Wednesday, 8 June 2016

8th Linguistic Landscapes International Workshop, Liverpool

I attended the 8th Linguistic Landscapes International Workshop from 27 to 29 April 2016 at the University of Liverpool. The workshop was organized around the keywords regeneration, revitalisation and re-territorialisation. The event included more than forty presentations so I decided not to report on all of them. Rather I focus on issues that seem to be the most relevant to my own research: agency in the linguistic landscape and methodological developments in linguistic landscape studies. In brief, I am interested in what, who and how contributes to the creation and interpretation of linguistic landscapes in various societal settings, including research encounters and academic discussions.

Liverpool's Albert Dock as seen from the Ferris wheel
In their opening presentation, workshop organizers Robert Blackwood, Stefania Tufi and Will Amos illustrated the main topics of the event with local examples. They mentioned the Albert Dock which had gone through regeneration. The dock was closed down in 1972 and then it had been transformed into a tourist destination with museums and cafés – there’s even a Ferris wheel around the corner. The oldest Chinatown of Europe in situated in Liverpool, and its community experiences a dynamic revitalization and a re-articulation of Chinese identity, partly due to Chinese students who study at the University of Liverpool. To illustrate re-territorialisation, the presenters brought the history of Liverpool as an example. Liverpool was extraordinarily successful in slave trade, but later this source of richness turned out to be very shameful. As a consequence, there have been numerous attempts to de-colonialize and thus whitewash the history of the city by renaming streets and seldom highlighting the source of money which was the basis of erecting significant public buildings.

Ornamented parking machine in Chinatown

Agency in the linguistic landscape

Regeneration, revitalization and re-territorialisation are processes that are initiated, enhanced, challenged, discussed, interpreted, etc. by various social actors so I am especially interested in who take part in shaping and making sense of linguistic landscapes.

A group of papers dealt with social remembering and history, and the role of various agents in (re)constructing and (re)interpreting past events. For example, Christian Bendl presented how commemorial acts are conducted at a historic monument in Vienna. He found that official events of commemoration contribute to the maintenance of hegemonic power relations because it is only certain persons (e.g. leading politicians) who can place a wreath or give a speech at the monument. From a bottom-up perspective, Rolf Kailuweit and Aldina Quintana analysed grassroots memorials that reterritorialized public spaces and transformed them into places of commemoration after terroristic attacks in Madrid (2004) and Paris (2015).

Felix Banda and Hambaba Jimaima emphasized that artefacts can also be considered ‘active voices’, for example in museums. Their study shed light to ways in which Dr Livingstone’s memory is maintained while Cecil Rhodes’ figure is erased from the construction of Zambian history. Rebecca Todd Garvin also studied the so called museumscape. She was interested in ways in which recently established interpretive centres re-tell the story of relocation camps where Japanese Americans were forced to move during the Second World War. According to her experience, the existence of such camps is seldom known today so she discusses this dark story of American history with her students by using images she took on site.

A memorial plaque in the harbor – a sign of rehabilitation?

Durk Gorter presented certain changes in the linguistic landscape of Donostia-San Sebastián, highlighting the increasing role of the Basque language and some counter-diversity processes that make urban landscapes more uniform than ever. In the latter process, he argued, owners of global brands and chains play a major role: their logos appear everywhere around the globe, making shopping streets very similar to each other. Elizabeth Lanza and Hirut Woldemariam also reflected on the impact of business on linguistic landscapes, demonstrating how Chinese is becoming more and more visible in Ethiopia thanks to recent investments by Chinese companies. They argued that Chinese is now taking over the role of the global language in Addis Ababa, and the marginalization of English has begun. Maimu Berezkina pointed to the agency of those editing public administration websites in Norway. After more than one century of forced Norwegianisation, authorities started to protect Sámi languages in the 1980s, providing services in those languages, and today Sámi languages are visible online as well. However, as her study showed, the official Sámi texts are in general of bad quality and people tend to prefer Norwegian when gathering information.

