Seen around campus

The event and activity and group flyers around campus form their own kind of linguistic landscape. And, especially, bilingual flyers seem to give special insight into target audiences. Who is this one from BerKast talking to? What is it saying? And why are certain parts in English, and certain parts in English?

What worlds are indexed on the bathroom wall?

Luis C.’s Yelp photo of the front of Kirimachi in Dec. 2011 (linked to review page)

Two nights ago, I was meeting an old friend for dinner and we decided on ramen at Kirimachi Ramen, situated somewhere between North Beach, just across Columbus Ave. from Chinatown. It probably felt closer to Chinatown that night, since it was the eve of the Chinese new year and firecrackers were going off here and there.

I had the reading & our seminar’s topic for this week in mind, and in particular Scollon & Scollon’s point that “the actual language used [in a sign, for ex.] … can either index the community within which it is being used or it can symbolize something about the product or business which has nothing to do with the place in which it is located” (p. 119).

I’ve had issues in the past with this dichotomous way of seeing things, and in fact Scollon & Scollon themselves mention other places in their book Discourses in Place that both can be going on at the same time. I think part of the problem for me has been that the signs under analysis always seem to be the street-facing, public-facing, OK, yes, “faces” of the entity that’s represented in the sign, whether they be private businesses, government agencies, or whatever. It seems like there’s always an element of the intentionally designed symbolic even when the languages, fonts, etc. seem to just be indexing standard practices in the communities in question.

Wouldn’t things be easier, or clearer, or at least ‘fresher’, if we were to focus on the inward-facing (?) signs of bathrooms instead of the outward-facing storefronts and street signs? I was super interested to see that in the bathroom at Kirimachi (well, at least the men’s side; maybe they’re not the same anyway), not only was there no evidence of Japanese, but English seemed to have a pretty minimal role in speaking to employees who’d just used the bathroom:

So, right there in the bathroom of this “Japanese” restaurant, in the U.S. city of San Francisco, the most prominent languages are Chinese and Spanish. If these signs are mostly indexical in nature, indicating some reality of the world in which they’re placed, then…what’s the nature of that world? Who is talking to who? Why are these signs in the first place, and in these languages?

Oakland and 屋崙

One interesting project in linguistic landscape work is to see where place names come from, how they’re translated into other languages, and then become part of the identity of places, written into the landscape. Sometimes there are big disagreements about whose or what names gets to become the standard (here’s an example of the situation in Scotland)–and there is often more than one name in a given language (like Chinese) for cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles that have a long history in those languages. This weekend, I was passing through downtown and Chinatown in Oakland, saw this, and wondered what the history of the word “屋崙” is–and if there are other ways to say or write Oakland in Chinese.

Oakland Florist

Picture taken on Webster & 11th. The image links over to flickr, and is geotagged to a map there.