Spanish in Los Angeles Urban Signage: Language Attitudes and Linguistic Communities

“Spanish in Los Angeles Urban Signage: Language Attitudes and Linguistic Communities”
Dr. Jhonni Carr, UC-Berkeley

Friday, February 1, 2019
5125 Dwinelle Hall

Talk in English

Los Angeles County is home to almost 5 million Latinx residents and over 3 million Spanish speakers (Census, 2015). While a multitude of languages can be seen in the county’s public space, English and Spanish dominate the displayed, written language of this visual environment, or its linguistic landscape (Landry & Bourhis, 1997). With this in mind, can the languages used in local signage be a reliable indicator of the language spoken by the majority of an area? In referencing the linguistic population, Gorter states that “the linguistic landscape is not a mirror,” (2013). However, in considering the different elements of signs, the residential composition can, in fact, be reflected in the linguistic landscape. I demonstrate this correlation using a corpus of over 4,500 signs from three Southeast Los Angeles cities of varying Latinx populations: Huntington Park, Lynwood, and Paramount. Furthermore, I argue that language can act as a barrier to societal engagement, and some individuals that do not speak the language being used are inhibited from participating in public activities. I additionally examine linguistic access to the public space through an analysis of 24 interviews with Southeast Los Angeles residents of neighborhoods with Latino populations of over 80%. Topics discussed in the interviews include informants’ attitudes toward the languages, as well as the desired amount of Spanish in relation to English in the urban signage. Results show that the amount of Spanish in the linguistic landscape does not align with the amount desired by community members and that the use –or lack of use– of Spanish can affect Latinx individuals’ sense of belonging and solidarity with their community. This project contributes to a growing body of scholarship in Linguistic Landscape Studies and Spanish linguistics by uniting different methodologies and theoretical frameworks to explore Latinx communities and power relations regarding Spanish and English use in signage.

Jhonni Carr holds a PhD in Spanish Linguistics from the University of California, Los Angeles. She currently teaches in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese at the University of California, Berkeley and previously was a Visiting Assistant Professor at UCLA. Dr. Carr’s research has been supported by the U.S. Department of Education, the UC Regents, and UCLA’s Latin American Institute.