Linguistic Landscape of Dublin

Aashna Goel

LING 343

Ireland has historically been a country of emigration, rather than immigration, with patterns of population outflows both in colonial and postcolonial times to Britain, North America, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. For, although immigration to Ireland came later than to neighbouring European countries, Ireland in general and Dublin in particular have historically been sites of considerable population diversity. Its geographical position as a coastal city has meant inevitable population flows since at least the eleventh century. And, whilst the industrial revolution did not have an impact on Dublin in the same way as other European cities, Dublin’s status as a university city and as a centre for public administration has led to a more heterogeneous population profile than elsewhere in Ireland. The Irish language, for instance, is spoken along the west coast and in other areas of Ireland, and most rural areas of Ireland are now affected by mobility and migration. Yet Dublin is a concentration of many different languages that both drives and is driven by social and cultural change. In accordance with the Irish constitution, Irish-English bilingualism is visible on city signage; English is the dominant language of city life and, at the same time, the global lingua franca that claims speakers from a range of backgrounds; and inward migration has led to the dramatic linguistic and cultural diversification of the city as a whole.


During my first weekend in Dublin, I decided to visit temple bar street and bars in order to get the complete tourist experience. Furthermore, when I visited the local pubs after, I was able to draw various contrasts between the linguistic landscape of both the places. In temple bar, English was the commonly spoken language, with menus, conversations and announcements in this language. The songs that were played were also dominantly English and the categories of alcohol served were mainstream brands that I recognised. However, in the local pubs, there was a heavy influx of Irish language and culture. It was filled up with locals who were catching up on drinks after work with Irish live music and the local stepdance being a consistent factor in all. This showed me how music helps them preserve this culture and pass it down across the generations. The alcohol in these pubs were smaller, locally produced brands that were comparably cheaper in prices. Thus, one can see how “the symbolic functions of language help to shape geographical spaces into social spaces.” (Leeman and Modan, 336)

Dublin is very well connected through it’s public transport networks. Dublin’s light rail transit system, the Luas, displays and announces all stops bilingually in English and Irish. Dublin Bus serves the city and greater metropolitan area; destinations are usually displayed bilingually (English/Irish) on the front of the bus. As a service, however, Dublin Bus functions in English and its website is available in English only. When I arrived at Dublin airport, I easily got the impression that I have arrived in a bilingual country. However, outside of the public and educational spheres, Irish is not as audible as public signage suggests. The Irish language has a protected status in the public sphere due to its constitutional recognition as “first official language” of the Republic of Ireland. This legislation explains the visual prominence of the Irish language in Dublin in the civic sphere. The language spoken in Dublin is English. Street signs and official buildings are signposted in both English and Gaelic, the indigenous Irish language. Despite this, I have not heard much Gaelic spoken on my travels across town. I have, however, come across a lot of cursing in casual conversations.

There are examples of pragmatic multilingualism outside of the Irish/English paradigm. Road rules are available in Irish, English, Russian, Polish and Mandarin Chinese. Migrant languages are very visible in the shop-fronts of Dublin’s cityscape, and are arguably the languages most encountered in the city’s streets by citizens and visitors alike.


The city of Dublin has a long history of societal multilingualism. Our brief exploration of multilingualism points to some of the power relations and tensions in a city which is impacted by an official bilingual language policy, recent migration, international tourism, industry and a globalised economy. Perhaps conceiving of Dublin as an ethnoscape, with all the complexities and changes inherent in human and urban life, is an interesting way of understanding multilingual lives in the city.

Linguistic Landscape of Berlin

Sam Miller

Professor Bledsoe

Linguistics 343 Essay 3



Berlin is a melting a pot of cultures and languages. As a German city, the German language is predictably inescapable. Beyond that, however, one can find many other popular languages that one might expect to see or hear in a city of this size, including English, French, Russian, and so on. Berlin is a political and cultural capital of the world, and its linguistic landscape reflects that idea.

The history of Berlin is crucial in understanding its current linguistic climate. This city was not only literally divided for much of the Cold War but was ideologically divided as well. While the Soviet Union controlled East Berlin, the Americans, the French, and the British each claimed their own sectors in West Berlin. This divide occurred immediately after World War 2 and lasted up until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Therefore, the reunification of Germany is a relatively recent event, and the city is still obviously feeling the effects of over 40 years of enforced division. Many of these effects are clearly visible today, from the architecture to the culture, to the language, and so on. For instance, one is much more likely to see languages like Russian and Georgian, which were countries that comprised the former Soviet Union, in East Berlin than they would in West Berlin. Lastly, because West Berlin was divided into three sectors among the Allies, you can also find a surprising amount of French here. The geographical division of Berlin has clearly played an important role in the development of all the different languages that flourish here today. The most famous example of this is probably the sign that said, “You are now leaving the American sector,” in English, French, German, and Russian.

