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Multilingualism, education and linguistic landscapes

PhD project In practically all Swedish schools, there is today a large share of multilingual students, placing new demands on educational practices and organization. An often-overlooked circumstance, however, is that the physical environment in which the school is located, is still usually characterized by a strong and tenacious monolingual norm.

In this project I explore the interactions between newly arrived high school-students and the linguistic landscape in two rural schools in the north of Sweden. By focusing newly arrived adolescents’ experiences of language practices in a geographical area rarely figuring in dominating discourses on multilingualism, this study wants to contribute to the creation of new spaces for thinking about language, education and intercultural relations.

Head of project

Andreas Nuottaniemi
Doctoral student

Project overview

Project period:

Start date: 2018-08-01

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Language Studies, Umeå School of Education

Research subject

Educational sciences, Language studies

Project description

Swedish schools are today characterized – like schools all over the world – by the intensified mobility patterns of the previous decades. People move around the globe, with varying degrees of voluntariness, to an extent never seen before. In combination with the transformation of communication technologies this, according to some scholars, have had pronounced consequences for language use in everyday life. With concepts such as translanguaging (Garcia & Li, 2014), polylingualism (Jørgensen, 2008), crossing (Rampton, 1995) and metrolingualism (Otsuji & Pennycook, 2011) – to mention a few of the terms currently orbiting within the sociolinguistic field – researchers try to find ways to describe and explain this supposedly new reality. Perhaps, however, it is not just a matter of changed communication patterns due to societal changes, but also an alternative way of conceptualizing and understanding languages – one where monolingualism is not (the implicit) norm (cf. Pennycook, 2010; Piller, 2016).

For a nation state like Sweden, with a strong and tenacious monolingual norm, the so-called multilingual turn (May, 2013) of recent years has not least resulted in challenges to dominating educational practices. Even though Sweden always has been a multilingual country, with for example large Finnish- and Sami-speaking minorities, it is not until the increase in immigration of recent decades that schooling for multilingual students started to get serious attention. The distribution of multilingual and newly arrived students is by all means uneven, due to growing housing- and school segregation, but almost all Swedish schools must today relate to a situation where there are students with broader linguistic repertoires than the monolingual Swedish one.

In my thesis I want to take this multilingual reality as a point of departure. Focusing on a region traditionally characterized by linguistic diversity, but only seldomly part of the urban biased contemporary research on multilingualism, I wish to explore the interactions between newly arrived migrant children and their linguistic environments, in two rural schools in the north of Sweden. My view is that the texts, images and other semiotic artefacts that more or less consciously have been placed in the public space manifest – despite their seemingly trivial character – social, political and ideological values, at the same time as they are rarely considered or discussed explicitly. In research as well as school practice, it is instead other literacy practices, usually those related to reading and writing in the classroom, that tends to generate most attention.

Within the rapidly expanding field of linguistic landscape studies (LLS), the explicit goal has been to explore the use of language in the physical environment, and often also the power relations expressed and reproduced through it (Shohamy, 2019; van Mensel, Vandenbroucke, & Blackwood, 2017). Even if LLS so far has been mostly concerned with sign use in public, urban environments, it has recently also come to include non-urban and semi-public spaces. For the last decade it has also become increasingly common to specifically explore linguistic landscapes in educational contexts (Gorter, 2018). Schools in rural contexts seems to be underrepresented in LLS, however, and especially so in relation to the multilingual turn and increased mobilites.

Against this background, my plan is to conduct a nexus analysis (Scollon & Scollon, 2004) of two diverse rural schools in the north of Sweden. The aim of the study is to explore how language ideologies and power relations are (re)produced in the rural linguistic landscape, with a special focus on the representations and experiences of newly arrived high school-students’ linguistic repertoires. A secondary aim – that can be seen as a didactic extension of the first – is to explore how an attempt to create more inclusive semiotic spaces can be used as a critical pedagogical tool, to allow for minoritized students to claim the right to speak (Bourdieu, 1991) in a rural context, and to appropriate the LL as a lived space (Lefebvre, 1991).


Main Supervisor: Kirk Sullivan


Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity in association with Basil Blackwell.

Garcia, O., & Li, W. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gorter, D. (2018). Linguistic landscapes and trends in the study of schoolscapes. Linguistics and Education, 44, 80–85.

Jørgensen, J. N. (2008). Polylingual Languaging Around and Among Children and Adolescents. International Journal of Multilingualism, 5(3), 161–176.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

May, S. (2013). The multilingual turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL and bilingual education. Taylor and Francis.

Otsuji, E., & Pennycook, A. (2011). Social inclusion and metrolingual practices. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14(4), 413–426.

Pennycook, A. (2010). Language as a local practice. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Piller, I. (2016). Linguistic diversity and social justice: An introduction to applied sociolinguistics (First edition..). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Rampton, B. (1995). Crossing: Language and ethnicity among adolescents. London: Longman.

Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. W. (2004). Nexus analysis: Discourse and the emerging Internet. London: Routledge.

Shohamy, E. (2019). Linguistic landscape after a decade: An overview of themes, debates and future directions. In M. Pütz & N. Mundt (Eds.), Expanding the Linguistic Landscape: Linguistic Diversity, Multimodality and the Use of Space as a Semiotic Resource (pp. 25–37). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

van Mensel, L., Vandenbroucke, M., & Blackwood, R. (2017). Linguistic Landscapes. In O. García, N. Flores, & M. Spotti (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Language and Society (pp. 423–450). Oxford University Press.