Workshop: Sociolinguistics of Belonging

The Meertens Instituut (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) and chair Languageculture in Limburg at Maastricht University is organizing the 2nd Sociolinguistics Belonging workshop.

We are thrilled that two 'new' Sociolinguistic professors in the Netherlands (Janet Fuller, RUG and Marina Terkourafi, University Leiden) work on the topic of belonging and we look forward to exchanging ideas and results (see also this publication). 

The Meertens/UM Languagecultural team is a continuation and broadening of the PhDs' networks, and it scopes wider than just linguistic variation, it also includes language practices, and language ideologies and we are very much interested in and inspired by other disciplinary perspectives – such as anthropology and sociology. We especially like to  generate ideas among presenters and audience.

Date:               5 October 2018

Location:         Meertens Instituut

                        Oudezijds Achterburgwal 185, 1012 DK Amsterdam

Room:             2.18

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Titles and Abstracts


Janet M. Fuller, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands


Discourses of National Belonging: Twitter Data from Post-2018-World-Cup Germany

In this presentation, I will examine Twitter data to look at the competing discourses of German national belonging which emerged during and immediately following the 2018 World Cup.

In previous research (Fuller Forthcoming), I have examined the use of particular terms central to the discussion of immigration and integration in Germany, noting that the term Migrationshintergrund (‘migration background’), while it officially denotes neither nationality or ethnic origin, is frequently used to refer to a particular set of people of migration background, namely those of Muslim, and particularly Turkish, background. This focus on national/ethnic background is fostered by the emergence of the term Biodeutsche(r) (literally ‘bio[logically] German’, which I gloss here as ‘ethnic German’), which contributes to the focus on an ethnonational definition of Germanness.

In these data, I look at the different ways these terms are used, noting that the term Migrationshintergrund is frequently used to express positive evaluation of diversity within the nation. Thus the term Migrationshintergrund is used in tweets which seek to distance the tweeter from conservatives who use this term disparagingly. This discourse positions migration as something positive for society and also moves the focus away from a specific set of migration backgrounds, as it includes reference to players from a variety of backgrounds and on a number of national teams.

The uses of the term Biodeutscher in these data also includes this ironic twist; people identify as ethnic Germans in order to distance themselves from those who discriminate again people the migrant background. They also challenge the meaningfulness of the Biodeutsch – Migrationshintergrund dichotomy by admitting to such non-German behavior as not watching the World Cup final.

 A third term, Haustürk (literally ‘house Turk’), is brought into this analysis to focus on the discourse of integration. This term is modelled on Malcom X’s reference to ‘house negros’, which referred to slaves who worked in the house as opposed to the field, and placed their loyalty with the slave owner instead of the other slaves. Haustürken, then, are loyal to Germany and not their Turkish background. This term illustrates that in addition to the dichotomy between Biodeutsch – Migrationshintergrund, those of migrant background are also categorized based on their level of integration.  While there is ample discourse stigmatizing Turks as the Unintegrated Other (Ehrkamp 2006, 2010; Foroutan 2013; Schaeffer and Bukenya 2014), the use of term Haustürk shows that migrant background citizens are also criticized for losing their Otherness.

Unexpectedly, the uses of term Biodeutsch in these data do the most to challenge the traditional ideas about national belonging. While the celebration of diversity in the uses of Migrationhintergrund and the defense of Otherness inherent in the derisive meaning of Haustürk challenge negative views of the role of migration and integration in society, they nonetheless continue the focus on difference, not belonging.



Ehrkamp, P. (2006). “We Turks are no Germans”: assimilation discourses and the dialectical construction of identities in Germany. Environment and Planning A, 38(9), 1673-1692.

Ehrkamp, P. (2010). The limits of multicultural tolerance? Liberal democracy and media portrayals of Muslim migrant women in Germany. Space and Polity, 14(1), 13-32.

Foroutan, N. (2013). Identity and (Muslim) integration in Germany. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, 4.

Fuller, Janet M. Forthcoming. Immigration, Integration and Leitkultur in German Newspapers: Competing Discourses about National Belonging. To appear in Studii de Lingvistica8/2 (Le discours politique identitaire face aux migrations).

Schaeffer, P. V., & Bukenya, J. O. (2014). Assimilation of foreigners in former West Germany. International Migration, 52(4), 157-174.


