Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton September 18, 2018

Race, space and commerce in multi-ethnic Costa Rica: a linguistic landscape inquiry

Louisa Buckingham

Abstract

Costa Rica officially became a multi-ethnic, pluricultural nation in 2015. Representatives from the principal minorities, in particular Afro-Costa Ricans and indigenous peoples, played an important role in contesting the erstwhile dominant narrative of Costa Rican’s white European settler heritage. One of the intended consequences of the constitutional amendment was to ensure greater salience of ethnic minorities in public policy and social life. This study investigates the public display of linguistic and cultural diversity on commercial and community signage in six urban centres of Limón, the most ethnically diverse province. Undertaken in the same year as the constitutional amendment, the study examines the inclusion of languages and cultural references attributable to three main minority groups (Afro-Caribbean, Chinese and indigenous), and more recent migrant settlers, in public space. Greater salience was found in locations appearing to target a local readership; references to indigenous cultures were almost completely absent, however. Changes in the public narrative on Costa Rican identity may gradually encourage greater salience of official minority groups on public signage. An immediate challenge entails the effects of the expanding tourism sector, as this appears to favour a proliferation of decontextualized international cultural references rather than an appreciation of locality and historical rootedness.

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to Mario Zamora Cordero for our many conversations on contemporary Costa Rican affairs, including migration and urban development. The ideas expressed here are my own, however, and any possible errors in the portrayal of Costa Rica in this study remain my sole responsibility.

I gratefully acknowledge the constructive and insightful support received from my research assistant Alicia Verena López-Negrete García in recording, classifying and analysing the photographed signs.

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Published Online: 2018-09-18
Published in Print: 2018-10-25

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