"We are using English to sort of connect people to events in the library that may be connected to current or world events."

The East Asia Library is one of the many libraries available at the University of Washington. It primarily specializes in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese texts. However, they do have material from other regions and languages. The discourse community of EAL is broad and contains people with a wide variety of social and linguistic backgrounds.

Interviewing one of the Chinese study specialists, he classified the primary users of this library into three: people from the Asian language and literature department and the international studies department. “They’re using our materials a lot for research, writing papers, for working on projects.” The second is the community users, where people that “browse the newest uh Korean fiction or, you know, the latest scientific books in Chinese or whatever and we welcome those users as well. The last user group but not least are visiting scholars and people from other national and international institutions who want “ access to the specific materials that are only available here or you know we might be the only library in North America that has the materials or whatever, so we have a lot of people coming specifically to these stuff that we have here”

The orthographies and romanization of materials is a tad haphazardous. He particularly noted that finding material in their online catalog may pose a challenge for Chinese texts and monologues because the UW uses two romanization systems. The older texts use the Wade-Giles and the newer are cataloged according to Pinyin. Pinyin has a much simpler orthography than Wade-Giles, so this presents a hindrance because when a person tries to find a material and they only have the non-romanized title, it will lead to different results.

“They need to Romanize the title in order to search for it in the catalog to figure out where it lives in the library and they need to use the correct romanization because, you know, there are multiple romanization systems that have been used throughout history.”

When EAL users want to promote events, it is all done in English, even if the talk or event will not be in English. The versatility of English and English being a lingua franca allows people to connect. Using English as the forefront of promotion in their flyers and posters speaks to a larger crowd. A person may not know how to read that language, but they can understand it when spoken thus attracting a larger audience. Hosting events using English as their primary mode of communication helps attract people from different backgrounds.

The primary goal of EAL library is to build bridges between cultures, that is their mission statement. “Connecting people with resources, connecting people with each other that foster cross-cultural conversations. We have an event space in the library that we make available to different international studies groups on campus like departments and student groups.”

“As people are learning culture in their classes or learning about the history of their culture, we are able to provide them uhh books and other materials that support that learning and let them learn more than maybe they would just by what they are talking about in class.”

In terms of the collection and materials the library inputs, they are doing a lot to support UW’s international studies community and courses that are taught. By providing space for these groups to study, discuss, and build bridges and connect with one another helps flourish and hone their mission statement. Books and monographs are added every day, in terms of prioritization, the collection is largely driven by “the needs of our student, staff, faculty that we support so based on what courses are being taught, what faculty and students request will be purchased that really influences the materials we purchase”.

In terms of addressing contemporary issues and how English is utilized to spread awareness, the library invites scholars to do research, provide materials and resources. For instance, Tibetan is an endangered language and unfortunately, the Tibetan language isn’t too common in most places. When the researcher stumbled upon UW’s EAL page and found the material he needed. His interest was Tibetan newspaper from a certain era in history. The material was discoverable because of the romanization and categorization in English when he came to retrieve the materials.

This relates to Canagarajah’s idea of spatial repertoires in English as a spatial resource and the claimed competence of Chinese STEM professionals “As people interact over time in situated activities, patterns and conventions do evolve. The relevant semiotic resources would sediment into shared norms (Hopper, 1978). Some scholars are beginning to label these patterns ‘spatial repertoires’ (Fast, 2012; Pennycook & Otsuji, 2015). They are different from grammar in the sense that they involve diverse semiotic resources (Canagarajah, 2018)” English being a language always in translation (Pennycook) will require various systematic approaches when it is translating another language to accommodate the different semiotic resources. As time proceeded, UW changed from the Wade-Giles romanization to Pinyin because Pinyin’s orthography is much simpler to romanize.

The EAL library uses English as a lingua franca to help connect. Being the primary mode of communication, all books are romanized to make finding material for classes or scholars from UW or other institutions much easier.

2 thoughts on “"We are using English to sort of connect people to events in the library that may be connected to current or world events."

