Research Interests
Language ideologies/Metapragmatics
Sociolinguistics of Scriptality/Multimodality
Discourse studies
Folk Linguistics
Current Projects
ProjectNegotiationg Competence: Metapragmatic Stancetaking in Interactions of L1 and L2 Users of Japanese
The aim of this project is to explore what L1 (first language) and L2 (second language) users of Japanese on a university campus in Tōkyō say about language structure, use, and communicative competence in conversations held in Japanese. Japan is experiencing a continuous influx of foreign labourers, professionals, and international students which contributes to a more diverse and multilingual demographics. Most incomers study Japanese in order to adjust themselves to the environment, establish contacts with other Japanese speakers, and to be able to communicate with locals. Therefore, acquiring Japanese language skills seems to be necessary to participate in the Japanese society. Research in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology has shown that language is not a mere tool for communication, but inherently a means of social action. Language is imbued with social norms about the appropriate way of pronouncing words, using certain expressions, and how to communicate effectively. These language ideologies are transmitted to novices in a community, but may also be partly challenged or resisted by learners or even native speakers, giving rise to the negotiation of norms in interaction. This awareness of language surfaces in metapragmatic discourse, i.e. talk about language (structure, use, or competence) in interaction. Explicit metapragmatic discourse in intercultural interaction in the Japanese context is understudied and therefore deserves further attention, due to the steadily growing diversification of Japanese language users. In order to investigate these interactions, I will examine how L1 and L2 users of Japanese take stance toward language structure, use, and communicative competence in interactions. I want to explore (1) what topics emerge in narratives about language and communication in a broad sense in these conversations, (2) what kind of linguistic resources (such as contextualization cues, stances markers, and other indexical expressions) social actors employ to position themselves toward these topics, and (3) what factors and experiences influence social actors’ perception of certain linguistic forms, registers, and communication strategies.
Project leadJürgen Spitzmüller, Florian Grosser
Project conductionFlorian Grosser (doctoral project)
FinancingAustrian Academy of Science (ÖAW)
TermAugust 2021 – January 2024

ProjectLanguage in Motion
Multilingual biographies in the context of forced displacement raise specific issues regarding the relation of language and media use. Central to this study is the generation who fled with their parents as children and grew up in Austria due to the breakout of war in Ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s. This project is situated within sociolinguistics of globalisation and media sociolinguistics. The key analytic concept of the linguistic repertoire (Busch 2012) is employed with regard to three different dimensions: the dimension of embodiment alludes to the concept of Spracherleben (the lived experience of language; Busch 2017), a phenomenological approach centring around how the speaking subject relates to languages through a bodily and emotional perspective. The emplaced dimension of the repertoire discusses the way that language regimes and ideologies engender a relevant spatial dimension on different scales (Kroskrity 2000). Finally, the mediated dimension deals with the materiality of the linguistic sign and how this materiality is made relevant in communication according to the three dimensions of mediality (Spitzmüller 2014).
PI and project leadJulia Sonnleitner
Co-PI and project mentoringJürgen Spitzmüller
FinancingFWF [Austrian Science Fund] (Herta Firnberg Program)
TermMärz 2020 – März 2023
Concluded Projects
ProjectRepresentations of Borders and Spaces in Austrian Media Discourses and in Narratives of Displaced Persons
This project examines representations of space and borders in Austrian public discourses on asylum and in narratives of displaced persons in Vienna. The interdisciplinary study combines theoretical approaches to space, borders and boundaries, and migration studies with a critical sociolinguistic and narrative stance. It integrates various perspectives and methods: (1) media discourse analysis, (2) ethnographic study of a shelter for asylum seekers, and (3) participatory photo interviews and semi-structured interviews with residents (asylum seekers) and social workers at the institution. Preliminary results reveal the asylum seekers’ heterogeneous experiences of borders and boundaries, including geopolitical borders, complex infrastructures of border regimes during their escapes, and symbolic boundary experiences during their asylum procedures and current living conditions in Austria. As enduring experiences, boundaries affect their current lives, agency, and spatial behavior in Vienna.
