Multilingualism and Local Literacy Practices in Ethiopia: Language contact in regulated and unregulated spaces

  • Elizabeth Lanza University of Oslo
  • Hirut Woldemariam University of Addis Ababa
Keywords: linguistic landscape, literacy, language contact, language ideology, regional languages, Amharic, multilingualism, Ethiopia


The study of the linguistic landscape has provided a new dimension to theories and
issues related to multilingualism, including language policy. In this growing field of
inquiry, however, not enough attention has been given to the linguistic landscape in
sites in the Global South. Since one of the aims of literacy studies is to reveal the variety
and social patternings of practices, there is a need to compare linguistic landscape data
with other various textual materials. In this article, we present linguistic landscape data
from two federal regional capitals in Ethiopia that demonstrate multilingual language
use. We also compare the linguistic contact patterns with those found in schoolbooks
used in the same region. Such a comparison involves language use in unregulated
as well as in regulated spaces (see Sebba 2009). Regional ethnically based languages
are now being used in new arenas, including the linguistic landscape and education
because of a new language policy promoting the use and development of regional
languages. The two regional capitals provide privileged sites for examining the
products of local literacy practices, involving values, attitudes, ideologies, and social
relationships. We discuss the results in light of various ideologies and argue for the
speaker-writer’s active mobilisation of multilingual resources in new language arenas.