Aside from German, the most common language in Berlin is certainly English. Everyone here speaks German first and foremost, but if that is not an option, they will likely switch to English. When I approach someone, I typically say “Sprechen Sie English?” to formally ask if they are able to speak English, and very rarely do they answer “Nein.” English is a global language and is certainly more widely taught around the world than German, so most people I meet here can converse with me, even if they only speak a little. Many signs in Berlin reflect this fluidity of language by displaying both English and German. For instance, the sign below puts its service, arguably the most important part of a business sign, in English but its tagline (which translates to “life is not always perfect, but your hands and feet can be”) is in German. This is likely because they know that any German who sees that sign can likely understand both parts, and anyone who does not speak German can still recognize what type of business they are.

Another critical component in understanding the linguistic landscape of Berlin is the role that graffiti plays in its culture and history. Graffiti conforms to the traditional definition in that it is the “linguistic outward appearance of a place,” but it always conforms to Leeman and Modan’s model in that it can have a lot of subjective and ambiguous qualities (Leeman and Modan, 333). The entire city, especially East Berlin, is covered in graffiti and street art that gives it a very grimy and urban feel. Many of this graffiti is political, some of it is just silly, but all of it contributes to making Berlin a unique city. The language of the graffiti is typically in Russian, German, or English. The best example of this is at the East Side Gallery — the longest section of the Berlin Wall that still stands – where the murals, street art, and graffiti are popular tourist attractions. In the following two examples, the first picture is of a mural (slightly cut off) that translates to “It is necessary to break down many walls,” and is covered in a slew of other politically tinged graffiti in various languages, while the second picture famously says “Help me stay alive among this mortal love!” The use of language in German graffiti, I would argue, is honest in that it is not commodified in the way Leeman and Modan discuss. Rather, these two examples show the integral role that graffiti plays in encapsulating the history of Berlin and developing its contemporary culture, as well as showing how these ideas manifest themselves linguistically.

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. 332–362.,

“You Are Leaving The American Sector.” World of Signs,

Tírdhreach Teanga Éireann: The Linguistic Landscape of Ireland

Historical events have played a role in developing Ireland’s linguistic landscape. The modern-day city of Dublin started as a Celtic settlement called Áth Cliath, and many peoples have since called the region home. Drawn by water access, the Vikings established Dubh Linn as a trading center along the River Liffey.1 Subsequent ruling by other groups, including the Normans and the English, further shaped the city’s development.1,2 Dublin became a focal point of political power, and as the center of English administration was at the heart of Ireland’s struggle for independence.2 Stability in the Republic and economic boon in the city fostered Dublin’s transition to the world-renowned city it is today.2 Ireland is multilingual, with English as its primary language, and traditional Irish, Gaelige, recognized as an official language. The preservation of the Irish language began as a nationalist movement in the 19th century and today differentiates Ireland from other English-speaking cultures, helping to secure its independent role in Europe.3 The inclusion of Irish language on signs throughout the country is not a result of commodification but a means of preserving culture beyond simply symbolic or tourist-based conventions.

Figure 1. Video on Dublin Bus 4 showing announcement for the Broadstone stop on Phibsboro Road

English and Irish are both observed when traveling through Ireland, with both languages used on street signs, trash bins, parks and bus stops. When I journey into the city, the bus announces each stop in both English and Irish. In cultural geography, landscapes are characterized as “representations of spaces that privilege particular subject positions and points of view.”4 Considering this, the Irish landscape is one that privileges both English and Irish equally. Most signs display an Irish message with an English translation underneath. The same content is conveyed in both languages on a single sign and Irish never has a purely symbolic function.

These signs are all public signs, showing that use of Irish within the landscape is often an “artifact of state-driven processes.”4 Within Dublin, privately-owned shops tend to only use English and Gaelige is rarely used conversationally, although this does not hold true for the rest of Ireland.

Figure 5. Street sign for the road where my housing is located

Throughout Dublin, signs are located on walls along streets with the exception of City Centre which has signs more similar to the fingerposts used in the UK. The City Centre signs are the closest in the landscape to a commodification of the Irish language. These signs direct tourists to city sights in both English and Irish, ensuring that visitors get a taste of Irish culture.

