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Signs of Our Times: Language Contact and Attitudes in the Linguistic Landscape of Southeast Los Angeles


There are nearly 5 million Latinos and 3.7 million Spanish speakers in Los Angeles County (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015a, 2015b). As such, Spanish is commonly seen in the city's signage, or its linguistic landscape (Landry & Bourhis, 1997). This dissertation exposes the power relations that lie in the coexistence of Spanish and English inscriptions in the urban space of three Southeast L.A. cities. This is done by comparing the material presence of languages in the linguistic landscape with Latina and Latino community members' perceptions of language use and their resulting attitudes. A corpus containing images of 4,664 signs is examined, along with responses from 24 semi-directed, sociolinguistic interviews. In the quantitative analyses of signs, I investigate languages' appearance and dominance, degree of prestige, and communicative usefulness. This is compared with informants' comments regarding their perceived amount of English and Spanish in the city, as well as language prestige and utility.

Results show that, while there is some overlap, we can gain insight from both the production and perception of languages in L.A. signage. In the quantitative analyses of signs, I demonstrate that English holds a great deal of prestige in the area. The qualitative studies confirm English's overt prestige but also reveal a covert prestige for Spanish as a language of solidarity among Latinas and Latinos. Similarly, while the majority of interviewees agree that Spanish is more useful for communication in these geographical areas, quantitative examinations show that both languages in fact have a high degree of utility. Furthermore, I use regression analyses to demonstrate how we can predict the arrangement of languages in signs.

This investigation illuminates the dynamic situation of language contact in the signage of Southeast Los Angeles and the manner in which language is directly intertwined with the public space and power relations. In addition to expanding sociolinguistic and linguistic landscape scholarship, this research has implications for language policy and planning, as well as for social and language justice organizations devoted to the needs of residents who have been linguistically excluded from public services.

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