© Barbara Soukup

English in the Linguistic Landscape of Vienna, Austria

The project ELLViA investigates meaning-making through the choice of English vs. German on written public signs in the linguistic landscape (LL) of Vienna, Austria. Crucially, its focus is on the still vastly under-researched perspective of sign-readers: it theoretically models and empirically maps the steps involved between encountering English, instead of or in addition to German, on a sign, and interpreting the arising message (e.g. how 'cosmopolitanism', 'youthfulness', 'modernity', etc. may thus be signaled).

The project draws on a constructionist epistemology postulating that communicative messages arise from an interactional-dialogic process of anticipation, interpretation, and negotiation between those who put forth language and those who perceive (hear, read) it. Readers of public signage use language choice (variation) as a cue when interpreting a sign, 'contextualizing' the texts they read with the social (symbolic) meanings associated with the chosen language, and deriving messages accordingly.

To address the steps involved in the perceptual and interpretative activities that LL sign-readers engage in, the project develops and applies a multidimensional and multidisciplinary research strategy by which the recipients’ essential role in LL-meaning-making can effectively be captured. This strategy conjoins methods from variationist sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and the social psychology of language in what amounts to a highly interdisciplinary approach and toolbox.

Project output includes a comprehensive corpus of signs found in Viennese public space, as well as analyses of readers' perceptions of and attitudes towards language use on these signs. The corpus consists of over 12,000 digital photographs collected during fieldwork in 2015. Digital storage, processing, and analysis of the ELLViA corpus, which constitutes the project's centerpiece and jump-off point for all other investigations, are managed using state-of-the-art ACDH tools and methodology.

The project ELLViA is funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF (Project Nr V394-G23) under the Elise-Richter Programme.