LINGUIST List 19.1760

Mon Jun 02 2008

Review: Sociolinguistics: Backhaus (2007)

Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert <>

        1.    Mark Irwin, Linguistic Landscapes

Message 1: Linguistic Landscapes
Date: 02-Jun-2008
From: Mark Irwin <>
Subject: Linguistic Landscapes
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Announced at AUTHOR: Peter BackhausTITLE: Linguistic LandscapesSUBTITLE: A Comparative Study of Urban Multilingualism in TokyoSERIES: Multilingual Matters 136PUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2007

Mark Irwin, Faculty of Literature & Social Sciences, Yamagata University

SUMMARYThe ''linguistic landscapes'' of the volume's title refer to the language on signsand, as its subtitle suggests, this is a detailed study of the language found onsigns in several sample zones of the world's largest metropolis, Tokyo. Thesociolinguistic sub-discipline of the linguistic landscape is a relatively newone, dating back to a study carried out in Brussels in 1978, and it is outliningthe theoretical underpinnings and previous approaches to the field with whichthe first half of the volume concerns itself. In Chapter 1 (''Introduction'', 1-3)the author points out that, while cities have always been places of languagecontact offering fruitful results for sociolinguistic study both variationistand multilingual, the written language of the world's great metropolises hasbeen until recently largely ignored. ''Every urban environment is a myriad ofwritten messages on public display: office and shop signs, billboards and neonadvertisements, traffic signs, topographic information and area maps, emergencyguidance and political poster campaigns, stone inscriptions, and enigmaticgraffiti discourse. These messages bring together a variety of languages andscripts, the total of which constitutes the linguistic landscape...'' (1).Backhaus's analysis of a Tokyo ''myriad of public messages'' makes up the secondhalf of the volume.

Chapter 2 (''Semiotic Background and Terminology'', 4-11) takes a theoretical lookat the semiotic properties of language on signs: a public sign has meaning onlyin combination with its referent; unless interpretable a public sign has, ingeneral, no meaning. The author discusses the Peircian notions of index, iconand symbol with reference to public signs, and Wienold's (1994) concept of'inscriptions': ''written uses of language which do not have a recognizableemitter and are not meant for special receivers'' (8). A number of recentdiffering definitions of 'linguistic landscape' and 'linguistic landscaping' areexamined, with Backhaus defending his decision to follow the more frequentlycited formulation for the former of Landry & Bourhis (1997): ''the language ofpublic road signs, advertising billboards, street names, place names, commercialshop signs, and public signs on governmental buildings'' (9).

Chapter 3 (''Previous Approaches to the Linguistic Landscape: An Overview'',12-53) is a lengthy one and, as its title suggests, summarizes previous researchin linguistic landscape studies. The author makes two important points: that therelative youth of the discipline has meant that earlier studies have often beenconducted in ignorance of similar research; and that interest has beenparticularly high in the linguistic landscapes of cities containing more thanone distinct language group. The remainder of the chapter provides a detailedoverview of this body of work, which includes studies carried out in Brussels,Montreal, Jerusalem, Paris, Dakar, Lira (Uganda), Rome and Bangkok. Alsoreviewed are four earlier studies on the Tokyo linguistic landscape which haveexamined script use on business and shop signs, language use in multilingualsigns and Braille stickers and plates on public transportation.

Reflecting on the issues explored in previous chapters, Chapter 4 (''Summary'',54-63) offers some general observations on previous research and then considersthe ''three basic questions informing the study of the linguistic landscape''(57): linguistic landscaping by whom? (official versus non-official items);linguistic landscaping for whom? (who is the ''presumed reader''?); and linguisticlandscape quo vadis? The chapter closes with a discussion of some methodologicalissues: quantative versus qualitative approaches, counting issues (the sign asone item versus semantic-based 'information units', 'cases', etc.) and issues ofcategorization.

