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Constructing Identities through Multilingualism and Multiscriptualism

The Linguistic Landscape in Dutch and Belgian Chinatowns

多元语言文字中的认同建构——以荷兰、比利 时唐人街的语言风貌为例

In: Journal of Chinese Overseas
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This paper examines characteristics of the linguistic landscape (ll) in Chinatowns in Belgium and the Netherlands. Fieldwork was conducted in four cities in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, and Rotterdam) and two in Belgium (Brussels and Antwerp). All these cities are situated in the Dutch language area, but Brussels is officially bilingual French-Dutch. In the study, the traditional approach in linguistic landscape studies was combined with an ethnographic approach, in which shopkeepers were interviewed about language and script choice in their signs. The quantitative analysis shows that Chinese shows up in more than three quarters of all signs and that in almost 60 per cent of the signs Chinese is the dominant language. Dutch (the language of the region) and English (the international language) show up in almost half the signs. French shows up almost exclusively in Brussels, where Dutch is less used in signs. The analysis also shows interesting differences in script types between the cities. The presence of different types of Chinese character and pinyin systems indexes the Chineseness of the community, the origin of the local Chinese population, the position of the different establishments in the host countries, and the tendency of these Chinese immigrants to localize. We will show how these small overseas-Chinese communities construct and express their new identity by means of multilingualism and multiscriptualism.

Abstract

This paper examines characteristics of the linguistic landscape (ll) in Chinatowns in Belgium and the Netherlands. Fieldwork was conducted in four cities in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, and Rotterdam) and two in Belgium (Brussels and Antwerp). All these cities are situated in the Dutch language area, but Brussels is officially bilingual French-Dutch. In the study, the traditional approach in linguistic landscape studies was combined with an ethnographic approach, in which shopkeepers were interviewed about language and script choice in their signs. The quantitative analysis shows that Chinese shows up in more than three quarters of all signs and that in almost 60 per cent of the signs Chinese is the dominant language. Dutch (the language of the region) and English (the international language) show up in almost half the signs. French shows up almost exclusively in Brussels, where Dutch is less used in signs. The analysis also shows interesting differences in script types between the cities. The presence of different types of Chinese character and pinyin systems indexes the Chineseness of the community, the origin of the local Chinese population, the position of the different establishments in the host countries, and the tendency of these Chinese immigrants to localize. We will show how these small overseas-Chinese communities construct and express their new identity by means of multilingualism and multiscriptualism.

* Xiaomei Wang is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, University of Malaya.

** Hans Van de Velde is a senior researcher at the Fryske Akademy in Ljouwert (The Netherlands).

1 Introduction

The number of overseas Chinese in the world is estimated to exceed 40 million. In Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, Chinese form a significant minority group, while in Europe, America, and other places, Chinese form a small community with a relatively small population. These overseas Chinese settled in their host countries for various reasons in different historical periods. There was mass emigration in the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from China. During that period, many Chinese laborers arrived in Europe and later formed small Chinatowns in Dutch cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. In recent years, there has been a wave of new immigrants from Mainland China. Many Chinese students choose to go to Europe to pursue their studies either at undergraduate or graduate level; they are the main force of new immigrants. Whether old or new, overseas Chinese generally have to position themselves in terms of identity, and adjust between a Chinese and a local identity. How do they maintain and project their Chinese identity in the host country? And, how do they adapt, as global residents, to the increasingly globalized market? These questions can be answered in different ways. Language is a main window through which the answers can be revealed and Chinatowns provide a good opportunity to inspect multiple identities, since Chinatowns target both Chinese and local residents. This article aims to explore how overseas Chinese in Europe construct their identities through language and script in the linguistic landscape in Chinatown.

Language is commonly regarded as an important aspect of ethnic identity (Giles and Johnson 1981). Fishman (1977) even suggests that language can be an ultimate symbol of ethnicity. Language is “frequently a criterial attribute of ethnic group membership” (Giles and Johnson 1981: 206). In the process of ethnic identity formation, language plays an important role. For instance, a pan-Chinese identity has formed in Malaysia on top of various Chinese dialect groups (Tan 2000). One of the forces fostering such convergence is the common language within Malaysia’s Chinese community, which is Mandarin. In other words, Mandarin has become a symbol of Chinese identity in Malaysia. In Europe, the role of language in the formation of Chinese identity has undergone changes due to changes in migrants’ places of origin. Before the 1980s, most Chinese migrants came from Hong Kong. Consequently, Cantonese became the lingua franca. After the 1980s, many migrants from Zhejiang province arrived in Europe and share no common dialect with the Cantonese group. As a result, the newcomers have had to adopt strategies to adapt to the new linguistic environment. Nevertheless, both old migrants and new migrants share a common writing system, although they may use either traditional or simplified Chinese characters. As Tan (2000) stated in his study on Chinese Malaysians, the layers of identity in the Chinese community include dialect group identity, Chinese identity, and Malaysian identity. In a similar vein, the Chinese in the Netherlands and Belgium also have different layers of identities. Being Chinese is salient in relation to non-Chinese identities and being Dutch or Belgian as opposed to other national identities. These different identities are associated with different languages. In the public sphere, these languages are manifested in signage and provide a clue for their identities.

