The multilingual situation of deaf refugees in Sweden

A research project within the research program migration and integration.

Project leader: Ingela Holmström External link.

Period: 2020-2023

Seat of learning: Stockholm University

Project title: The multilingual situation of deaf refugees in Sweden


What is the project about?

The project aims to generate knowledge about deaf adult refugees’ language situation. The integration of this group is strongly linked to their varied linguistic background, which is further complicated by the fact that many of these refugees are language delayed due to having had no or limited access to any language during childhood, seriously affecting their communicative abilities.

The project will be the first to describe the linguistic background of deaf refugees in Sweden, and what consequences their background may have for their language learning and socialization into Swedish society. Also, the project will be the first to examine the current language instruction in educational institutions aimed at deaf learners. The outcomes of the project will contribute significantly to our understanding of language acquisition among deaf refugees and what levels of language proficiency that can be expected after the first years of Swedish Sign Language and Swedish instruction and interaction.

Research questions

The project consists of two sub-projects:

1. Language use in social interaction, in which the linguistic interaction in classrooms where deaf refugees are instructed with these specific issues:
  • How is communication created and meaning negotiated between people who do not have a common language from the beginning?
  • How does the language develop through social interaction in classrooms?
  • How are the instruction of Swedish Sign Language and Swedish conducted?

These issues will be examined with the help of sociocultural theories and through an ethnographic approach.

2. Language acquisition and development of Swedish Sign Language and Swedish, which will address the following specific issues:
  • What are the characteristics of the acquisition process?
  • What are the characteristics of the group’s language production?
  • How does the lack of a first language influence the opportunities to acquire Swedish Sign Language and Swedish?

These issues will be examined with the help of data obtained in the form of language production through different stimuli and tests.

Project participants

The project will be conducted by the project investigator, a co-researcher and a doctoral student at the Department of Linguistics at Stockholm University. We will develop and extend collaborations on the national level with the stakeholders Västanviks folkhögskola, Sima folkhögskola and the Upper Secondary School for the Deaf. In addition, extensive international collaboration is planned with other countries such as Germany and Finland, where research on the topic also is ongoing.

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