Chapter 5 (''Case Study: Signs of Multilingualism in Tokyo'', 64-140) makes up thesecond half of Backhaus's volume, the pun in its title belying the author'sconclusions. The survey area for the case study was composed of the two-sidedstreet space located close to the entrances of 28 stations on Tokyo's YamanoteLine, a circular railway line connecting the metropolis's multiple centres.These criteria allowed 10 of Tokyo's 23 wards to be sampled, with the streetspace covering a variety of different environments. A little under 12,000 signswere sampled, of which a total of 2,444 were categorized as 'multilingual'.These were then analyzed and discussed according to the languages they containedand their combination patterns, the differences between official andnon-official signs ('top-down' versus 'bottom-up'), their geographicdistribution, part writing (availability of translation or transliteration),code preference, visibility, idiosyncrasies, and layering (the coexistence ofolder and newer versions of a given type of sign).

The author's conclusions are presented in the final chapter, Chapter 6(''Conclusions'', 141-146). In answer to the ''three basic questions'' posed inChapter 4, his findings show that the multilingual linguistic landscaping ofTokyo tends towards non-official 'bottom-up' signage ('by whom?'); that thetarget group is non-Japanese in the case of signs providing translations ortransliterations, but Japanese otherwise ('for whom?'); and that, although''Tokyo is a city that still predominately functions in one language'' (145),''signs of multilingualism'' (ibid.) are evident ('quo vadis?'). Returning to thetitle of Chapter 5, Backhaus claims that the city's linguistic landscape ''can beread as reflecting the ongoing changes in the Japanese language regime... It canbe seen that the country's much-quoted monolingualism is about to lose itsrelevance in a globalizing world. The uncontested role of Japanese as thenational language and its ideological underpinning as the essence of beingJapanese now increasingly face pressure, both from above and below'' (146).

EVALUATIONBackhaus's volume is a welcome contribution not only to the study of linguisticlandscapes and landscaping, but also to language contact and multilingualism inJapan. Of particular value is the detailed review of previous research presentedin Chapter 3, which reveals a field with ample potential for future study andample scope for future theoretical debate.

The categories according to which the multilingual sign corpus was analyzed inthe case study in Chapter 5 can, in this sense, be seen as merely the tip of theiceberg. This reviewer, for example, found the author's analysis by''idiosyncrasy'' (116-130) particularly stimulating. Any long-term Englishnative-speaker resident of Japan will be only too excruciatingly aware of howher language is used, abused and misused on a regular basis – here Backhausattempts to analyze this kind of language. He notes ''double representations ontoponymic signs'' (e.g. 'Rikugien Garden' = 'Rikugi Garden Garden'), which heclaims, probably correctly, is an ''officially promoted strategy'' (117); the use,non-use, and misuse of capitals (e.g. 'floor Guide'); orthographic errors (e.g.'Alcohl'), many triggered by having been back-transliterated from Japanesetransliterations of original English borrowings (e.g. 'Accusesari');morphosyntactic idiosyncrasies, especially with respect to the plural (e.g. theubiquitous 'LETTER POSTCARD' found on Japanese post boxes), the past tense ofverbs (e.g. the 'CLOSE' for 'closed' found frequently on shop doors) anddeterminers (e.g. 'A Fire Extinguisher'); and semantic idiosyncrasies due toEnglish words being used in their borrowed Japanese sense. This analysis isapplied not just to English, but to Japanese (when transcribed in Braille or theRoman alphabet), Chinese and Korean as well. That other analyses andcategorizations of idiosyncrasies may be possible, and such analyses andcategorizations applied not just to multilingual signs in Tokyo but elsewhere,is a pleasing prospect.

_Linguistic Landscapes_ is clearly structured, well written and requires littleor no prior theoretical knowledge of linguistic landscape issues. It isvirtually free of errors and typos, having clearly benefited from ruthless editing.

REFERENCESLandry, R. & Bourhis, R. (1997). Linguistic landscape and ethnolinguisticvitality. _Journal of language and Social Psychology_ 16, 23-49.

Wienold, G. (1994). Inscriptions in daily life. In Sabban, A. & Schmitt, C.(eds.), _Der sprachliche Alltag. Linguistik – Rhetorik – Literaturwissenschaft:Festschrift für Wolf Dieter Stempel_, pp. 635-652. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERMark Irwin is an associate professor at Yamagata University, Japan. His researchinterests include the historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, historicalsociolinguistics and historical phonology of Japanese.