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 Sarah Harchaoui, University of Paris-Sorbonne

Place identity and language practices in multiethnic urban areas in Oslo

  • Name: Sarah Harchaoui
  • Academic credentials: Sociolinguistics, contemporary Norwegian speech style, Ph-D in Nordic linguistics (2016), University of Paris-Sorbonne

Abstract: In Norway, dialects have always been significant for the linguistic identity of the majority speakers. This attitude reflects the importance of regional criteria in the way Norwegians conceptualize their language practices. This seems also go hand in hand with the importance for Norwegians to ”come from somewhere”. What about the people who are not considered as a part of the mainstream or who don’t consider themselves as such?

My presentation will highlight and criticize the paradigms of majority/dialect and minority/multiethnolect with a focus on young Norwegian speakers (with both Norwegian and immigrant backgrounds) who grew up in multiethnic areas in Oslo.

Based on the UPUS project/Oslo-part (a series of recorded-interview and peer conversation data), I will use examples from my thesis in order to demonstrate that the respondents have constructed their ”place identity” in relation to their neighborhood (in my study case, Holmlia in Søndre Nordstrand). Some of them have even labeled their language practices as holmliansk (”the language of Holmlia”) along the same lines of dialects’ labelisation.

Moreover, my data have showed that respondents who most actively use non-standard linguistics features (for ex. slang, loan words, innovative verb placement, leveling of the grammatical gender system) are those who most express their pride of living in Holmlia. If previously sociolinguistic studies insisted on the ethnic and age criteria, it seems clear today that the settings of late-modern urban areas (= ethnically mixed urban neighborhoods shaped by immigration and class stratification) not only in Scandinavia but also in Europe constitute the common ground of the emergence and the spread of innovative features into the majority language.

I argue then that speakers from multiethnic areas in Oslo have converted the majority attachment for regional level/dialect into a very local level of ”place-identity” and a high proximity to language diversity. Should the Holmlia example make us reconsider the labeling of the so-called concept ”multiethnolect” ?


  • Hårstad, Stian & Opsahl, Toril (2013). Språk i byen. Utviklingslinjer i urbane språkmiljøer i Norge. Bergen : Fagbokforlaget.
  • Proshansky, Harold (1978). ”The city and Self-identity” in Journal of Environment and Behaviour, no 10:1978, pp. 147-169.

Theme: The Dynamics of Nordic Linguistics