Sociolinguistic awareness as a key factor in reducing linguistic unease

Experiences of migrants in complex multilingual environments of South Tyrol, Andorra and Vasa


  • Maria Mazzoli University of Groningen
  • Marta Lupica Spagnolo University of Potsdam
  • Vittorio Dell'Aquila Research Centre for European Multilingualism



Andorra, inclusive policies, linguistic unease, sociolinguistic justice, South Tyrol, Vasa


This article addresses key issues related to diverse cases of migration to complex multilingual environments within Europe. Data came from three case studies carried out within the scope of the MIME project: (ex-)Yugoslavian refugees to South Tyrol (Italy); Portuguese work migrants to Andorra; and international managers in Vasa (Finland). Data were elicited using qualitative methods (biographical narrative interviews and focus groups) and thematically analysed to identify emic causes of ‘linguistic unease’, the speakers’ perception that their linguistic repertoire is inadequate for communicating with others and the consequent fear that their linguistic performance will be met with judgemental and negative attitudes. Our results show that in all situations, irrespective of the diverse conditions that exist prior to migration or in the destination country, the complex linguistic environment of the recipient society is puzzling for mobile people. In all cases, numerous migrants target the language that they perceive to be easier and most accessible to them, but this also exposes them to some level of linguistic unease. Crucially, migrants’ learning choices rub salt in the wounds of old conflicts that have roots in the historical dynamics of multilingualism of the recipient societies. We argue that raising sociolinguistic awareness about this is crucial to mitigate unease and discrimination in the most vulnerable sections of the migrant population.

Author Biographies

  • Maria Mazzoli, University of Groningen

    Maria Mazzoli is assistant professor of Sociolinguistics, Diversity and Minorities at the University of Groningen, Department of Minorities and Multilingualism, the Netherlands. She is also a member of the Center for Language and Cognition of the University of Groningen. Her areas of expertise are sociolinguistics, language contact and Algonquian morphology.

  • Marta Lupica Spagnolo, University of Potsdam

    Marta Lupica Spagnolo works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Romance Linguistics at the University of Potsdam. She holds a PhD from the Universities of Bolzano-Bozen and Pavia. Between 2017 and 2018 she participated in the MIME research project as a member of the research team of the University of Milano-Bicocca. Her research interests are in the fields of multilingualism, second language acquisition and narrative analysis.

  • Vittorio Dell'Aquila, Research Centre for European Multilingualism

    Vittorio Dell’Aquila has a degree in historical linguistics. He specializes in cartography applied to sociolinguistics and geolinguistics. His areas of interest are language policy and planning, dialectology and language contact. He has taught in Vasa, Cagliari and Genoa. He was the coordinator of the Planificazion y Elaborazion dl Lingaz Ladin service and currently coordinates the Forskningscentrum för Europeisk Flerspråkighet. He is a member of the European language atlases ALE and ALiR for which he represents the Romansh language. Since 2017, he has been an adjunct professor of Scandinavian Linguistics at the State University of Milan.


Alcalde, J. (2015). Linguistic justice: an interdisciplinary overview of the literature. Amsterdam Working Papers in Multilingualism, 3, 27–96. Retrieved on 1 November 2023 from

Andorra Statistics (2020). Retrieved on 14 November 2022 from

ASTAT (2006). Südtiroler Sprachbarometer – 2004/Barometro linguistico dell’Alto Adige – 2004. Sprachgebrauch und Sprachidentität in Südtirol/Uso della lingua e identità linguistica in provincia di Bolzano. Bolzano/Bozen: LA BODONIANA.

ASTAT (2015). Ausländische Wohnbevölkerung 2014/Popolazione straniera residente 2014. Bolzano/Bozen: Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano-Alto Adige/Autonome Provinz Bozen-Südtirol.

ASTAT (2021). Statistisches Jahrbuch für Südtirol 2021/Annuario statistico della provincia di Bolzano 2021. Bolzano/Bozen: PRINTEAM.

Baugh, J. (2007). Linguistic contributions to the advancement of racial justice within and beyond the African diaspora. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1, 331–49.

Baur, S., Mezzalira, G. and Pichler, W. (eds). (2008). La lingua degli altri. Aspetti della politica linguistica e scolastica in Alto Adige-Südtirol dal 1945 ad oggi. FrancoAngeli.

Blommaert, J. (2013). Ethnography, Superdiversity and linguistic landscapes: chronicles of complexity. Multilingual Matters.

Bretegnier, A. and Ledegen, G. (eds). (2002). Terrains et approches diversifiés, propositions théoriques et méthodologiques en hommage à Nicole Gueunier. L’Harmattan/AUF.

Carlà, A. (2015). Tensions and challenges between new and old minorities: Political party discourses on migration in South Tyrol. In R. Medda-Windischer and A. Carlà (eds), Migration and autonomous territories: the case of South Tyrol and Catalonia (pp. 65–99). Brill Nijhoff.

Comas d’Argemir, D. and Pujadas, J. (1999). Living in/on frontier: migration, identities and citizenship in Andorra. Social Anthropology, 7(3), 253–264.

Crapanzano, V. (1984). Life-histories. American Anthropologist, 86, 953–960.

CULPA (Coneixement i Usos Lingüístics de la Població d’Andorra). 2018. Govern d’Andorra.

De la Parte, I. (2003). Vides migrades: expressions identitàries del canvi an Andorra. Revista d’Etnologia de Catalunya, 23, 58–69.

Dell’Aquila, V. and Iannàccaro, G. (2004). La pianificazione linguistica. Lingue, società e istituzioni. Carocci.

