Shop signs: a language issue?

Shop signs: a language issue?


Can you read the signs? Language issues resurface
By Teresa Watanabe
Los Angeles Times
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Copyright © 2006 The
Seattle Times Company

A proposal in a city in
California requiring business signs to be in English has led to disagreements in the political-business community. Federal law, it seems, allows the use of English-only rules in matters of safety or efficiency in running the business.

Some local people are concerned that businesses who have signs only in other languages, such as Spanish or Vietnamese, are contrary to public safety. Other business owners are against the authorities telling them how to run their business or what language to write their signs in. Some business owners point out that unless they can communicate in Spanish, for example, they won’t have any customers.

- Federal law allows English-only rules for safety reasons or efficient running of a business.
- Employers cannot discriminate against someone for their accent unless it interferes with job performance.
Hawthorne City has a population of 88,000.
- With about 5,000 plus businesses in this city, only a handful of them display foreign only language signs.

Language Issues:
- It makes sense for a business to communicate in the language of the customer. This does not tell us whether a business also has a duty to communicate in a language which a reasonable customer, in a legal sense maybe, is expected to know.
- Who decides what safety issues are involved regarding the use of a language in business? What are the criteria?
- Who decides what is efficient when running a business?
- Language in business, and especially in a multi-cultural setting, should not be an “either or” issue, either Spanish or English, but both English and Spanish or what ever language.
- A reasonable shopper would expect to communicate in a language he or she understands. It is surprising if a shop does not make some effort to also communicate in English in an English speaking country. Of course, there are exceptions, maybe professional services, but I don’t think this includes retail outlets.

- The fact that language is becoming a political issue suggests that language is going through a transition phase. Languages are no longer the exclusive domain of nationalism and culture, languages are now moving into the domain of global communication, global business and personal freedoms and independence.
- Is the language issue a communications issue or a political issue? If it is a political issue then there is a good chance of going down the slippery slope of discrimination and prejudice.
- Do customers have a duty to make an effort to communicate in the language of their business suppliers?
- Is a shop sign a matter of free speech or a matter of efficient communication with prospective customers?

Bottom Line:
What business can afford to exclude themselves from a large part of their potential customer base?

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