Most research on ll has focused on specific regions, e.g., Jerusalem (Spolsky and Cooper 1991), Bangkok (Huebner 2006), Tokyo (Backhaus 2007), Kuala Lumpur (Supramani et al. 2013), the Chinatown in Washington dc (Leeman and Modam 2009), and Picton in New Zealand (Macalister 2010). Little research has been done on the ll of a specific ethnic group across cities or countries. The compact settlement of the Chinese group in various countries in Europe makes it possible to carry out research in the Chinatowns and find out the commonalities and differences across cities and countries. In this study the Chinatowns in six cities in the Netherlands and Belgium, within the Dutch language area, were investigated. This comparative approach provides a different and new perspective on the study of ll.

2 Multilingualism and Multiscriptualism

In the present study, different languages are involved. Generally, the Chinese language is the most frequently used language in the ll in the Chinatowns (see section 5). Both Mandarin and Cantonese can be heard inside the shops in various cities. Mandarin is the standard form of modern Chinese and is called Putonghua in Mainland China, Guoyu in Taiwan, and Huayu in some other overseas-Chinese communities. These forms are mutually intelligible, since they all have Beijing dialect as their basis (Guo 2004, Khoo 2012). However, there are some differences between these varieties. For instance, retroflexion and neutral tone are characteristic features of Putonghua, but they do not occur in Huayu in Malaysia (Wang 2012). Cantonese is a dialect spoken in Guangdong province, Hong Kong, and some overseas Chinese communities such as Kuala Lumpur. This dialect is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin (Tang and Van Heuven 2009). Cantonese was introduced into Europe by early immigrants from Hong Kong at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. According to our interviewees, in the past, Chinese newcomers to the Dutch Chinatowns had to learn Cantonese in order to survive. Even today, Cantonese is still frequently used in the Chinatowns. The Cantonese people set up various cultural associations to support the Cantonese culture and language, such as the Cantonese Opera Association. The first author of this article attended the twelfth anniversary of the Cantonese Opera Association in Utrecht on 31 May 2010 during her stay in the Netherlands. Only Cantonese was used during the ceremony and performance. However, when one of the members (a woman in her sixties) found out that the author spoke non-native Cantonese, she immediately switched to Mandarin. This shows that these Cantonese migrants have learned Mandarin. Local (Cantonese) community members explained that they did so because Mandarin has acquired greater economic and cultural value. The owner of a chocolate shop in Brussels, a local Belgian, provided us with additional evidence for the growing economic value of Mandarin in Europe. He hired several Mandarin-speaking Chinese salesgirls to deal with customers (mainly tourists) from Mainland China. Occasionally, Wenzhou dialect, a sub-dialect of Wu, is used among shopkeepers in some of the cities in our study. Wenzhou immigrants play an important role in the Chinatowns (see Section 3). However, their economic strength is not as powerful as that of the Cantonese group. Their dialect has therefore never become the dominant language in the Chinatowns and they have learned Cantonese in order to do business with Cantonese people. Their Wenzhou dialect is exclusively spoken within their family and community.

figure 1
figure 1

Traditional Chinese charactersWang).

Citation: Journal of Chinese Overseas 11, 2 (2015) ; 10.1163/17932548-12341302

At the written level, there are two categories of Chinese script: (1) the character system, (2) the romanization system. The former category has two types, traditional characters and simplified characters. Traditional characters are mainly used in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and are said to betoken an “authentic” Chinese identity (Curtin 2009), since they supposedly maintain the original writing system of a speaker’s ancestors. Simplified characters are officially used in Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, and other overseas communities. A team of linguists codified simplified characters in the 1950s and the Chinese government published a revised list of 2,235 characters in 1986 (Su 2001). This implies that the differences between the two character systems are not so huge, given that the total number of Chinese characters exceeds 100,000 (http://dict.variants.moe.edu.tw/). Thus most characters in both systems are the same. In our study, both writing systems showed up in all cities under investigation (cf. Figure 1 for Amsterdam and Figure 2 for The Hague). In addition to indicating the geographical origin of shopowners, there is also a practical reason for choosing traditional characters in the ll: that they can reach a larger audience than the simplified ones. A second category of Chinese script is the romanization system, which includes three types: Cantonese pinyin, Hanyu pinyin, and localized orthography. Cantonese pinyin in this study refers to the romanization system of Cantonese. Since there are many different romanization schemes for Cantonese (Cheung 1997), we found a diversity of Cantonese pinyin in the data.

