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Series editor’s introduction (Amei Koll-Stobbe)��������������������������������������������������������7


Dimensions and dynamics of sociolinguistic landscapes in Europe

(Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja)��������������������������������������������������������11

Part I: Mobility, globalization and signs in space���������������������������������������������������27

Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces

(Hagen Peukert)����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������29

Ideofiers in the commercial city: A discursive linguistic landscape

analysis of hairdressers’ shop names (Amei Koll-Stobbe)��������������������������������������53

Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place

(Karine Stjernholm)����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������77

English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism?

(Mikko Laitinen)������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 105

Part II: Semiotic landscapes and signs in virtual space�������������������������������������� 125

Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and functions of a hybrid sign
(Mia Halonen)���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 127

Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes:

A case study of a German-Czech organization
(Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula)�������������������������������������������������������������������� 149
6 Contents 

Part III: Exploring linguistic landscapes in the former Eastern bloc��������������� 169

Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority:

Language ideologies among Hungarians in South-West Slovakia
(Petteri Laihonen)���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 171

‘Ruralscapes’ in post-Soviet Transnistria: Ideology and language

use on the fringes of a contested space (Sebastian Muth)���������������������������������� 199

Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena

(Olga Bever)�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 233

The presence of the Italian language in the linguistic landscapes of Moscow

(Monica Perotto)������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 263

Contributing Authors��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 283

Author Index������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 287

Subject Index������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 291

Amei Koll-Stobbe (University of Greifswald)

Series editor’s introduction

This is the seventh volume in the series Language Competence and Language
Awareness in Europe, which documents the complexity of languages in contact
and contact-induced processes of language maintenance and shift. Most of the
papers in this volume stem from a workshop organized by Mikko Laitinen and
Anastassia Zabrodskaja in the autumn of 2010 in Jyväskylä in the context of The
Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English, funded by the Acad-
emy of Finland (2006–2011). This workshop foregrounded methodological plu-
ralism in the sociolinguistic subfield of Linguistic Landscape Studies (LLS), which
studies cities as places of language contact and geosemantic spaces. The thematic
focus of the volume ranges from aspects of contact-induced linguistic choices
in cities and urban-rural borderlines of Europe, to aspects of multilingualism
and language user power-relations across majority and minority borderlines, to
aspects of the mobility of languages (such as English as a social marker of glo-
balization). The analysis of visible written language and multimodal signage in
public spaces contributes to our comprehension of space as a geographic and
mental concept, and of real and virtual/mental landscapes as social marketplaces
for languages and collective as well as individual identities.
I should like to thank Mikko Laitinen for raising further funds to ensure the
publication of the colour figures and slides of this volume. This might index
that LLS as presented in this edited volume is looking into a bright future since
its protagonists step down from the ivory tower of linguistic research to a data-­
oriented sociolinguistic research paradigm that contributes to explanations of
the social meanings of linguistic behaviour in a time of demographic and eco-
nomic power changes.

Greifswald, September 2014

Mikko Laitinen (Linnaeus University) and Anastassia ­
Zabrodskaja (Tallinn University/University of Tartu)

Dimensions and dynamics of sociolinguistic

landscapes in Europe

The articles in this volume investigate sociolinguistic landscapes, language and

signs displayed in space, in Europe in the early 21st century. The common de-
nominator is the object of study as the authors analyze everyday textual mate-
rial which may consist of “any display of visible written language” (Gorter 2013:
190) and other discursive modalities related to written language, such as images
and nonverbal communication (Jaworski and Thurlow 2010: 2). The articles ap-
proach the objects of study from a range of angles and theoretical perspectives.
Some of them take a linguistic landscape approach which examines multilin-
gual signs from the standpoint of societal multilingualism by focusing on how
displays of language are regulated, how hierarchies of languages could be used
to understand multilingual practices in context, and how code choice and pref-
erence become meaningful indicators of societal multilingualism. Others make
use of the theoretical notions presented in Scollon and Scollon’s (2003) geosemi-
otic approach and in Jaworski and Thurlow’s (2010) semiotic landscape studies
in which the focus falls on analyzing emerging social meanings which are related
to placement of signs and to the discourses and actions that stem from their
placement (cf. also Blommaert 2013). No matter what the theoretical orientation
is, the articles present not only quantitative results of the presence of various lan-
guages, but they also investigate (a) how visible semiotic materials and semiotic
aggregates contribute to creating a sense of place or a location, (b) how authors
and designers of signs make use of an endless pool of linguistic resources to place
themselves in the sociolinguistic landscape, (c) what types of cognitive process
are involved in the production, and (d) how various audiences, viz. residents,
occasional passers-by, and language regulators interpret and understand signs to
form their own understanding of space.
In addition to the object of study, the underlying theme is change and contact
between speakers, cultures, ideas, and languages. We are undoubtedly living in
the era of mobility and globalization of people, thoughts, ideologies, and goods.
Mobility and movement influence how linguistic resources are distributed, regu-
lated and interpreted, and sociolinguistic landscapes reflect societal change and
enable mapping what (multilingual) linguistic resources are used, and how they
12 Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja

are used, in a range of social contexts (cf. Blommaert 2010, 2013; Hélot, Barni,
Janssens and Bagna, eds. 2013). In addition to macro-level mobility and change,
this volume also presents a range of approaches by scholars who are interested
in approaching spatialization, i.e. the processes whereby space is represented,
structured, interpreted, experienced, and contested as places around Europe.
The observations presented in the articles are living records of mobility and spa-
tialization, and they are understood as snapshots displaying written language
and other semiotic signs which help understand globalization. So, in addition to
the action-based approach of what is done with the linguistic resources, socio-
linguistic landscape data, we feel, greatly add to comprehending sociolinguistics
of globalization.
Each contributor has selected and defined their terminology in their own
ways, but collectively this volume understands signs in space as sociolinguistic
landscapes, because designing, manufacturing, displaying, encountering, and
interpreting signs is inherently a human endeavor. Signs do not appear without
humans, and they do not change, apart from wear and tear brought about by the
forces of nature, without humans. This is similar to change in language which
is brought about by its speakers and hearers; it is always speakers who innovate
and spread change, not languages themselves (Milroy 1992: 169; Nevalainen and
Raumolin-Brunberg 2003: 1–2).
The concept of change is reflected in the organization of the articles (see be-
low for a comprehensive overview): Part I focuses on places whose emergence
is closely related with globalization, mobility and the use of multilingual and
multimodal resources. Many of the contributions therefore discuss ways to un-
derstand the changing role and status of English in sociolinguistic landscapes
around Europe but are not restricted to it. Part II is devoted to virtual and se-
miotic landscapes, and the authors follow Shohamy and Waksman’s (2009: 328)
approach in which the research object has “fluid and fuzzy borders” that includes
all possible discourses emerging in changing spaces. Part III contains studies on
signs in change in the former Soviet countries and territories. It is fair to say that
the political turbulence in and around this vast area has brought about the fact
that many of these investigations of multilingual and multimodal signs are, if
possible, even more relevant in mid-2010s than what they were a few years ago.
The editors of this volume come from two distinct fields as one of us (Ana-
stassia Zabrodskaja) is primarily interested in the role and contacts of minority
languages and in particular in ethnolinguistic vitality in post-Soviet spaces, and
the other one (Mikko Laitinen) is a historical corpus linguist whose research
interests center around studying lexico-grammatical variability in modern and
present-day English. He is also interested in testing how the methodological
Dimensions and dynamics of sociolinguistic landscapes in Europe 13

