Negotiation of social categories through the use of multiethnolect

Finn Aarsæther;2, Ingvild Nistov;3, Toril Opsahl;1, Bente Ailin Svendsen;1

1: University of Oslo, Department of linguistics and Scandinavian studies, Norway 2: Department of education, Oslo University College, Norway 3: Department of linguistic, literary and aesthetic studies, University of Bergen, Norway


”He is Norwegian, but pretends being a foreigner. He speaks street language, you know. He is the one you should talk to!”

This statement, directed to us as linguists in the field, from a fourteen year old girl with migrant background in Oslo, Norway, leads us right to the essence of our talk: How do adolescents in multiethnic milieus negotiate social categories like age, gender and ethnicity in interaction? More specifically, what role does the variety referred to as “street language” or what we prefer to call multiethnolect, play in such negotiations?

The data we are reporting on come from an ongoing study of linguistic practices among adolescents in multicultural parts of Oslo, a city where more than 120 different languages are represented, and where the migrant population constitutes 24 percent of the total population of 550 000. Our data consist of questionnaires, video-taped peer conversations, self-recorded conversations, and interviews with 48 respondents of migrant and non-migrant descent.

Our analyses so far show that the adolescents do not confine themselves to the identities, social groups or ethnic categories normally ascribed to them. By focusing on the interplay between some structural aspects – such as violation of the V2 constraint – and macro factors like socio-cultural background and minority status, we highlight language practices like crossing and stylisation as ways of expressing new plural identities. Our data show that the use of linguistic features belonging to what we would label a multiethnic variety is optional and dependent on context for the great majority of our informants; that is, they are able to switch between a multietnholectal edition of Norwegian and a more standardised version. This is strongly indicated by our comparative analyses of the semi-structured interviews, the peer conversations, and the conversations recorded by the adolescents themselves.

Session: Paper session
Youth Language 3
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 13