Lorna Carson, an Assistant professor at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, has been at UNBC for 2 months out of her 6 month sabbatical studying language and linguistics in the Prince George community. She is here as a visiting scholar after meeting Dr. Gary Wilson and Dr. Angele Smith during their Ireland and Isle of Man field school.
In participation with the local community and organizations such as the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society (IMSS), and funding from the International Council for Canadian Studies and the Benefactions Fund from Trinity, Dr. Carson is studying multilingualism and people, place and belonging. Her main area of focus has been in communities such as Dublin and Prince George as part of a larger research project about urban multilingualism. “I’m glad that I can say I have made some very good friends here in Prince George through my research and work with the Prince George community,” says Dr. Carson.
“I use a method called Linguistic Landscaping, where I follow different roots through a city and see where and when languages are used,” said Dr. Carson. Analyzing public signage, classrooms, ads and restaurants, Professor Carson looks at language and how it is manifested. “It’s like detective work. We want to know who speaks what and where and what it means.”
Using the example of a flier for Chinese New Year from the Netherlands, Dr. Carson illustrates how through the study of language one can tell the flier was meant for people of the Dutch speaking community as the main language on the flier was Dutch. She went on to discuss how the Chinese language on the flier was tokenistic, used to give more credit to the flier’s legitimacy as advertisement for a Chinese new year event. She studies where and when certain languages are used, whether they are high or low status languages, if they are functional or symbolic, and if there is monolingual written language but multilingual spoken language in an area.
“What’s interesting is there is a comparison between the loss of lower status languages in Europe and the loss of indigenous languages here in Canada,” Carson continues, “something like, ‘I speak Punjab, but only at home,’ and, ‘yeah I guess I speak Kurdish, but really that’s only with my mum.’ Through understanding how languages are treated and thought about we can possibly save or preserve many languages on their way to extinction.”
Dr. Carson will be heading to Los Angeles before returning to Ireland to continue her research work on linguistics and language use until the end of her sabbatical.