Researchers of the linguistic landscape are agents with specific agendas, ideologies and motivations in mind. In the following sections I present some methodological developments that make it visible how researchers get engaged with their sites of study, and how they present and interpret their results.

Albert Dock now and then: a map navigates visitors to find attractions while a photographs gives an impression about the original setting
Being ‘on site’: documented and narrated encounters with the linguistic landscape

Shanleigh Roux, Amiena Peck and Felix Banda reported a team ethnographic project which analysed Old Biscuit Mill, a multi-purpose community space in Cape Town, South Africa. They found that interaction spaces, products and racial bodies (in contrast with white bodies) contributed to the reconstruction of some processes of colonizing. Thanks to the heterogeneity of the research team in terms of gender, age, race and educational background, they could approach local customers with various backgrounds. Their self-reflections made it clear that human bodies are integral parts of the semiotic landscape, influence interaction and constraint the researchers’ possibilities in gaining access to local community members’ lived experiences, practices and narratives.

David Malinowski, Sébastien Dubreil and Hiram Maxim presented how they use students’ exploratory walking tours in language teaching and research. Maxim’s project was organized around integrating minorities into the Austrian society. He asked students to take guided tours conducted by members of their local host families in a neighbourhood street. Dubreil asked his students to document their daily routine of traveling to the university in Angers (France) and ‘read the city’ around them. He used the term psychogeography in the study of interaction between humans and their physical environment. According to him, the walking tours helped the students in “letting the environment to happen to them”. Malinowski presented projects that make use of virtual spaces. For example, students guided each other remotely in a city, with the help of Google Street View and an online call service (e.g. Skype). In another project, students were invited to imagine a more multilingual New Haven. The tasks included taking photos of public signs that are only (or dominantly) in English and create an alternative linguistic landscape with the help of graphics editor software, adding further languages or substituting English with other languages, displaying non-Latin scripts, etc. This project showed how a de-colonialized American linguistic landscape would look like.

Continuing the motif of walking in the linguistic landscape, Shoshi Waksman and Elana Shohamy shared their observations of guided tours they attended in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. They argued that tour guides are interested agents who mobilize and transform the linguistic landscape by selecting sites for attention (e.g. pointing to certain directions), and telling certain stories (and not others) about the communities that live there. They found that tour guides were not especially interested in the visitors’ points or interests but rather wanted to disseminate their (politically motivated) agenda about Israel when presenting some historic sights. I was especially excited by this presentation since I include the role of a tour guide (or tourist guide) as part of a role play in my fieldwork method ‘tourist guide technique’ in which I ask school community members (students, parents and teachers) to lead me and present their community spaces while we walk through school premises. Waksman and Shohamy’s examples were encouraging because they demonstrated that the role of a guide is very agentive so my method also enhances the agency of school community members and give them a significant chance to influence the research narrative about their communities.

Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight asks questions about the agency of artists, visitors and communities in an exhibition setting. People seemed to be interested in answering them

In our joint presentation with Robert A. Troyer we discussed how videography re-visualises linguistic landscapes. Proposing a classification, Robert reviewed the literature of videographic methods and placed them among the situations being recorded (from natural to artificial) and the degree of manipulating the recordings (from least to most). In my literature review, I focused on videography in anthropology and ethnography, highlighting how these fields can enrich our understanding of co-exploring linguistic landscapes with research participants. Our materials included Robert’s drive-by videos that showed how linguistic landscapes can be perceived and interpreted from a researcher-driver’s point of view. Further, I showed excerpts from a video recorded walking tour led by a parent in a Hungarian school. We emphasized that it is not only capturing the signs that counts in linguistic landscape studies; it is also important to show how we researchers navigate and habituate in the linguistic landscape.