insights from sociolinguistic landscape studies could be used to understand the

global spread of English in more detail.
It is fair to say that the entire volume is result of contact as the editors first
met in an Estonian-Finnish research workshop organized by Professor Anna
Verschik at Tallinn University in 2009. Both of us had carried out linguistic
data collection in the form of pictures, Anastassia Zabrodskaja more consist-
ently and systematically as part of the “Vene-eesti ja inglise-eesti koodivahetuse
ja koodikopeerimise korpuse koostamine ja haldamine” [Russian-Estonian and
English-Estonian code-switching and code-copying corpora creation and man-
agement] project (2009–2013), and Mikko Laitinen as a methodological spin-off
as part of his post-doctoral research. We were interested in meeting with other
scholars in the field and in creating new contact points with those interested in
testing and elaborating the theoretical notions and methodologies of sociolin-
guistic landscape studies.
This initial contact led to organizing an international symposium on the
methodological dimensions of sociolinguistic landscapes and signs in space at
the University of Jyväskylä in autumn 2010. The event was part of the activities
at the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG),
a Centre of Excellence in Research funded by the Academy of Finland for 2006–
2011. We wish to express our sincere gratitude to the Department of Languages
and in particular to the productive Jyväskylä VARIENG group led by Profes-
sor Sirpa Leppänen for providing not only congenial and encouraging environ-
ment for research activities but also financial support for the symposium in the
form of venue and administrative services. Most importantly, the unit provided
academic stimulus and encouragement for a quantitatively-oriented historical
linguist to dig deeper into the world of ethnography and the global spread of
The objective of the two-day symposium was to draw together scholars inter-
ested in exploring sociolinguistic landscapes and signs in space to discuss their
research questions, to present methodological solutions, to compare material
collection endeavors, and to exchange ideas related to their ongoing research.
After the symposium, all the articles have undergone anonymous peer-reviews
by at least two international experts. We wish to thank and express our gratitude
to the scholars who sacrificed their time for peer-reviewing activities and offered
their expert opinions and suggestions for the authors.
In a recent article on the developments of the field, Gorter (2013) points out
that even though studies which make use of and draw from visible signs and
sociolinguistic/semiotic landscapes have been around for at least over four dec-
ades, it is only during the last few years when we have witnessed a considerable
14 Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja

increase in publications around the key themes of the field (see our overview
below). He argues that despite considerable development of the methods (quan-
titative, qualitative, ethnographic and experimental methods), the changes in the
socio-cultural settings in the form of globalization, and the prospects offered by
new technology, it is unlikely that the field would evolve to a new subdiscipline
of linguistics or lead to a new theory of multilingualism. Rather, it is more likely
that investigating sociolinguistic landscapes will offer an additional set of data
for broader research questions and methodological tools to solve these questions
(also Zabrodskaja and Milani 2014).
We as the editors share this view, and the contributions presented here are
case studies of a range of topics that can be better accessed and understood when
using visible written language and multimodal material in public spaces as data.
Yet, at the same time, we feel that many of the contributions in this volume pre-
sent theoretically interesting insights, a case in point is for instance the article by
Hagen Peukert who takes an interdisciplinary approach to landscapes in vari-
ous highly diverse urban neighborhoods and shopping areas in Hamburg. The
contribution is informed by a set of insights from linguistics and urban sociol-
ogy, and it makes use of space as an auxiliary variable in operationalizing the
study of signs in urban space. In addition, theoretically-relevant notions are also
developed in the articles which discuss the role of English and its displays in
space (see the articles by Amei Koll-Stobbe and by Mikko Laitinen). These con-
tributions explore the role of English in understanding the globalized linguistic
marketplaces of today’s Europe (cf. Bolton 2012). The objective is to steer the
discussion away from the explanation that the plain visibility of English would
(automatically) imply certain symbolic meanings, such as modernity and inter-
national orientations; rather, its omnipresence needs to be understood through
more comprehensive theoretical orientations, including presentation of self, lo-
cal power relations and as a local marker of collective identities for instance (cf.
Ben-Rafael, Shohamy, Amara and Trumper-Hecht 2006; Blommaert 2013: 41).
In addition, during the last decade a body of literature has emerged propos-
ing that (socio)linguists should direct their attention away from the traditional
focus of linguistics, i.e. language as a bounded system, towards broader semiotic
resources to see what is really going on when people ‘language’ (Stroud 2003;
Jacquemet 2005; Shohamy 2006; Makoni and Pennycook 2007; B ­ lommaert
2010). The notion of a language becomes especially questionable in cases of
multilingual computer-mediated communication. The last decade has also
witnessed growing scholarly interest in language on/of the internet in general
and in e-mails and postings on various internet discussion forums or message
boards in particular (e.g. Koutsogiannis and Mitsikopoulou 2003; Palfreyman
Dimensions and dynamics of sociolinguistic landscapes in Europe 15

