Over the past week and a half, thanks to my Dietrich College Honors Fellowship, I was able to travel to France to do hands-on research for my project.
I’m so grateful to have been able to go back to France. Last summer, I left Pittsburgh to spend six weeks in Aix-en-Provence, a small town in the southeastern French Provençal region. I was extremely nervous before leaving, but after coming back six weeks later, I knew that I made the right decision. I had an amazing time in Aix, made wonderful friends and was already ready to go back. I had no idea that I would be able to come back to France just this summer.
To apply the research I’ve been doing for the past few months to the “real world” was exciting and a bit unnerving. For this trip, I analyzed the linguistic landscape of two French cities: Paris and Aix. While doing this research, I took pictures of all kinds of signage (on cafés, in front of stores, at museums, etc.). My particular interest in signage has to do with the work I’m doing about La Loi Toubon, which was passed in 1994 to assure that the French language be used on all public and commercial signs throughout France to prevent the increasing usage of the English language.
Before going to Paris, I expected to see a lot of signs in different languages. I was proven right. Everywhere I looked, there was a new opportunity to take a picture. This made sense to me, because Paris is a large tourist attraction, especially during the summer. Not only did I see different languages around me but I also heard so many different languages on the streets – French, English, Spanish, Chinese and probably more. This made me realize how diverse Paris is. I made an effort to go to as many neighborhoods as I could, but I ended up going to the typical tourist spots, all of which had a diverse set of signage.
Mont St. Michel
One day, we took a day trip from Paris to Mont-St-Michel, which for me looks like the French version of Hogwarts. Mont-St-Michel is a small island in the northwestern Normandy region of France, and is also a large tourist attraction. There is a large abbey perched on the top, and leading up to it are different shops, restaurants and cafés. I didn’t expect to see so many different languages on signage in such a small town.
Going back to Aix was very cathartic. It was strange to be back in a place so familiar at a different time of year without the same people that I spent six weeks with last summer, but was so happy to have the opportunity to go back. I definitely experienced Aix in a different way this time around. I noticed so many more things about Aix that had to do with my research. I didn’t expect to see a lot of signs in English, but found a very interesting collection while spending time in Aix.
All in all, my trip to France was simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. I was experiencing France in a whole new way – instead of just being a tourist or a student abroad, I was a researcher. I was conducting my own research and finding new conclusions based on the signage that I was documenting.
On a much more somber note:
I had originally written this post on my flight back from Paris to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, July 13th. I had intentionally chosen to not be in France for Bastille Day, mainly to avoid crowded areas and any potential risks. I was so saddened and horrified to hear about the attack in Nice on Bastille Day. Bastille Day is a French holiday when the nation is supposed to unite and celebrate the foundations of the republic’s democratic ideals. What upset me so much about the attack was that the caution that I took to not be in France for Bastille Day was proven correct – the fact that I even needed to think twice about being in France for this national celebration is really upsetting. I’m thankful that I made it back to Pittsburgh safely, but am so sorry for France.