Linguistic landscape and metalinguistic talk about societal multilingualism
Journal article by Nathan Albury in International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 2018.
Linguistic landscapes have proven to be intriguing foci of sociolinguistic research in and of themselves, given language in public spaces indexes broader sociolinguistic processes, struggles, and policies. This paper, however, trials linguistic landscape as a methodological tool for research that solicits and analyses metalinguistic talk – encased by its sociocognitive dimensions – about societal multilingualism. Multilingual but ethnocratic Malaysia serves as the case study where linguistic diversity persists despite laws and ideologies that pedestalise the language and culture of the ethnic Malays above the local Chinese and Indian minorities. Language is largely synonymous with ethnicity in Malaysia whereby linguistic diversity is contentiously embedded within histories and discourses of race-relations, nation-building, and religion. For this paper, groups of Chinese-Malaysian youths were tasked to reflect on and discuss examples of Malaysia’s multilingual linguistic landscape. Their metalinguistic awareness about the linguistic landscape manifested in rich metalinguistic talk about Malaysia’s linguistic and ethnic diversity beyond the linguistic landscape itself. The paper typologises the discussions that transpired about and beyond the linguistic landscape, analyses recurrent Chinese-Malaysian ideological discourses that arose within the metalinguistic talk, and ultimately shows that the linguistic landscape is a fertile tool for research into grassroots sociocognitive engagement with multilingualism.