From: Elke Laur <elke_lauryahoo.fr>
Subject: Linguistic Landscape
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-2249.html
EDITOR(S): Gorter, Durk
TITLE: Linguistic Landscape
SUBTITLE: A New Approach to Multilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
Elke Laur, unaffiliated scholar
Gorter's book ''Linguistic Landscape'' includes an introduction by the
editor; four case studies on the articulation of social and multilingual
aspects of written signs and place names in Israel, Thailand, Japan, Spain
and the Netherlands; and the author's closing summary discussion of further
research perspectives. This collection previously appeared in a special
issue of the _International Journal of Multilingualism_ (Vol. 3, No. 1, 2006).
As each case study covers very different contents, I have opted here to
describe and evaluate every article individually before concluding with a
DURK GORTER ''Introduction: The Study of the Linguistic Landscape as a New
Approach to Multilingualism''.
In his introduction, the editor situates the reader with a brief discussion
on the etymology and varying usages of the recent term ''linguistic
landscape'' (LL). He refers to the working definition of the term given by
Bourhis and Landry (1997), as one that is ''followed by all authors in this
issue'' (page 2). He then addresses a number of methodological issues and
challenges posed by the sampling of empirical data, the complex task of
defining a unit of analysis and subsequently devising categorization and
coding schemes of the signs studied. In conclusion, he provides a brief
introduction to each contribution of the book.
ELIEZER BEN-RAFAEL, ELANA SHOHAMY, MUHAMMAD HASAN AMARA and NIRA
TRUMPER-HECHT ''Linguistic Landscape as Symbolic Construction of the Public
Space: The Case of Israel''.
The authors begin by reviewing the literature on the study of linguistic
landscapes and the sociological frameworks of Bourdieu, Goffman and Boudon,
on which they draw to formulate their working hypothesis. The focus of
their analysis is on the social actions of ''LL-actors'', that is to say
participants partaking in the shaping of linguistic landscapes. The first
analytical distinction proposed by the authors is between top-down
(institutional) and bottom-up (individual) elements, which both contribute
to a ''symbolic construction of the public space'' (p. 10).
Eight different areas are highlighted in the study, located in Israeli
towns and cities and in East Jerusalem. They represent three relatively
homogenous linguistic and religious settings, defined by demographic data
as either: (1) Jewish localities, (2) Israeli-Palestinian localities and,
in the case of East-Jerusalem, a (3) Non-Israeli Palestinian locality. The
presence of Hebrew, Arabic and English is analysed on a thousand public
(top-down) and private (bottom-up) signs of different types. The public
category includes signs of religious, governmental, municipal-cultural,
educational or medical institutions; public signs of general interest;
various announcements and nominal street signs. Commercial and business
signs and private announcements represent the ''private'' category. The data
is then cross-tabled with the three demographic settings and discussed in
respect to the theoretical frameworks referenced by the authors.
The main findings of the research show that Hebrew is the predominant
language -- either with or without English -- in nearly 100% of the items
studied within Jewish localities, with the presence of English varying
according to the presence of tourists. Within Israeli-Palestinian
localities, Hebrew is strongly present, but in 75% of the cases it is
accompanied by Arabic or English in different combinations of multilingual
signs. As for the Palestinian localities, they show a much greater variance
in the presence of Hebrew and bilingual signs, depending on their proximity
to Jewish centres. Lastly, the East Jerusalem area clearly shows another
pattern altogether as Arabic is the dominant language, English is in second
position and Hebrew is hardly present at all.
Notable differences between linguistic settings are also apparent when
comparing public and private signs. In Jewish areas, both kinds of signs
are predominantly in Hebrew. In Israeli-Palestinian localities, Hebrew is
more present on public signs than on private signs which tend to be more
bilingual with Arabic as the second language or even trilingual with the
addition of English. The most striking contrast here again occurs in East
Jerusalem where official signs are almost exclusively in Arabic or
The place given to English in the signs is very significant considering its
non-official status. The authors hypothesize that English is perceived as a
''neutral'' language; ''neither a priori associated with Jews or with Arabs –
and allows maintaining of communication over the head of manifestations of
animosity, preventing thereby a total cut-off between populations'' (page 25).
THOM HUEBNER ''Bangkok's Linguistic Landscapes: Environmental Print,
Codemixing and Language Change''
To determine the place of English, of standard Thai and of four major
regional languages in Bangkok, Thailand, Huebner and his research
assistants identified 15 neighbourhoods in which 613 signs were analysed.