Figure 6. Street sign in Dublin City Centre showing direction of common landmarks

However, considering that street signs throughout the country also contain both languages, the use of Irish in City Centre cannot be tied solely to commercialization. Other elements of language in City Centre contribute more to the commodification of Irish culture, such as pubs in Temple Bar that promote traditional Irish music, or the encouragement of Guinness Storehouse visitors to join in the traditional cheer, sláinte, while learning how to correctly taste Guinness.


In other areas of Ireland, the Irish language is preserved beyond city signs and tourism. In West Ireland, around 50% of the population can speak Gaelige compared to 30% in Dublin.5 When visiting Galway, I toured Inisheer Island with a native speaker as my guide. He knew limited English in order to make a living and discussed the importance of Irish to the identity of local communities. When he wasn’t sharing facts about the island, he was singing traditional Irish songs, an experience far more authentic than the tourist-oriented pubs in Dublin.

Considering the linguistic landscape of Ireland, the use of Gaelige has helped preserve Irish culture even without the language being commonly spoken. W.B. Yeats famously said that his language was Irish, while acknowledging that he could not speak the language.3 This sentiment of identity with the language and what it stands for is shared by many throughout Ireland. Unlike the branding in Washington DC’s Chinatown that “resulted in a commodification of ethnicity as well as the delinking of Chinese writing from Chinese people, culture or history,”4 the use of Gaelige has strengthened Irish culture and identity throughout Ireland and will hopefully continue to do so for years to come.

  1. “Dublin: A Short History.” The National Archives of Ireland, Census of Ireland,
  2. “A Brief History of Dublin, Ireland.” Dublin.Info, 2013,
  3. Tymoczko, Maria, and Colin Ireland. “Language and Identity in Twentieth-Century Ireland.” Éire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies, vol. 38, no. 1-2, pp. 4–22., doi:10.1353/eir.2003.0012
  4. Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, May 2009, pp. 332–362., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2009.00409.x
  5. “Irish Language and the Gaeltacht .” An Phríomh-Oifig Staidrimh, Central Statistics Office, 11 July 2018,

Linguistic Landscape of Dublin



Craig McHugh

Prof Bledsoe


28th June 2019


The linguistic landscape of Dublin is fascinating, especially to a history major like myself. Although everyone I have encountered here has spoken English, all government-planned signs and services are in Irish as well as English. An example of a state service which is referred to entirely by its Irish name is the Garda, or Police. The pictures I have taken from the neighbourhood Santry where I am living helps illustrate these points.

The first image shows a sign for a ramp on the road, or rampai. As I have said, not a single person I have met here speaks only Irish, which would suggest that rather than provide access for the speakers of this minority language, the government is actually trying to promote its usage. These are the two reasons Leeman and Modan give for the existence of such bi-lingual signs (358), but I believe that this is rather simplistic. As well as promote Irish, I believe these signs also serve to protect the nation’s ancient culture, and are undoubtedly connected to the country’s colonial history with the British. Such bi-lingual government initiatives have caught on in Wales and even Scotland for the same reason (using Welsh and Gaelic respectively on signs in these countries as well as English to protect their pre-colonial history). This is a clear example of “historical forces shaping the environment” (Leeman and Modan, 336).

The Garda, or Police, are an example of a state service which only uses their Irish name. In my internship I am dealing with historical newspaper articles regarding police corruption in Ireland, and in these articles the force here are always referred to as the Garda.Despite the overall population speaking English, they almost all refer to the police by their Irish name too. There could well be a historical reasoning behind such usage of the term Garda which I would presume goes even further back than British colonialism. However, despite this fact, the decision to keep the Irish name alive has in a way led to a promotion of the ancient language, and this is clear in English speakers’ usage of the term. Attached are images from the outside of the Garda station in Santry (which in hindsight I must looked rather suspicious obtaining).

Despite the Irish language being plastered all over the old city, it is undeniable that the English language rules the roost in Dublin. Even with the existence of a longstanding historical tension between the Irish and the British, English has still prevailed here. The usage of English is by far the most obvious indication of Ireland’s colonial past. Even the most infamous anti-British terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army (or IRA), uses the language of their “oppressors” in their name (which is admittedly ironic, to say the least). Due to the controversial nature of the IRA, however, I decided to go in a safer direction when it came to obtaining images that displayed the widespread usage of English in Dublin. Of the pictures I did obtain, one of the pictures shows that there is no Irish equivalent of the term taxi, and another displays the fact that the overwhelming majority of private businesses here in Dublin use English. There is a clear distinction between state-usage of language in the city and private usage of language. This supports the claim of both Leeman and Modan that “the elements of LL (linguistic landscape)… (are) artefacts of state driven processes” but are also ~produced by individuals or private establishments” (334).