In this study, we will define the various forms as Cantonese pinyin and ignore the differences between them. Since Cantonese pinyin is linked with Hong Kong, its indexicality is much clearer than the traditional character system. Its presence on signage therefore denotes a Hong Kong flavor and style. We found that many restaurants in the Netherlands and Belgium use Cantonese pinyin on their sign boards (cf. Tai Soen in Figure 3). As explained above, Cantonese was the dominant dialect of the Chinese community in both countries for a long period. It is possible that shopowners put Cantonese pinyin on their shop signs to attract or accommodate their Cantonese customers. However, in recent years Hanyu pinyin has begun to show up in Europe. Hanyu pinyin is a romanization system for Mandarin, which was introduced in Mainland China in 1958 and later spread to other places such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. It is also used by the United Nations (Wang 2004). The use of Hanyu pinyin on sign boards indicates the origin of the shopowners or denotes a flavor of (Mainland) China as shown in Figure 4 (Xu Ji Restaurant). Apart from Cantonese pinyin and Hanyu pinyin, we also found a localized orthography, which employs Dutch orthography representing the pronunciation of Chinese characters. As can been seen in Figure 5, the consonant cluster in the first syllable “Tj” is not used by either Cantonese pinyin or Hanyu pinyin. This combination occurs in Dutch. The characters for this romanization form are 朝阳 (Zhaoyang in Hanyu pinyin). This grocery shop is located in Utrecht city center, and targets both Chinese and Dutch customers. By using such a sign board in red and yellow together with the Chinese characters on the other board, it indexes its Chinese background and conveys a message that it is willing to accommodate Dutch customers as well. To some extent, localized orthography indexes the tendency toward localization.

figure 2
figure 2

Simplified Chinese charactersWang).

Citation: Journal of Chinese Overseas 11, 2 (2015) ; 10.1163/17932548-12341302

figure 3
figure 3

Cantonese pinyin in UtrechtWang).

Citation: Journal of Chinese Overseas 11, 2 (2015) ; 10.1163/17932548-12341302

figure 4
figure 4

Hanyu pinyin in BrusselsWang).

Citation: Journal of Chinese Overseas 11, 2 (2015) ; 10.1163/17932548-12341302

In addition to Chinese language varieties and scripts, Dutch, English, and French can also be observed in the ll of the six cities in our study. Dutch is the official language in Flanders (the northern part of Belgium) and the Netherlands (Dutch Language Union 1980, Willemyns 2003, Van de Velde et al. 2010, Hinskens and Taeldeman 2013). It is the only official language in all selected cities except Brussels. In Brussels, the capital of Belgium, both French and Dutch have official status. French is still the most used lingua franca and most inhabitants speak French, often in addition to one or more other languages, including Dutch, English, Arabic, and Turkish (Janssens 2013). English as a language for wider communication appears in all cities under investigation. Other European languages such as German are occasionally in use. Figure 6 is used as an example to show the multilingual characteristics of the ll in these two European countries. There are five languages and scripts in this notice, which is from a supermarket in Brussels. The five are Dutch, French, English, German, and Chinese (simplified characters), from the top downwards. A general finding on multilingualism and multiscriptualism in this study is that the majority of the signs (57.2 per cent) in the Chinatowns are multilingual and multiscriptual. While each language or script conveys a different social and cultural meaning, it is necessary to analyze their usage in the ll in order to understand their connection with identities. Before that, a brief introduction to the Chinese communities in both countries will help familiarize us with the context.

figure 5
figure 5

Localized orthography in UtrechtWang).

Citation: Journal of Chinese Overseas 11, 2 (2015) ; 10.1163/17932548-12341302

figure 6
figure 6

Multilingual scripts in BrusselsWang).

Citation: Journal of Chinese Overseas 11, 2 (2015) ; 10.1163/17932548-12341302

figure 7
figure 7

An entry in Filemaker database.

Citation: Journal of Chinese Overseas 11, 2 (2015) ; 10.1163/17932548-12341302

3 The Chinese Communities in Belgium and the Netherlands

The Chinese communities in Europe consist of Chinese originating in different countries and from different backgrounds. Ever since the nineteenth century, they have been leaving their home countries for various reasons and during different periods. According to Li (2002), the Chinese communities in Europe comprised the following groups at the beginning of the twentieth century: laborers (such as mariners), peddlers, businessmen, and intellectuals (including students). After the Second World War, the Chinese population of Europe increased sharply due to the growth of Chinese restaurants in the 1950s, the influx of immigrants from Hong Kong in the 1960s and from Mainland China after the end of the Cultural Revolution (1976), and the arrival of Chinese refugees from Indochina in the 1980s (Li 2002). There are no precise numbers of the Chinese population in the Netherlands and Belgium, but their number can be estimated on the basis of official population statistics that provide information on the country of origin.

In the Netherlands, as indicated by the Census held on 1 January 2011, the majority of Chinese first- and second-generation immigrants was from Mainland China (55,880), followed by Hong Kong (18,261), Malaysia (5,119), Singapore (4,490), and Taiwan (2,698), according to Statistics Netherlands. In addition, there are a large number of people from the former Dutch colonies of Suriname (N=344,734) and Indonesia (N=137,825). Among Surinamese and Indonesian immigrants, only a small minority is of Chinese descent. Boissevain and Grotenbreg (1986) reported that there were around 6,300 Chinese Surinamese in the Netherlands in the 1980s. Taking into account also a number of third-generation Chinese, the Chinese population in the Netherlands, is bound to be in excess of 100,000. The composition of the Chinese population in Belgium is similar to that in the Netherlands, although the absolute number is much smaller. According to statistics published by the European Commission in 2010, there are 15,600 Chinese from Mainland China (Hong Kong included), 1,131 from Taiwan, 523 from Singapore, and 636 from Malaysia.

