The map at the bottom of this page offers a glimpse into the linguistic landscapes of Tucson and some of its surrounding areas. The data in the map was collected by Spanish as a Heritage Language learners at the University of Arizona as part of a class assignment. This project is ongoing.

The written excerpt below provide more context on this activity, and it comes from the chapter “Dismantling White Space in the Borderlands: Asset mapping at the intersection of language, place, and culture with Spanish as a Heritage Language Learners,” currently under review for the book Engaging Communities through Language and Culture Education (Springer).

Dismantling White Space in the Borderlands: Asset mapping at the intersection of language, place, and culture with Spanish as a Heritage Language Learners. In S. Sato, N. Doerr & Y. Kumagai (Eds.) Engaging Communities through Language and Culture Education. Springer. Under review

To investigate and situate instances of Spanish in public space, students are asked to study the neighborhoods they live in and photograph any visible signage containing Spanish using the Lingscape app. The Lingscape app was developed at the University of Luxembourg and describes itself as a virtual platform where citizen science intersects with linguistic landscape research. The app records students’ photographs along with the location where the photographs were taken. The image is automatically uploaded to a shared map that can be accessed through the mobile app and through a web browser ( Users can also add a description. The map allows users to generate a geographic representation of written languages throughout their surroundings. According to Purschke (2020a), Lingscape is part of a citizen science movement…that pursues an opening (public participation in research activities), democratization (shared authority between citizens and scientists), and social embedding (societal engagement of research projects) of academic research” (p. 4). Indeed, it has already been incorporated into educational projects throughout the world, including Luxembourg, Namibia, and Germany (Purschke 2020b).

To prepare for the activity, the instructor first demonstrated how to explore the Lingscape map and shared existing images of signs around Tucson that contained Spanish. The instructor informed students that many researchers use these images in order to understand language dynamics in the community. As many students were familiar with the surrounding communities, the signs sparked comments about the location of the places, the places themselves, and the use of Spanish on the sign. The discussion and the theme aligned with the current vocabulary focus of the class which included directional and locational verbs. Since many of the signs consisted of placenames and/or simple noun phrases, it also connected the theme with the grammatical components of the class, such as article and noun agreement. Students were thus instructed to download the app and become familiar with it. Along with their photographs, students were asked to include a description of the location using the vocabulary covered in class. They were also asked to include their first name and the first letter of their last name so the instructor could mark their activity as complete.

The instructor then shared some of the images captured by the students in class. Many of them tended to be businesses. Students discussed open questions about the places, what they sold, and what the signs meant. These discussions were opportunity to expand upon the descriptions that accompanied their images. One image, for example, shows the description of a carnicería, a butcher shop commonly frequented by Spanish speakers in Tucson, as a place where one can buy meat, vegetables and fruit. Indeed carnicerías are places where Latinx people find many products imported from Mexico. The employees are usually dominant or monolingual Spanish speakers. Some of the students shared experiences of going to carnicerías and what their favorite things to buy at them were.

Drawing from prior class discussions, the instructor also highlighted the use, whether accurate or not, of the gender and number encoded in any articles or adjectives present in the sign. The instructor also encouraged students to think about the purpose of the signs, its features, and the language choices. Some students had already considered the purpose of some language choices in their descriptions as well. For instance, another image provides a description explaining that Spanish phrase “de la fábrica a tu casa” (from the factory to your home) which according to the student was used in order to reach Spanish speaking clients. Indeed, the location of the store is in the city’s southside where many of the residents speak Spanish.

The pervasive use of Spanish in south Tucson led to discussions regarding the concentration of Spanish speakers in that area of the city. In future lessons, these images could be used to accompany lessons on the history of displacement among Latinx communities in Tucson. They could also be used in later student projects focused on tracking the emerging signs of gentrification in southside neighborhoods (Steinberg 2020). Ideally, they would be part of a larger culturally and regionally relevant curriculum across all Spanish as a Heritage Language courses.

In short, the activity allowed the students to think about the pervasive visibility of Spanish in their surroundings. The instructor also compared signs between the northern part of the city and the southern part of the city. To the north, most signs in Spanish were street signs, neighborhood names, and a sign in a bathroom instructing employees to wash their hands. The southern and western parts of town included phrases, information, and advertisement aimed at the local Spanish speaking community. The activity brought up issues of representation, differences among class, neighborhoods, and borders within the city. Through their geographic knowledge of the community, their lived experience, and their own research can challenge notions of English homogeneity. It also dispels the notion that Spanish is confined to the home and elevates ways in which it is used in other domains. In terms of grammatical lessons, the collection of images also generated authentic and relevant content for future lessons on locational and directional verbs as well as article noun agreement.