The linguistic landscape and soundscape of a refugee centre in Paris, France


The linguistic landscape and soundscape of a refugee centre in Paris, France

Between 2015 and 2017 Europe experienced a massive influx of migrants and refugees estimated to be above 3 million according to European Asylum Support Office. The main source countries are Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq as well as some African nations notably Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia. This influx has been described as the largest movement of people in Europe since the Second World War. It soon transpired that many European countries (EU and non-EU) were poorly prepared to deal with this situation administratively, politically, socio-economically, culturally and last but not least, linguistically. The linguistic issues and hurdles facing this ‘wave’ of migrants and refugees in the ‘acceptance’ process are wide-ranging: from being subjected to language tests to prove their origin for asylum legitimacy, managing life in legal and illegal camps and refugee centres to winding one’s way through the application processes. Despite the relative recency of these developments, the ‘community’ of linguists – applied, sociolinguists and others – has started working and commenting on various linguistic aspects of this situation, including the linguistic problems surrounding the widely used LADO test [Language Analysis for the Determination of Origin], the multilingual repertoires of the current refugee populations, the impact on new arrivals on the linguistic constellations in urban centres as well as reconfiguring adult language learning in this new context.

In 2017 I joined an interdisciplinary team based in Paris that was successful in obtaining funding to examine the linguistic and cultural practices found in 3 asylum seeker reception centres in France. My main role in this project is documenting the linguistic rules governing the interactions between asylum seekers and various levels of authority as well as contrasting these with the ‘actual’ linguistic practices of both parties as observed in the centres. As part of this focus I draw upon the methods and resources of linguistic landscape research to gain insight into the linguistic rules and practices found in the centres. In this talk I present and discuss these ‘scapes’ observed in the Paris-based centre @Porte de la Chapelle.


  • Professor Anne Pauwels
    Professor Anne Pauwels, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London