Although the Chinese population in these two countries is proportionately very small (0.6 per cent for the Netherlands and 0.2 per cent for Belgium), the Chinese communities are noticeable through the physical existence of Chinatowns in city centers. The Chinatown in Rotterdam in the Netherlands arose in 1922 and was the first Chinatown on the European continent (Li 2002). With the growing prosperity of Chinese restaurants in the 1950s and the influx of new immigrants, more and more Chinatowns developed in subsequent years. In the present study, the focus will be on the Chinatowns in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Brussels, and Antwerp. These are the cities in Belgium and the Netherlands where most people of Chinese origin live. In these Chinatowns, one may experience the Chinese atmosphere through the Chinese style of architecture, including the marble lions and arch at the entrance to the Antwerp Chinatown, the classic texts carving on the street of the Chinatown in The Hague, and road signs in Chinese characters in the Chinatowns of Amsterdam and The Hague. Similar Chinese street furniture can also be found in other Chinatowns such as that in Washington dc (Leeman and Modan 2009). By visiting Chinatown regularly, overseas Chinese can embrace and celebrate their Chinese identity through language, food, consumption of Chinese media, and experiencing Chinese human relationships (Pang 2012). In this sense, Chinatowns have been transformed into spaces in which to express the Chineseness of the Chinese community.

Chinese communities in Europe are often represented by physical Chinatowns. Such a geographical cluster can be important for the formation of a community. However, the nature and intensity of the association between community members is more crucial for the maintenance of a community. The Chinese in Europe organized many types of associations to enhance interaction among members and build up social networks. These associations are based on place of origin, occupation, religion, clan and kinship, education, political view, etc. (Li 2002). By participating in the activities organized by these associations on a regular basis, Chinese immigrants not only find a sense of belonging but reinforce their ties with other members and explore the possibilities for collaboration in business. In recent years, with the process of globalization, European Chinese have tended to establish unified associations across countries to represent the community as a whole. In 1992, The European Federation of Chinese Organizations 欧洲华侨华人社团联合会 was established in Amsterdam. It has more than 300 member associations. It is an example of the awareness of Chinese ethnic identity in the globalization era.

As stated above, the Chinese community in Europe is not homogenous in terms of its history of migration, place of origin, social background, and languages or dialects. Li (2002) grouped Chinese in Europe into six categories according to place of origin: (1) the Cantonese group, using Cantonese as lingua franca, (2) the Zhejiang group, including people from Qingtian and Wenzhou, (3) the group of “re-migrants” from former Dutch colonies such as Indonesia and Suriname, (4) the Hokkien group from China’s Fujian province, (5) the Taiwanese group, and (6) the students’ group. In Belgium and the Netherlands, groups 1, 2, 3, and 6 dominate. Harmsen (2011) provides more information on the recent changes in migration patterns from China to the Netherlands. Over a period of twenty years, the number of first- and second-generation Chinese (i.e., from or descended from migrants from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) increased from about 35,000 in 1990 to about 78,000 in 2011 (51,000 of whom were first-generation). Before 1990, 75 per cent of Chinese in the Netherlands were born in Hong Kong or Guangzhou. The rest came mainly from Zhejiang province. In the 1990s, immigration from Hong Kong decreased (to about 12 per cent), while that from Zhejiang (almost 30 per cent) and other areas increased. The proportion of Hong Kong immigrants dropped further to about 5 per cent, similar to the proportion of Chinese in the Netherlands from other large Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. In the 1990s the main reasons for immigration from China to the Netherlands were family reunion and asylum, whereas nowadays more than 50 per cent of newcomers are students. As stated above, the emigration from Hong Kong, in particular its New Territories, started in the 1950s and peaked in the 1960s and 1970s due to the Chinese catering boom. The majority of these immigrants worked in Chinese restaurants. Their language, Cantonese, therefore became the lingua franca for this type of business. Newcomers from other regions, such as Qingtian and Wenzhou in Zhejiang province (speakers of Wu dialects), had to learn Cantonese in order to survive. Even today Cantonese is preferred in most Chinatowns. When the first author visited Utrecht in 2010, she observed that Cantonese is still the first choice in most restaurants and shops. However, with the influx of immigrants and students from Mainland China, the linguistic situation seems to be changing rapidly. In newly established shops like hair salons, supermarkets, Chinese medicine, massage parlors, etc., Mandarin is frequently used. This change is also reflected by the linguistic landscape in the Chinatowns. More and more simplified Chinese characters appear on signage. Even Chinese schools have started to offer classes in Mandarin and teach simplified characters.