Halleh Ghorashi & Kathy Davis, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Presentation of the book Contested Belonging: Spaces, Practices, Biographies (2018 Emerald, editors Kathy Davis, Halleh Ghorashi, Peer Smets). Download pdf

The book consists of contributions by well-known and young scholars from different disciplines address the sites, practices, and narratives in which belonging is imagined, enacted and constrained, negotiated and contested. Belonging is viewed from the perspectives of both migrants and refugees in their host countries as well as from people who are ostensibly “at home” and yet may experience various degrees of alienation in their countries of origin. The book focuses on three particular dimensions of belonging: belonging as space (neighbourhood, workplace, home), as practice (virtual, physical, cultural), and as biography (life stories, group narratives). What role do physical, digital, transnational and in-between spaces play and how are they used in order to create/contest belonging? Which practices do people engage in in order to gain/ foster/ invent a certain/new sense of belonging? What can the biographies and narratives of people reveal about their complicated and contested experiences of belonging?

            Contested Belonging: Spaces, Practices, Biographies shows how individual and collective struggles for belonging are not only associated with exclusion and “othering”, but also lead to surprising and inspiring forms of social action and transformation, suggesting that there may be more reason for hope than for despair.


Cynthia Groff, Leiden University

Language choices and/as language policy: Minority perspectives and being made to feel different

The identity negotiation often experienced by young people is particularly nuanced for minority youth, surrounded as they are by a dominant culture that is not (entirely) their own. Youth radicalization is potentially triggered by a sense of disconnect from society, and experiences of belonging carry important implications for youth identity formation. My focus is on the role of language and education in the development of a sense of belonging by youth in culturally and linguistically diverse contexts. Language ideologies, policies, and practices in educational contexts send messages for youth regarding their belonging and/or value in society: the voices heard by youth. In addition, youth communicate their sense of belonging and the belonging of others through their words and actions, including their language choices and social affiliations: the voices of youth. Drawing on my research in North India, Québec, Mexico, and now The Netherlands, I explore language policies and language ideologies from a micro perspective, showing how young people experience linguistic hierarchies in educational contexts and how they choose their words to express a sense of belonging or exclusion. From Kumauni youth who feel a part of the greater Indian nation and yet are labeled a “backwards” people to Québec Anglophones who are made to feel different in their francophone environment and choose to position themselves as superior, the language choices of minority youth sometimes reflect and sometimes contest dominant discourses and language use patterns.


Jolien Makkinga Meertens Instituut (KNAW) & Maastricht University


Aging and belonging: Negotiating belonging to the (un)successfully aged. 

Keywords: Aging, Belonging, Language practices, Nursing home, indexicality.


For older people who make the transition to a nursing home creating a place and experiencing feelings of belonging are not taken for granted (Boelsma et al. 2014:48).  Belonging in this paper is approached as an analytical concept which contains both an intimate feeling of being “at home” in a place (place-belongingness) and a discursive resource to construct, claim or resist forms of inclusion and exclusion (politics of belonging) (Antonsich 2010:646). Older people who live in a nursing home encounter many difficulties in their experience of belonging. One important difficulty that residents encounter are the stigmatized assumptions about older people that are perpetuating (MchHugh 2003: 179) in the Dutch society. One existing assumption is for instance that older people are deaf. Moreover, older people are confronted with discourses on successful aging (Katz & Calasanti 2015:27). 

            One way in which representations of aging are communicated is through language practices (Lagacé et al. 2012: 336). Representations on aging are reflected through assumptions on language skills such as inevitable decline in language skills of older people in one or more language varieties (Idem.). Moreover, representation on aging is reflected through modified speech such as elderspeak and babytalk. This paper explores how the language practices of the nursing home staff towards the residents in a nursing home include elderspeak and babytalk, and how elderspeak and babytalk become an indexical character for belonging to the old and unsuccessfully aged. Correspondingly, this paper explores how elderspeak and babytalk contribute to the experience of belonging in a nursing home. 

            This paper aims to answer the following questions: How are representations on aging reinforced through language practices? And, how does elderspeak and babytalk contribute to the experience of belonging in a nursing home? To address these questions, audio recordings between nursing staff and residents and field notes are used. The argument is build that the belonging that the nursing staff construes for the residents closely relates to the representations on aging. Moreover, this paper will argue that residents use their bi-dialectical capacity as a resource for empowerment and negotiation of their belonging.



