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LRDG: Absence of Evidence? Researching minority language texts at the margins of the global economy

Date: 4 March 2014 Time: 1.00-2.00 pm

Venue: C89, County South, Lancaster University

At the next Literacy Research Discussion Group session (Tuesday 4 March) we will be pleased to welcome Mark Sebba (Lancaster University) who will be speaking on:

Absence of Evidence? Researching minority language texts at the margins of the global economy

The study of Linguistic Landscapes has moved from a largely quantitative to a more methodologically diverse, often qualitative, approach, with many studies incorporating ethnographic, multimodal and critical methodology. Despite this, not much attention has been given to the extent and the intensity of the researcher's gaze: exactly where, and how carefully, must the researcher look for the public texts which form the data for LL research?

This paper, which is mainly concerned with methodological issues, discusses the author's attempts to study the linguistic landscape of an economically and socially disadvantaged area of a British seaside town, with a relatively high (5%) concentration of recent (post-2004) migrants from Poland. In numerical, social, economic, linguistic and even geographical terms, this community can reasonably be called 'marginal'. A survey of 'public road signs, [] commercial shop signs, and public signs on government buildings' (Bourhis and Landry 1997: 25) will reveal some, but not much, evidence of the Polish language. A more detailed exploration of the public space shows that Polish is often inserted into more marginal spaces using less prestigious or technologically advanced materials, e.g. in the form of home-made, hand-lettered, one-off signs and small notices at eye level in shop windows and notice boards.

Findings from this research suggest that 'marginal texts' may be distinctive in terms of their location, substance and content, and that the often-used dichotomy of 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' is less useful than an understanding of 'for whom'.

It will be argued that a nuanced, ethnographic and multimodal approach is essential for discovering and analysing public texts in marginalised languages.


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


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Mark Sebba

Organising departments and research centres: Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, Linguistics and English Language

Keywords: Language, Migrants, Public spaces


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
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