I decided to check out my local suburb of Cabramatta the other day. Cabra (as the cool kids say) is a melting pot of diverse cultures and has a very rich history as its formation was based upon historical migration patterns and events such as the Vietnam War. It is a successfully thriving community built upon authentic South-East Asian culture where the culture, language and many other aspects are preserved and maintained.
As I was walking through the suburb, I saw signs in Vietnamese, Chinese and Khmer. I observed signs of shops and posters around the Cabramatta area and I would say that my experience presented three key themes: exclusion, branding and language valorisation. There is a correlation between the dominant language spoken and the number of signs that had Vietnamese and/or Chinese and/or Khmer. It presents an interesting insight into the Australian multilingual landscape in Cabramatta.
In the nineteenth century, the Chinese arrived in Australia flocking to NSW in the 1850s-60s for the gold rush. After the White Australia policy was abolished in the 1960s, migrants from China, Singapore, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea started arriving.
Throughout the 80s after the Vietnam War, there was a large wave of migration from Southeast Asia. This made a significant impact on the cultural formation of Cabramatta, as it became a thriving Asian community. Cabramatta city centre was transformed into the streets of Vietnam, and due to the large number of Vietnamese migrants, the term “Vietnamatta” was coined. Throughout the 90s, Cabramatta had formed to be a thriving and strong community – attractive Sydney siders to the suburb as being an authentic Asian suburb.
There was a Vietnamese restaurant that had no English, Chinese or Khmer text, only Vietnamese. Having a sign in only Vietnamese excludes not only English speakers, but is directed towards people only from that one particular culture. Although majority of signs in Cabramatta did have English on them, there was a small few that was only in Thai or Vietnamese. These kinds of signs are direct exclusion from the non-Thai and non-Vietnamese speakers.
It was also interesting to see how the name of the brand or company was not translated. Companies and prominent businesses probably do this so that the maintenance of the brand name is upheld even for non-English speakers. Not translating a brand name of a well-known company is maintained in order to protect and advertise the brand name more. It is not necessarily exclusion, but rather advertising and marketing technique.
Language valorisation has been transformed as a result of intercultural communication where the greater the communication was, the more people valorised their second language. The attribution of particular positive values to language can facilitate communicative and cognitive functioning that suggests a language valorisation process.
All of the shop signs in Cabramatta had English on it, which illustrates that there is an important value held to the English language even in a suburb that is predominantly Asian. It is very evident that the Fairfield City Council is trying to promote and encourage English as the majority of their signs were in English only. The fact that the Fairfield City Council have emphasised a focus on English and not on any other language displays a strong push for members of the community learning English and encourage they be able to read English.
Interestingly, the council also put up a ‘Friendship Arch’ in Freedom Plaza that strongly resembles a Chinese style gate and has a strong focus of the Chinese language, there is also English, Vietnamese and Khmer. The gateway symbolises the South-East Asian community in Cabramatta as it welcomes people and celebrates freedom. Although the council has focused on encouraging English, they have done this without removing any value given to the dominant cultural languages in Cabramatta, recognising the importance of migrant language valorisation.
These reasons reflect a great example of how much of an impact a specific culture has upon Australia’s multicultural society. It is for this, Cabramatta is such a successfully thriving suburb balancing between the preservation of migrant language and culture as well as encouraging the utilisation of English and other languages.