Antonsich, M. (2010). Searching for belonging: an analytical framework. Geography compass, 4(6), 644-659.

Boelsma, F., Baur, V.E., Woelders, S., & Abma, T.A. (2014). “Small” things matter: residents’ involvement in practice improvements in long-term care facilities. Journal of aging studies, 31, 45-53.

Katz, S., & Calasanti, T. (2015). Critical perspectives on successful aging: does it appeal more than it illuminates? The gerontologist, 55, 26-33.

Lagacé, M., Tanguay, A., Lavallee, M.L., Laplante, J., & Robichaud, S. (2012). The silent impact of ageist communication in long term care facilities: Elders’ perspective on quality of life and coping strategies. Journal of aging studies, 26, 335-342.

Makkinga, J. 2017. Belonging tot he old and unsuccessfully aged: Language practices in a nursing home in Maastricht, The Netherlands. In Special Issue on Language, Indexicality and Belonging, Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 1:83-101.

Makkinga, J. (To appear). Home in interaction: producing and experiencing home through language ideologies. O. Synnes, I. Moser and B. Pasveer (Eds.). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

McHugh, K.E. (2003). Three faces of ageism: society, image and place. Ageing and society, 23, 165-185.


Yolandi Ribbens-Klein, Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany

South Cape boorlinge and inkommers: looking local, sounding local, and the embodiment of place and belonging in (in)mobility

Keywords: place identities; local/newcomer; belonging; embodiment; (im)mobility

In the context of geographic mobility, in-migration can contribute to changing, and sometimes conflicting dynamics amongst establish residents (i.e. locals) and newcomers. In this presentation, I will explore how locals and newcomers discursively construct place identities in terms of ideologies of locality and belonging. The sense of belonging to a specific place can be regarded as the embodiment of place. The phenomenological notion of embodiment highlights how language and materiality act upon bodily experiences (see Bucholtz & Hall’s [2016] discussion of embodied sociolinguistics).The materiality I focus on is places or localities, where the embodiment of place relates to people’s lived experience, how they express being ‘(not) from here’, as well as the kinds of freedom and restrictions that places can have on the movement and location of bodies.

The presentation will focus on how the embodiment of place – looking local and sounding local – is expressed in interviews conducted with residents from a peri-urban, Afrikaans-dominant town in South Africa’s South Cape region. The town was racially demarcated as a “Coloured” residential area during apartheid. The residents created emic place identities that involve historic struggles to belong, resistance to newcomers, and discourses of authenticity, referring to themselves and others as boorlinge (lit. ‘bornlings’, cf. ‘earthlings’; translated as ‘locals’) or inkommers (lit. ‘incomers’; translated as ‘newcomers’).

Discourse analyses of interview narratives show, among other things, that boorlinge expressed a sense of visually recognising boorling bodies, through the way they walk, talk and behave. Crime and substance abuse were linked to discourses about troubled neighbourhoods and inkommers living there. Some inkommers also described their experiences of being silent or peripheral bodies, where boorlinge deny them the right to speak about local matters. The argument is made that expressions of embodied belonging contain elements of conflicted nostalgia that are accentuated through in-migration and social change. The discussion moves towards conceptualising (in)migration as an object of discourse, rather than a straightforward analytical concept.



Bucholtz, M. & Hall, K. 2016. Embodied sociolinguistics. In N. Coupland (ed.), Sociolinguistics: Theoretical Debates. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 173-200.


Marina Terkourafi, Leiden University Center for Linguistics, the Netherlands 


Politeness as belonging: signalling the Self through one’s treatment of the Other 