This doesn’t mean that all businesses use English in Dublin though. In fact, many businesses employ the usage of Irish to enhance their profitability. This is mostly the case with tourist-linked businesses, such as the Guinness Storehouse, which offers a tour of one of the factories in the city centre which has a built-in museum. Before consuming each (free) pint of Guinness here, you are expected to yell Slainte, which is Irish for “cheers”. This is obviously to enchant visiting tourists, whilst giving them more than just a taste for the stout but a taste of the culture in general. As the authors from this week’s readings state, “Consumption becomes culture, and culture becomes consumption” (Leeman and Modan, 337). In many tourist-trap businesses, the Irish language is being commodified in order to enchant its customers, who presumably come from all over the world and are maybe seeing the Irish language for the first time. Ireland is already attached in many people’s minds to ancient mystique, and commodifying the language cleverly taps into this stereotype.

To conclude, Dublin is a city in which an overwhelming majority of the population speak English as their first and even their only, language. However, the Irish language refuses to go away, and can be seen all over the city, be it on the ever-present vehicles of the Garda or in the tourist hot-spots in the centre of town.       These two languages are the most prominent in Dublin’s linguistic landscape, but this is not to say that the city is not multi-cultural: it is. In reality, many different nationalities coincide in this now-global city.     9

Linguistic Landscape of San Francisco – Honggang Min

Before coming to San Francisco, I was not expecting anything more distinctive from any other cities in the United States that I have been to. However, after three weeks of immersion and observations, I think San Francisco indeed enjoys incomparable diversity in both culture and languages. Just a few blocks of walking distance uphill from the financial district lies one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world. Starting from there, if someone proceeds westbound for another twenty minutes or so, he or she can expect an iconic Japantown surrounded by a large African American community. On the other hand, Tagalog as a Filipino official language now ranks as the third top spoke non-English language after Chinese and Spanish, and as one walks down the bustling Mission Street, many different languages other than the aforementioned ones can be heard. Indeed, English is the dominant language here and there are heavy commodification of non-English languages throughout San Francisco, but this city’s linguistic landscape also pays respects to other non-English languages throughout many details around one’s daily life.

Even though San Francisco enjoys a diverse culture marked by its ethnic composition and multiple languages, it lies under the context of an American city within the United States, a country whose official language is English. Therefore, the majority of the signs such as the time-specific no-parking signs are written only in English and the same applies to Chinatown and Japantown without exception. On the BART transit system spanning across the entire bay area, there seldom are cases when station names are displayed and broadcasted in languages other than English. The only case when I can observe where languages other than English show up is the safety information board in the metro station.

For the example of the Chinatown in Washington DC, Leeman and Modan argue that ‘the use of Chinese in the current landscape promotes an exotified landscape that appeals to an outsider’s perspective’ (Leeman and Modan, 358). The same thing happens to the Chinatown and Japantown here in San Francisco. They each have translated road names in their premises. Moreover, one popular Vietnamese restaurant with located just on the outermost street of Chinatown uses English to appeal American customers from the affluent Financial District nearby, and one conspicuous guide sign within a shopping mall in Japantown employs Japanese translations to create a feeling of real-world Japan experience. Unfortunately, the corresponding Japanese translation is totally wrong in terms of what it is trying to convey.

A Vietnamese restaurant with both Chinese and English representations

A guide sign in Japantown, with wrong Japanese letters

Nevertheless, signs of inclusiveness based on respect for the non-English speakers can also be observed. When I head towards the metro station for work every day, I always walk pass by a government’s human services agency. This agency has its name, operating hours and rules written on the outside in English, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Tagalog. Every morning, people of different races and various backgrounds can be seen lining up at the front door waiting to get things done. While I was using the MUNI transit system within San Francisco for the past three weeks, I can see that there are always signs showing crucial information regarding commuting within the city in the top three languages spoken for every bus stop or metro station.

Government agency with multiple languages’ translation

Important info with English, Spanish and Chinese

Last but not the least, official agencies and signs are only provided in English with their considerations of English as the official language in an American city. On the other hand,  businesses of specialty cuisines or cultural products in Japantown or Chinatown or elsewhere commercialize their respective languages for businesses purposes, aligning with Leeman and Modan’s descriptions of the scenarios in Chinatown in Washington DC. However, through examples of certain government agencies and minor details around people’s life here, we can also see examples where languages other than English such as Spanish and Chinese do not lose its fundamental value of representations of intercultural communication.


