Linguistic landscape is the "visibility and salience of languages on public and commercial signs in a given territory or region" (Landry and Bourhis 1997:23). Linguistic landscape has been described as being "somewhere at the junction of sociolinguistics, sociology, social psychology, geography, and media studies".
It is a concept used in sociolinguistics as scholars study how languages are visually used in multilingual societies. For example, some public signs in Jerusalem are in Hebrew, English, and Arabic (Spolsky and Cooper 1991, Ben-Rafael, Shohamy, Amara, and Trumper-Hecht 2006).
A grocery store sign in Dallas, TX in three languages English, Amharic
, and Spanish.
Sign legally required to be in English and Spanish in Texas.
Development of the field of study
Studies of the linguistic landscape have been published from research done around the world. The field of study is relatively recent; "the linguistic landscapes paradigm has evolved rapidly and while it has a number of key names associated with it, it currently has no clear orthodoxy or theoretical core" (Sebba 2010:73). A special issue of the International Journal of Multilingualism (3.1 in 2006) was devoted to the subject. Also, the journal World Englishes published a themed issue of five papers as a "Symposium on World Englishes and Linguistic Landscapes: Five Perspectives" (2012, vol. 31.1). Similarly, an entire issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (228 in 2014) was devoted to the subject, including looking at signs that show influences from one language on another language. In 2015 an academic journal devoted to this topic was launched, titled Linguistic Landscape: An International Journal, from John Benjamins. There is also a series of academic conferences on the study of linguistic landscape. A comprehensive, searchable Linguistic Landscape Bibliography is available. A 2016 special issue of Manusya (22, 2016) begins with a history and summary of the field.
Because "the methodologies employed in the collection and categorisation of written signs is still controversial", basic research questions are still being discussed, such as: "do small, hand-made signs count as much as large, commercially made signs?". The original technical scope of "linguistic landscape" involved plural languages, and almost all writers use it in that sense, but Papen has applied the term to the way public writing is used in a monolingual way in a German city and Heyd has applied the term to the ways that English is written, and people's reactions to these ways.
The languages used in public signs indicate what languages are locally relevant, or give evidence of what languages are becoming locally relevant (Hult 2009; Kasanga 2012). In many multilingual countries, multilingual signs and packaging are taken for granted, especially as merchants try to attract as many customers as possible or people realize that they serve a multilingual community (Hult, 2014). In other places, it is a matter of law, as in Quebec, where signs cannot be in English only, but must include French (Bill 101, Charte de la langue française). In Texas, some signs are required to be in English and Spanish, such as warning signs about consuming alcohol while pregnant.
In some cases, the signs themselves are multilingual signs, reflecting an expected multilingual readership. In other cases, there are monolingual signs in different languages, written in relevant languages found within a multilingual community. Backhaus even points out that some signs are not meant to be understood so much as to appeal to readers via a more prestigious language (2007:58).
Information in English, Bible verse in German, Texas
Some signs are spelled to convey the aura of another language (sometimes genuinely spelled as in the other language, other times fictionally), but are still meant to be understood by monolinguals. For example, some signs in English are spelled in a way that conveys the aura of German or French, but are still meant to be understood by monolingual English speakers.
The study of linguistic landscape also examines such patterns as which languages are used for which types of institutions (e.g. country club, hospital, ethnic grocery store), which languages are used for more expensive/cheaper items (new cars or used cars), or which languages are used for more expensive/cheaper services (e.g. pool cleaning or washing machine repair). Also, linguistic landscape can be studied across an area, to see which neighborhoods have signs in which languages. For example, Carr (2017) examined the languages of three cities in Southeast Los Angeles in her dissertation.
Linguistic landscape can also be applied to the study of competing scripts for a single language. For example, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, some signs in Mongolia were erected in the traditional Mongolian script, not just Cyrillic (Grivelet 2001). Similarly, in some Cherokee speaking communities, street signs and other public signage is written with the Cherokee syllabary (Bender 2008). Also, license plates in Greek Cyprus have been printed with Greek or Roman letters in different eras.
Multilingual gravestone: Welsh, English, French
The study of the linguistic landscape can also show evidence of the presence and roles of different languages through history. Some early work on a specific form of linguistic landscape was done in cemeteries used by immigrant communities, some languages being carved "long after the language ceased to be spoken" in the communities.
In addition to larger public signage, some who study linguistic landscapes are now including the study of other public objects with multilingual texts, such as banknotes in India which are labeled in over a dozen languages.
The three-language (Tamil, English and Hindi) name board at the Tirusulam railway station in South India. Almost all railway stations in India have signs in three or more languages (English, Hindi and the local language).
Bilingual sign in a Quebec supermarket with markedly predominant French text.
English and Cherokee sign: Cherokee visually prominent but less functional.
English and Spanish hospital directory, English prominent, in USA.
English and French sign in Louisiana, French written to indicate historical link, not so much to be understood
Spanish church sign in Georgia, USA, addressed entirely to Spanish readers.
Washing machine repairman advertising on his truck, in English and Spanish, English on top, Texas
Product originally labeled in English; bilingual warning base added for any hospital visitors & workers who are Spanish-dominant.
Bilingual sign, in three scripts, near Hungary-Ukraine border.
Sign in Israel written in two locally relevant languages, plus international language.
Sign in Roman script but Hebrew words, a hostel in Haifa, Israel catering to European gentiles
This Spanish sign was advertising a mobile home for rent in a largely Hispanic neighborhood in Texas. The broader community is predominantly non-Spanish speaking.
Commercial signs in section of Houston, Texas with large Asian population.
Predominantly Spanish sign in Texas church working to welcome Spanish speakers, near English version of same sign
Spanish language billboard in Dallas, TX, but product itself labeled in English.
Chinese sign on restaurant in America, conveying Chinese aura but not propositional content.
Hebrew gravestone in Germany
German gravestone in Israel
Apartheid era trilingual sign in South Africa
Gujarati and English sign on shop in English-speaking town in America, a Hindu talisman in the Gujarati language
Manila Oriental Market, grocery store in Daly, CA catering to many customers of Asian origin
A library sign in English with Spanish below, in Texas. The city has many Spanish speakers moving in, so the public library has added Spanish books and Spanish signs.
Statue of Mariano Datahan in Bohol, Philippines, early promoter of the Eskayan language and script, labeled in Eskayan with its unique script
Vietnamese temple in Seattle, sign in three languages
Tombstone for Gurkha soldier who served in British army, in Gurkha and English
Sign on building for Burmese refugees in USA
Signs in both Japanese and Portuguese in the Homi housing complex in the Homigaoka district of Toyota City, Japan
In Fredericksburg, Texas founded by Germans, using German image for tourism. German part of the sign only for a German aura.
"Learn Danish" banner in Danish and German, in Flensburg, Germany where it is an officially recognised regional language.
Latin on altar and wall of cathedral in USA. Understood by few, but seen as holier by some.
Sign specifically made for Spanish language church. Burglar alarm warning sign mass-produced, so English.
Multilingual signs at supermarket in Arlington, Texas. The area has many immigrants who speak Chinese, Vietnamese, or Spanish.
Recycling site labeled in English, Hmong, Spanish, and Somali in Minneapolis
Coptic and Arabic inscription in old part of Cairo, from 1899
Maronite convent in Old Jerusalem: French, Arabic, Hebrew
Swedish trash can sign with five languages, reflecting growing population of refugees from Middle East
Though French is official om Martinique, sign is in Creole.
Korean newspaper machines, Fresh Meadows, NY, labeled in Korean & English.
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