Dell’Aquila, V. and Iannàccaro, G. (2006). Survey Ladins. Usi linguistici nelle Valli Ladine. Regione autonoma Trentino-Alto Adige.

Duarte, J. and Gogolin, I. (2013). Introduction. In J. Duarte and I. Gogolin (eds), Linguistic superdiversity in urban areas: research approaches (pp. 1–17). John Benjamins.

DuBois, I. (2019). Linguistic profiling across neighborhoods: apartment search with German, Turkish and US-American names and accents. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 3(2), 92–119.

Franceschini, R. (2003). Unfocussed language acquisition? The presentation of linguistic situations in biographical narration. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 4(3). Retrieved 1 November 2023 from

Grin, F. (2018). Mobility and inclusion in multilingual Europe: A brief account of the MIME project. European Journal of Applied Linguistics, 6(2), 327–335.

Grin, F., Conceição, M. C., Kraus, P. A., Marácz, L., Ozolina, Ž., Pokorn, N. K. and Pym, A. (eds). (2018). The MIME Vademecum. Geneva: The MIME Project. Retrieved on 29 November 2022 from

Grin, F., Marácz, L. and Pokorn, N. K. (eds). (2022). Advances in interdisciplinary language policy. John Benjamins.

Iannàccaro, G. (2018). Verso un’individuazione del ‘disagio linguistico’. Atti del Sodalizio Glottologico Milanese, 13, 77–101.

Iannàccaro, G., Dell’Aquila, V. and Gobbo, F. (2018). The assessment of sociolinguistic justice: parameters and models of analysis. In M. Gazzola, B. A. Wickström, and T. Templin (eds), Language policy and linguistic justice: Economic, philosophical and sociolinguistic approaches (pp. 362–391). Springer.

Iannàccaro, G., Dell’Aquila, V. and Stria, I. (2022). Metalinguistic awareness in education as a tool for enhancing social inclusion. In F. Grin, L. Marácz and N. K. Pokorn (eds), Advances in interdisciplinary language policy (pp. 174–193). John Benjamins.

Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Laurén, C. (1999). En Modell för Språk i Daghem och Skola: Språkbadsdidaktik i Canada, Katalonien och Finland. Vaasan yliopiston täydennnyskoulutuskeskuksen julkaisuja.

Lanthaler, F. (1990). Dialekt und Zweisprachigkeit in Südtirol. In A. M. Mioni, K. Egger and F. Lanthaler (eds), Mehr als eine Sprache: zu einer Sprachstrategie in Südtirol/Più di una lingua: per un progetto linguistico in Alto Adige (pp. 59–81). Alpha & Beta Verlag.

Lipski, J. M. (2006). Too close for comfort? The genesis of ‘Portuñol/Portunhol’. Hispanic Linguistics Symposium, 1–22. Retrieved 1 November 2023 from

Lupica Spagnolo, M. (2019). Storie di Confine. Biografie linguistiche e Ristrutturazione dei Repertori tra Alto Adige e Balcani. Franz Steiner Verlag.

Matias Santos, M. (2008). Quin sabor té un ‘Sumol’ a 2.200 metres d’altitud? Xarxes, identitat i integració dels portuguesos emigrats a Andorra. CRES i Pagès Editors.

Medda-Windischer, R, Flarer, H., Girardi, R. Grandi, F. and Cavalca, G. (2011). Condizione e Prospettive di Integrazione degli Stranieri in Alto Adige: Relazioni sociali, Lingua, Religione e Valori. Eurac Research.

Meluzzi, C. (2015). Dialects and linguistic identity of Italian speakers in Bozen. Globe: A Journal of Language, Culture and Communication, 1, 1–16.

Mazzoli, M. (2017). Ideologies lingüístiques a Andorra: Visions de la comunitat Portuguesa (Catalan translation of Hèctor Alòs i Font) [Language ideologies in Andorra: Perspectives from the Portuguese community]. Kataluna Esperantisto, 367, 11–26.

Oakes, L. (2007). Whose French? Language attitudes, linguistic insecurity and standardization in Quebec. In H. Martin (ed.), Language issues in Canada: Multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 64–86). Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Ong, A. (1999). Flexible citizenship: The cultural logics of transnationality. Duke University Press.

Pavlenko, A. (2007). Autobiographic narratives as data in applied linguistics. Applied Linguistics, 28(2), 163–188.

Veronesi, D. (2008). Geschichte, Sprachpolitik und Lebenserzählung: Erste Gedanken zur Sprachbiographie in Südtirol. In T. Keller, Thomas and G. Lüdi (eds), Biographien und Staatlichkeit: Akten des 5. Kolloquiums des EUCOR-Forschungsverbunds Interkulturalität in Theorie und Praxis vom 21 (pp. 123–154). Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag.

Vertovec, S. (2007). Super-diversity and its implications. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29(6), 1024–1054.

Zeevaert, L. (2007). Receptive multilingualism and inter-Scandinavian semicommunication. In J. D. ten Thije and L. Zeevaert (eds), Receptive multilingualism: Linguistic analyses, language policies and didactic concepts (pp. 103–136). John Benjamin.






How to Cite

Mazzoli, M., Lupica Spagnolo, M., & Dell'Aquila, V. (2024). Sociolinguistic awareness as a key factor in reducing linguistic unease: Experiences of migrants in complex multilingual environments of South Tyrol, Andorra and Vasa. Journal of Multilingual Theories and Practices, 5(1), 1-29.