Understanding the use of word order variation among adolescents in multilingual urban settings in Sweden

Natalia Ganuza

Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University, Sweden

TP154: Youth, language practices and sociocultural change

Understanding the use of word order variation among adolescents in multilingual urban settings in Sweden

The paper is based on the results from my thesis work on the variable use of inverted and non-inverted subject-verb order among adolescents in multilingual settings in Sweden. Swedish is a V2-language, i.e. whenever a sentence begins with something other than a subject the order between the subject and the finite verb is inverted. However, non-inversions (i.e. XSV word order) occur frequently in learner Swedish, and it has been argued that the use of non-inversion is also characteristic of multiethnic youth language varieties that have emerged in multilingual urban areas in Sweden in the last two decades (e.g. Kotsinas, 1994; 1998). The present study explores how common the use of word order variation is among youths in different multilingual settings, to what extent the adolescents employ syntactic variation in different situations, and what meanings the use of it carries for them. The results interestingly show that the majority of the studied subjects use word order variations only to a limited extent and there is no clear relationship between the use of syntactic variation and when a speaker began learning Swedish. At the same time, there are a few individuals within the sample who use non-inversions extensively in certain contexts.

The paper will center on how linguistic, socio-pragmatic and demographic factors together influence the use of syntactic variation. For example, I will demonstrate how the variation is influenced by whom the youths speak to. They predominantly use non-inversions when speaking to peers only and rarely in contact with adults. In the group conversations they also tend to accommodate each other syntactically. If one person uses a lot of word order variation, the other participants in the conversation produce variation as well, although not necessarily to the same extent. The use of variation is also influenced by the topic of conversation and the speakers’ gender. Various pragmatic factors are also involved. For example, if a speaker is very engaged in what s/he speaks about and is allowed to speak without being interrupted the use of non-inversion tends to increase. Finally, the paper will discuss how syntactic variation may be actively employed by the youths to create a certain speech style that manifests their identification and solidarity with the multilingual suburb and the varieties of Swedish spoken there. It will also be exemplified how subjects may use youth oriented language, including an increased use of word order variation, in the classroom as an attempt to contest the official school discourses that dominate the activities taking place there.


Kotsinas, U-B. (1994). Ungdomsspråk. Uppsala: Hallgren och Fallgren.

Kotsinas, U-B. (1998). Language contact in Rinkeby, an immigrant suburb. In: J. Androutsopoulos & A. Scholz (Eds.), Jugendsprache langue de jeunes youth language (pp. 125-148). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang

Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Youth, language practices and sociocultural change
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 03