Linguistic Landscape (New York): Thitikorn Ngampakdeepanich

After living in New York for over a month, I can say how rich New York ethnicity is and culturally diverse it is with a vibrant mix of world influences. I am also amazed by the extensive range of cuisine available in New York. The diversity reminded me of Singapore where I grew up as it is also culturally diverse with four different cultures living together. Since English is the primary language spoken, most of the street signs are in English. Even at the Subway stations and the advertisement on the train are in English (Pictures below).


In “A contextualized approach to Linguistic” Leeman and Modan mention how “Material realizations of language are strategic tools that are wielded in local politics, power struggles, and competing claims to space” (pg 332). This is true, the fact that the United States is one of the leading and influential countries in terms of politics and business where New York is a global hub for business. The city does not need to conform its language to other foreigner languages, but foreigners will have to learn English to go around New York. However, New York is inhabited by people of different races and cultures and the dominance of English signs does not stop them from embracing their own culture. You could see it on the street where there would be people speaking in different languages from Polish to French. Even though English is prominent in its linguistic landscape in New York, the people living there makes it diverse by coming together to create their community.

New York is separated into five different boroughs: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Each borough has its subset of culture where specific areas have a rich cultural origin. For example, in Manhattan, Harlem is a place rich in its African American and Caribbean culture. It is also the home of Jazz since I like listening to Jazz songs, this was one of the memorable places I have been to as I went to National Jazz Museum. I was surprised by how rich and explicit the culture is in that specific region.

However, unlike Harlem which is in the north of the city, areas that are in the city center (Manhattan) like Chinatown and Koreatown are not culturally authentic. There is a strong influence of western influence in those regions. Restaurants that have Chinese signs would have the English translation for the tourist. These translations are similar to what Leeman and Modan said about the Chinatown in Washington DC’s, “the state and private enterprise commodify language… turn Chinatown into a commodity, marketing it and the things in it for consumption” (Pictures of Chinatown below)                






The Chinatown neon sign hanging above the area in English further prove the points how it is only a place for tourist to visit. That sign is for tourist to come to take a picture of it to show the “new culture” they have explored even though there were not much cultural history in that area. Tourists only go there to try “authentic” food. Furthermore, with the English translations on Chinese restaurants and English signs in Chinatown, tourists do not get to experience the Chinese culture fully. Chinatown has been gentrified and is becoming increasingly expensive causing traditional Chinese restaurant owners to not be able to afford the rent and have to move out of Manhattan.

However, in the area at Queens, Flushing. There is still a robust Asian culture there. I could tell the difference immediately as I noticed the majority of people in Flushing were all Asian, where there was an abundance of Chinese signs and traditional stores everywhere with not as much English translation compared to Chinatown. (Pictures of Flushing below)






I remembered when I first got to Flushing. I thought I was in an Asian city. I admire how the Asian cultures are rich in Flushing and were happy that it had not been tainted with the Western influence like the Chinatown. Since most of the people were Asian, the people there mostly speaking in Asian language like Mandarin, Korean and Japanese.

New York is always changing and conforming to the influences of the world. The fact that there is limited space in the city center at Manhattan causes the process of gentrification to be faster causing some area to lose its culture turning it into the “Chinatown” of what Leeman and Modan said about Chinatown. I hope that culturally rich areas such as Harlem and Queens will be protected from the gentrification as that is what makes New York “New York”, with it being the culturally diverse city.



Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic landscape.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 332–362., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2009.00409.x.

A glance at the linguistic landscape in San Francisco Chinatown — Jeffrey Cheung

San Francisco is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. The 1850s gold rush brought in treasure hunters both domestically and internationally, rapidly increasing the population and city development. As more urban constructions were initiated such as railroads, gold mine machinery and skyscrapers, massive amounts of labor are needed. That is when rumors about the American dream are spread to the far east. Tenths of thousands of Chinese were lured to the west coast and provided labors for the City construction. In the past 150 years, the Chinese has gathered between Bush Avenue and Telegraph Hill avenue, enclosing the Area within, and named it Chinatown. Through my humble observation over the past few weeks, I found that Chinatown has a unique Chinese culture that is different from any of other Chinese culture due to the influence of linguistic landscapes.