Project leadJürgen Spitzmüller, Ruth Wodak, Sabine Lehner
Project conductionSabine Lehner (doctoral project)
FinancingAustrian Academy of Science (ÖAW)
TermOctober 2018 – October 2020

Pilot StudyCommunicative Professionalization in the context of refugee aid. An ethnographic pilot study on requirements, positionings and practices in a Viennese organization
This project deals with one of the most crucial questions of current social work: the professionalization of assistance to refugees. The project sets out to explore ethnographically, in the context of a Viennese counselling center, what professional(ism), regarded here as an interpretive phenomenon, means to the actors in the field, how they try to establish or maintain it by communicative means, how it is perceived by the diverse persons involved, and where the actors locate (particularly linguistic or communicative) problems and/or conflicts.
The pilot study basically attempts to systematize and problematize empirical data that are elicited in the context of a participatory observation over the course of several months, and derives detailed research questions from that. Thus, the study shall pave ground to future, more in-depth research projects.
Project leadJürgen Spitzmüller, Brigitta Busch
Team membersJonas Hassemer
Financial supportVienna Chamber of Labour, Cultural Department of the City of Vienna
TermNovember 2016 – March 2017
Final report (German)
[Final report (German): < Professionalisierung.pdf>].
Qualification Projects
Postdoc Project (Habilitation)
Title Graphic variation as a social practice. A sociolinguistic theory of scriptal visibility.
Abstract The project deals with the social functions of graphic-scriptal variation (spelling, graphetics, typography). On the one hand, it aims to widen the scope of multimodality research, which is currently mainly based on semiotic and stylistic concepts, by an interpretive-sociolinguistic approach to multimodality. On the other hand, the project aims to widen the focus of sociolinguistics itself, which mainly focuses on speech and thus is suffering from a spoken language bias. The project thus follows recent calls for a sociolinguistics of writing, but extends this topic from spelling to multimodal issues.
The Habilitation thesis discusses theoretical implications of a turn of linguistics towards scriptal visuality and materiality, it presents methodical and conceptual proposals for a sociolinguistic analysis of graphic phenomena, and it exemplifies graphic variation as a social practice, amongst others, by analyses of multimodal processes of identity construction, ideology brokerage, and genre constitution.
Status Finished (thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich in March 2012; accepted in November 2012; published in September 2013 by De Gruyter, Berlin).
Ph.D. Thesis
Title Metasprachdiskurse. Einstellungen zu Anglizismen und ihre wissenschaftliche Rezeption. [Metalanguage Discourses. Attitudes towards Anglicisms and their linguistic reception]
Supervisor Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schiewe (Freiburg i.Br., currently Greifswald)
Abstract The thesis investigates the reasons for the diverging attitudes towards language change in science and public, focussing on the discourse on Anglicisms in the timeframe of 1990 to 2001. The analysis is based on a corpus that consists of diverse mass-media documents (texts from newspapers, magazines as well as radio and TV broadcasts) and of linguistic publications on the topic. It uses a discourse analytical approach that reconstructs the central folklinguistic and linguistic concepts by means of an analysis of the metalanguage (metaphors, metalinguistic expressions) and of the argumentative patterns (topoi).
Status Finished (submitted in September 2003 to the Faculty of Philology of the University of Freiburg; accepted in February 2004 [rated summa cum laude]; published in June 2005 by De Gruyter, Berlin).
Project Cooperations
As of May 2018 Core team member in the Interdisciplinary Research Platform Mediatised Lifeworlds: Young people's narrative constructions, connections and appropriations (#YouthMediaLife), University of Vienna (with Susanne Reichl [PI], Ute Smit, Ulrich Ansorge, Thomas A. Bauer, Mark Coeckelbergh, Petra Herczeg, Stefan Krammer, Michaela Pfadenhauer, Barbara Schober, Thomas Slunecko).
2016–2019 Cooperating partner in the SNF research project What's up, Switzerland? Language, Individuals, Ideologies in Mobile Messaging, Universities of Zurich, Neuchâtel, Bern, Leipzig (project director: Elisabeth Stark).
Project web site
2014–2019 Scientific partner in the domain multimodality in the Sparkling Science Project My Literacies. Approaches to literacies in multimodal and multilingual contexts – The view of the child, University of Vienna, Department of Linguistics (project director: Nadja Kerschhofer-Puhalo).
Project web site
April 2006 to March 2009 Member of the external board of the JSPS research project Contrastive German/Japanese media linguistics (project directors: Manabu Watanabe/​Noriko Okamoto/​Masahiko Koga, Tokyo).