  1. Interesting topic of research of East Asian Libraries and English at UW. I actually have never heard of this library during my time at UW so good work on doing research surrounding Asian libraries here at UW. I am surprised that the events are promoted in the English language, even if the talk will be in a different language. I feel this is similar to the group presentation on Taglish where it was shown that there are several signs in different languages to promote products, and a similar concept could be applied here. I feel that the purpose of this is to collect a wide variety of student body interested in Asian literature and international studies and to bring them in to the library to check out the resources and talk to the presenters eventually in English (if that is their main mode of communication) which would help “foster the cross-cultural conversations”. But then again, I wonder how a monolingual English speaker that came to an event that is not spoken in English would receive it. Would they expect the speaker to adjust their communication to be understandable since they are the “Other”? One must consider that native speakers of foreign languages tend to be “seen primarily in terms of their foreignness and their accentedness” (Shuck 2006)–thus, can that be their goal, and if so does it work to bring students to explore the East Asian library or deter them due to not being able to understand them? An interesting idea to think about is whether the books in this library favors books written in standard English as opposed to other varieties of English? Do students that choose books to use in their research for example, prefer to select books written in standard English or do they prefer to select non-romanized titled books or books written in other Englishes (or is one version easier to understand than the other)? This would provide insight to select certain popular texts for romanization as well as keeping the original title to potentially reach a wider audience. I also wonder if students connect nationality to how well one speaks English or writes English? Looking at Shuck’s paper with non-native English speaking TAs and students, the author found that “not only race but also national origin is semiotically linked to nativeness in English. They found an “expectation that prototypical East Asian physical features indicate someone’s non-nativeness in English and Caucasian physical features indicate nativeness”(Shuck 2006). Thus, do you think this concept of nativeness of English speaking ability linked to nationality is applied to how students perceive the legibility and “nativeness” of the written books there?


  2. I found Salsabeal and her group’s study on English as it is utilized by the UW’s East Asia Library (EAL) to be quite fascinating. The fact that all events held at the EAL are advertised by the library in English demonstrates the dominance of the English language as the primary lingua franca in many countries, and their social institutions, around the world. Moreover, Salsabeal’s research shows how the EAL promotes “cross-cultural conversations” among individuals by using the English language to bring people together. This makes me wonder if the increasing use of the English language may eventually dispel the stereotypes associated with non-Native speakers of English? My question is prompted by the fact that the English language is often used to bridge the divide between people who come from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds. Given that English is arguably becoming a universal language, is an individual’s accent or pronunciation of certain words still stigmatized to the same degree as to when the English language usage was not as prominent in the world? Moreover, how will the spread of the English language affect the stability of other languages that are less frequently used? Through its romanization system and by categorizing its books in the English language, the EAL uses English to help connect people to different languages and cultures. This relates to my group’s own research on the discourse community of biochemists and biophysicists at the UW. When talking to our two interviewees, both expressed the ease with which using the English language—both in its written and oral forms—allows them to discuss scientific research and findings with international colleagues. As mentioned by the interviewee in Salsabael’s post, scholars are frequent visitors of the EAL and, by using English, are able to locate texts and other resources that are written in other [endangered] languages. I think it is salient to mention here that language, even the English language, is aided by semiotic resources such as signs and symbols as well as other visual representations. More specifically, language is a spatial resource. Based on my own research and the pictures provided on Salsabeal’s blog post, it is evident that language, in the form of words, is not the only mode of communication (Canagarajah, 5). In the scientific community, sophisticated charts and graphs accompany sets of data; however, hand gestures and finger-pointing are also universally recognized movements that aid in communication. To conclude, Salsabeal and her group’s findings show how in many scholarly fields, English is becoming the primary mode of communication. Moreover, the English language is increasingly becoming the language of the media and has a way of attracting individuals, who may not be “fluent” in the language or follow “standard” English language or speech patterns. In this way, a certain superiority is being attached to the English language, which has controversial effects for languages that are already endangered or languages that have arguably failed to modernize.


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