3 blocks, 3 signs, 3 languages. But not 4.

When I was walking down Telegraph Avenue collecting data for a paper I was writing for a class in the GSE here at Berkeley several years ago, I was struck first by how many different languages there were. I think I counted at least ten. But as I walked, it became just as interesting to me which languages, on which kind of businesses or other places, appeared together. Some languages seemed quite visible–I noticed a lot of Korean, but then, I was looking for it. Others were less common, but you could still find them–I counted several examples of the script (called “Fidel”, I learned last year) that’s used for the Amharic language in Ethiopia. And others, I thought I would find but came up empty. What does it mean, I wondered, when two or three restaurants that identify themselves with different ethnic food traditions display languages in different ways?

Here are the three examples I had in mind. First, while I was walking down the street, I came across Saysetha Thai Restaurant, on Telegraph Ave. a few blocks past Alcatraz Ave. from the Berkeley campus, near 63rd St. At the time, they had a banner out in front announcing (in English) “Best Home Style Thai Cooking”. I haven’t noticed in the last few years, but at the time there was only English posted outside.

In the distance in the picture, you can see a sign for a restaurant that was right next door to Saysetha: “Sahn”, which advertises “Korean Cuisine” on the sign on top, and “Korean BBQ” below, both in English. But there’s also a lot of Korean, and judging by the central place that Korean has on the signs, and the outlining in red, the neon signs, etc., Korean seems to be a pretty important language. And the Korean on the sign says different things than the English does–from the inclusion of the word “cafe” in the Korean name “산 카페” (san kape, Sahn Cafe), to the numerous signs advertising “통닭 생맥주” (t’ong dalk saeng maekju, roasted chicken & draft beer)…

Not too long after I visited, Sahn closed and was replaced by another Korean restaurant. But just beyond, another block and a half down the road, there’s still another restaurant that I came across at that time too: Addis Ethiopian Restaurant, which advertises itself in a large bilingual sign. From what I can guess, the English and the Amharic say approximately the same thing, though the choice of green, yellow, and red for the three lines in Amharic seemed pretty striking, and like it might be ‘saying’ something different than the English, which was and is written all in red:

So what does it all mean? Why did Sahn and Addis choose to have their signs in English/Korean and English/Amharic? And why did Saysetha choose to have its sign only in English, even though they were advertising “home style” cooking? Why did Sahn have signs that said things in Korean that weren’t said in English? What about the colors at Addis? Who was/is actually ‘speaking’ to who in these signs? Do the non-English languages say more about the identity of the people making the signs, or the audience that’s reading them? Do these languages say anything about the communities of Thai, Korean, and Amharic speakers in the Telegraph area? Is using English even a choice, or is it obligatory? And the questions could go on…

The point here isn’t to answer any of these questions, I guess, but just to ask them and start thinking about whose voices get represented in the linguistic landscape and why. And, though we’ll focus in on examples of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese in this class, even a short walk down Telegraph Avenue is a good reminder that these three languages don’t exist in a vacuum. English, Korean, Amharic, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French…you don’t have to go more than a few blocks to see all of these.

1st blog topic: What languages can you see in Berkeley?

How many languages are spoken or used in Berkeley, and how many of them are visible on the streets or in other public places? Our first assignment for this seminar is to try to find answers to this question through first-hand documentation: taking pictures and writing notes on the languages we see in our everyday places.

To do this, you’ll need to have your camera/phone at the ready, and take at least 5 pictures of what you find over the next several days. For each picture, note down what you’re taking a picture of, what languages you’re seeing there, something about the location you found the language, and anything that interests you about what is written or how it is written. You can make notes on a small note pad, a piece of paper that you’ll put into a binder later, or on your phone or mobile device that has a note-taking function. The key point is to take these notes right away, on the spot, just before or after you take a picture. (*and, if taking a picture of language in public seems like it would be an invasion of privacy, then note this down too, don’t take the picture, but do take notes).

When you go home, please save the pictures you take for this assignment and for future assignments in folders and sub-folders in a safe place that you can go back to (your computer, Dropbox account, etc.). Later, you’ll be uploading, organizing, and doing other things with these images.

By the time we meet for next week’s seminar, your task is to a.) read and consider the issues addressed by Takaki in Chapter 1 of his Strangers from a different shore; and b.) create a post on your Edublogs blog in which you narrate the results of what you found in your picture-taking:  draw from the notes that you wrote down, embed or link to the photos that you took, and respond to this question:

“What languages are visible in the landscapes that you’re familiar with on and near the Berkeley campus? In which kinds of places do you see these languages? Are there any languages that seem to you to be invisible or missing?”

There is no length requirement or right answer to these questions–just, I hope, thought-provoking responses that will be fun to talk about and build on for our projects in weeks to come. We will read and share these responses with each other in class, so please keep your classmates and me in mind as an audience.

First day of class, first day online

Welcome to the site for the UC Berkeley Freshman and Sophomore Seminar East Asian Languages & Cultures 39, “Reading the multilingual city: Chinese, Korean, and Japanese in Bay Area Linguistic Landscapes”. The first seminar is meeting today (Wednesday, Jan. 23) at 2pm in 33 Dwinelle. If you’re wondering if you’re in the class, or are interested in attending, welcome to the first session.

This site is brand new and will be growing and changing quite a bit in the next days and weeks. Please visit often!