and al Khalil 2003; Hinrichs 2006; Dorleijn and Nortier 2009; Androutsopoulos
2006, 2009; Kytölä 2013). While studying language use by individuals, it is im-
portant to shift “from focus on structure to focus on function – from focus on
linguistic form in isolation to linguistic form in human context” (Hymes 1974:
77). In this volume, Mia Halonen, studying language practices used by Finnish
adolescents in virtual communication, makes a connection between sociolin-
guistic landscape approach and studies on language use and change brought
about by computer-mediated communication and social media.
This volume lands to a field that has seen a growing number of publications
in recent years, and the first volume of a new peer-reviewed journal, Linguistic
Landscape. An International Journal, edited by Elana Shohamy and Eliezer Ben-
Rafael, is expected in near future. The following brief overview of some of the
recent publications aims not to repeat the thorough description of the field in
Gorter (2013), but reviews some of the most recent publications and theoretical
insights to the field. A more comprehensive list of the publications in the field
can be found at a website maintained by Robert A. Troyer at https://www.zotero.
org/groups/linguistic_landscape_bibliography (accessed 8 August 2014).
The articles in Shohamy and Gorter (eds. 2009) center around the core theme
of “expanding the scenery”, and they approach authentic language data from a
range of theoretical and methodological perspectives. The contributions are di-
vided into five parts, the first one focusing on various theoretical approaches,
i.e. “historical, sociological, economic, ecological or more focally sociolinguistic”
(Shohamy and Gorter 2009: 4). The ensuing three parts present case studies that
range from methodological explorations covering language policy issues, identi-
ties and language awareness-related topics. The geographic contexts explored
range from highly diverse urban centers to regional capitals in Africa to post-
communism space in Eastern Europe. The chapters in the final section focus on
exploring the future routes for linguistic landscape studies. The final chapter by
Shohamy and Waksman (2009) argues for a radical expansion of the field and
proposes that language in environment and semiotic signs displayed in public
space are “beginning to be viewed as an integral component of what is meant by
applied linguistics in a multilingual and multimodal world” (2009: 9).
The volume edited by Shohamy, Ben-Rafael and Barni (eds. 2010) sets out
from Landry and Bourhis’ (1997) seminal article, but the objective is to expand
this approach and analyze multilingual public space using theoretical insights
from a range of fields, viz. linguistic, social, cultural and political. Rather than
understanding linguistic landscape as “a ‘given’ context of sociolinguistic pro-
cesses” (Ben-Rafael, Shohamy and Barni 2010: xii), the volume is character-
ized with an agenda in which mundane objects help creating and constructing
16 Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja

physical settings that are socially constructed and have dynamics of their own.
The articles focus on urban areas of global cities and other smaller but equally
urban areas, and they approach what the editors call “ordered disorder” of lin-
guistic variation in signs, and the notion of linguistic landscape is understood to
be structured along four lines drawn primarily from sociology and social psy-
chology: (a) power relations between various participants in public space, (b) the
good reasons perspective and individual actors’ interests in shaping and molding
public space through designing, creating and placing semiotic signs, (c) subjec-
tive self and perceptions and reactions to signs by the crowd, i.e. sign authors
and passers-by in densely populated and semiotically-rich environments, and
(d) collective identities according to which actors engage in a priori planning
that draws from given individual/group identity markers in today’s globalized
and multicultural urban life (Ben-Rafael, Shohamy and Barni 2010: xvii–xix).
This key theme, from space to a place, is elaborated in the long programmatic
introduction for Jaworski and Thurlow (eds. 2010) and also in the majority of
the articles. The theme is, in its most basic form, seen in the title in which the
notion of semiotic replaces linguistic as the descriptive adjective. This change,
according to the authors, stems from two factors which lead to broader implica-
tions in the field. One of them refers to the nature of data which in linguistic
landscape studies mainly consist of written language, but Jaworski and Thur-
low (2010: 2) argue that since “written discourse interacts with other discursive
modalities: visual images, nonverbal communication, architecture and the built
environment”, the term semiotic is more appropriate in describing space created
through human intervention and meaning making. In addition, it is seen in the
need to steer studies away from “predominantly survey-based, quantitative ap-
proaches” (Jaworski and Thurlow 2010: 14) towards highlighting ethnographi-
cally-informed, genre-specific, and contextualized analyses.
As is well known, the presence of English in public space has received plenty
of attention in recent literature on sociolinguistic landscapes and signs in space.
The great majority of these studies have focused on socially diverse urban ar-
eas of world cities, but some degree of attention is also being paid to rural areas
(Laitinen 2014). A recent special issue of World Englishes (Bolton 2012) reviews
some of the recent developments and publications that focus on the global spread
of English. The introduction and the articles take an applied perspective in which
the existing theoretical notions (cf. the publications listed above together with
Scollon and Scollon’s (2003) geosemiotic approach) are made use of. The studies
in the special issue examine for instance bilingual landscapes of Washington DC’s
Chinatown, the presence of English in the primarily Francophone nation of DR
of Kongo and the uses and visibility of English in online newspapers in Thailand.
Dimensions and dynamics of sociolinguistic landscapes in Europe 17

A pointed out above, one productive strand in the field has explored issues re-
lated to minority languages, and they are in focus in the volume edited by Gorter,
Marten and Van Mensel (2012). Their volume stems from recent research on lan-
guage policy and globalization, majority–minority language choice and language
preference at a community level, i.e. using public signage as evidence of the posi-
tion of minority languages and their speakers (e.g. Gorter 2006; Shohamy and
Gorter eds. 2009). The contributions chart how the theoretical and methodo-
logical insights from linguistic landscape studies, taking the venerable Landry
and Bourhis (1997) type of approach, could be used to understand”the dynamics
of minority language situation, with an explicit focus on Europe” (Marten, Van
Mensel and Gorter 2012: 1). The editors acknowledge the need for a more coher-
ent theoretical basis in the field, and point out that the contributions present a
range of research in which the methods from linguistic landscape research could
be made use of to make structural disadvantages of minority language speakers
visible and contribute to survival of such languages. One of the theoretical in-
sights highlighted is moving away from static signs as the object of study to that
of various non-static signs (cf. the pioneering study by Sebba 2010). The contri-
butions make use of both quantitative and qualitative approaches since, as the
editors succinctly point out, both approaches are valuable in understanding the
fascinating questions related to signs in space, i.e. what signs are displayed, what
languages and linguistic resources are used in signs, who posted these signs, and,
most thought-provokingly perhaps, why?
This question of why various signs are displayed is among the key research
questions explored by Blommaert (2013) who examines signs in his own neigh-
borhood in Antwerp. The book focuses on how the notion of sociolinguistic
superdiversity could offer a theoretical and methodological toolbox to under-
stand signs in space and contribute to establishing a firm(er) theoretical basis
for the studies in the field. Blommaert’s approach builds on “deep ethnographic
immersion” (2013: 108) of how signs and diverse motivations behind them could
be understood through the chaos and complexity theory which helps uncover
social, cultural, political, and motivations of displaying them and understand
their social meanings in the broader framework of mobility and globalization.
The articles in the present volume are organized so that we have aimed at
presenting a range of approaches that focus on exploring the various dimen-
sions of sociolinguistic landscapes. In the first four articles, the thematic focus
is on globalization (and particularly on English as its main marker), mobility,
technology, and multilingualism in various locations in Western Europe. The
authors examine both urban and rural spaces by focusing on specific genres
of signs (particularly shop name signs in urban environments) or by aiming to
18 Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja

understand space, such as city regions, shopping areas, or places of tourism. The
second part discusses semiotic landscapes in virtual space and border regions,
and the authors present interdisciplinary studies in which the aim is to under-
stand the complex nature of semiotic items in socioculturally multilayered space
that manifests itself in oral, written, and virtual communication forms. In the
third part, the focus shifts to the former Soviet countries and territories, and the
authors analyze the interconnections between sociohistorical backgrounds and
contemporary language policies, current ethnolinguistic situation and reversal
of language policy matters, all of which shape form and functions of language(s)
used in multilingual and multimodal signs. Pavlenko (2013), in her recent over-
view of multilingualism in post-Soviet space, notes that the language regimes
and processes in this area are still insufficiently studied, and Part III here pro-
vides a set of accounts on the formation of sociolinguistic landscapes in the post-
Soviet societies.
In ‘Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces’, Hagen Peu-
kert examines linguistic diversity in city space and focuses on the neighborhood
of St. Georg, a commercially-driven, multicultural environment in Hamburg.
His study illustrates how “the city is a place of language contact” (Backhaus 2007:
1), and he approaches his research object interdisciplinarily, combining sociolin-
guistics and urban sociology to analyze quantitative correspondences between
linguistic signs visible on the street level and the number of different usage func-
tions per spatial unit of the buildings in these streets (available through official
city records). The key question addressed is whether the diversity of usages cor-
responds with the diversity visible in signs on the street level.
In an approach that considers shop signage as a genre with a number of func-
tions of advertising discourse, Amei Koll-Stobbe, in ‘Ideofiers in the commercial
city: A discursive linguistic landscape analysis of hairdressers’ shop names’, in-
vestigates the diversity of shop name signs in various urban areas. Her observa-
tions are collected in the inner-city Lancaster and West End in London, and she
also provides supplementary data from Kiel. The results show that shop names
may serve two indexical functions, a direct referential one to identify the busi-
ness and its services, and an indirect discursive one to ideofy the intended hair-
dresser-customer relation as a symbolic commodity. She concludes that signs
in service-oriented industries, such as hairdressers, are used not only as direct
identifiers but shop name signs are often designed to exhibit an act of identity
with the help of an ideofier, “an intended image” which is used to attract specific
groups of customers.
The theme of studying shop name signs continues in “Two faces of Oslo:
A comparative study of the sense of place” by Karine Stjernholm. Two urban
Dimensions and dynamics of sociolinguistic landscapes in Europe 19

districts, the more affluent Majorstua in the west and the more working-class
Grünerløkka in the east, are investigated both quantitatively and qualitatively.
The author, drawing from iconography, not only counts what languages are visi-
ble but also analyzes their functions and meanings and makes use of the concepts
of disembedding and re-embedding when analyzing qualitative differences in
these two places. One of the quantitative results is that immigrant languages are
not presented in either of the two locations. The qualitative analysis reveals how
the sense of globalness is more prominent in Majorstua, which is dominated by
chain-stores, whereas localness is stressed in the public signage in Grünerløkka.
Mikko Laitinen, in his ethnographic study ‘English on the move: What’s be-
yond modernity and internationalism?’, concentrates on the global spread of
English and examines its implications for future sociolinguistic landscape stud-
ies. The article focuses on uses and functions of English signs in a country in
which English is used as a foreign language but in which its presence and impor-
tance has increased considerably during the past few decades as part of processes
of globalization and mobility. The observations were collected from two field
trips charting the presence of English in Finnish public space, with a special
focus on non-urban areas. In the analysis part, he first examines the functions
of one mass-produced global sign and then moves on to investigate how one
regional Finnish dialect marker is sometimes used as part of locally-produced
English texts. He argues that future studies need to problematize the nature of
English in public signs and move beyond the widely-repeated claim that English
in signs is merely an index of modernity and internationalism and instead start
charting situated meanings in more detail.
In ‘Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and functions of a hybrid sign’,
Mia Halonen combines some of the methods in previous linguistic landscape
studies together with internet-based ethnography to study how semiotic signs
are used in digital space. Halonen investigates how and why the sign siisdaa (a
hybrid sign) is employed by Finnish adolescents in the various actions in com-
puter-mediated discourse, i.e. in naming oneself and when commenting others.
Siisdaa has a range of meanings in social networking sites used by young adoles-
cents, and her observations show that the sign is used by interactants to create
affordances of visibility, to highlight specific epistemic positions (i.e. positioning
oneself in relation to what the others could be expected to know), and as an an-
ticipatory style marker which could be used as a specific discursive index when a
person wants to dissociate him/herself from the communicative situation.
Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula’s article ‘Constructing a cross-border
space through semiotic landscapes: A case study of a German-Czech organiza-
tion’ is an ethnomethodological study that investigates semiotic signs in border
20 Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja

areas. Borders are seen to be socially constructed entities which need to be per-
formed in certain ways, and the article draws from the theory of language man-
agement and provides a detailed overview of the multilayered semiotic landscape
of one binational and bilingual organization on the Bavarian-Bohemian border.
Their data are diverse in nature and include a range of verbal and visual mate-
rial, and the authors separate two notions, public communication and internal
communication. Their analysis shows considerable disparities between the two:
The public semiotic landscape provides a misleading image of the bilingual reali-
ties as the internal communication shows asymmetrical adaptation by the Czech
employees to their German interlocutors. The article concludes that the public
semiotic landscape in this case study is an idealized representation of what bilin-
gual interaction could be.
In the article entitled ‘Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional ma-
jority: Language ideologies among Hungarians in South-West Slovakia’, Petteri
Laihonen continues the discussion on the topic of borders but not so much in
the geographic sense as in the majority–minority language context. He inves-
tigates sociolinguistic landscapes in two villages which have two names, one
Slovakian and one Hungarian (Slovakian: Reca/Hungarian: Réte and Slovakian:
Trhová Hradská/Hungarian: Vásárút). The author, making use of both quan-
titative and qualitative approaches, carries out a comparative analysis of both
mono and bilingual signage which reveals language ideologies and discourses in
bilingual (even shifting to Slovak) Reca and predominantly monolingual Hun-
garian Vásárút. The main finding is that the notion of sociolinguistic landscape
might not mirror the presence of a minoritized regional majority at all if speak-
ers themselves consider education in their first language to be a more important
issue and wish to avoid tensions with officials even in cases in which language
legislation clearly permits bilingual (Slovak-Hungarian in this case) signage.
The topic of both geographic and majority–minority language borders is
discussed in Sebastian Muth’s article ‘Ruralscapes’ in post-Soviet Transnistria:
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space’. He focuses on
ruralscapes of a state with limited recognition, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian
Republic (also known as Transnistria). His observations are drawn from five
small communities in Transnistria, and the objective is to establish a connec-
tion between the ongoing efforts to construct a distinctively Transnistrian
political and cultural identity and to demonstrate that surveying ruralscapes
can provide equally meaningful results if compared to urban sociolinguistic
landscapes. His results show that despite the number of Russian, Ukrainian or
Moldovan/standard Romanian speaking inhabitants, Russian firmly dominates
in public signage and serves not only as a marker of pre-1992 history but also
Dimensions and dynamics of sociolinguistic landscapes in Europe 21