It is impossible to fully understand the Chinese culture without experiencing the authentic Chinese cuisines. There was a Chinese saying “名以食为天,” or in English “Hunger breeds discontentment.” The ancient Chinese believe that food is the founding stone of flourishing Chinese culture. As a result, almost half of the stores in Chinatown are grocery stores and restaurants. A few of my favorite includes the traditional Southern Chinese cuisine Dim Sum and the most well-known Central Chinese cuisine Hot Pot. It is well-known that Chinese food in Chinatown is much more authentic than those in the other places, because Chinatown restaurants serve mostly Chinese, while other Chinese restaurants target local Americans.

As a Chinese student, being able to live as close as one block away from Chinatown gives me a sense of security and a sense of coming home. However, while the food is more authentic and the faces around are more familiar, I found living in Chinatown almost like living in a foreign country, mostly because of the language barrier between Chinatown and the “outside world.” Early Chinese immigrants were, without exception, from Guangdong province, where the official language is Cantonese, a majorly different dialect from Mandarin. From then on, Cantonese has been the dominant language in Chinatown. Signs are written in traditional Chinese characters, and town folks bargain loudly in Cantonese. Undoubtedly Cantonese is both the official language and working language in Chinatown.

One of my favorite bilingual signs in Chinatown is the political campaign signs. Mark Leno is a California state senator who is running for the San Francisco city mayor position. Chinatown, as one of the most populated areas in the city, is extra crucial to his campaign. His campaign post transliterated his last name into two powerful characters to gain support in Chinatown. He also translated his campaign slogan to Chinese which I wasn’t able to find the original English text. Perhaps this Chinese slogan is the original text. This idea is also illustrated in Jennifer Leeman and Gabriella Modan’s article, that “material realizations of language are strategic tools that are wielded in local politics, power struggles, and competing claims to space” (Leeman and Modan 333). Overall I think this is evidence that Chinatown and Cantonese plays a significant role in San Francisco city culture


Other languages also play significant roles in the Chinatown community. Chinatown is a famous city attraction that draws more tourists than the golden gate bridge annually. Since English is the universal language spoken around the globe, many stores were able to communicate with the tourist in fluent English. Menus are written in both Cantonese and English, and waiters serve in both language as well. In fact, most residents in Chinatown are second-generation immigrants who were born and raised in America, where they have picked up English either in school or in daily life.

Mandarin, on the other hand, is more like an outcast language in Chinatown, even though it is much similar to Cantonese linguistically. My last experience in a Szechuan food restaurant, the waiter couldn’t communicate with me in Mandarin but instead talked back to me in English to ask me for orders. In my opinions, this is mainly because of the small mandarin speaking population in San Francisco 20 years ago. Thus, there is no need for Chinese restaurant workers to learn Mandarin to serve customers.

In comparison, San Francisco Chinatown reminds me of Hong Kong, mostly because of the language and the culture preserved. It has some of the most authentic Chinese food in town, which also draws the similarities between the two cities that are far apart. However, San Francisco Chinatown is more inclusive in terms of English speakers, while Hong Kong seems to be influenced more by the mainland mandarin language. In conclusion, this Chinatown remained a unique cultural Icon of the far east in downtown San Francisco.



Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified language in Chinatown: A contextualized approach to linguistic landscape.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 13.3. (2009).

Linguistic Landscape of New York City

A global power city, New York City has the reputation of being the cultural, financial and media capital of the world, and the city that never sleeps exerts a significant influence on the international stage.  Being such a global city, it is not surprising that the linguistic landscape of the city is very diverse and inclusive of the many cultures that are represented its members. Similar to other global cities in the world, but perhaps more so, the population of New York City is not only comprised of residents with different cultural backgrounds but also includes tourists and others passing through the city. The amenities throughout the city reflect the same; while they provide an ease of access to members of various cultural backgrounds, they simultaneously attract and target the tourists, thus illustrating the concept of “symbolic economies” (Leeman and Modan 337). While the main language spoken or used in New York City could be identified as English, from my personal observations, it is rather difficult to say.