4 Methodology

Traditional ll studies employ quantitative or qualitative methods to record language usage on signage as the reflection of the language situation or language policy in a specific context. Such studies are guided by technical definitions of ll such as Gorter’s (2006) statement that ll studies examine language in its written form in the public sphere. However, language use in its spoken form in the context cannot be neglected, as it is also part of the linguistic landscape. It is particularly important for the present study, since speaking a Chinese language or dialect is characteristic of the Chinese culture in Chinatown. This study therefore took a different perspective when studying Chinatown’s ll. We not only took photos of public signs but whenever possible noted down the language used by shopkeepers and customers inside the establishments. In addition, we interviewed some shopkeepers or owners in the Chinatowns to learn the reason for their language choice on the signboards. In Utrecht, the first author attended some activities organized by the local Chinese community that provided an opportunity to observe interaction among local residents. This ethnographic approach allowed us to acquire more complete data on ll and to integrate the sign-maker’s perspective into the analysis. It also expanded the ll scenery into the oral interaction among the community members in addition to the written form on signage.

The present study was carried out from May to August 2010 in Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium and in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht in the Netherlands. These cities have Chinatowns or at least Chinese neighborhoods, which are perfect windows to observe the identities of the Chinese residents in these two countries in the Dutch language area. We therefore focused exclusively on the Chinese establishments in these neighborhoods.

  • Antwerp: This is the only officially recognized Chinatown in Belgium. It arose in the 1970s and got official status in 2001. In 2010 it acquired an archway. Antwerp Chinatown is small and located in the Van Wesenbeekstraat (Chinatownology).

  • Brussels: The unofficial Chinatown is situated on the streets of the St-Catherine neighborhood, in the heart of the city, next to the “Grand Place” and the stock exchange (Chinatownology).

  • Amsterdam: The Amsterdam Chinatown can be found in the Nieuwmarkt quarter, close to the Red Light District in the heart of the city, but there are also a lot of other Asian shops and restaurants around the Nieuwmarkt. There are street signs in Chinese and Dutch (Amsterdaminfo).

  • Rotterdam: The Chinatown is located in the Kruiskade area. It is a mixed neighborhood with Chinese, Dutch, Surinamese, Antillean, and African residents. (Chinatownology, Wikipedia)

  • The Hague: The Chinatown gradually arose in the 1970s and stretches from the area around the Wagenstraat to Gedempte Burgwal and has an entry gate (since 2009) and bilingual Chinese-Dutch street signs. It is located in the main shopping area in the city center. There is a mix of Chinese, Japanese, and Indonesian businesses (Denhaag, Underground, Wikipedia).

  • Utrecht: In Utrecht there is no real Chinatown. The Chinese shops and restaurants are concentrated in two separate areas: around the Central Railway Station and on the Amsterdamsestraatweg.

For data analysis, File-maker 10.0 was used. In this database (cf. Figure 7), the following variables were set for each entry: the photo, location information, the number of languages, the languages themselves, the dominant language, script type (traditional vs. simplified Chinese characters and romanized script), the number of the Chinese characters, the color of the Chinese characters, the size of the Chinese characters, oral communication, type of shops (supermarket, hair salon, etc.), type of signs (road signs, shop name, notice, etc.), style (printed or handwritten), and date (of data collection). The variable dominant language needs some further explanation. The criteria to determine which language is dominant on the sign are:

  1. The size of the scripts: the dominant language is bigger than the other languages;

  2. If the size of the scripts is the same, the order or position will identify the dominant code. The language on top or in the center is normally the dominant language (Scollon and Scollon 2003; Backhaus 2007).

In total, 2,080 entries were compiled in our database, involving 404 Chinese establishments in the six cities. In the following sections, we will discuss these data in relation to the identities associated with different scripts and languages.

5 Pan-Chinese Identity Expressed Through the Use of Chinese Language(s) and Scripts

As elaborated in section 2, the Chinese language in this study denotes two readings: (1) standard Chinese (Mandarin) and dialects (Cantonese, Wenzhounese, etc.) in their spoken form and (2) written scripts (traditional and simplified) and the form of romanization. In this section, we focus on the second reading, the scripts used on the signs. Table 1 indicates the frequency of their occurrence. “Same” means that the traditional and simplified Chinese forms of characters are identical (most characters are the same in both systems, see section 2). “Mixed” means both traditional and simplified characters appear on a sign.

