>More reflections on sense of space and place

>Linguist Jackie Lou has written several articles on the linguistic and social landscapes of Chinatown in Washington, D.C. that are very interesting. Some of her findings:

1. When residents are asked how they feel about where they live, the immediately jump to the national level and interept the question as being about living in the U.S.

2. When different residents were asked to draw maps of the neighborhood, an elderly resident illustrated the pattern among that population–no clear cut boundary line and place names tended to be in Chinese but generic–sports center, convenience store, etc.

She also describes a fascinating problem related to the requirement that signage within China town include Chinese signs. When a grammatically incorrect sign was proposed, the younger Chinese residents did not recognize that is was not correct. The older residents did not speak up but grumbled among themselves. Also, there is always the complexity of what the sign should say–describe what is sold in the establishment rather than the actual “name”? (household goods, for example), use Chinese more as a decorative design element, or use a clever transliteration? (Subway uses Saibaiwei which means “better than a hundred delicacies”).

In an area that is becoming gentrified, this is an interesting case study–what is the meaning of the Chinese text–is it to create some “image” or does it reflect the true nature of the neighborhood? This case study reminds me of the questions associated with “Dutchifying” Pella, Iowa with everything from windmills to a canal. What is the real significance and meaning of this to the residents? Or does it eventually come down to what outsiders want to see–some quaint vision of what they think it there?

If you are interested:
Lou, Jackie J. (Forthcoming) Chinese on the side: The marginalization of Chinese in the linguistic and social landscapes of Washington, DC Chinatown. In Linguistic Landscape in the City. Edited by Elana Shohamy, Eli Ben-Rafael, and Monica Barni. Clevedon; Buffalo, New York: Multilingual Matters.

Jia Jackie Lou. “Revitalizing Chinatown Into a Heterotopia: A Geosemiotic Analysis of Shop Signs in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown. Space and Culture, 2007, 10:170-194.

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