At a place like Times Square (pictured below), which is a widely-known tourist attraction, it is more common to hear any language other than English being spoken. However, the billboards advertising various services are mostly all done in English except for one at the top, which is written in Chinese characters. Even within a global city, there is strategic planning involved- in a place sought out by tourists who are seeking the “American” experience, there are an appeal and commodification of the American culture: “As cities and themed environments become sites of ‘shopertainment’, consumption becomes culture, and culture becomes consumption” (Leeman and Modan 338). Though in this day and age there is a movement that encourages the identification and inclusion of other cultures to support the concept of multiculturalism, as globalization continuously progresses, even the American culture is commodified in America to attract and satisfy members of other cultures who crave the “American” experience as it is portrayed and romanticized in the media.

While a place like Times Square appeals the American culture to enhance the American culture, specifically that of New York, that is sought out by the hundreds of individuals to visit, likewise, there are certain districts that appeal and commodify their culture to attract members of the same. The existence of these neighborhoods demonstrate the bidirectional effects of blurring the boundaries between culture and consumption as mentioned in the reading: “not only do non-commodities enhance commodities, but cultural symbols also become part of the marketplace” (Leeman and Modan 338). Chinatown in the lower Manhattan area is one of the many cultural neighborhoods that exist in New York City such as Little Italy, Koreatown, etc. In a place such as Chinatown, while the commodification of the Chinese culture is apparent, with an emphasis on Chinese cuisine, the employment of the Chinese language limits the audience to the members of the same cultural background.

Observing from the picture above taken at Chinatown, the sign for “East West Bank” is written in English, but as for the other signs and characters posted on windows, a typical tourist passing through Chinatown for a meal would probably not understand. This idea of a limited audience, inclusive of only other members of defined cultural group is a characteristic of landscape as a way to construct identity: “Landscape is thus an important ingredient in constructing consent and identity- in organizing a receptive audience- for the projects and desires of powerful social interests” (Leeman and Modan 337). While the use of language in a specific space can be used to commodify the culture, at the same time, the use of language between members of the same group contributes to constructing a unique identity in the midst of the presence of countless identities and cultures in a global city like New York City.



Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.” George Mason University, Virginia and The Ohio State University. Journal of Sociolinguistics 13, no. 3 (2009): 332-362.

Boston: Multilingual City, Predominately English Signs – Colleen Riordan

While many countries around the world have official languages, the United States is not one of them. This can be surprising since all official documents are in English, the language taught and spoken in public schools is English, and it is the most commonly spoken language. Because of this, it makes sense that most, if not all, signs are in English and English only. Boston is no exception. One of America’s oldest and most international cities, Boston could be expected to cater to nonnative speakers by adding signs in foreign language. So why don’t they? Well there are many possible answers to that question, including finances, necessity, and which language to select.

If there is one thing a city always needs, its money. Those familiar with Boston have most likely heard of “the big dig” otherwise known as a construction project to put certain roads underground. This project without a doubt put the city into major debt meaning that the next projects to be funded need to be top priorities. Adding signs in another language, for better or worse, is not a top priority. Through exploration of the city on foot, one can learn so much through visuals alone. In the city of Boston alone there have to be millions of signs, therefore, the cost of making a million new signs is almost beyond measure. Seeing the millions of signs provides an explanation for the lack of change and a start at understanding the economic and cultural situation of the environment.

The lack of signs in foreign languages can probably answer the question of whether or not people think these hypothetical signs are necessary. If there was a serious high demand, at least a few signs would have been produced as a test run. The airport would be a logical location for these test signs as it is a high traffic, international location. Even so, there are no signs in a language other than English. This doesn’t mean nonnative English speakers would not benefit from signs in a language other than English. American culture often dictates that everyone speak English, meaning that the necessity of foreign language signs is reduced because people coming here are expected to know at least enough English to get by.

With thousands of languages being spoken throughout the world how does a city decided which to put on signs? Looking at the most common spoken second language is a good start, but ultimately the speakers of the languages not selected could become upset as they feel their language should have been selected. The native English speakers also have a “vested interest in maintaining their own-group language on public signs” as they could feel as if their community is changing or the lack of necessity for the foreign language sign change (Landry & Bourhis 1997).