Table 1 shows that traditional Chinese characters account for 64.2 per cent of the total occurrence of Chinese characters. Traditional scripts seem to be preferred by Chinese inhabitants in these two countries. This finding is in line with their social and demographic background (see Section 3). Immigrants from Hong Kong represented the majority of the Chinese community in Belgium and the Netherlands starting in the 1950s. In Hong Kong, traditional Chinese characters have been used up to the present day, due to the territory’s segregation from Mainland China until 1997. A recent survey on the use of and attitude toward Chinese characters in Hong Kong shows that 98.86 per cent of people (N=350) write traditional characters in daily life and 77.43 per cent contend that traditional characters are superior to simplified ones (Tian et al. 2013). The strong attachment to traditional script has remained part of Hong Kong identity even since 1997. In the European Chinese context, according to Li (2002), there was a strong “Hong Kong identity”. This identity was further strengthened by the economic dominance, especially in the catering trade, of immigrants from Hong Kong. As a result, Cantonese language and traditional characters were dominant in the Chinatowns. One interviewee, the director of Zhong Hua Chinese Medicine Center in Utrecht, originally from Zhejiang province, told us that he had to learn Cantonese in order to communicate with his patients. He used traditional Chinese characters on the main sign, although he was from Mainland China, and did so because the Cantonese group was dominant. This case implies that traditional characters no longer necessarily indicate Hong Kong identity. Non-Cantonese Chinese also use traditional characters to express their Chinese identity and to make themselves understood by Cantonese-speakers. In this sense, traditional script tends to be associated with a broader Chinese identity. In an interview with one Chinese restaurant owner in Utrecht, the interviewee claimed that he put Chinese characters on the signs because they are ethnic Chinese. In his ideology, Chinese language in both its spoken and its written form is an important symbol of ethnic identity. With the increase in the number of new immigrants from Mainland China, more and more simplified Chinese characters appear in the ll in the Chinatowns. In our database, 20.8 per cent of Chinese signs are in simplified characters (Figure 2) and 29.2 per cent of the romanized scripts are Hanyu pinyin. This is due to the influx of new immigrants from Mainland China since the 1970s, who now outnumber Hong Kong immigrants. These new immigrants no longer accommodate to the Cantonese community in their choice of Chinese writing on the signage. This has several implications: (1) The Chinese communities are no longer sensitive to the difference between traditional and simplified characters due to the change in their target customers. Since there are more immigrants from Mainland China than from Hong Kong, simplified scripts nowadays have greater market value. (2) China’s rapid economic growth has increased its political and educational influence worldwide. In Europe, more and more Chinese schools have begun to teach simplified characters and Hanyu pinyin, as these scripts are used in China and are more widely used globally. This trend is also reflected in the type of “mixed scripts” in our data, which account for 4.8 per cent of total Chinese signs. In such cases, both scripts are used at the same time. In Figure 8, 東 (东) is a traditional character while 艺 (藝) is a simplified character. This mixture implies that the choice between traditional or simplified characters is no longer crucial, and that more important is the use of Chinese characters. Out of a total of 2,080 entries in our database, 72.8 per cent (N=1514) contain Chinese language. Of the signs that contain Chinese language, 94.1 per cent (N=1425) use Chinese characters. This is a clear indication that Chinese characters represent Chinese identity. Chineseness is expressed through the strokes and structures of these ideographic characters. Together with other features such as the color and size of the fonts, Chinese characters are more highlighted on the signs. Red is the most preferred color and is used on 389 signs. There are 731 signs containing Chinese characters that are bigger than other scripts. In total, 1,184 signs (56.9 per cent) have Chinese as their dominant language. The situation in the Malaysian Chinese community, where Chinese characters appear on most public signs in the Chinese neighborhood, is similar (Wang and Chong 2009). One can hypothesize that the similarity between the two situations is due to a strong motivation to maintain Chinese identity and culture. This Chinese identity in fact covers many different sub-groups, including dialect groups in the Malaysian situation and places of origin in the European situation. By using different varieties of Chinese script, people manifest a pan-Chinese identity. The choice of script is not sensitive in terms of political implications or cultural variation. This is different from the situation in Taipei, where traditional characters index the geopolitics of Taiwan and the contestation between Tongyong pinyin and Hanyu pinyin reflects the ongoing process of identification in Taiwan (Curtin 2009).

table 1

Absolute (n) and relative (%) frequency of different Chinese scripts on signs

table 1
figure 8
figure 8

Mixed use of Chinese charactersWang).

Citation: Journal of Chinese Overseas 11, 2 (2015) ; 10.1163/17932548-12341302

6 Local Identification by Means of the Use of Local Language(s) and Its Orthography

Localization is commonly observed in immigrant communities as a step in the natural process of adaptation to the host country. ll can serve as a window through which the extent of adaptation in terms of language use can be revealed. Using the local language is often a strategy to attract local customers, but in our opinion this economic motivation is an essential part of immigrants’ changing identity. Doing business, also with local customers, is paramount in these immigrants’ lives: they spend a lot of their time on it and they earn their living by it. The use of local language(s) is also an important indicator of an intention to localize and of an openness towards localization. In this study, French and Dutch are the local languages in Brussels, whereas Dutch is the local language in the other five cities. The frequency distributions of French and Dutch are given in Table 2.

Table 2 shows that the use of Dutch ranges from 43.7 to 67.8 per cent, except for Brussels (where it is 21.3 per cent). However the dominant language of Brussels, French, shows up in 50 per cent of signs in Brussels, where both local languages add up to more than 70 per cent. English is also used in half the signs. This is unsurprising, given that this area is the main entertainment area in the city center of Brussels, which is frequented by locals, the Brussels international community, and tourists. Utrecht is found to have by far the highest percentage (67.8 per cent) of Dutch usage in its ll. A study by Smits (2013) on the linguistic landscape in three neighborhoods in Utrecht reported a similarly high degree of occurrence of Dutch (75.1 per cent). This shows that there is no significant difference between Chinese shops and non-Chinese ones in terms of the usage of Dutch. In Utrecht, there is no officially acknowledged Chinatown. There are two areas with a higher concentration of Chinese restaurants and shops, those around the Central Railway Station and the Amsterdamsestraatweg, but Chinese shops are scattered over different areas of the city. The Chinese businesses aim for customers from both Dutch and Chinese backgrounds. One interviewee, Mrs Jin, the owner of L. and J. Hairstyling, told us that half her customers are Dutch. She said she used Dutch and English in the big poster on the shop window because she wanted to attract more local customers. A chain restaurant, Wok to Go, did not use Chinese characters at all on its signs because most of its customers are Dutch, although its in-group language is Cantonese. Dutch is used as the out-group language in most Chinese establishments, especially in exchanges between the owner or shop assistants and Dutch customers. When we interviewed Dr Lin Bin, who runs the Zhong Hua Chinese Medical Center in Utrecht, we were told that 90 per cent of his patients were Dutch. He spoke Dutch with them during their visits. This suggests that the local language is used as a tool by the Chinese community to integrate into the host community.

