Paul’s Dublin Linguistic Landscape

Dublin is a city striving to retain its traditions while also embracing the new and adapting cultural and linguistic climate. An English speaker strolling through the city streets will see one familiar language and one unfamiliar language on almost every public sign, whether it be a street sign, a labeled garbage bin, or some kind of caution for nearby construction. Dublin functionally speaks English. Most of the conversations you will overhear on the bus or in line for the club will be in English. The majority of the time you will hear someone speaking a language other than English, it will be from one of the many tourist’s mouth. Businesses know the linguistic landscape of the city; most only publish their signs in English. It is redundant to include a Irish Gaelic translation, as they assume fairly correctly that no one will walking into their store speaking Gaelic but not English. However, there is a concerted effort by the local government to make sure that the Irish Gaelic language is seen to locals and visitors. Language seems to be a source of pride to the Irish people, a unique identifier of geography and tradition, a way to separate and remind all those walking around and experiencing the city that Ireland is in fact not a part of Great Britain, and that colonial rule is over.

This effort is clearly top down, similar to the way the Thai government paid businesses to have Thai signs, as described in the Leeman and Modan reading. The Irish government is taking the front foot in preserving the Gaelic language and reminding visitors and locals of an important aspect of Irish culture. In doing so, the government also evokes thoughts of more than language. When I see Gaelic, it is not just a two dimensional combination of letters on a street sign. Seeing the Gaelic text adds a sort of depth to my though in the moment; the words become three dimensional in their symbolism. When I see the Gaelic signs, I think of Gaelic football and hurling, two sports ingrained in Irish culture. I think of the Irish folk music I hear as I meander down some of the less crowded and touristy streets of Dublin. The government has taken a top down approach to making sure Dublin stands out as uniquely Irish. They want locals to be proud of their inhabitance. They want visitors to have a distinct and unmistakable mental picture of what Dublin is. So many of the cities I have visited have sort of melded into my mind as one metropolis, but Dublin is not one of them.

Dublin City street sign in both English and Irish Gaelic.

Trash bin even has Gaelic – almost all public signage has Gaelic as well as English.

The people and businesses of Dublin have taken a different approach to language. Maybe because they are satisfied with the local government’s inclusion of Gaelic in public signage, or perhaps because Gaelic is more symbolic to them than functional, almost no restaurants, pubs, shops, cafés, mobile stores, gas stations, convenience stores etc. use Gaelic in their signage. They likely see it as unnecessary. You would have a difficult time finding someone who spoke language of Ireland who does not also speak English. Instead, local businesses use the words on their signs to commodify certain areas of the city. The article we read talked about the commodification of Chinese signage in Chinatown to turn visiting Chinatown into a unique experience. They made Chinatown as more than just a physical place, but also an experience. A similar phenomenon has happened in Dublin. The temple bar district is a section of Dublin, but also an experience. When someone asks “have you been to temple bar?” they do not mean the literally district, but rather they are asking: “have you experienced temple bar?” Local shops and pubs have embraced this concept by plastering the words “Temple Bar” on every store front and small dark alley in the area. They are using the signage to magnify the Temple Bar experience, just like Chinese signage magnified and distinguished the Chinatown experience.

This private business just wants to get there message across, so they are functionally only using English.

While the public and private uses of signage and language are different, they do not feel in conflict. It seems that they are in tandem with each other, and build upon one another to create the complete “Dublin Experience”. The businesses trust in the local government to keep Gaelic tradition in the public view, which allows them to focusing on signage as a tool for marketing both products and places. The public and private signage blends in an aesthetic hue to create something that is uniquely Dublin.