These feelings can have historical stems as well. Boston’s North End is a predominately Italian neighborhood filled with Italian businesses and even an Italian church. Of all locations, this would seem to be a logical one in which to add Italian to signs, but this has not occurred. The question as to why can be rooted back to the early Italian immigrants who came not only to Boston, but to America. There is no doubt that they spoke Italian and possibly also filled their neighborhood with Italian signs, so why are there no Italian signs today? One can theorize that assimilation played a part as these new Americans desired to create a new life and fit into American culture. Putting this history in context can help to explain why in a multilingual city, all the signs are in English.

When it comes to the discussion about adding signs in a foreign language, for those in government, it is easier to do nothing on the topic than it is to do something. The trouble of financial costs, overall lack of necessity, and sensitive topic of which language to select discourages action. The signs throughout Boston reflect this and most likely always will.

Works Cited

Landry, Rodrigue and Richard Y. Bourhis. 1997. Linguistic landscape andethnolinguistic      vitality: An empirical study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology

Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic landscape1.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13,   no. 3, 2009, pp. 332–362.

Linguistic Landscape in Boston – Isabella Cao

In Boston, most signs are in English. I think this is because almost all residents, even though they are not from English speaking countries, can understand and communicate in English. English has always been as the “world language” where people from different countries could use to communicate. But Boston supports multilingual communities where I also see signs written and languages spoken in non-English. In my opinion, the purpose of multilingual is mainly to promote “symbolic economy”, which Zukin defines as “the intertwining of cultural symbols and entrepreneurial capital” (Leeman and Modan 337), and to gain commercial and economical development.

The public sign below is a very common one in Boston, which is always on a street lamp and informs people when and how to cross the streets. This sign targets all people in Boston whether they are locals or foreigners with simple written English so that every one could understand it and follow the rules.

Boston is a diverse city where some people from Eastern countries live in, especially from China. In Chinatown, most signs are in Chinese and English. Just as the reading mentions in Washington DC’s Chinatown, “material manifestations of Chinese language are an important tool in the symbolic economy” (338), and “use Chinese-language signs as design features targeted towards people who neither read nor have ethics ties to China” (332). I obverse that while the majority of people coming to Chinatown are Chinese, there are also people from Korea, Thailand, Japan, and some other countries. Using Chinese language as an advertisement helps open up the market and enlarges the target group as people from other culture backgrounds could also feel the inclusiveness of their own culture into the American culture.

The Chinese sign in Boston Chinatown presented below is a good example illustrating this idea. The sign in Chinese says “Boston Chinese Commercial Association welcomes you”. The article also mentions the “commercial nature of material manifestations of language” (333). Signs in Chinese can be interpreted as a business strategy because there are a lot of Chinese in Boston who love to go to Chinese shops, restaurants, and bakeries. Using signs in Chinese languages let Chinese feel home and welcome, which makes them tend to buy more things and spend more money as they are pleased to feel the inclusiveness into a foreign country and become less homesick. This successful business move promotes commercial development, especially food and services industries, which then leads to generate more revenue for the city and sustains long-term growth of the economy.

Below is a sign on bus 59, which has both English and Spanish. I learn from my colleagues that some South American come to the United States to develop business or immigrant here to find better opportunities and jobs. “Instances of written language in the landscape have important economic and social consequences, and can affect those who visit, work, or live in a given neighborhood” (332). Since both Spanish and English are the top three widely used language in the world, public signs in these languages cover many people from the global and thus attract them to visit, work, or live in Boston. Attracting people from diverse backgrounds helps bring new perspectives and opportunities to Boston, which could potentially diversity current industries and improve economic growth. Therefore, the feature that public signs support multilingual communities is really a great way to have sustainable development in Boston.

Even though most signs in Boston are in English with some in other few languages, I could here a lot of different languages on the streets, which include Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese and French. People from North America speak Portuguese and Spanish a lot. The company I am interning at share the same co-working space with a Brazilian company, where I hear its employees speak Portuguese all the time. The multilingual and multicultural features make Boson a very energetic city which it takes in new incomers and travelers every day as well as residents the locals. The symbolic use of languages attracts so many people from various backgrounds and builds inclusiveness of different culture groups, which also has strong commercial and economical implications.