Linked to mobile data generation, I found John Callaghan’s fieldwork method especially interesting. As a team member of the research project TLANG (Translation and Translanguaging), he explores among others private linguistic landscapes. In his paper he focused on what cultural heritage means to research participants in reflection to the arrangement of their homes. He showed examples from a walkthrough in a woman’s home which gave an opportunity for reflections on signs on the wall, the arrangement of the furniture and the display of certain objects that told stories about the values and the history of the family. Kasper Juffermans’ case also encouraged me that walking tours enhance interaction with research participants. I found it especially interesting that in his study it was the participant who invited the researcher to a walking tour, finding it easier to talk about his migration trajectory on the go.

The Thursday papers were presented in the cultural centre Bluecoat. We also enjoyed exhibitions – and were supported in avoiding 'adult content'

Crowdsourcing: the use of mobile devices and social media in linguistic landscape studies

The workshop has introduced several initiatives of crowdsourcing; that is, the use of content provided online by a large group of people. Since researchers are not unlimitedly mobile, building georeferenced databases of annotated images and videos is more and more popular, especially among scholars conducting quantitative studies. Crowdsourcing, I believe, makes a distance between the researcher and the site investigated because the researcher does not engage in interaction with the space in an embodied-sensual way. That is, the researcher’s position is quite different than in the above mentioned fieldwork methods.

The research tool LinguaSnapp (Leonie Gaiser and Yaron Matras) was launched in 2015 with the goal of mapping multilingualism in Manchester. Photos of public signage are associated with GoogleMaps (both street map and street view). Further, annotations are added to the items, providing information about the alphabets and languages visible. Categories for annotation in the database are part of the analysis and, in my understanding, show the ideologies of the developers. For example, there are images of shop windows in Manchester that include text in Polish. If there is no English translation provided for a sign, the annotators marked the audience ‘exclusive’, while in the case of a visible English equivalent the audience was categorized as ‘inclusive’. That is, to me, the annotation seems to be biased towards English speakers and implicates that the project investigates multilingualism through an English lens. A similar app Lingscape was promoted during the workshop by its developer team (led by Christoph Purschke and Peter Gilles) that aims at mapping linguistic diversity in Luxembourg.

Using a Nokia smartphone, I feel disadvantaged since the apps are not developed for Windows so I can’t experiment with these useful and interesting tools. I learnt from one of the developers that because of the low number of users, it seems to be a waste of money to develop the apps for Windows. Maybe I should include an iPhone in the budget of my next research project… But seriously speaking, the choice of platforms influences the composition of the databases significantly; in this case, only Android or iOS users will be able to contribute to crowdsourcing. A similar issue was raised during the debate of Kate Lyons’ paper that was based on images of the Mission district of San Francisco, shared and commented on Instagram. She was aware of the fact that her data included items mainly from white women so she had to consider this when writing up the analysis.


The organizers helped us to experience how various physical environments influence interaction by choosing different locations for every day. On Wednesday, we gathered in a university chapel which had a distinct atmosphere. The Thursday papers were presented – or should I say staged? – in a theatre hall, and on Friday, we used an ordinary seminar room.

Towards linguistic sandscapes: participants of the post-workshop excursion on Saturday formed an LL8 sign on the beach


The next workshop will be organized by the University of Luxembourg around the topic “Movement and Immobilities”. As this year’s papers showed, the mobility of researchers and participants as well as mobile data generating methods are becoming central topics in linguistic landscape studies so I hope I can take part in next year’s discussions to continue several tracks of thoughts we have just started in Liverpool.


Further readings

David Malinowski on recent trends in linguistic landscape studies: “Linguistic Landscape and Superdiversity”: Reflections on LAUD 2016

LL8 on the blog of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Liverpool

My blog post on the previous Linguistic Landscapes Workshop (Berkeley, California): Part 1 / Part 2



My postdoctoral research project is funded by the Kone Foundation (grant number 44-9730). I received a travel grant from the same foundation to attend the workshop.

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