Linguistic landscape of Ulcinj

Linguistic landscape of Ulcinj

Marija Mandić (Institute for Slavic Studies, Humboldt University in Berlin), Jelena Lončar (Faculty of Political Sciences, University Belgrade), Rebekka Zeinzinger (Philosophical Faculty, University of Sarajevo)

Ulcinj is a city in Montenegro well known for language pluralism and peaceful co-existence of numerous ethnic groups. In the total population of 19.921 of the Ulcinj municipality, Albanians have the majority of 70.66%. According to the 2011 Population census, Montenegrins make 12.44% of the population, followed by Serbs (5,75%), Muslims (3,86%), Bosniaks (2,25%), Roma and Egyptians (1,17%). In Montenegro, Albanians live also in significant numbers in the municipalities of Podgorica, Bar, Gusinje, Rožaje, Plav, but the municipality of Ulcinj seems to be the center of the Albanian community in Montenegro. It is after all the only municipality in Montenegro where the Albanian minority forms the majority of population.

The Serbian, Montenegrin and Bosnian language speakers seem to be more concentrated in the town than in wider municipality. Almost one third of the population in town speaks these varieties as „mother tongue“ (Census 2011 data – Municipalities). The language is named in the school curriculum Montenegrin-Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian (Crnogorsko-srpski, bosanski, hrvatski; further in text Montenegrin-SBC), aiming thereby to reflect both the language unity and ethnic (political) differences.[1]

The same is visible in the organization of the school system in Ulcinj. There are four elementary schools in Ulcinj. All of them are bilingual, that is in Montenegrin and Albanian language. When it comes to high schools, there is a private school „Gjimnazi Drita“ in Albanian language, and a state-owned secondary mixed school „Bratstvo i jedinstvo“, which is bilingual. In addition, there is also a bilingual primary music school „Ulcinj“.[2] In terms of education, “bilingual” means that students may choose whether they want to be tought in Albanian or Montenegrin. Yet, it is not possible to opt for classes in both languages, i.e. following some content classes in Albanian and other in Montenegrin, which results in the lack of bilingualism among the younger population.

In our short presentation we focus on linguistic landscape which can be defined as „the visibility and salience of languages on public and commercial signs in a given territory or region“ (Landry, Bourhis 1997: 23). Linguistic landscape in fact highlights the interrelatedness of language and space and how they affect each other in the meaning-making process (Scollon, Scollon 2003). We differ between official, public and semi-public domains. However, our observations are very limited, due to the short term field work, and can be treated only as a preliminary insight into linguistic complexity and diversity of Ulcinj.

In terms of official signs like municipality plates or plates in the town museum, we can see that all signs are in both Montenegrin and Albanian. Montenegrin, as the official language of the state, is the first language, visually positioned on the top, whereas the Albanian name or information comes below.

Opština Ulcinj in Latin alphabet (above)
Komuna e Ulqinit

The second example (2) comes from the town museum. In the museum plate we see that Montenegrin comes as the first language, positioned on the top, also in Latin alphabet, then Albanian, and the third is English:

Originalni djelovi cibonijuma IX vijek
Pjesë originale të cibarijumit, Shek. IX
Original parts from the 9th century

The third photo (3) shows a hybrid, multifunctional sign which is also an official one. Its linguistic visual design shows a reverse situation: Albanian comes first, then Montenegrin. The sign refers to: Islamic community of Montenegro, Board of Islamic community of Ulcinj, Place for parking, and to the Vakif of the mosque Donja Meraja. All these references, as mentioned, are given in Albanian first, and then below in Montenegrin. PARKING however, as a borrowing from English, has only one form as it is the same in English, Montenegrin and Albanian.

Bashkësia Islame në Malin e Zi
Islamska zajednica u Crnoj Gori
Këshili i Bashkësisë Islame – Ulcinj
Odbor islamske zajednice Ulcinj
Vakfi i xhamisë së Merasë së Poshtime
Vakuf džamije Donja Meraja.

In the photo (4) we can see two obituaries obviously referring to an Albanian. However, the above positioned obituary is in Albanian, whereas the below positioned obituary, visually identical to the first one, is in Montenegrin (obviously Bosnian variant). Both texts in Albanian and Montenegrin are identical. What is interesting here is that in the Montenegrin version personal names are adapted to the standard Montenegrin alphabet and, moreover, they are montenegrinised by adding to the Albanian family name Lamoja the suffix –. Thus, in Montenegrin version Lamoja is transformed into Ljamović.

Shefki-Keko Lamoja
Šefki-Keko Ljamović

The linguistic signs relevant for tourism are all bilingual or multilingual. The tables in front of restaurants are mostly given parallel in two native languages, visually and linguistically identical.

In the photos (5) and (6) one side of the advertising table with menu is given in Albanian and the other in Montenegrin, (5), (6).

The photo (7) shows, however, that Albanian is more dominant even among the touristic advertisements, due to the predominantly Albanian tourist guests in the municipality.

In the photo (8) the sign advertising free rooms is given in four languages. One may assume that the language order is in accordance with numerical presence of the guests and/or with a preference for certain guests: Albanian comes first, then German, followed by English, whereas Montenegrin is the last one in this discursive order.


In the photo (9), there is also a similar situation. It shows a stand where pancakes are sold, with five languages used: Montenegrin, Albanian, English, German, and French.


Finally, the last photo (10) shows cups sold to tourists, with inscriptions: „To the best mum / dad / granny / granddad / uncle, etc. in the world“. Languages used are Albanian, English and Montenegrin (Bosnian variant).

This short presentation reveals that the linguistic landscape of Ulcinj is predominantly Albanian-Montenegrin bilingual, but very often multilingual including world languages such as English and German, due to the municipality touristic profile. The Latin alphabet dominates, whereas the Cyrillic alphabet is hardly visible in the town’s linguistic landscape. The hierarchical order of Montenegrin vs. Albanian is not so fixed, but rather shifts depending on the domain of language use: the official signs superimpose Montenegrin, whereas public and touristic signs give advantage to Albanian.


Census 2011 data – Municipalities. Statistical Office of Montenegro. Available at:; last time approached 18.07.2018.

Landry, Rodrigue,. Bourhis, Richard Y. 1997. Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality: An Empirical Study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 16 (1), 23-49.

Scollon, Ron, Scollon, Suzie Wong 2003. Discourses in place: Language in the material world. London: Routledge.

[1] Cf. Nezavisne:; last time visited 20.07.2018.

[2] Cf. Opština Ulcinj: including world languages such as English and German is predominantly bilingual, but very often also multilingual, due to its; last time visited 20.07.2018.