clearly demonstrates the fact that the lingua franca of interethnic communica-
tion has not changed in this region. Muth concludes that Transnistria serves as
a test bed for further studies in peripheral linguistic landscapes in non-urban
The question of contradictory display of the Russian and Ukrainian languages
and Cyrillic versus Latin scripts in public space in Ukraine is observed in ‘Lin-
guistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena’ by Olga Bever.
The contribution pays special attention to the distinctions between Russian and
Ukrainian and their alphabets, different linguistic choices between Russian and
English, and to the Cyrillic and Latin scripts detected in signs in the urban center
of post-Soviet south-eastern Ukraine city of Zaporizhzhya. The author looks at
fonts, sizes, colors, images, text prominence and other semiotic devices which
together constitute multimodality of a multilingual sign, facilitating understand-
ing what language tactics are used in the Ukrainian contexts in the early 21st
century. Even though this article concentrates on sociolinguistic landscapes, it
helps comprehending the various (linguistic) identity and language use choices
among the Ukrainian population in the aftermath of the events in Crimea in
2014 and, what is more important, it illustrates some of the underlying linguistic
tensions in the current confrontation between the western and eastern parts of
The fourth contribution in Part III is Monica Perotto’s article ‘The presence
of the Italian language in the linguistic landscapes of Moscow’. She deals with
an interesting phenomenon, namely the presence and functions of the Italian
language in a multilingual and multiethnic metropolis where Russian is used as
the dominant language for interethnic communication, and where the speak-
ers of Italian constitute very marginal, almost unnoticeable, part of the total
population of circa 11.5 million people. Despite these facts, the Italian language
is visible throughout the city, and Perotto provides insights into how Italian
and Italianized elements are used in Moscow’s commercial signage. The data
show that local practices shape linguistic creativity, and signs in which refer-
ences are made to the Italian culture occur as a result of various interpretations
of what constitutes Italy and Italianness. Her observations also clearly indicate
that positive connotations are associated with the use of Italian in Moscow, and
she concludes that these connotations should be made use of in fostering Ital-
ian language education and strengthening the social, cultural and economic ties
between the two countries.
The majority of the observations are produced as black and white images em-
bedded in the articles. Where necessary for the analysis, some of the observa-
tions are produced in color.
22 Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja

As suggested by Shohamy and Gorter (2009: 4), the field of sociolinguistic

landscapes has expanded from mere documenting various signs to contextual-
izing observations and problematizing languages visible and audible in space.
The contributions included in the volume at hand aim at broadening this vibrant
field by offering not only new approaches to research on semiotics of sociolin-
guistic landscapes in different European contexts but also adding new methodo-
logical perspectives on data collection and interpretation techniques.

Androutsopoulos, Jannis. 2006. Mehrsprachigkeit im deutschen Internet:
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Androutsopoulos, Jannis. 2009. ‘Greeklish’: Transliteration practice and dis-
course in a setting of computer-mediated digraphia. In Alexandra Georgako-
poulou and Michael Silk (eds.), Standard Languages and Language Standards:
Greek, Past and Present, 221–249. Farnam: Ashgate.
Backhaus, Peter. 2007. Linguistic Landscapes. A Comparative Study of Urban
Multilingualism in Tokyo. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Ben-Rafael, Eliezer, Elana Shohamy, Muhammad Amara and Nira Trumper-
Hecht. 2006. Linguistic landscape as symbolic constructions of the public
space: The case of Israel. International Journal of Multilingualism 3:1, 7–28.
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Gorter, Durk (ed.). 2006. Linguistic Landscape: A New Approach to Multilingual-

ism. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
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E-mail Communication. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Hymes, Dell. 1974. Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach.
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age of globalization. Language and Communication 25, 257–277.
Jaworski, Adam and Crispin Thurlow (eds.). 2010. Semiotic Landscapes: Lan-
guage, Image, Space. London/New York: Continuum.
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Adam Jaworski and Crispin Thurlow (eds.), Semiotic Landscapes: Language,
Image, Space, 1–40. London/New York: Continuum.
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of Jyväskylä.
Laitinen, Mikko. 2014. 630 kilometers by bicycle: Observations of English in ur-
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24 Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja

Landry, Rodriguez and Richard Bourhis. 1997. Linguistic landscape and ethno-
linguistic vitality: An empirical study. Journal of Language and Social Psychol-
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Reconstituting Languages, 1–41. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
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Nevalainen, Terttu and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg 2003. Historical Sociolin-
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Palfreyman, David and Muhamed al Khalil. 2003. “A funky language for teenzz
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Pavlenko, Aneta. 2013. Multilingualism in post-Soviet successor states. Lan-
guage and Linguistics Compass 7:4, 262–271.
Scollon, Ron and Suzie Wong Scollon. 2003. Discourses in Place: Language in the
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Landscape in the City. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
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the Scenery. New York/London: Routledge.
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Part I:
Mobility, globalization and signs in space
Hagen Peukert, University of Hamburg

Urban linguistic landscaping:

Scanning metropolitan spaces

1. Introduction
Coping with the steady influx of worldwide migration movements is a common
challenge among metropolitan areas in Europe (Vertovec 1998).1 Although im-
migration per se is not a recent phenomenon, having existed in the development
of all larger cities in the world for centuries, some of the ramifications of today’s
migration patterns have never been witnessed (Buckow 2010; Häußermann and
Oswald 1997). The apparent differences in today’s immigration patterns rest on
the large number of different regions where people migrate from. This char-
acteristic entails cultural diversity, or better yet superdiversity (Vertovec 2007),
which is most notable in the range of languages one encounters in metropoli-
tan centers. Languages are reliable indicators of cultural identity (Buchholtz and
Hall 2004; Eastman and Reese 1981; Spolsky 1999), and thus an investigation of
linguistic landscapes of a multicultural, multilingual city space should also draw
from studies in sociology.
The basic tenet of this study builds on the research work carried out at the
Linguistic Diversity Management in Urban Areas (LiMA) research cluster at the
University of Hamburg (see Siemund, et  al. 2013). The previous research at
LiMA has suggested that diversity in general and linguistic diversity in particu-
lar are valuable resources that should not remain unexploited. This approach
to diversity often runs contrary to public opinion, which considers diversity a
problematic theme that underlies a range of cultural clashes. Therefore, the po-
tential benefits of linguistic diversity need to be made clear so that public opin-
ion would shift away from rather undifferentiated views and so that political
leaders would be pressured to issue supportive legislation for cultural diversity.
Yet, LiMA as a research cluster is a coalescence of several disciplines itself. In the
first place, several branches of linguistics and education sciences form the back-
bone of the entire enterprise. In addition, economics, law, sociology, psychology,
ethnology and urban sociology contribute additional theoretical perspectives to

1 This research was carried out at the Cluster of Excellence LiMA (Linguistic Diversity
Management in Urban Areas).
30 Hagen Peukert

the research. This large number of disciplines mirrors the fact that diversity is
the main object of investigation in the research cluster.
This study investigates linguistic diversity in a city space, and it combines a
set of methods from linguistics and urban sociology. The linguistic approach
draws from linguistic landscaping, understood here as the presence and visibility
of languages in space (Shohamy and Gorter 2009). From urban sociology, the
study adopts the concept of usage structure, namely the actual utilization of a
concrete spatial unit involving social actions and practices independent of the
functions of language (Friedrichs 1995; Häußermann 2004; Löw 2012; Rostal-
ski 2011). The two concepts are brought together in such a way that they allow
making reasonable inferences about language and society. The spaces in some
of Hamburg districts are particularly suitable because they display a promising
environment for linguistic landscapes. At the same time, they reveal an identi-
fied area of study for urban sociologists. The physical location selected for this
study is the neighborhood of St. Georg since the cultural diversity there is char-
acterized by a peaceful coexistence of a range of cultures and languages in close
proximity. In what follows, I will first sketch the conceptual framework, discuss
the methodology, present the results of the study, and finally discuss some of the
consequences of the findings.

2.  Conceptual framework

2.1. Motivation
Today’s metropolitan cities exhibit the dynamics of diverse cultural interactions.
One can experience such interactions by taking a walk through the streets of a
multicultural district. On the one hand, one will see hundreds of multilingual
shopping signs and signposts for information. On the other hand, a less obvious
but intuitively existent perception is the way social actions take place; that is,
how the spaces are used and which goods/services are offered there (henceforth
referred to as usage structure). Comparing these usage structures with other,
more monocultural shopping areas in Hamburg, it seems reasonable to assume
that multilingual signs and their specific locations in multicultural districts is
interrelated. Leaving such intuitions behind, this study investigates whether such
interrelations exist and, if so, what characterizes them.
Since language is a social phenomenon, sociolinguistic research has long
drawn from a rich repertoire of sociological research. While variationist socio-
linguistics studies the impact of independent variables such as gender, age, edu-
cational background, or social status on language use, the sociology of language
approach puts emphasis on how language features impact society, as revealed by
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 31

Bourdieu’s (1990) or Luckmann’s (1979: 5, 17) contributions. Thus, the sociology

of language is a branch of sociology that focuses rather on the effect of language
on society, not on the social variables on language as in variationist sociolinguis-
tics (Fishman 1972; Fishman 1971: 8–9).
This approach adopts an elaborated sociological perception of space, which,
to the best of my knowledge, has never been employed to a comparable extent of
granularity in sociolinguistics. However, while the crossroads of linguistics and
sociology followed here cannot be completely absorbed by the field of the sociol-
ogy of language, I believe that the effects are mutually interdependent. That is,
societal factors impact language in use and language in use impacts societal fac-
tors. Since it is impossible and perhaps irrelevant to know what initiated this cy-
clic process, I resolve this “chicken and egg” problem by striving after a detailed
description of language in space. The spatial component is particularly impor-
tant because it functions as the unifying element between the two approaches of
language of society and sociology of language.
Independent of the approach taken here, language manifests itself in certain
spatial settings, as well as in social actions (cf. Pennycook 2010: 64). Both the so-
cietal and linguistic variables can be lumped together when exploring language
use in physical space. In essence, space serves as an auxiliary variable that off-
sets the difficult choice between dependent (explanatory) and independent (re-
sponse) variables in a research design in which one does not know how possible
variables influence each other. If I asked how language manifested itself in space,
one could think of both linguistic and social impacting factors without being
able to say which of these factors is dependent on one another (see also Penny-
cook 2010: 141 for a sociolinguistic account). Since language always occurs in a
certain space at a certain time, the focus on space at a certain time is acceptable.
A similar procedure is an established methodology in mathematics (see Fraser
1992 on the so-called Lagrange multipliers), which has been adopted in disci-
plines such as economics (see e.g. Weise, et al. 2005: 77 on the optimization func-
tion) and is also made use of in logic and computational linguistics (see Church
1932 on lambda calculi). In sum, the idea of using auxiliary variables is not new,
but rather common in many scientific branches. Thus, this study suggests that
space is the common denominator that unites linguistic and social variables.

2.2.  The key concepts

According to Läpple (1991), the notion of space has been investigated inten-
sively in urban sociology in recent decades. Throughout the last few centuries
however, theoretical thinking about space has been dominated by discussions
32 Hagen Peukert

from the field of physics (Renn 2006). Feynman (2005: 172) illustrates that the
Newtonian concept of absolute space was modified by Einstein’s space-time that
cannot be conceived intuitively by observation, i.e. energy is on par with inertia.
This finding inevitably links space and time (by velocity). Inertia bends space
and, hence, space can no longer be understood in absolute terms but is instead
defined in relative terms by the sum of all geodetic lines. As an illustration, drop-
ping a stone from the top of a house and measuring the length of the path to the
ground defines the geodetic line spanning the space of the house to the ground.
If one makes the same measurement from a far-away ideal planet that does not
rotate, the geodetic line and, thus, the space will be larger, since the planet that
rotates prolongs the path of the stone at a constant time (see e.g. Hawkins and
Mlodinow 2005).
Sociological thinking parallels the scientific evolution in physics, although
for different reasons. The sociological counterpart with the Newtonian space
can be associated with the notion of a ‘container space’ (Läpple 1991), and,
similar to physics, such an absolutely fixed space has also led to methodologi-
cal problems in sociology for its analytical ambiguity since space can be per-
ceived as a theoretical construct or as a delimiter of social domains (Breckner
2005; Breckner and González 2003). Shifting to a relational concept of space,
which is defined by the dependence on the involved actors and their behav-
ior, circumvents the ambivalence (cf. Pennycook 2010: 54; Thrift 2008: 89).
However, although this definition could account for a holistic study of space,
it is too general and has to be further specified in how it evolves (parallel to
the linking of time in physics), transforms, and reproduces in a set context
(Schroer 2006; Sturm 2000). To solve this problem, Läpple (1991) suggests
a ‘matrix space’ spanning the space under investigations to its properties on
three different layers of detail. So a space matrix allows describing space on
micro, meso, and macro levels that are each defined by a set of properties.
The first two properties comprise the physical conditions and the normative
rule system. The other properties elaborate on the social practices and the sign
system. The sign system is yet another dimension in the matrix. It involves
the oral and written codes of communication. These codes can be analyzed
in a variety of ways. In Peirce’s (1994) semiotic theory the codes are related to
symbols, indices, and icons.