Works Cited:

“Tagalog Certified As Third Language To Be Used In SF City Services Communications.” CBS San Francisco, ]2 Apr. 2014,

Leeman, J & Modan, G. (2009), Commodified language in Chinatown: a contextualized approach to a linguistic landscape. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 13(3), 358.

Linguistic Landscape in Dublin Ireland- Laurie Ray

While Irish has big visual precedence in Dublin, you won’t hear it spoken aloud very often– except by the bus stop announcement. If you ride DublinBus or the LUAS (an above ground light rapid rail system), the stops are announced in both English and Irish. You won’t see any other languages on signs besides English and Irish generally unless you are walking into a locally owned Polish grocery store or a Chinese restaurant. But even then, the Chinese writing on the signage is accompanied with an English sign. Above the Chinese restaurant, the street sign is in Irish and English.

You will hear a multitude of different languages if you just sit and listen while waiting for a bus stop you can hear hordes of tourists talking to each other in their native tongues: Spanish, Italian, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean. Dublin aside from being a tourist destination also has a large immigrant community. Still 99.5% of the time, the signage is in English and Irish.

From what I’ve gathered talking with my Irish colleagues, Irish is taught as a language in elementary schools the same way Spanish or French is taught in the US, it is required as an enrichment class.  There are also some Irish Medium Instruction schools outside of Dublin where classes are taught in Irish and while these are much less common, they are still present.  You’re more likely to hear conversational Irish out in the countryside, but I haven’t heard any myself yet– probably due to the fact that I am unable to hide from my accent and way of carrying myself that I am American and that has impacts on how people interact near me and with me. Needless to say, Irish is everywhere on signage in Dublin but discernably nowhere audibly, save for pre-recorded announcements on public transportation.

Irish is hardly seen on business signage unless you’re traveling west out of Dublin, then you’ll see pubs with Irish names and font stylings. In Dublin, you would be scarce to find a business writing their names or menus in Irish. Government buildings or public institutions almost always have Irish and English signage, sometimes English first and then Irish but I have also seen Irish and then English. Formal things such as graves or names of public institutions tend to show up as more predominantly Irish and without English the more rural and historical you get. But in Dublin: Irish and English aren’t seen without each other.

Street signs that have dates and times tend to have Irish first and then English. (Below, pictured a taxi stand sign: Luan – Domh. Mon- Sun)

There is a larger socio-political implication about the clear intentionality of including signage in Irish, in a place where nobody seems to speak it. For Irish Nationalists, having Irish everywhere is a virtue signal to their love of their culture and country and as a way to clearly distinguish that “we are Irish, not British”. Up until about 1800 Irish was the language that the majority of people spoke but in 1900 the British Government prohibited any use or utterance of Irish in schools. Irish being phased out from the audible landscape was a pretty much entirely direct result of British Colonialism that remains true to this day in Dublin. The historical context and political context of Ireland strongly have shaped their linguistic landscape, while the Irish language is still valued as an aspect of Irish culture, the damage done by British Colonialism has pretty much permanently taken it out of the audible landscape. The reclamation of Irish-ness and Irish culture and nationalism can be seen in the very clear and deliberate choice by the Irish government to include Irish in their signage, not entirely for practical reasons but for symbolic reasons.

The Complicated Linguistic Landscapes of New York City- Maria Ferrando

There are many linguistic landscapes which exist in New York City. While some are amazing tourist destinations, like Chinatown or Little Italy, most linguistic landscapes in New York are created solely for the ethnic population which resides within them. Although the commercial commodification of language is very prevalent in New York City, I believe that many of the linguistic landscapes within New York represent the needs of the people occupying the area rather than the corporations which might want to exploit it.

For my project on linguistic landscapes, I traveled through various areas in order to collect data about the different uses of language present in the signage and symbology of New York City. To create a thorough comparison of the use of language, I walked through the typical tourist destinations of Little Italy and Chinatown, but I also explored an area of Long Island called “Hempstead” which, unbeknownst to me, was a mecca for Hispanic culture.

While I explored the areas of Little Italy and Chinatown, I was very cognizant to remember the article by Leeman and Modan in order to see if I could better understand the usage of language in these areas. I expected the areas to be similar to the Chinatown in Washington, D.C. because, as the authors suggested, “consumption becomes culture, and culture becomes consumption” (Leeman and Modan, 2009, 338). In other words, because of the massive tourist appeal of these areas, I

believed that the areas would use the culture and language of China and Italy only for the purpose of profit and business. While there were instances of this commercial commodification, as represented by a nearby Citibank using Chinese lettering in its marquee, or by the French pastry shop which was clearly not serving any french customers (figure 1), I was surprised by the overwhelming diversity of the people who were present in the area. Because the areas of Chinatown and Little Italy are extremely close in proximity (and oftentimes overlap), I found people of all ethnic backgrounds and heard a variety of languages being used there.