Politeness studies grew out of an interest in explaining indirect speech acts (Would you mind …?) and generally all sorts of departures from the shortest, clearest, and most succinct way of expressing oneself. While this early perspective made politeness seem like an extra burden, empirical studies of politeness in different cultures have shown that politeness concerns are omni-relevant. At the same time, it is impossible to circumscribe a closed set of expressions whose utterance guarantees a polite effect in any single culture, let alone universally. In this talk, I will explore a novel possibility that seeks to establish theoretical generality by taking seriously the one property of linguistic politeness that keeps getting confirmed in study after study, namely that politeness (and impoliteness) constitutes the realm of convention par excellence. Taking this finding to heart, I will propose that politeness is indeed inherent in culturally ratified ways of speaking, in the same way as it is inherent in culturally ratified ways of eating, sitting, waiting, and so on. By adhering to these sociocultural conventions, which are enshrined in us from an early age as simply the (right) way of saying something—automatically rendering all other ways of saying it wrong, or at least suspect—we are socialized into politeness systems that, at the same time as allowing us to get things done, serve a paramount goal: that of distinguishing in-group from out-group members. In this way, rather than as a handicap, linguistic politeness emerges as the most efficient solution to a basic (read: universal) human need, that of distinguishing ‘friend’ from ‘foe’ – and it is in this overarching motivation that its universality also lies. 


Lotte Thissen, Maastricht University


Revealing appearances, telling accents: perceived signs of situated belonging and unbelonging

“There is something ethnic about you or not?”, a man I just met enquired. Startled by this novel rephrasing of ‘where are you from,’ I gave him a short biographical explanation instead of responding that there is ‘something ethnic’ about all of us.

This paper aims to scrutinize exactly these moments in which people determine whether they have something in common with the people they encounter (Alborn, 2001). Using empirical examples from my dissertation Talking In and Out of Place, I demonstrate how people mobilize linguistic (Bucholtz & Hall, 2016), material (Cornips & De Rooij, 2013; Van der Horst, 2008), and embodied phenotypical (Fitzgerald, 2018) ‘signs’ to assess other people’s (un)belonging. These signs are situated; they are always embedded in social space and context, exemplifying that “the cultural context of ‘where you are at’ always informs and articulates the meaning of ‘where you are from’” (Ang, 1994, p. 35). The paper closes off on a methodological note and suggests possible methodological tools that enable studying the daily practices of how people assess signs of belonging and unbelonging.

            In the discussion, I would like to invite the attendants of the workshop to discuss and reflect upon how people do this in daily interactions, by sharing examples themselves in order to see whether there are also other ‘signs’ to take into consideration.


Lauren Wagner, Maastricht University

Belonging when, where and how: Why I like membership categorisation for analysing ‘belonging’

Ideologies about who belongs where – and especially why – are in constant circulation, as we instinctively apply them to ourselves and others. They are also in constant reformulation, as we adjust in response to ongoing activity. Often these ideas come embedded with ‘causality’, where a behaviour becomes an ‘explanation’ for a categorisation, or vice versa. Causal connections can become ideologically hardened as defining characteristics for belonging. Yet, empirically we constantly unearth contradictions and paradoxes in how participants apply categorisation and belonging in interaction. In this paper, I show some interactional data with paradoxical contradictions in relation to stated ideologies of belonging, and discuss how membership categorisation, as a conversation analytical approach, can be effective to tease apart the difference between ideological explanations and interactional belonging.


 Pomme van de Weerd, Maastricht University

‘Moroccans’, ‘Turks’ and ‘foreigners’: The functions and uses of labels in interaction by pupils and teachers in Venlo

This paper examines the use of labels for self- and other-identification among pupils and teachers of a secondary school in Venlo, the Netherlands. All pupils in this class were born in the Netherlands and carried Dutch nationality, and almost half were children of immigrants, mostly from Turkey and Morocco. The pupils, especially those with a migration background, frequently engaged in labelling practices, calling themselves and others Turken (‘Turks’), Marokkanen (‘Moroccans’), or buitenlanders (‘foreigners’). They expressly dis-identified with the label Nederlander (‘Dutch person’): a label that in their eyes was reserved for people without a migration background.

Certain political, public, and sometimes even academic discourse relates labeling practices such as these to a sense of non-belonging to the national community. To counter these views, in this presentation I will present interactional data and insights from 9 months of ethnographic fieldwork to suggest that ethno-cultural labeling can serve a variety of functions. I argue that when the labels were used by pupils, they 1) were not necessarily indicative of any lack of belonging to the Netherlands, but were constructed as endogenous to the Netherlands; and 2) were functional in the ongoing interaction, for example to achieve switches in positioning. When teachers (none of whom had a migration background) employed the same labels to refer to their pupils, however, this was often in a context where they 1) put forward views of these pupils as non-belonging to the Netherlands, and 2) engaged in a narrative about their pupils’ (supposed) ethno-cultural identity.