Handwritten Texts in the Latvian Linguistic Landscape: Linguistic Pragmatism, Hipsterism or Marginalization of Regional and Minority languages?


Author: Solvita Pošeiko (University of Latvia; Latvia)
Speaker: Solvita Pošeiko
Topic: Language Minorities and Majorities
COMELA 2020 General Session


Abstract

Publication databases show that studies on linguistic landscapes (LL) have increased in recent years. The research area, topics and the field’s interdisciplinary theoretical foundation have expanded (Pütz, Mundt 2018). However, public handwritten texts in contemporary LL is not sufficiently discussed. The results of my Latvian LL survey (2008-2019) show that alongside modern texts (video advertisements, multimodal posters) there are texts written with pens and felt-tip pens on white paper, or with chalk on blackboards/double-sided stands.

The aim of the paper is dual: to classify handwritten texts by function and to describe the use of languages in them. The research questions are:

1) What are the motivations behind and functionality of handwritten texts in the LL of Latvian cities? When are public texts written to save time and money, to create an informal atmosphere, or to be able to quickly remove texts during language control by the State Language Center?

2) What do handwritten texts reveal about the use and role of languages in public communication in Latvia? (e.g., Could information in a regional language about a kebab place in Riga be described as hipster and/or does it reflect the marginal role of the language in the context of language policy?)

An illustration is an example from research of Old Town during the light festival and the Proclamation Day of Latvia (16.11.-18.11.2019.). 44 handwritten texts (advertisements, greetings, menus, direction signs) and twelve interviews were obtained. Most of texts were written on two-sided stands placed on sidewalks in front of businesses for easier recognition by and to advertise their offerings to potential customers. 27 texts were partially or fully written in Latvian; 37 texts were partially or fully published in English. There were 7 texts in only Latvian and 17 texts in only English. Thus, English was used more often raising questions about the pragmatic and symbolic functions of language during public holidays, and the relevance of situational texts to national language policy on such occasions.

References:
Pütz, M., Mundt, N. (eds., 2018). Expanding the Linguistic Landscape: Linguistic Diversity, Multimodality and the Use of Space as a Semiotic Resource. Multilingual Matters.

Keywords: Linguistic landscape, handwritten texts, regional and minority languages, language functions, economic value