Dissertation Abstracts

Languages, participation and spatiality in schools – a quantitative case study of a Finnish schoolscape

Author: Savela, Timo J.O., tjosav@utu.fi
Department: English Department
University: University of Turku, Finland
Supervisor: Attila Krizsán
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: schoolscapes , linguistic landscapes , landscapes , sociolinguistics
Areas of Research: Language and Society , Education , Visual Sociology


Schoolscape research is a recent strand of linguistic landscape research. It offers valuable insight into the linguistic landscapes of education. My approach to schoolscapes combines sociolinguistics and traditional landscape research in an educational context. It is perhaps best described as both post-structuralist and empiricist.

The focus of my dissertation is on the examination of languages, participation and spatiality in an educational setting. More specifically it is a pioneering quantitative case study of a Finnish schoolscape. The dissertation address three specific research questions: which languages are salient in the schoolscape, what is the role of the schoolscape participants and what language and educational policy values are reflected in the schoolscape?

The data consists of 5971 annotated units of analysis, photographed by the author in spring 2015. The annotation categories extend to 27 categories, including language related categories, translation and code-mixing, multimodality and spatial features. Moreover, the categorization addresses the different functions of the ensemble of items in schoolscapes: Bourdieusard power relations, Boudonian good reasons, Goffmanian presentation of self and collective identity. This data driven approach makes it possible to examine the different aspects and the patterns of schoolscapes from large sets of data, for example, by participant, by educational stage or by space. The findings provide valuable insight into the role educational spaces and the active role of its participants.

The dissertation was initially planned as a larger, more comprehensive study including multiple schools. However, in the pilot stage both the data and the annotation scheme drafted for this purpose proved to be more extensive than initially envisioned. Therefore the study was limited to a case study of a single schoolscape. As a result, the focus of the dissertation shifted more towards a serious proof of concept and a meticulous examination of various features of schoolscapes, as opposed to a more extensive study of schoolscapes.

The results indicate a predominantly linguistically homogeneous schoolscape. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Finnish is clearly the salient language, followed by English. Swedish, the other official language, is marginally present. This is in line with the language and education policies, as well as the national and school curricula. The examination of authorship reveals that teachers and staff dominate the schoolscape as the issuers of items, whereas the students are the principal schoolscape audience. Perhaps most interestingly, language use by students differs from the teachers and the other members of the public, bearing closer resemblance to external schoolscape participants. Moreover, there is a difference in participation on different levels of education. Primary level students seem to be more active participants than secondary level students.

The study should not be understood as representing Finnish schoolscapes in general. A single school is hardly representative of all schoolscapes. More studies are required in order to further discuss the results. The study does, however, address the different features of schoolscapes, providing a feasible annotation scheme capable of examining a broad range of features, made possible by the shift mid-research.