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This symposium takes stock of linguistic diversity and language variation in Berlin.

We are concerned with traditional and recent dialectal diversity, new and old migrant multilingualisms, as well as emerging linguistic élites in the city, in order to give insight into language in its local but transnationally conditioned socio-economic embeddedness. Our analytical focus is on language practices in Berlin that are involved in different dimensions of local diversity, communication grounded in digital technologies, the emergence of linguistic, cultural, political and spatial discourses and communities, or discursive and institutional responses to these.

We focus on a spatial entity that, although currently popular in sociolinguistic research, still lacks theoretical grounding: the city. We conceive of the city as a discursive concept that is related to capitalist practices (Sennett 2005, Urry and Gregory 1985), where cities have a central role in the global economy (Sassen 1994) and are in a dialectical relationship to it. Global economic regimes produce discourses on social value that have an effect on social and spatial relations and are therefore relevant for language as a social practice, for language diversity, and for their conceptualisation. Berlin as a city to study language diversity is compelling – next to its traditional diversities, its history as a divided place sheds light on the role of the economic system in shaping conditions for diversity. There are still-felt effects of the Berlin Wall, such as local dialectal repertoires in German, and specific formations of ethnic patterning in eastern and western parts of the city, making visible that diversity is no ʻnaturalʼ effect of a city, but caused by market conditions and socio-political systems, which may have an effect not only on demographic shifts but also on the durability of some social discourses. We are also interested in the global imagination of Berlin as a supposedly ʻalternativeʼ sub-cultural place, attracting an international crowd whose involvement in new economies and local (Anglophone?) hipster cultures casts diversity as an element of transnational ʻcoolʼ. Finally, we can contrast the cosmopolitanism that represents a tacit cultural norm in some social spheres with anti-cosmopolitan moves of linguistic gatekeeping that erupt in contexts of urban power struggles such as gentrification, the tourism industry, in education and in job market accessibility.

Taken together, we are interested in insights into language diversity under conditions of globalised economic relations and histories in local places, in exploring diversity beyond methodological nationalism and in understanding the city as one potential lens through which we can understand such phenomena.

Languages and linguistic repertoires of interest:

  • Traditional and new dialectal diversity within Berlin – from Broiler to Kiezdeutsch
  • New and old migrant and diaspora multilingualisms
  • Elite forms of multilingualisms and English as a local language

Areas of interest:

  • Contemporary symbolic meanings and current enregisterments (in Aghaʼs 2003 sense) of languages as social semiotic resources in local, national and global contexts
  • Local languages and practices of heteroglossia, language mixing and language acquisition practices in their local, national and global discursive contexts
  • State language policies and other institutional interventions/reactions to diversity
  • The discursive construction of Berlin
  • The relationship of language, space and the economy in the city
  • Berlin in online/offline convergence: digital constructions of the city, and the effects of digital culture on urban linguistic practice
  • Economic factors for diversity, diversity as economic factor and the effects on local class stratification


  • Agha, Asif. 2003. The social life of cultural value. Language and Communication 23: 231-73.
  • Sassen, Saskia. 1994. Cities in a World Economy. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press.
  • Sennett, Richard. 2005. Capitalism and the city. In: Stephen Read, Jürgen Rosemann & Job van Eldijk (eds) Future City. London: Spon Press. 114-24.
  • Urry, John and Derek Gregory. 1985. Social Relations and Spatial Structures. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.