We are pleased to announce that the next talk in our 2013-14 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be by Jakob R. E. Leimgruber (McGill) on Friday, February 7th at 3:30 pm in the Education Building room 433.

The title of the talk is “Language policy in multilingual cities: effects on the linguistic landscape of Singapore and Montreal“. There will also be a reception following the colloquium, details to follow.

Abstract: Language legislation in the city-state of Singapore is remarkably simple. The constitution bestows official status on four languages: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English, in this particular order. There is no official languages act or further legislation that regulates the use of language at the national level. Reasonably successful government campaigns have been concerned with the promotion of Mandarin instead of other varieties of Chinese, and of Standard English instead of the local ‘Singlish’. A number of largely non-statutory policies exist, however, that disrupt the ostensible equality of status between the four co-official languages and put English, and to a lesser extent Mandarin, into a more powerful position. Thus, English is the only language of the courts, as well as the only medium of education in state schools. It is also often labelled the country’s ‘working language’ by decision-makers.

The situation in Quebec is radically different: for one, there is a distinction between official bilingualism in federal and some municipal institutions and official monolingualism in provincial institutions. Secondly, there is strong emphasis on the promotion of the language of the province’s majority population. Regulatory efforts are wide-ranging (as seen in the scope of the Charter of the French language and its twelve subordinate regulations). The status of French as the working language of the province and as the default medium of instruction is mandated by statutory legislation.

These different legislative approaches have interesting consequences on the linguistic landscape, i.e. the visual language in public space (road signs, billboards, advertising, shop names, etc.). In Quebec, a very clearly articulated legislative framework has had a lasting impact on the linguistic landscape, resulting in a high visibility of French. In Singapore, the absence of any kind of statutory linguistic landscape regulation has brought about a much more heterogeneous picture, which, however, tends to see English as the language common to most signs. A comparative approach shows the similar outcome of monolingual dominance in contexts characterized by rather divergent policies.