The Linguistic Landscape
A. Studying the Linguistic Landscape
The term ‚Linguistic Landscape‘ refers to written language surrounding us in public space. It was first suggested to be used as a resource for gathering scientific data in a paper by Landry & Bourhis in 1997. In their essay they define the linguistic landscape as “the visibility and salience of languages on public and commercial signs in a given territory or region“ (Landry & Bourhis, 1997:23). Since then, rather than establishing a fixed core or developing a specific methodology, the definition of what can be identified and used as landscape-data has expanded continuously. Thus, in 2016 Huebner defines the Linguistic Landscape as “any written language as it appears in the public space (Huebner 2016:1). When at first linguistic landscape studies would only include more or less immobile objects and signages such as public road signs, street names, commercial shop signs, etc., today movable objects, for instance bank notes, even garbage is implemented in case studies.
Studying the linguistic landscape has not turned into a scientific field of its own, it has rather become "an effective additional research tool" (Gorter 2013:190), "a lense on multilingualism" (Gorter 2013:video) for a variety of other scientific fields, such as ethnography, linguistics, sociology, et cetera.
B. Examples of signages & objects
C. Why did we choose the method? (including our practical approach)
Our team decided early on, that we would like to collect data. The Blommaert paper (Blommaert 2013) presented in the seminar inspired us to go in a similar direction. What if we photographed the linguistic landscape of a specific public space and looked for interrelations between the found languages? To put a local spot into focus seemed realistic. Moreso, it might be interesting for the exchange students in our class to learn more about the city they were living in or close by at the time.
The practical aspects of studying the linguistic landscape are fairly easy to acquire. At first you take a camera and start to collect - as simple as that. If you work in a team you can gather large amounts of data in a short period of time. Because the objects are public, the method doesn't put you in legal jeopardy. The signages are out there to communicate anyways.
After collecting the signs, the ‚armchair-work‘ can begin and be as in- or extensive as desired. The method is relatively forgiving, meaning new settings can be applied to the given data; important parameters you might not have considered while gathering (and this being our first landscape study happened quite a bit) can be taken into account later on.
To give an example: the authorship has to be clarified, various means of communication have to be connected. If you only photograph one shop sign, it might appear as though the owner of a shop, i.e. the author, only wants to communicate through one language, when in fact photographing the whole shop front will reveal a variety of languages used. An overview landscape on the other hand might evoke a multilingual impression, whereas looking at the shops only you gain a different perception. Being specific beforehand saves quite some time here.
In our case, the photos were sorted according to the number of languages used by each single shop. (The applied parameters and examples of signages can be found in the results-section.)
The method provides for diachronic and comparative approaches to continue with. You can always go back, photograph the same area again and look for changes through time, or collect data from other areas and compare these.
All in all, studying the linguistic landscape is an inviting 'easy-starter' into ethnographical, linguistic fieldwork.
According to the 'Statistischer Bericht Berlin (2017)', Hermannplatz, or more precisely the northwestern part of Neukölln where it is located, is one of the most diverse areas in the city. Therefore, given the task to research language in the context of globalization, this area seemed to be a reasonable and accessible spot for us to get our first experiences in an active form of data gathering and analysis. We will talk more about the characteristics of this particular space on our approach-page.