I was surprised to find that despite the tourist appeal, the majority of the buildings seemed to cater specifically to Chinese (figure 2 and 3) or Italian clientele. This is a massive difference from the conditions of the Chinatown described in D.C., as the history and culture of the area which fostered the amazing diversity remained essential to the city and was not solely an artifact.

Figure 2: Chinatown Headstart. The use of Chinese lettering on the ground indicates that the use of language here is for an essential purpose. The lettering displays important information, not just the name of the location.
Figure 1: French restaurant. The usage of language here seemed superficial as no French was used other than in the sign. The bi-lingual sign served the purpose of creating an atmosphere of elegance and probably was not used in order to attract French customers.


That being said, although the linguistic landscapes of Little Italy and Chinatown were authentic insofar as the languages and symbols being used were important to the functioning of the city (and was not simply a marketing tool), the areas themselves are still advertised as tourist destinations rather than as historical areas. While exploring Hempstead, New York, I discovered a completely different kind of linguistic landscape. Hempstead was unique because the linguistic landscape there did not have a marketing strategy or beautiful arcs along the streets. Rather, this linguistic landscape existed solely for the people living there and did not attempt to cater to travelers who might happen to pass through.

Given that the population of Hempstead, NY is 46.6% Hispanic, and only 5.12% White (DataUSA), there is an obvious need for Spanish owned businesses and bi-lingual signage. Unlike the Chinatown in Washington D.C. or the areas of Chinatown and Little Italy in New York, Hempstead was not decorated to resemble a Hispanic town. The usage of language in Hempstead was vastly different because there was no aesthetic purpose for the use- it was only used for the practical purpose of people being able to understand something in their native language.

Within the article by Leeman and Modan, the following quote by Mitchell is used “Landscape is both a place and a ‘way of seeing’” (338). I believe this quote is particularly powerful because it articulates how a linguistic landscape does not exist in a solely physical manner. The linguistic landscape can have varying purposes, and these purposes might change from individual to individual. While exploring the area of Chinatown and Little Italy, I felt ordinary. I was simply another tourist exploring and taking pictures. However, while I was in Hempstead I felt like a stranger. I had walked into a linguistic landscape which served a very different purpose than the areas I had ventured into before. This area was not just a place or a way of seeing, it was a way of living.

Figure 3: 218 Restaurant Menu. This restaurant had an entirely chinese staff, and the entire menu was in chinese (with english translations). This was beneficial to the experience of the restaurant. Despite the usage of Chinese, most of the clients eating there were tourists.
Figure 4: Church in Hempstead. The signage here is predominantly in Spanish with English as the secondary title- indicating that the Spanish title is more vital to the population than the English. The building itself aims for predominantly Spanish-speaking church-goers and fulfills the needs of the residents of the town.


















“Hempstead, NY.” Data USA, 2017,


Leeman, J & Modan, G. (2009), Commodified language in Chinatown: a contextualized

approach to a linguistic landscape. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 13(3), 332-362.

Linguistic Language New York – Candace Suh

New York is the “melting pot” of America encompassed into a single city, with 33% of residents being white, 26% Hispanic, 26% black, and 13% Asian according to the 2010 census. (The Furman Center, 2011) Boasting a dynamic and diverse population across all five boroughs, it is no wonder that New York is home to the United Nations Headquarters, located in Manhattan next to the East River. New York is famous for many of its iconic monuments, museums, memorials, and other sights, such as the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Modern Art, the 9/11 Memorial, and the Empire State Building to name just a few. The many cultures that mix together in New York create the bustling melting pot iconic to the “city that never sleeps” to create a uniquely “New York” experience. 

New York has one of the world’s largest public transportation systems, with 27 subway lines and over 700 subway and bus stations. (Great American Country) This grid connects the five boroughs and allows one to easily travel from one cultural community to another, and makes it much easier to travel around by foot. During my first week here, I took full advantage of the ease with which one could travel back and forth and took the time to fully explore the Manhattan area as much as I could. While wandering around, the first thing that struck me was just how many restaurants, delis, and markets lined the streets. In particular, I found it interesting just how many Chinese and Japanese shops were mixed in with the numerous Halal food trucks and pizza shops, displaying signs advertising lunch deals for ramen and sushi. Not just Asian restaurants, but the restaurants and bars in general were very culturally diverse, which I chose to look at further in order to study the linguistic landscape. 

