Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Situating linguistic landscape in time and space: A multidimensional study of the discursive construction of Washington, DC Chinatown
by Lou, Jia, Ph.D., Georgetown University, 2009, 312; 3356116
Abstract (Summary)

This study examines the interaction between language and discourse and the three dimensions of place: material space, spatial representation , and spatial practice. Specifically, I look at the uniform bilingual Chinese-English linguistic landscape of Washington, DC Chinatown, a small ethnic urban neighborhood with predominant presence of non-Chinese businesses and an ambivalent identity often perceived as inauthentic. While most studies on linguistic landscape approach it as multilingual language policy, I suggest that this concept can provide valuable insights into research on language and place, which has so far tended to focus on either spatial representation or spatial practice alone. It is thus necessary to re-conceptualize linguistic landscape as temporally situated cultural text and spatially contextualized semiotic-material object.

Data were collected during 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the neighborhood, using methods including photography, participant observation, interviews, video recordings of community meetings, and collection of public policy documents.

First, a systematic analysis of the linguistic, visual and material features of shop signs reveals Chinatown’s linguistic landscape as a concrete instantiation of Foucault’s heterotopia, a place where multiple times and spaces are juxtaposed. Further, by situating linguistic landscape on multiple temporal and spatial scales, this study finds that Chinatown’s ambivalent place-identity is shaped by a variety of social, historical, political, and economic factors. Its ritual image is the product of the reestablished political and economic connection between Chinese immigrants and their home country. Its shrinking size is a consequence of intensified urban revitalization in Washington, DC over the past twenty years and new immigrants’ preference to settle in the suburbs. The incongruence between Chinatown’s ritual image and lived place is reinforced by the unequal distribution of communicative, political and economic resources between the Chinese community and commercial developers.

Thus, this study illuminates the key linguistic, economic, and political resources shaping the discursive construction of Washington, DC Chinatown. In so doing, it also illustrates how visual and material language such as linguistic landscape mediates between the cultural representation of a place and the political economic processes of its production.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Podesva, Robert J.
Commitee: Lempert, Michael, Schiffrin, Deborah, Schilling-Estes, Natalie
School: Georgetown University
Department: Linguistics
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 70/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Cultural anthropology, Urban planning
Keywords: Chinatown, Discursive construction, Ethnography, Linguistic landscape, Space, Space and place, Time, Washington, D.C.
Publication Number: 3356116
ISBN: 9781109159325
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