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Agnès Marchessou

Contact Details


26 Russell Square,
Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication

Project Title and Abstract

  • Project Title:
  • Living on the borders – The crossing of regional and immigrant identity boundaries in a superdiverse speech community of Alsace
  • Abstract:
  • This ethnographic study focuses on the French language practices of young people, in an immigration context in the French city of Strasbourg, located next to the German border. The intricate linguistic and cultural layers, together with the relative isolation of this cité neighbourhood as a result of national urbanisation policy, promoted, over the years, a Contemporary Urban Vernacular (Rampton, 2011), which pushes the firm language boundaries imposed by the French state, in a context of linguistic prescriptivism.

    Research questions

    This French language variety is explored through four linguistic questions:

    1. What are the venacular features in this multilingual context?
    2. Are some of the vernacular features innovative?
    3. To what extent are the local languages available in the feature pool of the speaker (Alsatian, Arabic, Berber, French, Manush, Turkish, Yenish to name just a few) influencing the way young people speak?
    4. What are the linguistic specificities of Strasbourg and the commonalities with Paris (where similar research took place)?

    The research also poses four additional sociolinguistic  questions:

    1. Who uses the vernacular variables?
    2. What is the role of ''gang affiliation'' (Mohammed, 2011) in the way the Contemporary Urban Vernacular is used?
    3. Do males and females fit into the same communities of practice and if not, how do they differ?
    4. Is there a difference in the way male and female speakers use vernacular features?

    Originality of the research

    This study documents a vernacular in a setting never researched before. It provides an insight in regional France, where there is a general lack of studies in urban vernaculars. Specificities for Strasbourg were ascertained, including a new regional feature sourced from new media and adapted to verbal communication (the discourse marker kaou). This is an example of social media becoming a source of innovative language use, rather than acting as a potential globalising drive which reduces local diversity (Moise, 2007). Some commonalities were also found with similar empirical studies in Paris (Cheshire and Gardner-Chloros, 2018).

    From a sociolinguistic perspective, communities of practice and gender categories were key to understanding some of the linguistic behaviours. In addition, the findings from this research resonate with French sociological works by Marwan Mohammed (2011) on gang affiliations and Isabelle Clair (2012) on gender relations in similar French cité contexts. Combining the sociological angle with the linguistic perspective constitutes a novel approach within the French sociolinguistic arena.

  • Cheshire, Jenny and Gardner-Chloros, Penelope (Eds.) (2018). Multicultural youth vernaculars in Paris and urban France. Journal of French Language Studies, 28 (Special Issue 2).
  • Clair, Isabelle. (2012). « Le pédé, la pute et l'ordre hétérosexuel ». Agora débats/jeunesses, 60 (1), 67-78.
  • Mohammed, Marwan. (2011). La formation des bandes:entre la famille, l'école et la rue. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Moise, Raluca. 92007). Les SMS chez les jeunes: premiers éléments de réflexion, à partir d’un point de vue ethnolinguistique. Glottopol 10: 101–112.
  • Rampton, Ben (2011). From 'Multi-ethnic adolescent heteroglossia' to 'Contemporary urban vernaculars.' Language & Communication, 31 (4), 276-294.


Research Interests

  • Sociolinguistics, Linguistic Ethnography, Language Ideology, Language and Identity

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