What would be a sufficient translation of the wind—its sounds, its itineraries, its intensities?
The circulation of spoken languages in the city has a similar formlessness. The languages of the city are an integral part of the urban experience, of the thick impasto of sensory stimuli. What kind of image would be sufficient to represent the interactions that take place on the sidewalks, in front of the computer screens, along the innumerable trajectories of city life? How could this continual murmur of voices and experiences be tracked? Some transactions are quiet, taking place only in the intimacy of the home. By contrast the cell phone provides languages with a new sound platform. In cafés, taxis, and city streets, languages once only whispered are being shouted out.
Public displays of written language transmit official conceptions of the linguistic citizen, make assumptions about the capacities of its readers. The written messages delivered by city administrations and transit commissions, by billboard advertising, and by commercial signage trace out the linguistic portrait of ideal citizens, those who are included in civic conversation ... But against the backdrop of these official missives, cities also allow the proliferation of underground print cultures, the free-for-all culture of posters and stencils, ads, and petitions that create alternative zones of linguistic citizenship. These indicate linguistic micro-climates, zones of neighborhood conversation, where non-official languages can go public.
Public language ... has always been more than information: it has been a battleground.
- Sherry Simon in Translating Montreal