The script and language mixing, homophones and language prominence
(placement and amount of text, colours used) were analysed in order to
assess the variation of monolingual and multilingual signs in official and
Results show that for all signs, only 45% were single-script whereas 55%
were multiple-script signs. The signs containing Thai constituted the
majority (33% Thai/Roman; 26% Thai; 6% Thai/Roman/Chinese; 3% Thai/Chinese)
17% were single Roman scripted signs and 15% presented other linguistic
combinations. Official signs were mostly in Thai (60%) or in Thai and
English (34%) without neighbourhood variation. In contrast to the
government signs and despite a governmental tax incentive for including
Thai in commercial signs, these showed a much greater variation according
to where they were situated in the different neighbourhoods. In his
article, Huebner distinguishes between five neighbourhood-patterns of
predominance: (1) predominantly Thai monolingual signs were found in three
neighbourhoods located in proximity to the Parliament Building and the
Residential Palace of the King, accommodating middle-level government
workers, middle and working class Thais and small and retail businesses or
schools. One of the boroughs is nevertheless a tourist destination-- but
only in a prospective way. (2) A balanced monolingual Thai and bilingual
Thai-English use of governmental and non-governmental signs (translations)
was observed in two neighbourhoods with religious, medical and non-profit
institutions, a few commercial enterprises and sport clubs. The author
states that this use of English targets educated Thais. (3) Predominantly
Thai-Chinese bilingual signs were observed in two neighbourhoods which
house a historical minority population of Chinese and their small and
retail businesses. (4) Thai-English multilingual signs were predominant in
four neighbourhoods including a major commercial centre of Bangkok with
businesses providing financial, health and travel services, shopping,
entertainment, restaurants and retail enterprises. One of the areas studied
was the Sky Train – interestingly treated as a neighbourhood. Since it
caters to the middle classes, foreign residents and tourist populations,
the advertisements promoted a great variety of international products. (5)
A predominance of signs in other languages was registered in four
neighbourhoods with mainly monolingual English signs but also some in
Japanese and Arabic. One of the neighbourhoods in question was a low-cost
international travel destination with entertainment and service industries,
while the others were more focussed on retail businesses and the like.
While these neighbourhoods shared the feature of predominantly non-Thai
signs, they tended to vary greatly in terms of the other languages used.
The signs mixing Thai and English show different types of script, lexicon
and syntax combinations. The author observes a ''nonreciprocal relationship''
between Thai and English which he argues is a ''function of access and
inequity''. Thai script is ''intended virtually, solely for Thai audiences''
whereas foreigners rely on translations. The bilingual signs add a
''cosmopolitan flair'' (p. 48) as the Thai population creates a mixing of
Thai and English, with lexical borrowing influencing the phonological and
orthographic use of Thai. This leads the author to question the definitions
of language and community boundaries.
PETER BACKHAUS ''Multilingualism in Tokyo: A Look into the Linguistic
The paper begins with a thorough overview of previous scholarly works done
on signs in multilingual settings, with special attention paid to the
distinction between official and non-official signs. The author aims at
establishing ''a link between the situation in Tokyo and the growing corpus
of linguistic landscape research around the world'' (page 54). In order to
compare official and non-official multilingual signs, the author recorded
11,834 signs in 28 survey areas. Although Tokyo is a largely monolingual
society with only 2.8% of registered foreign residents, the city presents a
surprisingly multilingual landscape. According to the author's census,
every fifth sign contains one or more languages other than Japanese. Of the
15 other languages assessed, English is present in 97.6% of the cases.
One fourth of the recorded signs are official, governmental signs and are
almost entirely multilingual, containing Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean
and Latin script. They practically always include Japanese and English, the
latter being the most frequently used language on multilingual official
signs. The languages are mostly mutual translations of the information
given and, the author notes: ''address different groups of monolingual
readers who do not know each other's languages'' (page 59). The analysis of
code preference (through order and size) confirms a clear predominance
(99%) of Japanese on official signs. On the other hand, nonofficial signs
show a greater variety of languages on their multilingual signs and only
64% of them contain Japanese. The use of these languages is complementary
in a proportion of 55% and ''presuppose a multilingual, presumably
Japanese-English readership'' (page 60). The order and size analysis gives a
40% preference of non-Japanese codes on these nonofficial signs. These
differences are interpreted as the reflection of power and solidarity: the
use of Japanese in official signs is seen as the expression of a linguistic
power relation in Japan reinforcing the official language even though the
presence of the other languages constitute ''a noteworthy concession to
linguistic minorities in Tokyo'' (page 64). The use of multilingualism on
nonofficial signs, mainly noticed through the 40% absence of Japanese, is
an argument for the author to conclude in favour of a more solidarity-based
use of these languages, evoking the example of the use of Korean in
traditionally Korean immigrant neighbourhoods.