Jennifer Leeman and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified language in Chinatown: A contextualized approach to linguistic landscape.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 13.3. (2009).





Linguistic Landscape of New York: Hao Tian

New York’s public use of languages varies with its neighborhoods. Although famous for providing people with lavish chances to access different language, the abundance of different language utilization and the lack of it exist at the same time due to special occasions, rendering this city an extraordinary linguistic landscape.

In some cases, as the reading implies, using different languages functions as a tool for distinction, culture preservation and indication for some ethnolinguistic groups. The prominence of different language uses especially emphasizes the distinct environment of the district. For instance, walking into the famous Korean neighborhood leaves people a feeling of visiting Seoul.Multilingual usages suddenly fulfill the street: some public signs are made by English and Korean for the local residents’ reading convenience and numerous Korean shops label their special cuisines and trade names in Korean and English to demonstrate the special culture and exotic business style. It will not take a lot of time for visitors to realize this place is relative to Korean elements. While enjoying the fresh linguistic experience, people will feel the uniqueness from this place and appreciate the language culture behind those signs. As the reading suggests(page 344, Leeman & Moden, 2009), such abundance in evocative business signs, foreign language usage, and distinct racial clustering not only satisfies government’s need of preserving and promoting foreign cultural heritage, but also distinguishes the special neighborhoods, such as Korean town, from its surrounding and indicate certain groups.

Furthermore, similar with the concept of China town in Leeman Modan reading, the increasing use of multiple languages happens for the promotion of a drastic change in district economies. For example, in New York’s China town, the usage of Chinese increases dramatically and even English skills are redundant as signs such as words on menu are in both Chinese and English and staff can speak Chinese as well. The charactersitic signs and services not only provide Chinese people with informations and resources but also attract the costumers chasing for novelties, potentially enhancing the consumption population and inducing local economic growth. In addition, the use of Chinese potentially highlights China town, leading to a support for town’s business. When workers there speak in Chinese dialects and the public signs are represented in Chinese, a nostalgia arises inside Chinese people and such power actually encourages people to consume at the shops and restaurants in order to gain a feeling of being home. These phenomenon is common in New York. Places like French district and Japanese streets, waiting for nostalgia visitors, are filled with bilingual language signs and speakings. Therefore, the city’s utilization of multiple language in evocative signs and speaking empowers neighborhoods’ economy and finance as well and specialize the areas at the same time.

Even though New York endorses an international community by using multilingual public signs at several special-language domains, in most public places, still English is the only official language in public. It does not mean that speeches on streets are necessarily in English as speaking languages are various on streets, depended on people. However, as for publicly written language such as transportation signals, street directions and other public equipments, English become more dominant and official. Sometimes, even if there are foreign restaurants, the written language on menu, advertisement and other stuff is only used in English as other language writings have become less and less a mean for communication, similar withe the fact mention in reading (page 359, Leeman & Moden, 2009). Moreover, the society potentially admire English as the only official language used in office and other formal situation, strengthening the power of English impact. Overall, the English still is the most influential language on this landscape.

On the other hand, language usage expressed by personal businesses can be more elastic. These private enterprises often shows a use of different languages on signs because of their background of linguistic environment. And for the purpose of expanding business marketing, personal enterprise signs exhibit a wider language use than public ones from the aspects of promoting advertisement, cultural communication and business sale activity. This fact potentially promotes the development of a more diverse language society and enriches the content of linguistic landscape.

In conclusion, the linguistic landscape in New York varies depending on the needs for different language uses, telling the area’s cultural background and economic information simultaneously. Gradually, the society has formed an English used landscape, decorated by other language. The abundance of different language utilization and the lack of it indeed establish an unique linguistic landscape.

Works Cited:
Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.”  Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 333.