My Berlin Linguistic Landscape

Berlin is a major capital of the connected world, not just of Germany itself. In my two and a half weeks in the city so far, I have heard many world languages spoken around in the subway and passing by on the street, including Turkish, French, Spanish, and Russian. German, of course, and English are the two most prevalent languages I have heard, but what surprised me was that amount of English was spoken. I have since learned that in addition to personal desire as a motivating factor for nonnative English speakers to learn English, there is quite a necessity to use the language as a lingua franca, a common language, to communicate with native English speakers and nonnative English non-German speakers as well.
Considering personal desire and business necessity as key factors to keep up in the in-progress age of the connected world, the Berlin population shifts to a more English-speaking community, with English nearing equality with the amount of German spoken in the city. As such, businesses and certain neighborhoods as a whole post signs that are directed to the international and Millennial-generation communities, because they are aware of how prevalent English is in their community. The linguistic landscape of the city moves to English with the growth of the current generations. A founder of the startup I work with, Georg Wesowolski, in conversation about what he thought about Berlin as a city, noted “all the hipsters are speaking English now, it’s the thing to do.” I was intrigued by his comment that he thought learning a language was considered a “hipster thing,” keeping it in mind when I visited Mitte, a borough in the city with a large young urban professional crowd. In Mitte, this sign (left) caught my eye advertising for “coffee to go,” a “craft beer bar,” and importantly, “beautiful wifi.” A couple aspects of this sign reveal the linguistic landscape of Mitte and of Berlin. First, that the top item specifies that the coffee, written in beautiful italic font, is to-go, a fad that is only recently catching on with increasingly busy Millennials in Berlin as Europeans tend to appreciate their coffee sitting down and taking their time. Second, a craft beer bar, a movement that spawned in the United States nurtured by Germany and is clearly intended to catch the eyes of American businesspeople and German Millenials. And finally, the beautiful WiFi! I, a proud member of the late-Millenial generation, covet wireless fidelity and would order a double shot of wifi in my almond-milk latte if only it were served. This sign was meant for me! Leeman and Modan, in the Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape reading make a point however to “distinguish between locally-produced signs and those that just happen to be found on the premises” as the conflation of locally produced signs and signs that just happen to be on the premise written in English words when observing the linguistic landscape would be “the failure to limits our understanding of what different elements of the LL communicate.” (336). This sign however, is an example of the hipster millennial culture indicated to me by Wesowolski because of the presence of other American and French cafes not pictured in the neighborhood.

Following Wesowolski’s comment, I inferred from our conversation that he perceives German to be used as the colloquial, conversational, language between usually native German interlocutors while English is used as a language of business or as a bridge between the many different cultures

found in the compact continent of Europe. One of the events I went to with Wesowolski was the Berlin Lange Naucht Des Wissenschaften, or Long Night of Sciences, which was essentially a city wide science fair. At the Beuth University of Applied Sciences location of the event, I heard the most German spoken than I had the entire time I had been in the city cumulatively. It was thus clear to me that despite a largely academic, English-speaking crowd thatwas there, there was an emphasis on the attendance of families and German speakers at this event. Most of the presenters at the event defaulted to German unless I had asked for them to explain their project in English or for visitors to our booth to explain the pitch in English.

There is a clear bilingual culture here in Berlin with many residents, most of whom speak German fluently and have a basic understanding of English. And many of those already bilingual may come in with another language like Polish or Turkish.

Linguistic Landscape — Marlis Flinn

The country of Ireland has two official languages: Irish (or Gaelic) and English. Jennifer Leeman and Gabriella Modan’s article on the linguistic landscape claims that “material manifestations of language are implicated in the micro-level social, political, and economic process,” contributing to the physical make up of a city or area. In examining the commercial, official, and social aspects of written and spoken language in Dublin, a strong adherence to the spirit of fostering a national culture and community emerges. Through language, the city refuses to forget its history. The use of varying degrees of formality from government signage to casual or conversation language further reinforces the Irish stubbornness rooted in their national identity.

While walking the streets of Dublin, both in the city’s center and its outskirts, road signage is, of course, integral to the experience. Almost if not all official signs, presumably coming from the government, are in both Irish and English. To give a bit of back story, Ireland only recently reintroduced Gaelic in an official capacity. Under British rule, the use of Irish was made illegal in an attempt to quell the raging rebellion and lessen Ireland’s sense of a national identity. Now, the native language serves that exact purpose. The government has signs in both languages to reinforce this and ensure that the nation never forgets its history, before, during and after English occupation. The signs serve as an everyday reminder. English is equally present in Irish history and culture, and it is even more necessary and relevant for day-to-day living. While many Irish learn the historic language in school, it is rarely spoken in conversation, especially in Dublin. More so, any person visiting Ireland would need help navigating if all the signs were in Irish. Thus, it follows that road signs should also be in English. Below is an image on a street sign displaying the Gaelic name of the road with the English translation beneath.