table 2

Language use in signs in the ll in Chinatowns in Belgium and the Netherlands, split up by city

table 2

The tendency toward localization is also manifested in the use of Dutch orthography to write Chinese. In total, 63 examples showed up: only in Brussels was no Dutch orthography observed. Cantonese and Hanyu pinyin were also used only infrequently in Brussels. As illustrated in Figure 5, Dutch orthography is used for the shop name Tjiau Jiang, which is not written in Hanyu pinyin or Cantonese pinyin. Apart from shop names, Dutch orthography is mainly found in menus. In our interview with the owner of Oriental Delight in Antwerp, Ms Ho told us that the Dutch orthography in her menu was written by a locally born Chinese who speaks fluent Dutch. The purpose is to give Dutch customers a sense of Chinese cuisine by enabling them to read the menus out loud. Table 3 lists some examples of Chinese dishes in Dutch orthography as opposed to Hanyu pinyin and Cantonese pinyin.

The combinations of Tch, Tj, oe, aaw and auw are used in neither Hanyu pinyin nor Cantonese pinyin, but are Dutch letter combinations designed to help Dutch speakers match their pronunciation. For example, the famous Tofu dish Mapo Doufu is written Maa Poo Tahoe in Dutch orthography. Both aa and oo are long vowels for [aˑ] and [oˑ] in Dutch and oe represents [u]. Even personal names can be written in Dutch orthography. For instance, the name of the doctor from an acupuncture center in The Hague is written as Tjong Tjin Tai. Its Hanyu pinyin form would be Zhang Zhentai. Names are important for Chinese and traditionally they should not be changed in any context, or for any reason. The use of Dutch orthography for a name indicates that this acupuncture center intends to localize. This can be regarded as a strategy to attract local customers, given that Dutch has a strong market value (Cenoz and Gorter 2009) for this profession.

table 3

Examples of Dutch orthography in menus present in the ll: Hanyu pinyin and Cantonese pinyin equivalents, and English translation

table 3

7 Embracing Globalization through the Choice of English

The use of English is observed in the ll in many places, including Taipei (Curtin 2009), Tokyo (Backhaus 2007), and Bangkok (Huebner 2006). However, the function of English in these various lls is different. As Curtin (2009) points out, English is associated with cosmopolitanism, modernity, and an educated and worldly identity in Taipei. In Tokyo, English is mainly confined to titles, slogans, business names, etc. (Backhaus 2007). The mixed use of Thai and English in the ll of Bangkok conveys a cosmopolitan flavor (Huebner 2006). These Asian cities have never used English for daily communication, so the role of English in them is rather limited. With the rapid progress of globalization, more and more English can be found in the ll in every corner of the world. Many labels have been attached to English, including world language, international language, and language of wider communication (Philipson 1992). English has become the symbol of internationalism and globalization.

As elsewhere, English is also frequently used in the Chinatowns of the Netherlands and Belgium. Table 4 shows the frequency of English on signage. English appears on 46.2 per cent of signs (N=2080) in the Chinatowns, and is used as frequently as Dutch (N=948, 45.6 per cent). This is different from the situation in shopping areas outside the Chinatowns. According to Edelman’s (2010) study on the linguistic landscape in shopping centers in Amsterdam, the occurrence of English ranges from 24 to 50 per cent in different parts of the city. In contrast, Dutch dominates, ranging from 53 to 86 per cent of total signs. In total, Edelman (2010) found in 76 per cent of the signs in Dutch and 36 per cent in English in Amsterdam. For Fryslân (Friesland) province, her figures are similar — 79 per cent Dutch and 32 per cent English. In Utrecht, Smits (2012) observed 75 per cent of the signs in Dutch and 38 per cent in English. This shows that English is more dominant in the Chinatowns than in Dutch areas. One interviewee, the Director of Hwa To Chinese Medical Center, told us that his company puts English on the signs to attract customers from other countries. In our database, 274 shop names contain English, which accounts for 44.3 per cent of total shop names (N=619). In contrast, only 211 shop names use Dutch, representing 34.1 per cent of the total. The popularity of English may be due to marketing strategy on the one hand and to the intention to integrate into the global economy on the other. Table 5 shows the use of English in the shop names in the six cities under investigation. The two cities in Belgium seem to prefer English for shop names, for more than half of shop names contain English. The four cities in the Netherlands also tend to include English in shop names, except in the case of Utrecht. This result matches the characteristics of these cities. Among the six cities, all except for Utrecht are popular tourist destinations, attracting tourists from all over the world. The use of English by businesses is motivated by economic reasons and the presence of English in the lls is one of the major markers of globalization (Cenoz and Gorter 2009). Chinatowns in the European countries positively and actively respond from economic considerations to this wave of globalization. Fast-food chains may exemplify the process of globalization in Chinatown. Wok to Go is an Asian style fast-food restaurant chain run by a Hong Kong Chinese. The shop sign is in English with the Cantonese word “wok” embedded in it. According to an interview with the staff, this restaurant aims at Dutch rather than Chinese customers. Using an English brand with a Chinese element opens up a broader market that extends to local residents and international tourists. It represents a new trend in Chinese restaurants, which are different from the traditional ones. This new type of chain industry is subject to global planning and management.