San Francisco Linguistic Landscape – Frank Fu

San Francisco, famous for its technology advancement and innovation, has also been known as one of the most culturally diverse cosmopolitan city in North America. Rapidly expanded after the California Gold Rush, the city has left a variety of cultural heritage and linguistic landscapes. One of the most important legacy is the well-known San Francisco Chinatown, which is the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America. Through my experience in this past few weeks, a Chinatown is not always truly indicative of an authentic Chinese culture due to the influence of other linguistic landscapes.

As an international student from mainland China, I find it difficult to relate myself to the Chinese American in San Francisco Chinatown. The main differences come from cuisine and language. When I first came to Chinatown, I thought I get to taste the “real” Chinese dishes I have been craving for. After I have stayed in San Francisco for three weeks, however, I am upset to conclude that hardly any Chinese food in Chinatown are authentic and savory. I even find out a correlation that the older the Chinese restaurant is, the worse it tastes. The main reason I suppose is that the restaurants in Chinatown try to target Chinese and American customers at the same time. Yet, many fail to realize it is difficult to accomplish because the two groups of people have polarized tastes. This can be demonstrated by the fact that many authentic Chinese restaurants in San Francisco I find generally have very low ratings on Yelp.

Although the official language in San Francisco is English, the Chinese American in Chinatown often use Cantonese to communicate. Surprisingly, there are still some Chinese American who can speak only a few common phrases or cannot speak English at all. In the same time, Chinatown is a major tourist attraction. Every time I pass by Chinatown, I see tourists visiting and taking photos. As Leeman said, “the ratio of languages is indicative of the relative power of various ethnolinguistic groups” (334). Therefore, it is not surprising to see many street signs and banners are written both in English and Cantonese, suggesting the two dominant groups in Chinatown are Chinese and other racial visitors.

The language itself also contributes to my discordance with Chinese American. Unlike the Cantonese I heard back in my hometown, the pronunciation of the Cantonese spoken in Chinatown sounds very strange to me. The Cantonese spoken in Chinatown incorporates many syllables that sound similar to English. Therefore, it is interesting to see how one language has evolved in a new continent.

Similar to the banner and signage, I have seen another example of two languages put together. This picture, which depicts the Wells Fargo bank at San Francisco Chinatown, supports Leeman’s statement: “instances of written language in the landscape … are also productive signs: they have productive economic and social consequences…” (332). Unlike the other Wells Fargo banks, this branch prints its Chinese name alongside the English name. With the creation of a Chinese name, the bank helps itself to create a more down-to-earth image. In other words, the bank can be better fit into the local community after a Chinese name was attached, thereby attracting more Chinese customers and agreeing with Leeman’s claim that “consumption becomes culture, and culture becomes consumption” (338).

Overall, I found myself contradictory to the Chinese culture in Chinatown. The Chinese American in San Francisco Chinatown have developed their own set of values and customs, which is an amalgamation of western and eastern culture.


Works Cited

Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified language in Chinatown: A contextualized approach to linguistic landscape.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 13.3. (2009).


Linguistic Landscape of Boston—Ruiyuan Shi

After reading the analysis of the utilization of Chinese in the area of Chinatown in Washington DC given by Leeman and Modan, it helps me to reflect on the linguistic landscape of Boston. Overall, linguistically speaking, Boston is an English dominant city with several relatively small multilingual communities. I have heard people speaking in other language such as Chinese, Korean and Spanish. It is probably because of the number of colleges and universities in Boston and the enormous opportunities the city offers for newcomers.  Most of them are fluent to speak English and they only speak in their native language when they know if their audience understand the language.

Like all the other major cities in the US, English is the main spoken language. Even though public signs are written in English, I have seen some private-owned signs (advertisement, restaurant and company name, etc.) in specific region of the city written in other language. As discussed in Leeman and Modan’s paper, the utilization of minority language sign brings communicative and aesthetic value. People with diverse interests always have different emphasis on these two values. For example, the following picture was taken in Chinatown in downtown Boston. 

