Course lecturer: Maria Rosa Garrido Sardà (

Spring Semester 2018

“Multilingual Lausanne” is a linguistic landscaping (LL henceforth) project carried out by 2nd-year English linguistics students taking the course “Introduction to Multilingualism in Society” at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland).Our collective goal is to observe, document and critically analyse the use of different linguistic resources in written signs located in Lausanne. LL is used as a pedagogical tool to learn how to do research in sociolinguistics and to raise awareness about the role of multilingualism in social transformations and in different types of mobilities. In line with citizen sociolinguistics, this blog and the associated collective Googlemap (below) aim to generate and share knowledge through 2.0 webs of participation.

Participatory research

This project was inspired by citizen sociolinguistics (Svendsen, 2018; Rymes and Leone, 2014), which encourages participatory research by ordinary citizens that study the social world in which they live to generate situated knowledge in collaboration with researchers and research institutions.

“Citizen sociolinguistics has, moreover, the potential to provide research experience, stimulate curiosity, further research, public understanding of science and increased (socio)linguistic awareness and knowledge by involving the public in sociolinguistic research” (Svendsen, 2018, p. 140)

Citizen science has the potential of generating large data sets by far-flung citizens that compile information about their environment, be it monarch butterlies (in one of the earliest citizen science studies) or written signs. In this spirit, this participatory project contributes to the Observatori del discurs of the EDiSo association (Studies of Discourse and Society), which is committed to educating university students through collective LL projects included in course syllabi. This platform shares LL data gathered by university students in different countries through project blogs, its own Facebook page, on the Urban Voices app (not available during our project) and thesis repositories.

Crucially, this new paradigm alters our epistemological assumptions about what counts as knowledge  and redefines the role of the academic researcher. The underlying assumption in “Multilingual Lausanne” is that these young university students being trained in linguistics are competent observers of social reality and in particular, linguistic practices and written signs that are accessible to them in their everyday lives in the city. My role as a lecturer was one of training and guidance to enable these students to carry out the project in alignment with the objectives of our course. This participatory project was limited and structured, but it allowed for the development of students’ creativity since they gathered original data and proposed a research lens that has resulted in original research contributions to LL.

Linguistic landscaping as a pedagogical tool

Linguistic Landscape refers to “the language of public road signs, advertising billboards,  street names, place names, commercial shop signs, and public signs on government buildings” (Landry and Bourhis, 1997, p. 25). Linguistic landscaping (LL) investigates the visibility and salience of “languages” in public spaces. Linguistic resources fulfil not only informational but also symbolic functions as a markers of power relationships between languages and communities. Investigating the production and distribution of linguistic inscriptions in public space illuminates social transformations such as gentrification, migration and touristification which involve relationships, tensions, conflicts, resistance and struggles among those inhabiting that physical and social space. Although there is an increasing number of publications in the area of LL, this methodology has little presence in academic curricula. Multilingualism in the public space might go unnoticed by university students who are either too familiar with their environment or who are totally new in it, as is the case of exchange students who cannot speak the dominant languages. In line with the potential outcomes of citizen sociolinguistics above, “Multilingual Lausanne” has two main objectives.

  • raising awareness about language in contact in Switzerland, the role of language in contemporary mobilities (e.g. tourism, migration, international study) and transformations in the linguistic market, with a focus on English as a global language.
  • learning how to do research in (socio)linguistics: reading original research articles, formulating a research question, collecting data through observation (complemented by interviews in some cases), analysing the individual messages and the social values attached to them and finally writing a short research paper for the wider public (i.e. the blog posts here).

I initially asked the students to observe, locate and photograph written signs in public spaces through linguistic landscaping. They were free to explore different neighbourhoods and types of establishments for this project, without pre-defined areas or topics given to the students. On the basis of these observations, students selected a corpus of at least 8 pictures and posted them on our collective Googlemap with a classification taken from a similar project in Madrid that Luisa Martín-Rojo (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) kindly shared with us. The categories include main and secondary language(s), support (medium), activity domain, type of sign (regulatory, infrastructural, commercial or transgressive) and production (bottom-up/top-down, monologic/dialogic). At that point, I gave them feedback about their data classification and the thematic coherence, as well as scientific relevance, of the corpus. This fieldwork was the basis for students to formulate a research question that they would analyse in their papers. Some groups subsequently adopted a multisited ethnographic linguistic landscape approach (MELLA) (Tavares, 2018), in which they approached and interviewed shopkeepers informally in order to further understand the production and meaning of the documented signs. Concerning ethics, the interviewees were informed about the study and asked if they wanted to participate. Their names have been kept confidential but the locations and written signs are found on our collective Googlemap. If shopkeepers and customers refused to talk to the students, their locations have also been anonymised.

The guiding questions that I gave students for analysis were the following:

  • In what linguistic varieties are messages presented? Is it top-down or bottom-up multilingualism? Which values are associated to these linguistic varieties?
  • How are the languages distributed in space? Which languages are central and which peripheral? In what ways are written inscriptions deictic?
  • Which social transformations and larger discourses do these signs index?

As a whole, these questions aimed to investigate the power dynamics and ideologies underlying the relations between social groups/individuals through linguistic and symbolic representations in the urban space. The analysis was both quantitative and qualitative. Their quantitative analysis comprised the distributional patterns of languages in the signs and the taxonomy of messages. The analysis was also qualitative since the projects were concerned with the social value of linguistic and literacy resources in signs. They looked into hierarchical relationships between languages in contact, the role of English in different sign types, the relationship between a specific language and informational or symbolic functions, and the conditions of production under certain linguistic policies and sociolinguistic norms.

Contributions (Spring 2018)

In the Spring semester, the “Multilingual Lausanne” collaborative project started out with a total of 12 contributions that are shared on this blog. They are divided into three categories: 1) institutions, 2) neighbourhoods and 3) transit areas. As explained above, the main goal of the project was pedagogical. For the vast majority of students, this was their first experience in (socio)linguistic research. This participatory project is also a contribution to citizen sociolinguistics, since the students’ sociolinguistic accounts of Lausanne might interest a broader public and provide topics for further academic and non-academic research.


Landry, R. and Bourhis, R.Y. (1997). Linguistic landscape and ethnolinguistic vitality: An empirical study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 16(1), 23-49.

Rymes, Betsy and Leone, A. (2014). Citizen sociolinguistics: A new media methodology for understanding language and social life. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics 29, 25–43.

Svendsen, B.A. (2018). The dynamics of citizen sociolinguistics. Journal of Sociolinguistics 22(2), 137–160.

Tavares, B. (2018). Cape Verdean migration trajectories into Luxembourg: A multisited sociolinguistic investigation. Unpublished PhD thesis: Université de Luxembourg.

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