JASONE CENOZ and DURK GORTER ''Linguistic Landscape and Minority Languages''
Conceptualizing a two-way relationship between linguistic landscapes and
sociolinguistic contexts, the authors present a rather exceptional
empirical study. They compare two one-street-analyses conducted in two
non-national regions in Europe, one in Friesland, Netherlands and the other
in the Spanish Basque Country. These two regions share the common presence
of an official minority language (Basque and Friesian) co-existing
alongside official majority languages (Spanish and Dutch) and English as an
international language. The authors analyze the use of these languages and
their relative importance, each within a 600 meter section of two central
shopping streets located in Donostia, San Sebastian where 104 units were
analysed, and Nijstêd-Nieuwestad in Ljouwert, the capital of the Frisian
province where 103 units were analysed. These units represent the signs of
individual businesses or establishments. Analysis is based on the
sign-coding scheme presented by Bon-Rafael et al. in the same volume. In
both cities, the national languages dominate the signs in either a
monolingual or multilingual fashion, with a percentage of 91% in the case
of Dutch, and 82% in the case of Spanish. The authors noted a considerable
difference in the use of the minority languages relative to their presence
on signs and to the demographics of these language speakers. In Ljouwert,
nearly half of the population speaks Frisian, yet the language figures on
only 3% of the observed signs and is dominant in only 2% of the signs. In
contrast, while about a third of the population in Donostia speaks Basque,
the language is present in over 50% of the signs studied and predominant in
28% of them. Analysis of the size and types of fonts, the amount of
information given and the form or presence of translation, confirm the
dominance of the national languages and the linguistic minority differences
between the two cities. The authors interpret this finding as a reflection
of the different statuses of these minority languages as a written language
and as an object of language policy. In practice, Frisian is more of a
spoken than a written language compared to Basque which is promoted much
more substantially as a minority language compared to Frisian. In short,
the analysis of linguistic signs in two streets in cities located in a
similar minority situation show striking differences: Frisian is not as
present as a minority language as the Basque language is in Spain. The
authors point to the largely symbolic function of the more widespread use
of Basque as compared to Frisian.
In both places about one third of the signs contain English -- which makes
it the second language in Friesland and the third in the Basque Country,
reflecting local perceptions with regards to the use of English ''as more
prestigious and modern than using the local languages'' (page 79).
DURK GORTER ''Further Possibilities for Linguistics Landscape Research''
This final paper is divided in five parts. The first, entitled
''Globalization and the Spread of English'' discusses the degree of
multilingualism in all the localities studied and the emerging importance
of English among other forms of multilingualism. The transformations that
the Thai language has undergone, leads the author to conclude that ''English
is overall gaining importance due to globalization'' (page 81).
Concurrently, there is a ''regionalization or localization going on'' (p.82).
The studies of this antagonizing phenomenon named ''glocalization'' ''also
provide a better understanding of the spread of English'' (p.82). In the
second part titled ''Etymology and a Neologism'', Gorter discusses yet again
the etymology of the word ''landscape'' and its double referral to the
physical object and to its representation, proposing to substitute the term
with ''Multilingual Cityscape'' as a more precise term given the urban
concentration of the linguistic tokens studied. The third part of his paper
deals with the ''Technological Advancements'' made in the past ten years
which have enabled the archiving of countless visual documents of
landscapes and signs. He also evokes future possibilities for the use of
new technologies in the study of linguistic landscapes and signs, proposing
different software programs used for image analysis in the public domain or
the automatic number plate recognition currently used for surveillance or
security devices. The forth part titled ''Regulation and Policy'' deals with
the ''top-down'' regulation of language use in public spaces by government or
local policies. A discussion of the functionality of signs follows with the
mention of the symbolic importance that place names could take on,
especially in multilingual settings. The fifth part: ''Multiple
Perspectives'' insists on the importance of multidisciplinary approaches to
the analysis of linguistic landscapes within a historical and cultural
perspective, including linguistic, sociological or sociolinguistic
perspectives, psychology, geography, the study of visual perception, city
planning, semiotics, and the study of second language acquisition among
others. Furthermore, the author stresses the fact that multilingualism is
going global and that this globalization gives multiple perspectives on its
use in urban spaces.
