New geographies of language in multilingual cities

The management of interethnic relations is a prominent issue faced by contemporary cities.

Multilingualism and multiculturalism are firmly on the political agenda. The rights of migrant workers and minority language cultures have become central to the social fabric of city life (Williams & Van Der Merwe 1996).

The resulting increased demand for multilingual public services is challenging for urban planners. The decision of where to locate key public services, such as bilingual schools, requires regularly updated data on ethnicity and language use, which necessitates a detailed analysis of patterns of language networking. Accurate GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technologies are required to undertake this analysis to reveal the inner workings of the relationship between language and the urban realm.

There is a large body of research on urban multilingualism in sociolinguistics (King & Carson 017) but this work has been unable to address questions around the geospatial distribution of multilingualism. While Urban Geography has well-tested techniques to do this, it has not been explicitly concerned with understanding the language structure of multi-ethnic cities. Similarly, the technological advances engineers have made in developing communication systems allows for highly sophisticated ways of tracking people’s behaviour, which has been underexplored in multilingual contexts.

Aims and objectives

This project aims to develop a multidisciplinary research agenda by bringing urban data scientists, sociolinguists and engineers together.

The project team will:

  • Review how the needs of multilingual citizens are met in cities in terms of services, cultural activities and education
  • Understand how multilingual speakers navigate the city and to what extent they use their multilingual skills across a range of situations
  • Explore the role of social spaces in developing new networks and communities for multilingual speakers in cities


Lead: Professor Bernadette O'Rourke (Language and Society Research Cluster, School of Modern Languages and Cultures)


This research is funded through the University of Glasgow Reinvigorating Research Scheme.

Jointly funded by