table 4

Absolute (n) and relative (%) frequency distribution of the use of English and the use of English as a dominant language in signs in the ll in Chinatowns in Belgium and the Netherlands, split up by city

table 4
table 5

The use of English in shop names in the LL in Chinatowns in Belgium and the Netherlands, divided by city: the total number of shop names and the absolute (n) and relative (%) frequency distribution of English shop names)

table 5

8 Construction of Identities through Bilingualism and Multilingualism

The identities projected by language use in the lls in the Chinatowns are not homogeneous but heterogeneous. In fact, most signs are multilingual rather than monolingual. As Table 6 shows, 57.2 per cent of signs use more than two languages: more than 40 per cent of signs are bilingual, and more than 10 per cent are trilingual. A small number of signs, most of them in Brussels (n=30) and Antwerp (n=23), even use four or five languages, and all but one include both French and Dutch, the two local languages. This suggests that most signs simultaneously convey dual or triple identities (see Table 7). On bilingual signs, the combination of Chinese and English is most preferred (N=384, 45.1 per cent), followed by Chinese-Dutch (N=335, 39.3 per cent). On trilingual signs, the combination of Chinese, English, and Dutch appears on 206 signs, i.e., 76.6 per cent of all trilingual signs. Based on these data, it can be concluded that Chinese identity is the most salient identity projected by the lls in the Chinatowns. In the meantime, these Chinese are willing to embrace globalization by using English on their signs. While maintaining their Chineseness, they also tend to adapt to the local community by using Dutch or Dutch orthography in the lls. In line with the language use on the signage, our observations on the language use by the sales assistants show that Chinese language, Mandarin or Cantonese, is spoken between the shop assistants and Chinese customers and Dutch is used when the customers are non-Chinese. Competency in multiple languages has become a characteristic of the Chinese diaspora. They speak a Chinese language to maintain their ethnic identity, the local language to adapt to the host country, and English to connect with the wider world. A similar situation is found in other Chinese communities. For instance, most Chinese Malaysians can speak at least three languages, Mandarin, Malay, and English. Some can, in addition, speak Chinese dialects such as Cantonese, Hakka, or Southern Min dialect (Wang 2010). A strong Chinese identity is built through the use of Chinese language; a Malaysian identity is constructed through the use of Malay, the national language; and a modern and global identity is pursued, consciously or unconsciously, by speaking English.

table 6

Multilingualism in the lls: absolute and relative frequency of the number of languages used in signs (n=2080)

table 6
table 7

Language combinations in bilingual and trilingual signs: absolute and relative frequencies within bi- and trilingual signs (n = 852 and n = 269)

table 7

9 Conclusion

In the previous sections, we discussed the role of Chinese, Dutch, and English in the process of identity construction in Dutch and Belgian Chinatowns. The Chinese language and scripts in the lls express pan-Chinese identity; the use of Dutch or French indicates the intention of localization; the presence of English on signage indicates a motivation towards globalization. The multilingualism and multiscriptualism on the signage in the Chinatowns in Europe coincides with their multilayered identification. The original dominance of a Hong Kong identity has been replaced by a more universal pan-Chinese identity. The dynamic nature of identity is reflected in the changing scenery of the linguistic landscape, manifested in the choice of Chinese scripts and romanization systems and in the use of different language varieties for verbal communication. This change is associated with changes in Chinese immigration and in the origin of Europe’s Chinese population. It can be predicted that with the more frequent mutual interaction between China and Europe, more changes in the linguistic landscape in the Chinatowns will take place. As long as there is a continuous influx of new migrants, Chinese language and script in the linguistic landscape in the Chinatowns will retain their function as identity markers. Recently, Europe has become a tourist hot spot for Mainland Chinese. Some business establishments have started to use Chinese language to attract these tourists. This may have an important impact on the linguistic landscape within and beyond the Chinatowns. In this study, we have examined the ll of Chinatowns in the Netherlands and Belgium, where most settlements are commercial establishments. The findings are therefore limited to the Chinese business community rather than a full reflection of the Chinese community in the two countries. In addition to language choice on signs, measurement of other parameters will help to enhance our understanding of identity construction among Chinese migrants in Europe and other places in the world.

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