Mixing and Unmixing Languages: Romani Multilingualism in Post-socialist, Post-Conflict Kosovo

  • Amelia Abercrombie

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis seeks to use the politics and practices of language to understand social hierarchies and social change in a post-conflict and postsocialist context. My research was conducted among Roma who speak four languages in Prizren, Kosovo. My participants were primarily from a compact Roma area which is relatively central and integrated into the town, and my major fieldsite was there, and at a local Romani NGO and radio station. Shifts in language practices have reflected the demise of Yugoslav socialism, ethno-nationalist politics and conflict, and the post-war reversal of power relations in Kosovo. At the same time Prizren is still seen as one of the more cosmopolitan areas, retaining pre-war multiculturalism. The position of Roma in this cosmopolitanism is ambiguous; while they stress their relative integration, their position is fragile in the face of Albanian nationalist politics, and imported neoliberal economic strategies. Within this, Roma NGO workers have managed to carve an economic niche through the minority and multiculturalist project work funded by western governments. However this has led to further subdivisions among Roma, and in particular with the newly formed ethnic groups Egyptians and Ashkali. I discuss the historical trajectory and current configurations of a Romani organisation in the town, the standardisation of Romani and the hierarchical organisation of linguistic forms and language learning, the self-representation of Roma and the 'gypsy' image through Romani language drama, and attitudes to purism, mixing and cosmopolitanism. My central research question is: How are social hierarchies articulated through linguistic ideology and speech practices at different scales? By ethnographically investigating both usage and ideology of language, and treating language as metonymic of social relations more broadly, I argue that language is used to represent and reproduce social hierarchies. My central method was language learning: by positioning myself as a learner I was able to elicit ideologies related both to Romani language and Romani multilingualism, as well as conflicts and inconsistencies between language ideology and speech practices. As such the thesis complicates and critiques both purist and cosmopolitanist understandings of language and of multilingualism, and suggests that by further embedding language in social relations it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of the way the dynamics of political change are played out on a local level.
Date of Award31 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorYaron Matras (Supervisor) & Stefaan Jansen (Supervisor)


  • Roma
  • Multilingualism
  • Kosovo
  • Postsocialism

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