Signs of change – Social Identity and Power Reflected in the Linguistic Landscape of Rwanda

Research project
Active research
Project period
2018 - 2021
Project owner
Department of Languages and Literatures

Short description

The aim of this project is to provide insights into how language, place and people interact in the linguistic landscape (LL) in Rwanda, and to understand how power relationships and identity are constructed and transformed in this public space.


In Africa, language policy plays an important role and influences the LL. Rwanda has a quadrilingual language policy which favours English, especially after 2008, despite the fact that English has no colonial historical background in the country, and that the vast majority of Rwandans only speak the national language Kinyarwanda. Thus, in Rwanda, there are discrepancies in access to European, high-status languages and consequently differences from the perspective of power.


This project has two parts. The first is a quantitative analysis comparing unique data on signage that I collected prior to the changes in 2008, with new data. This diachronic section fills a knowledge gap within LL research, especially in Africa, and reveals the effects of language policy decisions. A qualitative, in-depth part (multi-modal analysis of signage and walk-along interviews) focuses on the practical and symbolic functions of the languages, and on research questions such as the relationship between the text/language and image, and between the sender and the recipient. These questions are understudied in Africa. The African perspective is needed because studies of language landscapes mostly focus on urban immigrant environments in the Western world. The conditions in African countries pose new questions, such as how literacy (reading and writing) impact the LL. This study therefore contributes knowledge to LL research on processes in societies that are often regarded as peripheral.