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Linguistic Profiling on the Urban Residential Property Market

Principal Investigator:

Dr Nicole Baumgarten, Lecturer in Applied Languages, University of Sheffield

Co-Applicant: Dr Inke Du Bois, University Lecturer, University of Bremen 


This project investigates language-based discrimination on the urban residential property market. Urban planning research has shown that housing markets work in a way that result in ‘residential segregation’, with estate agents playing a key gatekeeping role in this process. Linguistic research has shown that non-standard language use significantly reduces people’s access to services whenever a form of gatekeeping is involved. This project combines these two perspectives in a language ecology framework to uncover if and how linguistic bias plays a role in the outcome of gatekeeping encounters which regulate access to the residential property market.

The data used in this study is collected through multiple methods, such as gathering recordings of interactions between prospective buyers and estate agents and conducting interviews. The methodological design provides a comprehensive representation  of the initial stages of the property purchasing process as experienced by a wide variety of British majority and ethnic minority groups. This project is in collaboration with an on-going study into the housing market in Bremen, Germany. Comparative analyses are carried out to understand culture- and country-specific segregation and decision-making patterns in the context of ’finding a home’. Using a novel multiple methods approach to investigate buyer-estate agent interactions, the project will provide:

a) empirical evidence of potential linguistics bias on the residential housing market,

b) insight into the symbolic power of dialects and accents in multicultural environments, and 

c) demonstrate the relevance of humanities research to social science concerns.

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