Gannon University’s Spring CHESS Speaker series kicks off early February with a discussion of multilingual signage in Erie.
dr. Ashley Yochim, an associate professor of English at Penn State Behrend, teaches two different workshops.
The first workshop will take place on February 8 and will focus on an analysis of the diversity of signage in Erie and will allow Gannon students to participate and create signs in their native language to be posted on the Erie campus.
The creation of these boards will take place during the second workshop on February 22.
Yochim discovered the need to spread awareness for the lack of signage while interviewing refugee, immigrant and domestic migrant populations during her own research.
Yochim had asked these groups, “What was the most challenging thing about moving to Erie?”
One of the answers that popped up several times was that street signs, bus announcements, and other important signs were only available in English.
This obstacle made these groups feel lost, making a not-so-easy transition even more difficult than it should be.
An analysis of the signage in Erie was done, and it turned out that all the official signs were in English. Private businesses, places of worship, and murals are all areas in Erie where multilingual signage can be found.
While looking at signage through Erie, Yochim found that foreign-born entrepreneurs have accommodated their diverse language populations with their signage.
Erie as a reception center for refugees should be ‘more hospitable’, according to Yochim.
“However, this is more than just a hospitable issue; it is also a practical and even a safety issue,” said Yochim.
Yochim found statistics that say there are between 7,000 and 20,000 new Americans living in Erie, and within those numbers, about 12,000 speak a language other than English.
With Erie’s total population of just over 100,000, those who speak other languages made up a significant portion of the population.
Yochim’s aim with her presentation is to raise awareness among attendees about the need for multilingual signage and to initiate a conversation to come up with new ideas to make things more accessible to those who are not fluent in English or not English can read.
According to Yochim, the aspect of raising official signs with other languages depends entirely on the willingness of the city government, planners and other stakeholders.
Groups around the Erie area have made significant efforts to add signage using different languages.
Erie Arts and Culture has made a list of businesses owned by New Americans so that they can be used as a resource for those entering Erie.
Peace poles are set up and distributed around Erie.
All poles say, “May there be peace on earth”, and these words in many languages are marked on it.
The Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network created a Namaste Garden for Bhutanese refugees with different languages on the signs in the garden.
Yochim also mentioned that a lot of changes have taken place over the past 20 years.
She grew up in the Erie area and at that time there were hardly any signs that weren’t in English.
“As an adult, it’s so exciting to drive through the city streets and see countless shops with signs in languages like Arabic and Spanish,” she said.
During the workshop scheduled for February 22, top-level Spanish students and students of the Arabic class will create multilingual signage that will be distributed across the Gannon campus, which will help connect both international and domestic students with the Erie community of refugees.