Looking at the linguistic language of New York, it was interesting to observe how economic factors appear to affect the languages used on menus. Leeman and Modan state that, “Material manifestations of language are implicated in the micro-level social, political, and economic processes that have led to the current landscape of Washington DC’s newly gentrified Chinatown.” (Leeman and Modan, 2009)

casual Korean restaurant menu

I walked past this Korean bar and restaurant while walking around, and was surprised because most of the Korean stores and restaurants in New York I had seen in my past visits to New York remained concentrated around the Koreatown located on W 32nd Street. Unlike the other Korean restaurants I had seen, this restaurant had everything written in English, not even romanized Korean words, with the most “Korean” item listed being the Hite beer (a Korean brand). One thing this restaurant did have in common with other Asian restaurants (namely Chinese and Korean) was the presence of pictures to provide further description for the items on the menu — items that may otherwise be difficult for non-Korean patrons to visualize based off the English descriptions and names alone. This Korean restaurant’s location in a neighborhood otherwise void of Asian shops may be the major factor in why everything was in English save for the restaurant’s name (밥 / BAP), which translates to “rice”. While the advertised $75 Beef Platter and $55 Pork Platter seem pricey, it’s actually on the cheaper side for Korean barbecue that I’ve seen in New York, and the Happy Hour suggests the very casual and drinking atmosphere of the restaurant/bar.

Greek restaurant menu

In contrast to the Korean restaurant, this Greek restaurant’s menu lists the names of all their items in Greek with descriptions in English. This restaurant is also one of a more formal atmosphere, and the use of Greek on the menu brings an air of authenticity. Aside from the two example pictured, I also observed the difference between two Chinese restaurants as well. The cheaper, take-out and delivery oriented Chinese restaurants had large signs with “CHINESE RESTAURANT” written in English outside their establishments with large pictures providing descriptions of menu items above the counter, whereas larger family-oriented restaurants like ‘Auntie Guan’s Kitchen’ had both English and Chinese using red lights or banners to incorporate well-known cultural elements. Much like how the more casual Korean restaurant BAP used English, in the case of these eateries it appears to be that use of English signifies a more casual vibe, whereas use of other languages like Greek or Chinese serve to add an air of authenticity to create a more “sophisticated” atmosphere and experience to the visitor. Comparing the use of language on these two menus posted outside of the two different restaurants, it is possible to observe the symbolic function of language to define the social and economic atmosphere of a location.  

‘Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Language’, Leeman and Modan

Linguistic Landscape of San Francisco by Bill Wang


My internship this summer is located in San Francisco, California. As San Francisco is part of the United States, the official language spoken here is English. When I first arrived in the city, everything I saw is exclusively in English—from the instructions inside the airport to the signs of Peet’s Coffee.

However, as I have spent more days in the city, I gradually find out that Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese) and Spanish also plays significant roles in the linguistic landscape of San Francisco. The traffic sign “drive slow, give seniors a brake” is translated to both Chinese and Spanish on the street.

According to the research by United States Census Bureau in 2012, San Francisco’s population of 805,235 consists of 35.8 percent Asian Americans, with the largest subgroup being Chinese descent at 21.4 percent. The City’s white population is 48.5 percent and Latinos are at 15.1 percent(Fagan, 2012).

As an international student coming from China, I pay close attention to the appearance of Chinese signages around both my living neighborhood and my working place. After spending weekends exploring the city, I found out that there is a large Chinatown located next to the financial district of San Francisco, with an total area of approximately twenty square blocks. Most of the Chinese restaurants, souvenir shops, and community schools concentrate inside the Chinatown. Furthermore, it is not rare to spot individual Chinese signages far away from Chinatown. As Leeman and Modan state, “linguistic landscapes, like other landscapes, are subjective representations rather than objective physical environment.” The large use of Chinese in the area proves the prevailing usage of Chinese as a cultural symbol and the additional commercial value behind that. It becomes more and more common to see groups of “foreigners” visiting Chinatown, which is treated as one of the most popular sightseeing places in San Francisco.


My boss, who was an one-year exchange student at a Chinese University and can speak pretty fluent Chinese, told me that even though he has just been in San Francisco for a few years, he witnesses the steady growth of Chinese signage and Chinese element as part of the linguistic landscape of San Francisco. He says that more and more Chinese businesses, alone with those ones that are non-Chinese but would like to add Chinese elements, pop up in the city as a result of the “commodity of ethnicity”(Leeman and Modan, 2009). My boss himself would sometimes be attracted by the Chinese banners or signs and walk into some Chinese restaurants to experience some “culture-based” food.

