Language Policy

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 55–75 | Cite as

‘Language is a costly and complicating factor’: a diachronic study of language policy in the virtual public sector



This article examines language policy in the virtual linguistic landscape (VLL) in Norway and its development over time. The analysis is based on diachronic website data and interviews with state employees concerning the presence or absence of different languages on the websites of three central state institutions. The article reveals a linguistic homogenization of the VLL of the public sector in Norway, which is mostly due to the removal of immigrant languages from state websites. The analysis also shows an increased linguistic presence of Nynorsk (the less used written standard of Norwegian), of the indigenous Sámi language, and of English, which performs a ‘hypercentral’ function. The virtual linguistic ethnography and follow-up interviews show that the websites of the three institutions in focus exist more or less fully only in two language versions: Bokmål (the more widespread written standard of Norwegian) and English. The translations into Nynorsk and Sámi are mainly done to comply with official regulations. Furthermore, immigration, rather than leading to an increased visibility of language diversity in the VLL, can also put pressure towards homogenization. One could perhaps even go so far as to see Norway as the harbinger of change: once multilingual provision has reached a notional peak, there is a chance that more and more state institutions will cut down on ‘less than necessary’ languages online, opting instead for ‘commonsense’ English together with the respective official language(s).


Norway Sámi Nynorsk Virtual linguistic landscape Online language policy State websites 



This work was partly supported by the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme, Project Number 223265. I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. I am also grateful to my PhD supervisors Unn Røyneland, Helen Kelly-Holmes and Aneta Pavlenko and to my colleagues at MultiLing for their feedback on an earlier draft of this article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan (MultiLing)University of OsloOsloNorway

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