Within the picture, store names and advertisements use Chinese more prominently than English. This coincides with the characteristic of DC Chinatown’s first wave of redevelopment during which Chinese-owned businesses emphasized much more on the communicative value. This statement could be further strengthened by the fact that these stores also use Chinese within their establishment. Personally, I have been to several Chinese restaurants where menus are primarily written in Chinese with English translation to assist non-Chinese speakers. Additionally, one interesting fact I noticed in Boston Chinatown is that they use traditional Chinese characters instead of simplified Chinese characters that are accepted by and taught to much larger population. Also, if you can see in the picture above, the building in the middle with some Chinese architectural elements has US and Taiwan flags on the balcony (second floor). Similar to the opposition to the Friendship Arch in DC Chinatown, some people may find the flag of Taiwan controversial. The political and historical reasons behind such controversy is irrelevant here, but I want to emphasize on my main point that resonants with the assigned article:  “The built environment has multiple, sometimes contradictory meanings. All the meanings cannot be gleaned simply by analyzing the material elements, because crucial aspects of a community’s history do not always leave material traces in the landscape” (Leeman, Modan, 345). 

The second place I have visited that demonstrates multilingualism is Allston located west of downtown Boston and in proximity to several universities such as Boston University and Boston College. I took the following two pictures on Harvard Ave and Brighton Ave. There are many restaurants, bakeries and barber shops that mainly target on students, especially East Asia students. For example, there is a popular barber shop called Beautiful Cuts. On its website, it specifically says this is a barber shop for Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Plus, the website gives you information on what language does each barber speak. Furthermore, because this area is surrounded by leasing apartments and condos targeting college students and young workers, the population composition is much more complex. However, considering the huge number of Chinese and Korean students, businesses here still use these two languages to establish a superficial social interaction with these two particular groups while promoting cultural diversity and urban authenticity to other groups of people. 

To conclude, English is the most commonly used language in Boston, but there are several areas where multilingualism is demonstrated.  The commodification of linguistic landscape is noticeable to certain degree, but people still focus more on the communicative value of it. Personally, commodification of linguistic landscape can only yield profit by keeping its inherent communicative value and cultural root intact. After all, a book should not be judged by the cover but by the content.



Leeman, Jennifer. Modan, Gabriella. Commodified language in Chinatown:A contextualized approach to linguistic landscape.  Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 332-362.

Hong Kong’s Language Landscape

By | Wei Wei Chen 

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is today a multinational territory in China that has Chinese and English as its official languages. As a visitor or newcomer to Hong Kong, one can most immediately notice the material realization of these two official languages on major, official signages. I specify major and official because while government-operated spaces, commercial areas, and corporations dealing in international markets have signs and other informational forms in both English and Chinese, smaller, locally-owned institutions like street food stands or family diners will not.

      Figure 1. An official fire safety sign

Figure 2. A sign for local organizations

This is not to say that things like newspapers and public advertisements are necessarily published with both languages on the same surface either. Take, for example, the following two pictures taken at a MTR train station:  

In the realm of spoken language, most Hong Kong natives and locals speak Cantonese and it is often the default in casual conversation between locals. After Cantonese comes Mandarin and English, which most natives, especially those of younger generations or those working in tourist-heavy areas, often know fluently or have enough limited understanding for taking care of simple tasks (i.e. placing a food order). Regarding these two statements, it is important to note that due to Hong Kong’s multinational nature, not every local (defined, for the purpose of this essay, as someone who lives and works in Hong Kong) speaks Cantonese or ever learns how to. This can be due to a multitude of reasons, one of which can be that their company uses English, Mandarin, or another language as the default language and they are able to get by without knowing Cantonese. An example of someone like this is one of the program coordinators at AIC, the organization that co-sponsors this study abroad trip with Emory. She is a local of Hong Kong who has lived in and gone to school here since elementary. However, because she went to an international school that used English and because the circumstances she found herself in growing up did not absolutely require her having to know Cantonese, she never learned it.

The textbook speaks about the use of language as a method individuals and groups use to indicate status or affiliation. Because Cantonese is usually the default in casual conversation, a situation in which two friends who are natives of Hong Kong and who grew up speaking Cantonese but who suddenly started speaking to English to each other casually would be strange. In this scenario, the two can be seen to perhaps be trying to indicate their affiliation to groups that typically use English as a default. Given that one of the four core subjects in Hong Kong’s university entrance exams, the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam, is English, a working proficiency of English can indicate education level and perhaps higher social standing as a consequential association.

