Africa out of Africa: the Impact of African Communities on Milan’s Linguistic Landscape

Authors: Silvia Luraghi, Ilaria Fiorentini (University of Pavia, Italy)
Speakers: Silvia Luraghi, Ilaria Fiorentini
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


The linguistic landscape provides an excellent representation of urban linguistic complexity and of the multiple levels of language present in a territory by reflecting it entirely. Nowadays, Italy is a multilingual reality, where the linguistic landscape performs important informational and symbolic functions “as a marker of the relative power and status of the linguistic communities inhabiting the territory.” (Landry/Bourhis, 1997: 25) Previous studies have mainly investigated the presence and functions of languages in urban spaces, especially Milan (Calvi, 2015; 2017) and Rome (Bagna/Barni, 2006). Although Calvi (2015) detects more than 120 different languages in Milan’s linguistic landscape, she focuses only on Chinese, Arabic and Spanish varieties. Studies on the sub-Saharan African linguistic landscape in Italy still appear to be lacking.

Our paper will first provide a general overview of the presence of African communities in Milan, then zoom in on the sub-Saharan area focusing on the Eritrean and the Senegalese communities. The former, now numbering about 1,100, is one of the city’s oldest immigrant communities, dating back to the migration movement that began in 1962. Senegalese migration to Milan started in the 1980s; to date, the community includes about 2,581 members (“MilanoAttraverso”,

We will investigate both communities through language mapping, i.e. georeferencing of language traces in public spaces. The data collected will be uploaded on the app Lingscape ( and made available to communities worldwide. Our goal is to have a thorough representation of these communities’ sociolinguistic composition, language repertoires and visibility in urban spaces. The presence of these languages in public spaces reflects their vitality and integration into Milan’s linguistic landscape, and contributes to shape multilingual identities in the framework of the cultural heritage of African communities out of Africa.


Bagna C./Barni M. (2006), Per una mappatura dei repertori linguistici urbani: nuovi strumenti e metodologie, in N. De Blasi, C. Marcato (eds.), La città e le sue lingue. Repertori linguistici urbani, Liguori, Napoli, 1-43.

Calvi M.V. (2015), Orizzonti multiculturali nel paesaggio linguistico milanese, in M.V. Calvi, E. Perassi (eds.), Milano città delle culture, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Roma, 467-476.

Calvi M.V. (2017), Cibo e identità nel paesaggio linguistico milanese, in I. Bajini et al. (eds.), Parole per mangiare, LED, Milano, 215-36.

Landry R./Bourhis R.Y. (1997), Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality. An Empirical Study, in “Journal of Language and Social Psychology”, XVI/1, 23-49.

Keywords: Multilingual identities, African cultural heritage, language mapping, Sub-Saharan communities in Italy