Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Ethnic signs: Poll confirms Kiwis uncomfortable

The non-English signs add character, Mayor Len Brown says. Photo / Greg Bowker
The non-English signs add character, Mayor Len Brown says. Photo / Greg Bowker

A poll of nzherald.co.nz readers has backed research finding the proliferation of non-English signs in Auckland is making some Kiwis uncomfortable.

Massey University researchers Robin Peace and Ian Goodwin studied 500 "linguistic landscape" photographs taken in five Auckland locations - Northcote, Dominion Rd, Meadowlands, Auckland CBD and Papatoetoe - for their study, "The Cosmopolitics of Linguistic Landscapes".

Many of the signs were for migrant businesses and featured languages other than English.

Dr Peace said the signs gave a sense of relief to new migrants, but could also make local residents uncomfortable.

Some New Zealanders responded with "annoyance" or "repugnance" when faced with a space that did not make immediate, translatable sense, she said.

That was backed by nzherald.co.nz poll findings showing 39 per cent of people thought all immigrants should use English on their business signs.

A further 40 per cent of respondents said English translations should be offered beside ethnic scripts on business signs and 21 per cent said the signs should be accepted as New Zealand was a diverse society.

The findings were based on a sample size of about 8100 people.

Six people from a poll of 10 shoppers on Queen St told the Herald they were unhappy that signs without English were appearing in the city.

Receptionist Jade Morunga, 27, said she felt "like a foreigner in my own land" on streets such as Dominion Rd, where many business signs were in Asian scripts, mainly Chinese.

"I think it's just rude for immigrants to be coming here and turning streets and suburbs into their own little Chinatown."

But Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the signs added to the "unique character" of the city.

"I'm not concerned by an increase of signs in different languages if Auckland business owners think that it is appropriate for their customers and communities, as long as they observe the bylaws," he said.

"They contribute to the region's unique character, and I'd like to think the majority of Aucklanders appreciate that."

The Auckland Council said it did not have regulations governing languages used on signs.

Auckland Chinese Community Centre chairman Arthur Loo, a New Zealand-born Chinese who cannot read any language apart from English, said it "would be nice" if businesses operated by migrants did make the effort to translate what they had to say on their signs into English.

- NZ Herald

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