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Welcome to LALA

Welcome to LALA

It's a magazine about speech and a city. It's a local take on globalization. Sometimes it's a peek at what linguists and other academics do for a living. It's staffed by UCLA students.

Kevin Matthews Email KevinMatthews

Big publishers devote magazines to cooking, camping, cycling, cameras, cities, and crochet, but not to communication in an urban environment.

Each story in LA Language World has one metropolis and some perspective on language as ingredients. That's where we get LALA (which is also easier on most tongues than L.A.L.W.). The UCLA students who drive LALA are multilingual. They signed on to cover a topic beloved by universities but neglected by advertising-obsessed publishers—who devote magazines to cooking, camping, cycling, cameras, cities, and crochet, but not to communication in an urban environment.

In our inaugural issue, Margarita Hirapetian focuses on a transplanted Armenian family in Tarzana, Calif., in the San Fernando Valley, and the unexpected challenge of language barriers inside of the home. Stephanie Tavitian, also a UCLA undergraduate, interviews a middle school teacher in the East L.A. community of El Sereno who is part of a LAUSD academic writing program that takes Chicano English and other English variants into account. Julia Robinson Shimizu, a UCLA alumna in North Hollywood, links love with learning in her bicultural Japanese American family. Assembled by April Girouard, LALA departments seek reader participation and take cues from academics to comment on linguistic maps and the given names of celebrity babies.

That tales about language need telling ought to be apparent from the facts. A whopping 54.5 percent of Los Angeles County residents speak a language other than English at home, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. That is, regardless of their English skills, they continue to use at least one of 100 or more languages spoken by sizeable communities who represent indigenous populations and about 140 countries.

Convinced as we are that Los Angeles is special, we'd better acknowledge one thing from the outset. It is not, by any measure, the most linguistically diverse spot on the planet. The nation of Papua New Guinea has some 850 languages or more, depending upon how you count them. India is one of many countries where adults typically speak three or more languages of varying geographical reach. In the more recent prehistory of the land known as California, at least 98 indigenous languages, by Andrew Dalby's count in Language in Danger, ran down the coast and inland. None of them held the sway that English, or Spanish for that matter, does today, so in one sense the multilingual character of this place used to be more pronounced. 

Still, Los Angeles is something else. In a 2005 scholarly article on "landscape" and Southern California by UCLA Professor of Geography Denis Cosgrove—who kindly spoke with us in the midst of his continuing battle with cancer—several notions of the L.A. landscape are entertained. One is the "blend of land and life" that includes colloquial speech and multilingualism, among other features. That's the place we mean to cover.

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