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Current research on teenage language 

Please contact one of the persons referred to below if you are working on a similar research project. Or contact one of UNO's contact persons in the Nordic countries.


Department of Scandinavian Languages
Stockholm University S-106 91 Stockholm
106 91 Stockholm
Tel. 08-16 25 79

Title of thesis: The socio-cultural identity of adolescents in a multi-cultural suburb

Aim: The investigation deals with how socio-cultural identities are expressed and created through verbal and non-verbal communication among adolescents from different cultural backgrounds in a multi-cultural suburb in southwestern Stockholm. It is assumed that, in the conversational situation, the construction of identity will be influenced both by cultural traditions and historical backgrounds, as well as by the individual participants and the environment in which the conversations take place. Teenagers' interaction in a number of different situations will be examined.

Material: I have recorded about 40 hours of conversation between teenagers. The main part of the corpus constist of audiotaped recordings of the daily interaction of seven teenagers (four boys and three girs). The teenagers have done the recordings themselves by means of carrying with them a walkman. Most of the conversations are recorded at school, during breaks and lessons, but some are also recorded at home or in the city centre.

The seven teenagers who carried the walkmans have also participated in videorecorded conversations between four participants. I have three conversations of this kind. Thus, a total of twelwe teenagers (eight girls and four boys) are involved in the material. In the four-party conversations the topics were not controlled. If the teenagers needed a particular topic to start off a conversation, I suggested they talk about "teenage language" or "communicative styles within particular cultures".

Flemingg. 31, 3 tr.
S-112 26 Stockholm
Tel: +46 (0)8 652 14 08

Title of thesis: Girls have better conversational flow than boys

Material: 4 audiotaped recordings of conversations between teenagers, about 16 years old.

Abstract: The study is a comparison of the conversational flow in four teenage peer groups and of the boys' and girls' different ways of making conversation flow. The results show that all-female conversations have better flow than all-male conversations. It is first and foremost through active listening that the girls make conversations flow. They are very generous in their use of feedback signals and rarely ask a speaker to repeat what he or she just said.

Wrangelsv. 4A
S-178 33 Ekerö
Tel: +46 (0)8 560 325 82
Fax: (by aggreement) same number

Preliminary title of thesis: "Please, fill my empty letter box" - a study of penfriend notices as a genre

Material: letters to penfriend columns in youth magazines

Södermannagatan 9, 4 tr.
11623 Stockholm
Tel: +46 8 640 34 67

Title of thesis: Neighbouring language teaching in Swedish at four junior secondary schools in Copenhagen.

Svedmyrastigen 12
1222 48 Enskede

Title of thesis: On the Rinkebyswedes' pronounciation.


Research scholar at Agder College/University of Bergen, English department,
the Norwegian Research Council's Programme for Cultural Research 1999-2002.
Mail address: Agder College, English department
Gimlemoen, 4604 Kristiansand
Tel: +47 38 14 20 37
Fax: + 47 38 14 10 51

Title: Discourse markers in English and Norwegian. A comparison of like and liksom in teenage language.

Abstract: The project is a linguistic analysis of two small words - like in English and liksom in Norwegian - which have increased remarkably in the informal spoken language of adolescents during the past decades. Both like and liksom are highly stigmatised words, regarded as symptoms of poor and bad language. Yet both have developed and continue to develop new functions and meanings that are not in accordance with traditional grammar.
     It is my opinion that the marked increase in the use of like and liksom in spoken language is related to a culturally conditioned phenomenon which I call ‘staging’, and which is about how speakers distance themselves from linguistic expressions they use. In English one may say ‘you know like political things', in Norwegian ‘sånn derre politikk lissom’. In both cases like and liksom put a form (political things/politikk) into a kind of metalinguistic focus, indicating that the speaker is dissociating herself from the expression. And dissociation is a fundamental mark of our post-modern society, where identities, realities, and meanings are fluid and ever changing. Perhaps there is a connection between metalinguistic focus, dissociation, and approximation on the one hand and cultural subjectivisation, evasion of responsibility, and disintegration on the other?
     It is, however, important to point out that it is not a matter of total disintegration. In both English and Norwegian we are dealing with particular words which develop systematically and regularly according to general patterns of grammaticalisation and pragmaticalisation. The English and Norwegian developments have much in common, even though they apparently have come about independently of each other. In my opinion, it is not a coincidence that it is the words like and liksom which have developed in this way. Both words possess the ability to function as linguistic expressions of meaning-disintegration. At the same time the words have developed in a manner which contributes to maintaining a meaning-preserving system.

Material: transcriptions of recorded conversations between English teenagers in London and Norwegian teenagers in Oslo. The English part is selectedfrom the Bergen Corpus of London Teenage Language (COLT ) and the Norwegian part is selected from the spoken language material in the UNO project (cf Spoken corpora in Norway)

Articles: see bibliography

Engelsk institutt
Universitetet i Bergen
Sydnesplassen 7
5007 Bergen
Tel: +47 55 58 31 92
Faks: +47 55 58 94 55

The EVA project

I am currently researching on the spoken English language produced by 14-15 year old Norwegian pupils taking the EVA oral test. The transcribed data from 62 pupils makes up the EVA Norwegian spoken corpus. A control native speaker corpus is also employed. By focussing on the use of what I term 'smallwords', such as 'well' and 'all right' by native speaker pupils as well as 'strong' and 'weak' Norwegian pupils, I hope to establish that these smallwords play a key role in 'keeping speakers talking'. This will be done by comparing not only the quantity and range of smallwords used overall and in key turn-positions, but also analysing the functions the smallwords are assigned by the three pupil groups. In order to further establish the smallword/fluency link, the quantitative use of smallwords by individual pupils will be correlated with the ratings awarded the pupils on key aspects of their speaking, as well as with independent indicators of fluency such as turn length and the use of filled puses. The ultimate aim of the research is to incorporate what has been learnt about the use of smallwords into the EVA testing instrument, particularly the rating schemes and criteria scales.

Agder College, English department
Gimlemoen, postuttak
4604 Kristiansand
Tel: +47 38 14 20 48
Fax: + 47 38 14 10 51

Preliminary title: The development of computer terminology in Norway - a sociolinguistic perspective: who is leading the development - who has the responsibility - which power structures are controlling it?

Description: The project focuses on the development of computer terminology in Norway, both the historical development during the last 20 years, and today's explosive development where adolescents use a language different from that of adults.

Aim: a) to investigate how computer freaks (!) incorporate the English terminology in their language - and the transition of this terminology from the status of technical terminology to that of everyday vocabulary, and b) to assess the language planning aspect of this kind of terminology, and the role of translators in this context.

Material: Informant groups consisting of computer interested adolescents in different age groups and different social circles.

Published article: see bibliography


MARIA FREMER (Ph.d. student)
P.O. Box 4
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki
Tel +358 9 19 12 40 24
Fax +358 9 19 12 25 06

Topic of thesis: Personal and generic reference in Swedish conversations

Aim: To analyse the contextual factors which contribute to the choice between the pronouns jag ('I'), du ('you') and man ('one'). How do these pronouns reflect the speaker's positioning of him/herself and the interlocutor in relation to the conversational topic? What differences can be observed regarding the use of jag, du and man in different speech communities?

Data: Authentic conversations recorded in Finland and Sweden. Part of the data to be analysed consist of Finland-Swedish teenage conversations of two kinds: partly formal, arranged group conversations between 3­4 adolescents, a professional language planner and a research assistant (approximately 8 hours) and partly informal conversations between two adolescents and a research assistant (approximately 15 hours). The average length of each conversation is 25­30 minutes. The conversational topics in the formal conversations mainly deal with linguistic attitudes and habits. In the informal conversations a number of different topics are discussed, but prejudice against different ethnic groups is a common factor and starting point in all conversations.The teenagers are pupils at an upper secondary school, a commercial college and a vocational school. The data have been recorded as part of the project HUSA (Språk och attityder bland helsingforssvenska ungdomar), a project investigating the language and language attitudes of Swedish-speaking teenagers in Helsinki. The rest of the data consist of service encounters, radio interviews, meetings and doctor-patient interactions. In these conversations the majority of the participants are adults.

Supervisors: professor Mirja Saari, asst. professor Anne-Marie Londen and professor Per Linell.


Research question: Has the fact that a number of different mother tongues and cultures are represented had an influence on the Danish language and interaction in Danish in multilingual and multicultural teenage circles in Copenhagen?

Data: So far three types or data have been collected: 1) recordings made by two boys and two girls of themselves and their peers at school and in their spare time, 2) recordings of conversations around a board game in two youth clubs, 3) retrospective interviews with the boys and girls who made the recordings. In addition, the aim is to collect data involving somewhat older high school  teenagers.

Abstract: In greater Copenhagen there are youth circles where the majority of  the youngsters are bilingual. In fourteen schools more than 50 per cent of the pupils are bilingual and in four of the schools over 70 per cent are bilingual. The number of bilingual pupils is enough to offer teaching in their mother tongues in at least 23 different languages, eg Albanian, Arabic, Farsi, Finnish, etc. The majority of the teenagers in these areas were born and grew up in Denmark and have attended Danish schools and institutions. They use Danish on a daily basis, with adults and among each other. This study investigates what the Danish language is like in these multicultural circles. The data already indicates that the teenagers use their own very particular language in many situations, to be referred to as ’language crossing’, which means, for instance, that young Arabs mix Arabic with Turkish words while young Danes mix Danish with Arabic words, and so on.


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Last modified: 24 March 1999 by Britt Høyland