The Language Commons by Naoco Wowsugi

Naoco Wowsugi (1/2 of Very Sad Lab) is an accomplished photographer, sharing their experience in America after moving to Kansas City, Missouri, then Richmond, Virginia, from Japan in 2001.


The Language Commons by Naoco Wowsugi

“That a language is a commons doesn’t mean that the community owns it; rather it belongs between people, possessed by no one, not even by society as a whole.”                                                                      – Jonathan Lethem

Naoco Wowsugi arrived in America in 2001 with the ability to speak only one English word, "Yes." More than a decade of experience has greatly expanded their vocabulary. Wowsugi immersed in the environment and engaged in conversations with individuals. The photo series, Thank You for Teaching Me English, showcases portraits of individuals pronouncing an English word they taught Wowsugi, along with the actual word inscribed in their handwriting on a plaque below.

The original series, created in 2014, reflects Wowsugi's initial impressions of America during their time in Kansas City, MO, and Richmond, VA. After moving to Washington, DC, Wowsugi's American experience took on a transformative shift, as they developed a nuanced awareness of racial, social, and environmental disparities. This further enriched Wowsugi's vocabulary, influenced by interactions with a more diverse range of people.

The term 'language barrier' encapsulates the challenges faced not only by diverse speakers but also by individuals expected to conform to conventional notions of 'Standard English.' The Language Commons seeks to affirm the language and culture of diverse speakers, cultivating unforeseen connections and encouraging an embrace of differences.