Linguistic Landscape of the Far North-End of Staten Island

(Indent)I have chosen to analyze the linguistic landscape of the far north section of Staten Island, which contains three primary neighborhoods: Saint George, Tompkinsville, and Stapleton. In most government-conducted demographic analyses, these three neighborhoods due to their relatively small sizes, are grouped together, all are very similar to each other. This area I am analyzing is very racially diverse relative to the other Staten Island neighborhoods which are predominantly white. According to the New York City Department of City Planning, this area has 26.4% white, 31.7% African American, 33.7% Hispanic/Latino, and 5% Asian. It should be noted that this was data from the 2010 census and has likely changed a little bit over the past 10 years. The median household income for this area (commonly called Community District 1) was approximately $48,000, and about 1 in 14 people were unemployed according to data from Censusreporter.org. This is fairly below the median household income for all of NYC which is approximately $60,800 according to the U.S Census data.               (Indent)Before seeing any photos, I would predict just from the statistics that there would be signage for business establishments that reflect these racial and income demographics. I would expect to see signage that would reflect themes of foreign ethnicities that would primarily represent the Latino/Hispanic portion of the population and the African-American portion of the population. In addition, due to the fact that this area contains people that are in the low-income category, signage would show themes or indicate priorities of the assurance of cheapness of products/services, and efficiency in regards to time or utility of the products/services. The signage would likely give a lot of information to be time-efficient and assure the potential customers of affordability. The poorer someone is, the more willing they are to sacrifice more complex luxuries and preferences that are associated with the shopping cultures of higher-income groups of people.

(Google Maps, 2020)

(Indent)We jump into this neighborhood knowing that the people in this area are poorer than in surrounding areas. This first picture already supports this story. Note that the largest, highest-placed and most noticeable sign is “DISCOUNT STORE”. The faded awning says it is a 99 cent store, this is also in very large, capitalized letters. It is telling potential customers that the products are cheap, and there is a great variety of products. The variety listed hints that it is similar to a general store, another trait that resonates with a lower-income, the person goes to one store to get the majority of all that they need to buy. The deli to the right of the discount store also supports the income-based theme. There are signs to tell potential customers that MetroCards are sold, implying that the customers would be using public transportation (lower-income people are more likely to rely on public transportation). There is also a sign showing that food stamps are accepted, another clear indicator of the low-income customer base. Aside from these signs, there is an inclusion of a phrase (“FAST FOOD THAT’S ACTUALLY GOOD FOR YOU”), this is an assurance that not only is the food (supposedly) good for one’s health, but it is also an assurance that it is like fast food, which is well known for its quick preparation process and cheap price. These qualities are particularly desired by lower-income individuals.

(Google Maps, 2020)

Further continuing the income-based theme prediction, this electronics store embodies the mentality very well. The first quality of this store’s appearance is the messy, plethora of signs hung up and placed in almost every open spot. The sign that assures potential customers that no credit is needed to buy electronics is posted three times. The largest sign is on the ground and reads in bright red, large, all capitalized letters, “EASY FINANCING”. This implies that the most important message for potential customers is an assurance of the affordability of electronics sold in the store. If there was an electronics store in a higher-income area, I would expect to see signage that communicated a theme more focused on having all the newest, top of the line products instead of just assuring customers that they have mere ability to buy an electronic.

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(Google Maps, 2020)

 

(Indent)The signs at this deli take a slight deviation from the income-based theme. The awning is consistent with the theme and gives a lot of information. It gives a list of the major, important products sold in the corner bodega; it has a message of assurance of the time efficiency (“Easy Grab & Go”); in addition “PLAY LOTTO HERE” with “ATM” written underneath, this showcases the common mentality that emphasizes a priority on getting money, whether it be expressed via simply having it available at hand or getting monetary rewards. Lottery games are more popular in lower-income areas. Aside from the awning, the bodega does devote a good amount of sign space to glorified pictures of common, cheap beers. It should be noted that this is not done to fulfill any aesthetic for the store, but is done so the potential customer would more quickly interpret the message that there is beer available in the store (more efficient than reading), and perhaps even the entrancing portrayal of the beers would convince more customers to come in and buy the beers, ergo more revenue for the store. Efficient arrangements for both the buyer and the seller.

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(Google Maps, 2020)

 

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(Google Maps, 2020)

(Indent)The first pattern that is likely noticed is the density of the word “rent”  here. The “Chez Adja African restaurant” has put four “for rent” signs which seems a bit unnecessary. The awning represents the portion of the population who are African-American, and exhibit some of their African heritage in the linguistic environment. The fixation/abundance of the word rent also supports the idea of money being an especially high priority. In this case, every sign present (except the awning) in the picture has to do with the acquiring of capital (oooh fancy money word) in the form of rent. The lower photo also shows an African eatery that represents the African-American portion of the population. To the right of the African eatery is a store that sells varied miscellaneous products, it gives a list of some of the products it sells, and it gives its contact information. It does take a slight deviation from the theme of utility and efficiency as it makes the biggest text, the name, in a cursive font, to fulfill some classy aesthetic, but it in total is still consistent with the predicted theme.

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(Google Maps, 2020)

(Indent)The signs posted at this Western Union branch support the theme of utility and efficiency. The majority of its signs are related to money. The sign that reads “GET YOUR MONEY FASTER” is a message that most people in the area highly prioritize: 1)getting money and 2)getting that money fast. The same sign is on the adjacent window panel but is written in Spanish, this would be considered the default throughout most of the US, but in Latino/Hispanic dense populations, you would not only see the translations of all the information but equivalent presentations of the information as well, as is shown here.

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(Google Maps, 2020)

(Indent)The awning shown on the left is almost completely written in Spanish. The largest text on the awning is the “Breath of Life Church”, the text below that lists the names of the pastors in this church.  This awning represents the Hispanic/Latino portion of the population as well as the primary religion that Latinos/Hispanics practice which is Christianity. The awning on the left is part of a jewelry store. It is important to note that the second largest text, which in most store awnings is a brief description of available products/services, reads “GENERAL REPAIRS” which is consistent with the low-income theme. People with low income, who give jewelry most of the time in the form of intimate gifts to very close friends and family, are less willing to buy new jewelry to replace their older, broken jewelry, hence the priority of the message lies in the preservation of older possessions.

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(Google Maps, 2020)

(Indent)The signs present in this picture take a large deviation away from all the previous signs analyzed. This is a storefront view of a very small gentrified area in Stapleton and the most important difference is the lack of information. The signs on both business establishments are very vague, one or two words are sufficient according to them. The target market here for these businesses is likely relatively higher-income, and likely indifferent to race. At this point, it becomes apparent that the cluttered signage of information or neatness/aesthetic is the primary tradeoff relationship that most business establishments face.

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(Google Maps, 2020)

 

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(Google Maps, 2020)

          (Indent)The building shown in the top photo is right across the street from the strongly contrasting small plaza shown in the previous photo. It gives a lot of information in its signage, all the possible contact information, and all of the services provided. There is also graffiti on the brick wall, it has been there for a long time as it seems aged/weathered out on the brick. This indicates the mentality among most people in this area that places less emphasis and focus on aesthetics and appearance. We can see that graffiti does not necessarily have to be something bad, such as in the case of the lower photo, the ‘professional graffiti’ acts as the only signage for this business establishment. There is very little textual information, the communication relies heavily on the picture showing the two people fixing the car. This is a message that is much easier to interpret than a flurry of words cluttered on a few panels of windows.

               (Indent)Although this is a small sample of images, there were still plenty of signs to analyze, and these signs help confirm the two main themes that we predicted from looking at the racial and income demographic statistics. I am certain that if the analysis included (hypothetically) every possible sign posted in this area, then we could confirm and perhaps even discover a lot more patterns and themes about the people who live in this area just from studying the totality of the intents of publicly available communications.