language Dynamics: Translingual Communities between Latin America and the UK

A panel on the work of the AHRC-funded 'Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community' project at the Society of Latin American Studies (UK) conference at the University of Leicester. Speakers: Francielle Carpenedo, M. Soledad Montañez, and Naomi Wells.

05-Dec-2018 Invited seminar

‘Translingual Communities and Digital Diasporas: Latin American Voices in the UK Web Archive’, invited seminar for the Modern Languages Research Seminar Series, University of Westminster

03-Nov-2018 Conference paper

‘Transnational Rootedness in Bologna and Valparaíso: The (Re)production of Collective and Individual Identities in Sites of Italian Migration’, Diaspore Italiane – Italy in Movement (A Symposium on Three Continents), John D. Calandra Italian American Institute (New York)

26-Mar-2018 Conference paper

 ‘Representation and digital diasporas: Latin American voices in the UK Web Archive’, Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI) 63rd Annual Conference, University of Leeds

22-Feb-2018 Invited speaker

‘Bridging the Archive and the Repertoire: London’s Latin Americans in the UK Web Archive’, Gerald Aylmer Seminar 2019: Digital and the Archive, The National Archives

07-Jul-2017 Invited speaker

'Mediating between home and school: Migrant cultural associations in Bologna and the teaching of the "mother language"', European experiences of 'good' language, 'bad language', and (the) standard language ideology in multilingual communities, past and present (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies project conference [AHRC Open World Research Initiative]), University of Nottingham.

04-Jul-2017 Conference paper (plenary panel)

 Fieldwork, impact and engagement: Reflections on ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages', Scontri e incontri: the dynamics of Italian transcultural exchanges (8th Biennial ACIS Conference), Monash Prato Centre.

03-Jun-2017 Invited speaker

'Language and transgenerational identity in Chile’s Italian community: Methodological and theoretical reflections', Researching language in the city: Exploring methodological and theoretical concepts (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies project conference [AHRC Open World Research Initiative]), Highfield House Hotel, Southampton.

01-Apr-2017 Conference paper

'Language ideologies and identity in Chile's Italian community', SiS2017: Language ideologies in the Spanish-speaking world (8th International Conference of Hispanic Linguistics and 6th Biennial Meeting of the International Association for the Study of Spanish in Society [SIS-EES]), University of Southampton.

20-Mar-2017 Invited speaker

'Digital Humanities and Modern Languages: Researching and representing language communities in the UK Web Archive', Born-Digital Data for History and the Humanities: the challenges of collaborative research (Born-digital Big Data and Methods for History and the Humanities AHRC network workshop), University of Cambridge.

22-Sep-2016 Conference paper

‘Bridging Sociolinguistics and Cultural Studies: Linguistic and cultural practices in migrant cultural associations in Bologna’, 2nd International Conference on the Sociolinguistics of Immigration, Rapallo, Università degli Studi di Torino.

09-Sep-2016 Invited speaker

With Prof C. Burdett, ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Re-framing the discipline’, Languages and Cultures in 21st Century Transnationality, Sheffield Hallam University.

06-Jul-2016 Conference paper

With Dr J. Burns, ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Bridging experiences in research, practice and teaching’, Frameworks for Collaboration and Multilingualism Conference (8th Biennial joint LLAS, UCML, and AULC ‘Languages in Higher Education’ conference), University of Warwick.

15-Jun-2016 Conference paper

'Language as a Site of Empowerment and Solidarity: Migrant Cultural Associations in Bologna and the Teaching of the "Mother Language"', Sociolinguistics Symposium 21, Universidad de Murcia.

13-Jun-2016 Invited speaker

 With Prof D. Duncan and Prof L. Polezzi, ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Transnationalizing creative practices’, Translation, Translanguaging and Creativity: A Translating Cultures Workshop, Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study.

26-May-2016 Conference paper

‘From imitation to appropriation: Reshaping the Italian language in migrant and intercultural associations in Bologna, Italy’, New Plurilingual Pathways for Integration: Immigrants and Language Learning in the 21st Century (BAAL/Cambridge University Press seminar), Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

30-Apr-2016 Conference paper

'Transnational Cultural and Linguistic Practices in Migrant Cultural Associations in Bologna', Turning Points: Cultures of Transition, Transformation and Transmission In Italy (Society for Italian Studies Interim Conference), Trinity College Dublin.

13-Nov-2015 Invited speaker

With Prof L. Polezzi, ‘Working globally through multilingualism and translation’, Multilingualism in Practice in the University ESRC Seminar, University of Birmingham.

04-Nov-2015 Invited speaker

‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Negotiating linguistic and cultural diversity in contemporary Italy’, invited research seminar, School of Modern Languages, University of Leicester.

Consultancy & Media
Available for consultancy:
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