Multilingualism Research Forum/Flerspråklighetsforum: Narratives on professional identity and positioning among highly educated Poles in Norway (conference paper in progress)

Toril Opsahl (Associate Professor, MultiLing) will report on a study of how Poles navigate stereotypical expectations and negotiate professional identities in narratives in interaction in L2 Norwegian. The study is a collaboration with professor Anne Golden.

Please note this is a closed event for MultiLing members only.

Toril Opsahl smiling and wearing a dark wine and black top

Toril Opsahl


Studies of Norwegian representations of Polish migrants in the media reveal strong stereotypical notions of Poles, and a set of rather limited subject positions seem to be available for Polish migrants (Obojska 2020; Opsahl 2021). One dominant identity position available is “the worker subject”; the Polish blue-collar work migrant who is happy to take on hard, physical work that Norwegians tend to avoid (Dyrlid 2017). Dyrlid shows how Polish migrants enter, negotiate or distance themselves from such positions. At the same time, Przybyszewska (2021) describes trends of downward professional mobility among Poles in Norway.

Building on and expanding previous research, this qualitative study aims at exploring the relationship between professional identity and language. Drawing on data from four different focus group conversations conducted in the participants’ L2 Norwegian, the paper explores the experiences shared by highly educated Polish migrants in manoeuvring their professional identities while facing expectations rooted in stereotypes.

Methodologically, the study draws on narratives that appear during the conversations, analysed from two different, but overlapping perspectives: One related to the thematic content, i.e. the professional roles and positions that are made relevant and available in the narratives. The other concerns functional aspects, i.e. how the participants use narratives to position themselves professionally in the conversations.

The results provide insights into a broader set of subject positions and professional identities -- or the experience of being “a completely different kind of Pole”, as one of the participants puts it -- as well as into the role of language in the construction of professional identities among migrants within the Norwegian context.


Dyrlid, L. M. 2017. Transnasjonalisme mellom stolthet og stigma. Polske migranters narrativer om arbeid, tilhørighet og posisjonering. Doktoravhandlinger ved NTNU (112).

Friberg, J. Horgen  & A. H. Midtbøen (2018) Ethnicity as skill: immigrant employment hierarchies in Norwegian low-wage labour markets, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44:9, 1463–1478.

Golden, A.; Steien, G. Bordal & Tonne, I. (2021). Narrativ metode i andrespråksforskning. NOA - Norsk som andrespråkISSN 0801-3284. 37(1-2), 133–155.

Obojska, M. 2020. What’s in a name? Identity, indexicality and name-change in an immigrant context. European Journal of Applied Linguistics, 8(2), 333–353.

Opsahl, T. (2021). Invisible Presence?: Polish in Norwegian Public Space. I Blackwood, Robert & Dunlevy, Deirdre A. (Red.), Multilingualism in Public Spaces: Empowering and Transforming Communities. Bloomsbury Academic. ISSN 9781350186590. pp. 111–136.

Pavlenko, A. (2007).  Autobiographic  narratives  as  data  in  applied linguistics. Applied Linguistics, 28(2), 163–188.

Przybyszewska, A., (2021). Downward Professional Mobility among Poles Working and Living in Norway. Nordic Journal of Migration Research, 11(1), 35–49.


Toril Opsahl is Associate Professor at the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies (ILN), and since 2017 a CoE MultiLing Core group member. She serves as PI of the NorPol project financed by RCN's FRIPRO scheme (2020-2024). Her research interests are multilingual language practices, attitudes and stereotypes; language in the workplace; multiethnolectal speech styles; discourse markers and phenomena associated with the grammar-pragmatics interface. She teaches sociolinguistics, second language acquisition, literacy and related topics.


Published Mar. 1, 2022 3:03 PM - Last modified Mar. 3, 2022 9:59 AM