What the signs say: Gentrification and the disappearance of capitalism without distinction in Brooklyn

Trinch, Shonna; Snajdr, Edward
Journal of Sociolinguistics

We examine shop signs in Brooklyn, New York, as sociolinguistic technologies of place-making that operate through specific language ideologies which represent class struggles for material wealth. We find two salient types of signs which we call Old School Vernacular and Distinction-making signage. The first indexes multiple inclusions in the neighborhood economy before gentrification and thus suggests a capitalism without distinction. These signs also challenge linguistic and literacy prescriptivism. In contrast, Distinction-making signs signal an exclusivity that for some readers also represents exclusion. We discuss how these data can reveal and disguise rent gap opportunities as both old and new signs co-inhabit the same space in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn.