Discourses on language and diversity

Discourses on language and diversity

a sociolinguistic-ethnographic study of multilingualism in Austrian schools

Cities are becoming sites of increasingly complex ethnolinguistic plurality due to increased mobility and the impact of globalization. Public places like schools reflect this ethnolinguistic diversity, and, moreover, disseminate and maintain dominant discourses on heterogeneity, plurality, and linguistic diversity. This project focuses on discourses related to the linguistic diversity in schools, which is made up of the variety of languages that are taught as subjects, in addition to those within pupils’ complex linguistic repertoires.

This study follows a poststructuralist approach in the field of critical sociolinguistics. It draws on an ethnographic study carried out in two secondary schools in Graz, Austria, both of which have a significant number of multilingual pupils. The data gathered consists of observations, interviews, focus group interviews, and impressions of the linguistic landscape.

The results show that the participants co-constructed and reproduced the following discourses: discourses on the normativity of language competencies and multilingualism, discourses on the social functions of languages, discourses on diversity, and discourses on asymmetries of languages. It follows that there are significant differences in the nature of the discourse in relation to particular languages and the contexts in which they are used; for instance, the use of pupils’ home languages, such as Bosnian, Arabic, and Turkish, in school is predominantly linked with instances of conflict and antisocial practices. Even though multilingualism is a reality in heterogeneous schools, and despite schools’ attempts to adopt positive attitudes towards diversity, conflicting discourses are reproduced.Overall, discourses on multilingualism, linguistic diversity, and their speakers are shaped by wider discourses on languages, which schools play a significant part in both communicating and maintaining.


Persons responsible: Christina Korb