Contrastingly, any signs used in an unofficial capacity or for commercial purposes universally use English. This shows the international span of English as well as, perhaps, the limitations of Gaelic. Since so few people use it in an informal capacity it makes little sense to dedicate an entire advertisement to the language. This also allows for increased business opportunity, especially in a city as reliant ontourism as Dublin, making the advertisement more accessible to the larger community which does not speak or read Irish. The following picture speaks to the mix of Irish and English signs in Dublin’s City Center, showing a road sign in English and Gaelic in front of a bus which models an English advertisement on its side and Gaelic writing noting its official position as a city bus towards the bottom.

To mention verbal public language a bit, by comparing British/Irish English to American English, one finds differences in the choice of wording to describe a situation. The below image shows a government sign found in a residential neighborhood which asks dog owners to pick up after their dog’s poop or risk a fine. Specifically, the sign says, “Bin the Poo” below Gaelic of the same meaning (presumably). In the US, our signs say things like “clean up after your dog.” The similarities between British and Irish English speaks to their shared history, such that even with thereinvigoration of the Irish language, the two cultures are unavoidably linked.

The general Irish person tends to speak very informally, no matter the context. In a business setting, the Irish are as likely to talk about their night out drinking as they would with close friends. This kind of casual language inspires a sense of community where anyone can feel included and encouraged to participate with so few boundaries or taboos.

While Dublin is a very international city—one commonly hears a multitude of languages while traversing the streets, particularly in the more tourist-centric areas—its commitment to promoting the use of the Irish language perpetuates the importance of a national identity, never forgetting its heritage.

Linguistic Landscape: Sally Kim

After spending three weeks in Dublin, I have realized that the city is more modernized than I thought it would be. Rafael, Cenoz, and Gorter “found that English was used to signify modernity or cosmopolitanism” (Rafael et al., 2006 and Cenoz and Gorter, 2006 in Scollon, Scollon, and Jones, 2012). Although the Irish Gaelic language is still frequently used everywhere, most store names and signs are in English or have English translations. I also had not realize that Dublin was such a popular tourist destination in which there are many different people and languages used. As I further analyze the symbolic functions of Dublin’s languages, economies, and the overall linguistic landscape, I see its efforts to attract visitors from around the world, to preserve history, and to make the city more vibrant.

In terms of language, Dublin’s main two languages are Gaelic and English. The authors of the book ‘Intercultural Communication’ suggest that “the ratio of languages is indicative of the relative power of various ethnolinguistic groups” (Scollon, Scollon, and Jones, 2012). I think that the ratio of English and Gaelic is even, suggesting that the Irish and English people are relatively equal in power. However, I have noticed that the Gaelic language is always above the English translation on signs. This holds true for different communities, such in Grafton (left picture), one of the most popular tourist shopping streets in Dublin City Centre, and in Santry (right picture), a suburban neighborhood. Thus, although Dublin shows a multilingual community, it still wants to make tourists and residents aware that Gaelic was the first official language of Ireland. 


As well, the English translation below the Gaelic seems like a direct word-for-word translation because we typically would not use the phrase “Set Down Only” in English to say that an area is a drop off only zone (see picture below). This suggests that the primary language of Ireland is Gaelic, and English is just an additional language to be able to communicate with foreigners.

Furthermore, by examining economies, I see what the book, ‘Intercultural Communication’, describes as commodification in the urban landscape. In Capel Street, the city uses symbols of Chinese culture to sell Asian commodities and to market Dublin using ethnic diversity (Modan, 2008 in Scollon, Scollon, and Jones, 2012). One of the Asian markets on Capel Street has Chinese letters in front of the store name, ‘Super Asia Foods’. These letters “[convey] distinction and a sense of authenticity” (Backhaus, 2007 in Scollon, Scollon, and Jones, 2012). I have also noticed more Asian people in this area because it attracts foreign visitors who have needs for familiarity in a unfamiliar city. This leads to ethnic diversity, which is an effective tool to market a city because it sends the message that all people are welcome.

