Understanding and Processing Language in Complex Settings, or UPSET in short, is a research focus area at the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University that investigates how humans use language in the complex, multilingual setting of South Africa.

We do not shy away from unusual forms of language, or unusual users, and certainly do not restrict ourselves to any mythical, and probably non-existent, native speaker in some fictitious homogenous speech community, whose language is unaffected by such supposedly irrelevant factors such as being human or living in reality.

Language practice (translation, editing, subtitling, interpreting and even more) is one of the complex settings in which we work. We want to know how texts travel from one environment and in one code to another, while making sense (or not), and how these various texts that are transmitted enable people to participate in society and academia with greater ease.

We embrace the multilingual nature of South African society, and assume that most societies are multilingual. Therefore, any applied linguistic investigation has to be embedded in the authentic context of the linguistic reality in which we live. Our research on language acquisition, maintenance, policy, teaching, reading and writing and academic literacy is embedded in the multilingual context in which we live.

South Africa provides an excellent laboratory of language contact settings in which indigenous and colonial languages come into contact, and influence one another. We investigate the linguistic consequences of ongoing language change, especially looking at English and Afrikaans as they formed and changed in the past two centuries in South Africa. We do this by collecting corpora and interpreting the data from usage-based perspectives, as part of the ongoing development of a framework we call “Constrained Language”, which looks at linguistic, individual-psycholinguistic and social constraints that shape linguistic form.