Between Global and Local Contexts: Seoul Linguistic Landscape

Author: Kapitolina Fedorova (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea)
Speaker: Kapitolina Fedorova
Topic: Language and Spatiotemporal Frames
CALA 2020 General Session


Multilingualism in urban spaces is mainly studied as an oral practice. Nevertheless, linguistic landscape studies can serve as a good explorative method for studying multilingualism in written practices. Moreover, resent research on linguistic landscapes (Blommaert 2013; Shohamy et. al. 2010; Backhaus 2006) shed some light on the reflection of power relations between different ethnic groups in urban public space. Multilingual practices exist in a certain ideological context, and not only official language policy but speaker linguistic stereotypes and attitudes can influence and modify those practices.

The proposed paper aims at analyzing data on linguistic landscape of Seoul, with the focus on different contexts of language use and different sets of norms and ideological constructs underling particular linguistic choices. Historically, Korea tended to be oriented towards monolingualism; one nation-one people-one language ideology was domineering public discourse. However, globalization and recent increase in migration resulted in gradual changes in attitudes towards multilingualism (Lo&Kim 2012). Linguistic landscape of Seoul, on the one hand, reflects these changes; on the other hand, it demonstrates pragmatic inequality of other languages than Korean in public use. This inequality, though, is represented differently in certain spatial urban contexts.

In my presentation I will examine data from three urban contexts: ‘general’ (typical for most public spaces); ‘foreign-oriented’ (seen in tourist oriented locations such as airport, expensive hotels, or popular historical sites; it dominates Itaewon district); and ‘ethnic-oriented’ (specific for spaces created by and for ethnic minority groups, such as Mongolian / Central Asian / Russian district near Dongdaemun History and Culture Park station). I will show that foreign languages used in public written communication are embedded into different frameworks in these three urban contexts, and the patterns of their use vary from pragmatically oriented ones to predominately symbolic, with English functioning as a substitution for other foreign languages, an emblem of ‘foreignness’.

Backhaus, P. Multilingualism in Tokyo: a look into linguistic landscape. In: Gorter, D. (ed.) Linguistic Landscape: A New Approach to Multilingualism. Clevedon:  Multilingual Matters, 2006. 52–66.
Blommaert, J. 2013. Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes: Chronicles of Complexity. Bristol.
Lo, A. & Kim, J. Ch. 2012. Linguistic competency and citizenship: Contrasting portraits of multilingualism in the South Korean popular media. Journal of Sociolinguistics 16/2. 255–276.
Shohamy, E., Ben-Rafael, E. & Barni, M. (Eds.) Linguistic Landscape in the City. Bristol: Multilingual Matters,

Keywords: Linguistic landscape, Seoul, Russian, Korean, English, language choice