Thursday, 1 May 2014

Words on the fence

I'm interested in the linguistic landscape of towns, schools and other institutions. Words on walls, fences, windows and other surfaces tell a lot about a community's life. What languages are used? What images, symbols are used in order to build and strengthen a group identity? The topic is quite hot in minority settings where a community often has to fight for the right of using their own language and symbols. It's not by accident that when we organized a conference on linguistic landscape at my previous workplace, the papers were mainly about the visual use of Hungarian in the neighboring countries of Hungary.

In Finland I am also looking for texts on every possible surface. When I'm in Southern Finland, for example in Turku/Åbo and Helsinki/Helsingfors, I like the bilingual Finnish–Swedish signs. However, monolingual texts can also be interesting. A couple of weeks ago we were walking in the Seminaarinmäki campus of the university with one of my sauna friends. Some of the buildings are under reconstruction so there are many fences encircling working areas. I found one of these fences very interesting because there were dozens of Finnish words printed on it. My friend helped me in translating the words and I learnt that these words were created by the 19th century scholar Wolmar Schildt in Jyväskylä.

The majority of the words on the fence are related to education and science, for example opiskella 'to learn', kielitiede 'linguistics', laskento 'arithmetic', tiedemies 'scientist', taide 'art', kirjailija 'author', etc. The display of these words emphasizes the impact of Jyväskylä scholars on Finnish language planning and scientific development. At the same time, these words call exhange students' attention and can motivate them in enriching their Finnish vocabulary.

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