27th Conference on Spanish in the US & 12th Conference on Spanish in Contact with Other Languages

Every two years, the Conference on Spanish in the US is held jointly with the Conference on Spanish in Contact with Other Languages. Scholars from fields related to the Spanish language, such as linguistics, sociology, anthropology, education, and legal studies, come together to share their research. Conference attendance and participation have continuously grown, signally high interest in Spanish-speaking communities around the world. This year, the 27th Conference on Spanish in the US and the 12th Conference on Spanish in Contact with Other Languages took place at Cleveland State University from April 4th to April 6th, 2019. In this travel report, I will summarize the presentations given during my panel.

On April 6th, 2019, a session took place dedicated to the study of the presence of Spanish in the linguistic landscape, or the displayed, written language of public space (Landry & Bourhis, 1997). Four presentations were given during the session, “Spanish in the US: Linguistic Landscape.”

First, Dr. Alberto Pastor from Southern Methodist University delivered a dynamic study entitled, “Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality of Spanish in Dallas, TX.” During his talk, he shined a light on the status and ethnolinguistic vitality of Spanish in Dallas by examining images of signs from local Hispanic neighborhoods. Expanding on methodologies outlined in Franco-Rodríguez (2008, 2009) and Carr (2017), he conducted an in-depth linguistic analysis of the use of language in signage, providing a robust model for future linguistic landscape analyses. Dr. Pastor’s results revealed a strong ethnolinguistic vitality for Spanish in the Dallas community.

Second, Dr. Patricia Gubitosi and two of her graduate students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst presented “Landscaping Ecuadorean neighborhood in Queens, NY.” In this talk, a semiotic analysis was applied with the purpose of assessing Ecuadorian cultural and linguistic presence in urban signage. The presenters investigated sign content as well as physical aspects–for example, colors of the Ecuadorian flag–in order to formulate conclusions regarding the presence of Spanish in different domains (e.g., real estate agencies, food trucks, sports stores) in Queens, New York. In addition to Ecuadorian influences, Colombian and Mexican influences were also discovered.

Third, Dr. Michelle Ramos Pellicia from California State University, San Marcos gave a presentation entitled, “Report on the use of linguistic landscaping as a tool to counteract languagelessness and linguistic racialization.” She discussed a linguistic landscape project carried out by her undergraduate students in San Diego County. Students took pictures of their local linguistic landscapes and then classified the images regarding the signs’ functions, origins, and influences. Dr. Ramos Pellicia then worked with a geographer in order to use the mapping software Arc-GIS and geolocate the images onto a digital map. As a result of this project, students were better able to comprehend Spanish use and the role of the linguistic landscape in language maintenance.

I, Dr. Jhonni Carr from the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the final presentation: “Signs of Language Justice: The Case of Spanish in the Linguistic Landscape.” Barker (1995) describes social justice as the circumstances under which “all members of society have the same basic rights, protections, opportunities, obligations, and social benefits.” In my presentation, I shared results from research in which I examined the urban signage to determine how accessible it was for local residents. To do so, I analyzed 24 interviews with Southeast Los Angeles residents of neighborhoods with Latinx populations of over 80%. The majority of these local populations (over 70%) spoke Spanish at home. I compared participant comments with a quantitative corpus of over 4,500 local signs. The majority of participants considered Spanish the most useful language for communication in signs and discussed the language as playing a central role in their identity as Latinx individuals. However, despite the language’s importance in local society, quantitative results showed that English was the dominant language in both mono- and multilingual signage. This disparity eliminates equal opportunities for local residents to participate in society and inhibits their access to economic, social, and cultural goods and services. I asked my audience, “If this is the case in a place like California and in cities with Latinx populations of over 80%, can you imagine what it’s like in other places and for other languages?” I concluded with a discussion of sociolinguistic applications toward language justice, discussing strategies in which linguists and educators can engage in order to achieve higher rates of linguistic accessibility in their communities.

Following the talks, session chair Dr. David Jenkins from the University of Colorado, Denver led the audience in a fruitful conversation about the presentations and presence of Spanish in urban signage.

I am grateful to the Berkeley Language Center for their financial support which allowed me to attend and present at the 27th Conference on Spanish in the US and the 12th Conference on Spanish in Contact with Other Languages. The feedback and networking opportunities greatly contributed to my professional development, and my attendance aided me in elevating my home department, the Department of Spanish & Portuguese, and also UC Berkeley in general.