Filming language diversity: ethnographic film as method in sociolinguistic research on multilingualism

Workshop Thursday November 7 at 10:30

Venue: E0101

Organized by Åse Mette Johansen and Sirkka Seljevold



Introduction by Sirkka Seljevold & Åse Mette Johansen: 
Filming language diversity: ethnograpich film as method in sociolinguistic research on multilingualism   

Film sequence 1): Dinner in three languages (Sámi, Finnish, Norwegian speaking family)   



Film sequence 2): Mother tongue and emotions (Russian immigrant family)   




Film, language, and empowerment. Discussant: Torjer A. Olsen (Centre for Sami Studies, University of Tromsø)   

12:00-13:30 LUNCH


Language diversity on screen: the empowering potential of research-based filmmaking

LAIDUA, The research group Språk og samfunn (Language and Society), IS/ILP, UiT

The project Language and Identity Encounters in the Urban Arctic (LAIDUA) aims at providing knowledge about multilingualism at the family level in Tromsø, the largest urban area in Northern Norway. The city has a rather large Sámi community as well as a Kven population. Moreover, Tromsø is the North-Norwegian municipality with the highest number of immigrants from abroad. LAIDUA represents a comparative approach in that it identifies and analyses similarities and differences between more traditional and rather new forms of multilingualism. The project is developed on the basis of theories and methods from both socio¬linguistics and visual anthropology, and includes a film project upon which this workshop is focused. More specifically, the workshop presents and discusses two sequences from two anthropological narrative documentary films on everyday life of two multilingual families in Tromsø, i.e. one sequence from a film about a Sámi, Finnish and Norwegian speaking family, and one sequence from a film about a Russian immigrant family.

Over the last year, LAIDUA’s visual anthro¬pologist has conducted an ethnographic participating-observational fieldwork with video camera in close cooperation with the two families (cf. Pink 2001, Lassiter 2005). The researcher has filmed situations in which the multilingual practices and identities of the family members were expected to be activated, such as dinner preparations and dining or job and school situations. The aim of the method is to catch data on video in non-constructed situations, i.e. people’s ordinary activities that are embedded in interaction with other people and with the environment (Henley 2004). In the LAIDUA project, we for instance involve family members in feedback sessions where the screening of video material is followed by their reactions and discussions of the content. In this way, the participants get the opportunity to comment on why they use the languages in the way they do on the footage. The intent of the anthropological films, in turn, is to convey people’s experience-near reality of the socio-cultural theme in question.

Film constitutes valuable research material that generates different knowledge compared to other data types (Seljevold & Johansen, forthc.). As a visual means, it offers unique information that is hard, if not impossible, to capture in audio recordings and communicate in written form through articles, books, and project reports (MacDougall 2006), for instance gestures, body language, influence of spatial and socio-cultural contexts, or emotions.

Furthermore, doing research in linguistically and culturally diverse contexts implies dealing with unequal power relations. Most often minority members are involved. Recurring discussions on research ethics therefore tend to concern topics like interaction with participants, relevance of the research, and communication of results. In this respect, the film part of the LAIDUA project is an attempt to contribute with empowering research, i.e. research on, for and with people (Cameron et al. 1992).

During this workshop, we would like to present the film part of the LAIDUA project, and, based on the two above-mentioned film sequences, open up for a discussion of film as a method in research on multilingualism generally, and its potential for contributing to empowerment of minority groups especially.



Cameron, D. et al. 1992. Researching language: issues of power and method. London: Routledge.

Henley, P. 2004. Putting Film to Work. Observational Cinema as Practical Ethnography. In S.

Pink & A. Alfonso (eds): Working Images – Methods and Media in Ethnographic Research. London: Routledge.

Johansen, Å.M. & Seljevold, S. (forthc.): Å filme språk. Etnografisk film som metode i sosiolingvistisk flerspråklighetsforskning.

Lassiter, L.E. 2005. The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

MacDougall, D. 2006. The Corporeal Image. Film, Ethnography. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Pink, S. 2000. Doing Visual Ethnography: images, media and representation in research. London: Sage.