Updated: May 25
Spring is at its peak and the weather welcomes more activities, walks and travel.
When travelling, I'm sure most of us rarely pay much attention to our surroundings. We usually have a destination to reach and our eyes are glued to the screen of our mobile phones. However, Roula from the University of Thessaly opened our eyes and shared a wonderful method of Linguistic Landscaping to map and understand the area. At our Berlin training in November, the task was to study just one street - Kameruner Str - in Wedding. As a local, I must say that I learnt a lot! There was a historical journey into the German colonial past that influences the present and the local community, the discovery of the multilingual nature of the area, a different experience of interacting with locals and a general idea of the socio-cultural picture of the community. We were invited to observe how language (verbal and non-verbal linguistic elements) influences our group or individual understanding and socio-spatial experience of the neighbourhood.
The method was relatively simple
- We were expected to walk down the street in groups, each group choosing one side of the street.
- As we walked along the street, we were expected to take pictures of the written/multimodal environment with our mobile phones.
- We observed shops, private or public signs, graffiti, stickers, objects, people walking, living, working there
- We were also encouraged to enter the shops, observe the linguistic/semiotic landscape of the shops or even talk to the owners or customers and passers-by if possible.
- After the walk we were encouraged to share and discuss our impressions, comments, feelings and ideas with the group. We were asked to focus on instances of translanguaging and their meanings in the specific contexts we found them.
Let me give you some examples of our discoveries:
Our experiences were very different. One group had a very positive experience with shopkeepers, enjoyed the conversations and were able to take photos inside the shops and get some insight into the places. Another group dealt with pub owners who were very protective of their privacy and were very reluctant to allow our group to take photos of the signs outside their premises.
We discovered that - the neighbourhood is quite politically active
- it's very diverse in terms of cultures and languages represented
- there's an active cultural and night life going on
- football passion is visible
- police is not welcome here, judging from many hate messages
- official signs in German prohibiting something are quite common
- privacy issues and GDPR are not applicable on Berlin streets, you can easily get access to sensitive personal information like surnames on doorbells
Despite multilingual signs here and there, both groups felt that the German language was dominant in the community, with messages written in English to demonstrate their 'modern' nature. One of the most interesting comments from a participant: "Observing the children with the teachers of the nursery school walking along the street, you don't really notice that other languages are actively used by the pedagogical staff, they only use German for communication. But the multi-language welcome signs on the nursery doors indicate that 'the kids are from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds'.
Here is the picture we received at the end, summarising our discussion
All in all, it's a great tool for getting to know your neighbourhood and getting into a conversation with the local people. Community engagement projects can benefit from such mappings in order to portray the real look and feel of the area and to track its development.