Finally, with the overall linguistic landscape of Dublin, I have noticed that in Grafton Street, Santry, Capel Street, or any other area in Dublin, the speech that I hear on the street is different from the languages that are publicly written. Most everyone speaks in English, despite the Chinese, Gaelic, and other languages that are written on street signs. In addition, the book mentions that one of the criteria to categorize signs is the type of institution, such as public and private enterprises (Scollon, Scollon, and Jones, 2012). In Dublin, the signs posted by public and private enterprises are different. Public enterprises, such as museums and transportation, have multiple different languages available for translation purposes. For example, when I visited the National Museum of Ireland, it had guides printed in multiple languages. Whereas, private enterprises tend to have one main language, such as English in Primark, an Irish clothing and accessories company. 




Linguistic Landscape Cameron Hall

Before I came to Berlin many people described the city as a place where “no one even speaks German anymore. They all speak English.” While this has proven a gross exaggeration and German is still the most frequently used language both in speech and writing, there is a grain of truth to this assertion. Both spoken and written English are often used, and while in some areas of the city the primary purpose of this is to make them more accessible to tourists, in others it is to facilitate communication between people of different linguistic backgrounds, one or both of which is not German.

Like other major European cities, Berlin is a major tourist destination, and it therefore makes sense to have a certain amount of information available in English. For example, this sign for the Berlin Zoo is written in both German and English, because those who operate it wish to market it to both locals and tourists. The same is true for other tourist-heavy parts of the city, such as the area around the Brandenburg Gate. English is also heavily spoken in these areas, as restaurant owners and street vendors attempt to coax tourists into buying their products.

However, English is also commonly seen and heard in parts of the city far from the tourist centers. For example, I observed this sign at the U-Bahn (metro) station that I use to get to work, which is well south of the city center and its many attractions. The reason for this dates back to the period following World War II when Germany recruited Gastarbeiter (“guest workers”) to fill their labor shortage. These workers came primarily from Turkey, but a large number from Southern Europe came as well. However, much to the dismay of many Germans, these “guest workers” decided to stay permanently and make new lives in Germany.  

Over time the immigrant community in Berlin has only grown larger and more diverse. However, with more and more immigrants from all around the world the issue of finding a common language becomes more difficult. Many more people learn English as a second language than German, and for this reason it is often more expedient to communicate in English, hence why signs can be found in both English and German in any part of the city. Thus, like the situation Leeman and Modan discuss, the the primary audience of these signs is not native English speakers, although in this case those reading them do understand English.

This diverse immigrant community means that one hears a variety of languages on the street. Just in one trip to the grocery store or the gym I will often here German, English, Turkish, Spanish, Italian, and Russian. However, this linguistic diversity often does not extend to written language, apart from in very small pockets of the city. It would be too difficult to label signs in every one of the many languages commonly heard in Berlin, so the authorities settled on English, the most likely language to be known by a given person besides German. This frequent use of English also creates a strange phenomenon wherein one will here two non-native English speakers speaking in English because that is the one language they have in common.

Interestingly, my experiences on the streets and in private businesses have contrasted greatly with my experiences dealing with government entities. Since I am participating in two study abroad programs, I have had to go through the process of applying for residency, and in my experience everything pertaining to this process has been conducted in German. Forms and signs in pertinent buildings, such as the one below, are in German only. Appointments also take place in German only. I found this paradoxical, especially in the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigners’ Office), whose purpose is dealing with foreigners, most of whom don’t speak German. My interpretation of this phenomenon is that the city government is worried people can get by without ever learning German, and wants to force them to learn so that English does not supplant German. This contrasts with the situation in the Leeman and Modan article, because the growth of English signage seems to have occurred despite the city government rather than because of it.

While English is used to make the city more convenient for tourists, its primary function is actually to facilitate communication between full-time residents of a diverse linguistic background. When I was told of the prevalence of English in Berlin, I expected people were referring to the baseline level of tourist English that can be found in most Western European cities. However, I have since realized that that is not the case. With people coming to Berlin from all over the world, English has become Berlin’s lingua franca.


Welcome to the Ling 343 Site

We look forward to seeing you share your internship experiences with us and with one another. This site is for all three sections of the Ling 343 class, and includes everyone from all nine internship locations. -ST