This book is a welcome and useful addition to the study of language and
space, particularly for its contribution of well needed empirical studies.
The articles show how rich empirical data on linguistic landscapes and on
the use of language on signs can be. They constitute original steps towards
conceptualising their varied features and developing a methodological
basis, but they show how much more work in these directions needs still to
be done. One example should illustrate the lack of shared
conceptualizations: In his study, Huebner counts script-features as one of
the elements defining language mixing. Backhaus on the other hand, uses
script as a criterion to determine whether one or the other language is
used -- even if they include lexical borrowing. Moreover, a number of
methodological questions are raised, such as how sample neighbourhoods are
and should be selected, how data should be analysed and presented, to name
only these. The studies raise even more fundamental questions concerning
basic concepts in sociolinguistics, socio-psychology and sociology, such as
the boundaries of sociolinguistic communities, the processes of
pidginization, the sociological framework in which to interpret these data
Indeed, as the editor points out, there is a considerable need to define
frameworks and methodological tools in order to solidify and cluster the
very heterogeneous approaches to this area of research. As such, the book's
subtitle ''a new approach to multilingualism'' seems to make a misconceived
statement seeing as the book does not effectively propose a new approach to
multilingualism, rather, it contributes by supplying new empirical
research, to the knowledge of a methodologically renewed perspective on
multilingualism: that of the study of signs as a material reflection of
sociolinguistic use and regulation of multilingualism.
The ''linguistic landscape'', a notion defined by Bourhis and Landry (1997),
clearly stands for a new area of study which emerged in the early 90 when
sociolinguistics became explicitly urban via the publications of Calvet
(1990, 1994) and Bulot (1998) in France. In the book, there is only one
reference to this earlier work -- by Backhaus -- on which the editor relies
in his own outlines (pages 5 and 81). The ''top-down'' and ''bottom-up''
distinction is clearly necessary but is an example of what was already
introduced as ''in vitro'' and ''in vivo'' by Calvet (1990). The fact that 30
nations or regions have language policies regulating their linguistic
landscapes (Leclerc 1994) shows that their impact is known -- their study
originates often in the legislative outcome of language contact zones.
In addition to these more general remarks, I propose a short, more specific
evaluation of the four empirical studies:
BEN-RAFAEL ET AL. provide a very interesting introduction to linguistic
variety and contact in Israel that is both brief and efficient.
Consequently, the reader is disconcerted to find no information on how the
demographic census data defined the categories used by the authors, such as
mother tongue and knowledge of language. Furthermore, there is some
confusion surrounding the ethnolinguistic composition of the population
living in the areas studied and the places themselves as if the authors
were conflating geography and peoples. In the general conclusions the
authors resume their work as a study of interactions between three groups
''as buffered through linguistic landscapes'' which ''reveal aspects of the
dynamics of these relationships''. It is my reading that a study about signs
and their linguistic concentration in the city can hardly conclude on
actual interaction, even when signs are understood as an ''aspect of social
reality''. This same kind of over-interpretation is made evident in the
analysis of the predominance of Hebrew, not in signs but in Israel. As
illustrated by the study of Bourhis and Landry, (1997) cited in this
article as the foundational work on which rests this kind of research, the
linguistic landscape is an important but not the only factor of the
linguistic vitality of a community or a Nation-State.
