Across all sectors of society it is common for individuals and groups of people to interact with collaborators who do not have the same sociocultural and linguistic background as themselves.

Collaboration of this sort may take place within well-established frameworks, following practices that have been developed over considerable periods of time, but it will often unfold in contexts that are relatively short-lived and characterized by a certain fluidity in terms of the norms that guide the interaction.

In this research project we focus on contexts of the latter type by studying what we call transient multilingual communities – TMCs for short – defined as social configurations where people from diverse sociocultural and linguistic backgrounds come together (physically or otherwise) for a limited period of time to work on a shared activity.

Learning about collaboration through collaboration

We work with case studies from different societal sectors – the construction industry, the voluntary sector, the arts and academia – in order to identify differences and commonalities in how members of transient multilingual communities over time come to agree on the social and linguistic norms that underpin their collaboration.

By identifying how successful collaboration is achieved in transient multilingual communities – and possibly how collaboration is not achieved – our aim is to develop specific suggestions for how activities in such settings can be organized and supported in order to achieve the desired goals.

As part of our research, we collaborate closely with our case study partners in recognition of the fact that our perspective as outsiders needs to be complemented by views ‘from the inside’ in order for the project to realize its full potential.

Theorizing the formation of social and linguistic norms

Theoretically, the project aims to break new ground in the understanding of how social and linguistic norms are formed and consolidated ‘in real time’ in interaction between individuals.

By working comparatively with longitudinal ethnographic case studies of emerging social configurations, we aim to theorize social and linguistic norms as ongoing processes rather than fixed products.

In order to monitor and guide the scientific development of the project, we have established an international advisory board with experts from Denmark, Norway, the UK and New Zealand who comment on and critique the progress of the project at regular intervals throughout the funding period.

How to get in touch

If you are interested in receiving news about the project or if you are interested in becoming a collaborator, either as a member of the project’s academic network or as a potential case study partner, please get in touch by sending an email to Janus Mortensen, the project’s principal investigator, at

What characterizes transient multilingual communities?

Transient multilingual communities (TMCs) can be said to have three prototypical features. They are emergent (in the process of becoming), heterogeneous in terms of the communicative repertoire of its members (including the languages or language varieties that participants speak and the social norms that guide the use of language and other semiotic resources), and activity-based (formed around more or less specific shared activities).

Some TMCs are project-based with participants coming together to solve very specific tasks, for instance setting up a play at a theatre with an international cast or establishing sustainable water supply in a remote village through collaboration between the local population and outside experts. Other TMCs will be organized more loosely around shared activities, for instance participating as a student in an international university programme. In settings of the latter type, smaller social units may be formed around specific and time-delimited projects, for instance conducting a study project.