In my first week at Hong Kong, my friends and I checked out a place called Visage One, a hair salon that turns into a jazz bar on Saturdays. Located in a hidden spot up a hill in the hipster part of Hong Kong, it is frequented by the kind of outwardly artistic and hipster types one would often see at contemporary art museums or other niche, artistic spaces. To fit the vibe of the space, the guest musician largely sung English songs and spoke English to the audience, who spoke English back to him and with each other. This place had a couple of tourists because of its novelty as a salon turned jazz bar, but it was by no means a tourist site because it was, after all, a hidden gem. The scattered use of Cantonese and Mandarin mixed in with slightly broken English also gave away the fact that most of the audience members were not native English speakers. Language “is a way of carefully selecting and representing the world so as to give it a particular meaning” (337). In this way, the use of English in this space became a strategic tool wielded by the group to symbolize, consciously or not, status (of the group as intellectually and culturally higher class) and affiliation (of the group with a global artistic community) (332). Should we view the language landscape in the way Leeman and Modan proposes, as a “perspectivized, ideological representation of space,” then this example illustrates that (333).



Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.”  Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 332-362.

Hong Kong Linguistic Landscape – Yoonsung Park

Hong Kong is the multicultural bastion of the East. Rather than promoting a work-culture of uniformity and conformity like Korea and Japan, this city invites and even encourages expats from all over the world. It’s an East-meets-West kind of city – and the linguistic landscape reflects that. However, I’m curious if this advent of Western and English influences throughout the city is completely welcomed or viewed as a threat to traditional Chinese/Hong Kong culture by locals. In theory, if there are more signs in English than it shows a stronger Western influence on the city; on the contrary, more signs written in Cantonese shows a stronger effort to preserve traditional Chinese/Hong Kong culture. After all, “material realizations of language are strategic tools that are wielded in local politics, power struggles, and competing claims to space” (Leeman and Modan 333).

Hearing that Hong Kong was a British colony since 1997, I came in to the city fully expecting everyone to speak near-perfect English. Frankly, I thought Hong Kong would be a lot like English-speaking Singapore. What I found, however, was a place dominated by the Cantonese language. The first restaurant I visited in Hong Kong had a menu written entirely in Cantonese, with no English options to be found. I essentially had to guess what I was ordering, using my fingers rather than my words. The servers at the restaurant could speak some English, but frankly not enough to fully understand exactly what I was ordering. After spending more time in Hong Kong this made a lot of sense, as I was in a local-dominated area far from the Central Business District – a less dense area called Chai Wan. This changed significantly the closer I got to the business district of Hong Kong. In Central, Sheung Wan, or Causeway Bay nearly every sign was either written in English or had English words alongside the Cantonese words. This is very similar to the “second wave of business development” that “directly translate[d]” an establishment’s name from Chinese to English or vice-versa (Leeman and Modan 352). All servers were very proficient in English and were quite talented at recognizing (and targeting) English-speaking foreigners.


It seems that most of the major capitalist structures within the city (esp. Finance) relies on Western influence and language, which makes a lot of sense as “language in the landscape […] spatialize[s] commercialization” (Leeman and Modan 339). Free market capitalism quite literally runs Hong Kong – the domination of this system is primarily due to a history of Western colonial influence. The closer you get to the Central Business District, the more English you’ll start to read and use. As you get closer to Kowloon, the new Territories, or generally any area away from Central or Sheung Wan, you’ll start to see and hear a lot more Cantonese. Public transportation services like buses or the MTR utilize both English and Cantonese, respecting the needs of both locals and foreign expats.

Ultimately, it seems that rather than attempting to expunge English from the linguistic landscape, Hong Kong and its government has learned to accept Western colonial influence in the city. Regardless, the Cantonese language still dominates – I’m curious of the reason for this. With such a recent presence of colonialism, one would think English would have a stronger presence. Maybe one day I’ll grab a boat at Stanley and spend some time reading a book on Hong Kong’s colonial history. Enjoy this picture. Thanks!