Although interpretations feel mostly and intuitively right, data is clearly
representative neither of Israel nor of the linguistic sub-areas studied
and as such, the conclusions can not only be based on the empirical data
but are, to a certain extent, based on qualitative interpretation. The
problem in my view, resides not in this methodological choice -- but in the
fact that it is not stated as such. The hypothesis presenting English as a
kind of ''buffer-language'' is an interesting one, but difficult to evaluate
given the data presented and the absence of further references. The
presentation of the conclusions within the sociological framework of
Bourdieu, Goffman and Bourdon is a successful one, especially because the
authors conclude with parallel readings of their findings in the three
My last critical remark concerns the following analytical argument:
linguistic landscape studies rely on sheer facts and therefore '''speak out'
more faithfully the meanings of behaviours'' (page 26) than other possible
data gatherings. The study of LL is clearly an important one, but in my
opinion only as a combining factor with other methodological approaches to
Notwithstanding these critical remarks, the contribution is a rather
important one to the understanding, and necessary accumulation of data, of
segregated areas in cities or nations, a segregation based on language and
other related social characteristics such as religion and socio-cultural
HUEBNER: This paper provides an excellent description of the signs found in
the studied neighborhoods, but unfortunately says not enough of its
inhabitants. Who lives in these places? Some side-remarks hint at a social
stratification in some of the areas mentioned, but this aspect of the
research is not as explicit as one would like. On the other hand, the
author does successfully outline the links between government enforcement
and the use of Thai-language signs and the private use of language on
business signs. He also provides a well-documented overview of the 15
neighborhoods and their linguistic diversity, although the analysis is
neither systematic nor representative, and as such, the conclusion comes
off as a bit too far reaching. Although it purports to do so, the article
does not ''offer evidence of a shift over time from Chinese to English as
the major language of wider communication in the city'' (page 50). Such a
conclusion could only be arrived at through a more empirical and
longitudinal analysis comparing at least two variables over a given time
span. The description of the ''social structure, the power relations, and
status of various languages'' is also one of the weaker points of the paper
that reads more like a first description of a particularly interesting
fieldwork from which a number of hypotheses about changes in language use
could be drawn. Much in the same way, ''the paper documents the influence of
English'' but not really the ''development of Thai (page 50)'', nor does it
''provide evidence of a nascent Thai variety of English'' (page 50), even
though this is an interesting hypothesis warranting further research.
BACKHAUS: This article provides a valuable synthesis of scholarly works
conducted in the field of linguistic landscape studies. It contributes a
number of distinctions which had remained largely vague in the other
articles, such as the distinction between official and non-official signs.
Overall, it is precise in its definition and classification of empirical
analysis, well-informed with regards to all categories analyzed and
methodologically thorough. However, the author's interpretation of
relations of power and solidarity in the last part of the article is
convincing in some aspects but not in all. The articulation of political
power through the imposition of Japanese on official signs seems evident,
just as the interpretation of the use of Korean in some neighborhoods as an
expression of solidarity denotes a sensitive understanding of linguistic
reality in that particular part of Tokyo. On the other hand, one questions
whether the use of English on non-official signs is indeed an expression of
solidarity considering that it is present in 97% of the non-official signs,
far outweighing the number of speakers. While the author explains this as a
''symbolic expression by Japanese sign writers to join the English language
community'' (page 63), it reads more like an expression of socio-economic
power relations and ''the values attached to it'' (page 63). If the Japanese
sign writers want to express something I would argue, it is not to the
solidarity values associated with the English-speaking community in Tokyo
(only 2.8% are ''registered foreign residents'', page 52), but the
''connotational value'' of the global language (as Cenoz and Gorter call it
on page 70). It is not to suggest that the ''power'' and ''solidarity''
dichotomy could not be ''fruitfully employed in the analysis of language
distribution on signs'' (page 62), to the contrary, but a more holistic
interpretation of the values attached to these categories would contribute
more depth to the innovative framework conceived in this paper.
CENOZ and GORTER: This contribution is highly original in its
conceptualization of empirical research. Two very different sites sharing
basic features are analyzed, revealing a number of interesting patterns.
The authors provide both a description of the socio-linguistic context and
the various signs used. Their decision to restrict comparison to two
streets in two different cities, may not be quantitatively representative,
but it does demonstrate how a motivated and qualitative approach to
gathering data can produce results from which general inferences can be
made. At first glance, the comparison between the different sites, The
Basque Country and Friesland, is somewhat perplexing, but the rhetorical
argument convincingly shows how differences in demographic composition,
linguistic policies and minority language literacy, affect the use of
minority languages on signs.
Bourhis, Richard Y. & Rodrigue Landry (1997) Linguistic Landscape and
Ethnolinguistic Vitality: An empirical study. In Journal of Language and
Social Psychology 6, 23-49.
Bulot, Thierry, ed. (1998) Rouen : reconstruction, langages
(Socolinguistique normande : langues en ville), Etudes Normandes 1,
Association Etudes Normandes, Mont Saint Aignan.
Calvet, Louis-Jean (1990) Des mots sur les murs : une comparaison entre
Paris et Dakar. In : R. Chaudenson, ed., Des langues et des villes (Actes
du colloque international à Dakar, du 15 au 17 décembre 1990), Paris,
Agence de coopération culturelle et technique, 73-83.
Calvet, Louis-Jean (1994) Les voix de la ville. Introduction à la
sociolinguistique urbaine. Paris, Payot.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elke Laur works in Quebec on issues of linguistic segregation, linguistic
identity, attitudes and perceptions in multilingual communities.
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