2.3.  Linguistic landscaping

Linguistic landscaping is a method that captures multilingual signs in ur-
ban areas. It is an established method within sociolinguistics (Backhaus 2007;
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 33

Ben-Rafael, et al. 2006; Gorter 2006; Shohamy, et al. 2010; Shohamy and Gorter
2009), and it has been adopted in the present study to help in the endeavor of
locating multilingualism in spatial settings in Hamburg. The original idea of
linguistic landscaping, as its name implies, was to offer tools for detailed de-
scriptions and documentations of urban visual sign systems that feature several
languages. There are two layers of descriptions that are different in principle.
First, top-down signs are official signs (e.g. signposts to an art gallery or to the
airport). Second, bottom-up signs (e.g. goods on sale, advertisements) are based
on private interests (see Backhaus 2007; for a criticism see Jaworski and Thurlow
2010: 13 and Shohamy and Waksman 2009).
In the case of top-down signs, the tangibility, intelligibility, and positioning
are motivated by infrastructural concerns, but also by organizational matters or,
often, by language power relations (especially in the case of post-Soviet space,
see Pavlenko 2009). The nature of bottom-up signs seems to follow the principles
of self-organization. While the organization of top-down signs involves a mas-
ter plan that consciously aims at steering masses of people or cars in the most
efficient direction, bottom-up signs take a different path of evolvement. Shop
owners put up signs that attract customers, communicate images, and attract
attention in general. Tenants like to be clearly identified. The specifics of the
strategies chosen here could depend on the neighbor next door, so that attention
can be gained by emphasizing differences.
The linguistic analyses of such signs differ, but the very core of all inquiries
can be roughly summed up to questions about the annotation and denotation of
the sign, its referential frame, power relations, and its original function and cur-
rent functional use. The idea undertaken here is different in that I am trying to
give evidence for how the diversity of usages collides with the linguistic diversity
visible in signs on the street.

2.4.  Usages and usage structures

Social practices with respect to the interactions that take place are important
in characterizing and understanding space. Among such practices, the actual
uses and function of the location indicate which social actions are likely to
occur there. I adopt the concept of usage to describe the various social func-
tions of linguistic resources (e.g. Rostalski 2011). These usages are naturally
manifold, but one can restrict them to apparent instantiations such as the
kind of business carried out there, the usage as a meeting place, the usage
as a form of prestige presentation, or the usage related to living and private
34 Hagen Peukert

Table 1: The categories of usage (Handelskammer Hamburg 2012)

Commercial Noncommercial
Shops ­Gastronomy/ Services Entertain- NPO Housing
hotels ment
food restaurant finance theater education apartment
non-food snack health movie sports community
durables café law dance religion
bar architecture gambling social
hotel consulting art other
hostel media/IT other

As a concrete illustration, social practices in a café or a bar point to getting in-

volved in talks with friends and establishing and maintaining social ties. Busi-
ness consultants on the other hand will probably prefer a usage like a restaurant
that has a more formal setting when talking to their clients. What is important
is that neither of these two social actions is likely to occur primarily in a grocery
store, which is reserved for other social functions. To analyze the different uses, I
follow the arrangement of categories proposed in the official record of the trade
office (Handelskammer Hamburg 2012; also see Statistisches Amt für Hamburg
und Schleswig-Holstein 2012). Table  1 provides a summary of the applicable
The usage structure of the space is simply the sum of all usages per spatial
unit. These structures can be homogeneous or heterogeneous. Homogeneous
structures feature several of the same or similar usages. An example is given in
Figure 1.
For instance, similar usages, such as financial services and tax accountants,
often share a certain spatial unit. The same is true for different health services.
Heterogeneous structures, on the other hand, display usages of very different
branches, e.g. gambling, law, and business consultancy. These usages can occur
right next to each other.
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 35

Figure 1: An example of a range of usages in one physical location (with three
different usages)

3.  Data and the research questions

This interdisciplinary study combines the collection of different kinds of data.
The data collection first of all involves information on usage structures (i.e. the
actual functions in which linguistic resources are used). Secondly, it consists of
the presence of the range of languages in the signs. The processes of gather-
ing this information are resource-intensive and necessitate the application of
a research method that enables gaining access to both kinds of data at once.
Linguistic landscaping with its focus on visible signs envisages the potential of
complying with these demands to a certain degree. Figures (2)–(4) illustrate ob-
servations used to infer what languages and particular usages are present.
36 Hagen Peukert

In short, the inventory and the analysis of signs grants us insights into the lan-
guages in use in multicultural settings, as well as the types of usages that exist in
those settings. Still, the usage data have to be supplemented with some additions
from the official records of the trade office to reach meaningful conclusions con-
cerning the various usages.
Figure 2: A range of doorbell panels offers entry to the various usages in a neighborhood

Figure 3: Mobile signs that reveal both the presence of languages and the actual usages

Figure 4: Store fronts that reveal both the presence of languages and the actual usages
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 37

This article addresses the question of whether the diversity of usages corre-
sponds with the linguistic diversity visible in signs on the street. In brief, do
diverse linguistic landscapes predict diverse usage structures? The relevance of
this question cannot be understood intuitively. In a nutshell, usage structures
are deemed to be indicators of social background variables and social practices
whereas linguistic diversity indicates the number of different languages displayed
on commercial signs. Given that both assumptions prove right, a positive cor-
relation between the two indicators allows us to bring together social variables
(prestige, profession, average income) as well as variables on language (language
use, language features) in well-defined spatial settings. Perceiving language as
both a social practice and an entrenched system enables us to relate social ac-
tions that are defined by usages to the language that are likely to be used there.

