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The University of Southampton

GERM3016 Language and the City

Module Overview

One of the socially and culturally most significant consequences of transnational mobility is that urban populations in particular are increasingly multilingual: in global cities such as London, New York and Berlin there are speakers of hundreds of different languages. The encounters between these many languages and their speakers result in new linguistic practices and behaviours (both in face to face interaction and in all forms of mediated language use), new experiences with language, and multiple visual impacts on the physical environment. This module considers ways in which different patterns of language use impact on life in the contemporary city and encourages you to investigate them for yourself.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the social history of multilingualism in selected metropolitan cities;
  • recent theoretical debates on multilingualism and related concepts;
  • ways in which different linguistic resources are used in urban contexts to develop new possibilities of interaction and to create a sense of place;
  • ways in which public policies constrain and enhance multilingual practices.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • evaluate arguments in the relevant secondary literature;
  • analyse primary data (e.g. written texts, photographs, interview transcripts);
  • compare and contrast practices and policies in different urban contexts.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • plan and prepare individual and joint seminar presentations and other group activities;
  • use Blackboard to exchange ideas with other students in ‘reading groups’;
  • research individual topics independently and contribute to online discussions and debates on a blog.


This module explores ways of describing and understanding the forms and consequences of urban multilingualism, focusing on major cities in Europe (e.g. London, Berlin, Amsterdam) and around the world (e.g. Cape Town, Tel Aviv, Washington, Sydney, Toronto). We begin by tracing the historical development of selected cities from the perspective of the increasing mobility and linguistic diversity of their population. We then investigate a number of inter-related themes, including some or all of the following: local language practices (how people draw on the linguistic resources available to them in their immediate environment in everyday interaction – variously referred to as ‘(trans)languaging’, ‘polylingualism’, ‘metrolingualism’); mediated language practices (how different linguistic resources are used to transcend local spaces, e.g. through multilingual broadcasting and the internet); language, place and space (how linguistic practices contribute to the social constitution of space in the city); linguistic landscapes (how the presence of multiethnic and multilingual populations is inscribed in the physical fabric of the city); language biographies (how experiences with language contribute to individual life stories); and language policies (how civic authorities and institutions seek to regulate and/or promote the status and use of different languages and their role in defining citizenship).

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

There will be one double seminar each week. The tutor will introduce each topic but you will design the content of the seminars: they will take the form of workshops, in which you will take it in turns to lead discussion and organise small-group activities. The module places considerable emphasis on collaborative forms of learning, in particular through Blackboard reading groups in which you will discuss topics in advance of seminars and reflect on them afterwards. All participants will contribute to a blog – The Urban Language Lab – through which we will build up, week by week, a shared portfolio of material (text extracts, images, sound recordings, video clips etc) that illustrates the key themes of the module and gives you the opportunity to reflect on the topics discussed in seminars and exchange ideas.

Wider reading or practice20
Completion of assessment task45
Follow-up work10
Preparation for scheduled sessions50
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Mac Giolla Chriost, Diarmait (2007). Language and the City. 

Extra, G. & K. Yagmur (eds) (2004). Urban Multilingualism in Europe. 

Danet, B. & S. Herring (eds) (2007). The Multilingual Internet. 

Blommaert, J. (2013). Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes. 

Block, D. (2006). Multilingual Identities in a Global City: London Stories. 

Blommaert, J. (2010). The Sociolinguistics of Globalization. 

Jaworski, A. & C. Thurlow (eds) (2010). Semiotic Landscapes. 

Modan, G. (2007). Turf Wars: discourse, diversity and the politics of place. 

Pennycook, A. (2010). Language as a Local Practice. 

Shohamy, E. et al (eds) (2010). Linguistic Landscape and the City. 


Assessment Strategy

1. [summative] You will be expected to regularly post blog entries (500 words) on the main topics covered by the module, two of which will be assessed. Each entry should be accompanied by primary material such as images, video clips or audio recordings. 2. [summative] Write 1 reflective commentary on a blog entry posted by another student (750 words). 3. [summative] Write 1 essay or 1 empirical investigation relating to one of the issues discussed on the blog (2,500 words).No element must be passed for successful completion of the module (overall pass mark is sufficient)


MethodPercentage contribution
Blog  (1000 words) 30%
Critical commentary  (750 words) 20%
Written assignment  (2500 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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