From what I have seen in the city of San Francisco and what I heard from my boss, I believe that the Chinese will contribute more to the linguistic landscape of San Francisco in the future. The linguistic landscape of San Francisco will be a mix of multiple languages lead by English and Chinese.



Works Cited:


Fagan, Kevin. “Asian Population Swells In Bay Area, State, Nation”. Sfgate, 2012,


Leeman, J., & Modan, G. (2009). Commodified language in Chinatown: A contextualized approach to linguistic landscape1. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 13(3), 332-362.


Linguistic Landscape in San Francisco By Gabriela Lai

Upon arriving in San Francisco, what first struck me was the diversity. Diversity in ethnicity, languages, wealth, and interests. Everywhere you look there are words, and whether these words are understood or not they have a purpose. While there is a strong variety of languages throughout San Francisco, the linguistic landscapes in English, French, and Chinese throughout San Francisco will be focused on. Signs dispersed across this city are not simply physical structures, but have a plethora of purposes including communication, aesthetic, and marketing value.

First, English is the primary language of San Francisco understood by most of its population. For this reason, it is used in all public city signs (street/safety signs, city buildings, and vehicles signs). The consistent use of only English on these signs perpetuates the high status of the English language in San Francisco despite the fact that 45% of people in California speak a a foreign language ( The majority of businesses and restaurants utilize English in their signs and menus because it is easiest for communication. However English is also used because it is perceived as modern and trendy, especially when it is concise. For example, an ad reads “Free. Drive with Uber.” It is concise and portrays a modern and trendy image of a futuristic car. The use of English markets the idea that Uber is a modern experience, something that many people in San Francisco find attractive. However, English is not the only language that is used throughout this diverse city.

Despite San Francisco’s high French population, there are almost no French signs for communication value. However, there are many French signs on restaurant signs, menus, and sidewalk signs to attract customers to an authentic French feel. They are almost exclusively used for their marketing value. However, in Exhibit 1, English is used in window signs to really communicate to customers while French is utilized as a marketing tool. This restaurant makes sure to include commonly known French words in their signs like “brasserie” and “café” (Exhibit 2) so Americans will be drawn to this experience, increasing profits. Like the use of Chinese described by Leeman and Modan, French signs “focus solely on the aesthetic value of written language without engaging it as a vehicle of communication.” (Leeman and Modan, 357)

Lastly, the linguistic landscape of SF’s Chinatown attempts to market the Chinese culture to residents and tourists outside of the Chinese culture. However, unlike the French linguistic landscape, some of the Chinese truly provides communicational value to the city’s high asian population. The marketing value of Chinese is evident in the Chinatown arc that mimics asian architecture and displays Chinese characters (Exhibit 3). Few people actually read these characters, revealings its low communicational and high aesthetic value. Leeman and Modan explain it well: “Chineseness works as spectacle, on display largely for the benefit of outgroup individuals… Chinese writing has become less a means of communication… and more a symbolic design element.” (Leeman and Modan, 359) This adds to Chinatown’s economic value, clear that it attract picture taking tourists. Further into Chinatown, restaurant signs in red and gold display both the English and Chinese name of the business (Exhibit 4). Similar to French signs, the Chinese characters have marketing value while the English words beside them provide communicational value. However it is mostly small businesses that utilized this, not corporate businesses. Deeper into Chinatown, there are street signs in Chinese (Exhibit 5). There are less aesthetically pleasing Chinese establishments using more Chinese and minimal english. These are businesses that truly use Chinese to communicate. However, there is a gray area in which Chinese can be used for both marketing and communicational value. 

In conclusion, at first glance San Francisco may seem as a melting pot of many languages. However, after examining its linguistic landscape, an overwhelming majority of official city signs are in English. The use of multilingual signs around the city are used to market businesses to increase consumer appeal. Instead of promoting other languages such as French and Chinese as a “vehicle for communication”, they are used for their marketing value. While businesses believe it increases their authenticity, it actually diminishes the language’s communicational value in San Francisco.

EXHIBIT 1: French Restaurant SF, uses French is business signs but English in windows
EXHIBIT 2: French restaurant uses well known french words in signs
EXHIBIT 3: SF Chinese arc used for aesthetic value
EXHIBIT 4: Chinatown business sign uses Chinese characters and English
EXHIBIT 5: SF public street signs in English and Chinese


Works Cited

Leeman, J. & Modan, G. (2009), Commodified Language in Chinatown: a Contextualized Approach to a Linguistic Landscape. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 13(3), 332-362. 

“One in Five U.S Residents Speak Foreign Languages at Home, Record 61.8 million.” Center for Immigration Studies,