Language Portraits: Investigating Embodied Multilingual and Multimodal Repertoires


  • Annelies Kusters Heriot-Watt University
  • Maartje De Meulder University of Namur



linguistic repertoire, deaf, multilingualism, sign language, multimodality


In this article, we discuss the use of language portraits (LP) as a research method to investigate the embodied multilingual repertoires of people who use both spoken and signed languages. Our discussion is based on two studies in which most participants were deaf (one study also included hearing participants). We primarily offer a methodological contribution to the discussion around LP, since we argue that the study of linguistic repertoires of signers takes the multimodal aspect of the method to a new level. Indeed, by separating modalities (speech, signing, writing), grouping languages in different ways, and mapping them on the LP, the LP discussed in this article represent multimodal languaging more explicitly than in previous studies. Furthermore, by locating particular signs on the LP, several participants literally mapped their body when signing and gesturing in their narratives, thus performing and becoming their language portrait. We suggest that the study of body language (signing/gesturing/pointing) in the verbal narrations accompanying the LP thus expands the multimodal aspect of the analysis of LP.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Annelies Kusters, Heriot-Watt University

Annelies KUSTERS is associate professor in sign language and intercultural research at Heriot-Watt University, where she is based since April 2017. She leads a research project called "Deaf mobilities across international borders: Visualising intersectionality and translanguaging," funded by the European Research Council (2017-2022). KUSTERS' work is situated at the intersection of social and cultural anthropology, social and cultural geography and applied linguistics, in particular the study of multilingualism, transnationalism and mobilities. She makes use of visual methods in her work, including the creation of ethnographic films.

Maartje De Meulder, University of Namur

Maartje DE MEULDER is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Namur Institute of Language, Text and Transmediality (NaLTT) of the University of Namur, Belgium. She specializes in deaf studies and applied language studies. Broader research interests include sign language rights, sign language maintenance and revitalization, multilingualism, and sign language interpreting from a socio-political perspective.




How to Cite

Kusters, A., & De Meulder, M. (2019). Language Portraits: Investigating Embodied Multilingual and Multimodal Repertoires. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 20(3).