4.  Methodology and the research procedure

To implement a pilot, a district known for its multicultural appearance was iden-
tified at first. St. Georg is an example of multicultural and multilingual land-
scapes in Hamburg. Secondly, the concept of a relational matrix space (Läpple
1991) was applied to the spatial layers of the district, and the street level was cho-
sen as an appropriate level of investigation. From the perspective of a relational
space, the street level was further defined as the meso-level. In comparison, the
city of Hamburg is perceived as a macro space, and the details of houses, floors
and flats in the district of St. Georg belong to the micro-level. At the present
stage of research, a correlation between the number of different languages and
the number of different usages is applied solely to the meso-space. The relational
design of space accounts for various analyses on the different layers of space.
Using a form of backward induction, it is possible to derive valid data on each
identified spatial level given that the data was collected at the lowest spatial di-
mension of interest. To be precise, the sum of the languages and usages on the
house level generates the data needed for the analysis on the street level, but also
on the level of districts and so on.
The third step included the practical work of collecting the language and us-
age data in the streets of St. Georg. In a systematic manner, each house was pho-
tographed, the house number was noted down and, if applicable, the various
usages were identified on the basis of the categorization presented in Table  1
Lastly, an analysis of the photo material was carried out. Here, the procedure
was as follows. Differentiation between signified and signifier of each sign was
made, i.e. the written script/alphabet was recorded separate from the semantic
38 Hagen Peukert

meaning. Expressions that could not be traced back to one or any language re-
ceived a separate treatment and were put in additional categories. Mobile signs
(Figure 3) or smaller signs (e.g. price tags) located in showcases or display win-
dows were not included as units of analysis. The analysis of usage structures
was unproblematic. Having agreed on the official allocation and scaling of usage
types, each recorded usage could be categorized. Ambiguous cases were clas-
sified according to their official standards. Finally, all instances of each of the
categories were counted (as illustrated in Figure 5).

Figure 5: An example of the analysis recording the languages (four) and the
usages (two) present

5. Results
Figure 6 depicts a scatterplot of the observed diversity (both linguistic and usage).
This diversity is represented by the number of differing language occurrences.
Each point represents a street and the resulting correlation of the information on
the two axes results in the meso-level. As specified in the framework used here,
the data were collected at the spatial micro-level, that is, at the flats and floors of
each single building. All of them can be classified in the larger group of streets
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 39

by backward induction. The streets themselves could then be analyzed in terms

of the necessities of a macro space as well. For the present research question,
however, the meso-level seemed the most suitable level of analysis.

Figure 6: Scatterplot of the languages and the usages on the street level

No effects of multicollinearity could be found for languages or usages. The Pear-

son correlations are never violated in the significance table. However, the Pear-
son correlation index between the two variables turned out to be exceptionally
high (r = 0.8). This index naturally indicates a strong relation between the usage
structure of the micro-space and the languages occurring there. The raw num-
bers clearly point to the fact that usage diversity and language diversity are inter-
dependent. Still, at this point more fine-grained analyses have to be carried out.
In Figure 6, three clusters could be identified. The first cluster centers around two
languages and five different usages. The epicenter of the second cluster can be
located at around ten usages and three languages. Most unambiguously, the third
cluster shows two extreme cases of spatial usage diversity and language diversity.
It should be noted that treating the third cluster as an exception and exempt-
ing it from further analysis will result in the correlation index which is barely
significant. Subsequently, the slope of the trend line becomes too even. It is
40 Hagen Peukert

therefore important to look at the members of the third cluster in more detail
and investigate them both quantitatively and qualitatively.
In Figure 7, the names of the streets are given on the x-axis. The y-axis speci-
fies the number of absolute occurrences for the two variables. Two exceptional
streets in the scatterplot (Figure 6) can be identified as the two highest peaks.
They are Lange Reihe and Steindamm. After analyzing these two streets in detail,
it quickly became apparent that they share a common property, namely that they
are shopping areas, which none of the other streets are.

Figure 7: The languages and the usages according to the points of observation2

Shopping areas in general exhibit a rich linguistic landscape in multicultural set-

tings. They also tend to results in a high usage diversity: businesses of various
kinds are located on the ground floor (retailers, restaurants), and hotels, apart-
ments and services such as tax accountants and lawyers are housed on the higher

2 The first twelve streets from left to right belong to the subdistrict 5007, the rest to sub-
district 5004 of St. Georg. These subdistricts are administrative units that had to be
maintained in the design of the study for reasons of consistent data collection. Some
of the important data are only available at the level of administrative subdistricts (see
Breckner, et al. 2013). Two streets ‘Danziger Straße’ and ‘Rostocker Straße’ go through
both subdistricts. Therefore these streets appear twice in the scatterplot, but are really
treated as separate streets in the study.
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 41

floors. All businesses desire to be seen by potential customers. Hence, in addi-

tion to advertising their products and services through signs, they also com-
municate their existence in the same signs. These communication strategies are
target-group-dependent. In the diverse multicultural setting, the target group is
attracted by different linguistic stimuli. Strategies of homogeneity do not show
the desired success of attracting potential customers since customers do not un-
derstand their messages and, even if they did, they are not necessarily attracted
to those businesses. The niches that come along with cultural diversity are best
approached by specific communication strategies as an attractor (cf. Andrew
For understanding spatial environment, this qualitative explanation means
that the intervening variable is the kind of shop within the micro-space. To
prove that, let us look at two further streets provided in our data in Figure 7. It
displays two smaller peaks in the usage structures. These are Danziger Straße
and Spadenteich. The investigation of these scenarios confirms our expecta-
tion. Even though the usages are mainly businesses, the communication strat-
egy deviates in principle from the appeal to emotions addressed to walk-in
customers. Unexpectedly in this case, it is typical of retailers in shopping areas.
The linguistic landscape is much poorer at Spadenteich and Danziger Straße.
Only few different languages could be found respectively on the displayed
signs. What is interesting here is that activating the consciousness of iden-
tity as an emotion has become a sales strategy at large shopping areas rather
than – as marketers would expect – at the niches and side streets next to the
overcrowded centers. The question for further analyses is why the businesses
at Spadenteich and Danziger Straße would not use a similar appeal to attract
customers. Of course, they might simply be monolingual. Even if assumed to
be true, it would not explain the divergence to the diversity of usage structures
in side streets. Yet, it raises the question why diverse linguistic landscapes
tend to occur at a particular kind of space such as Lange Reihe, but not at
Spadenteich, even though the diversity still occurs at similar usage structures
in both streets.
Since I use a relational concept of space that only prescribes time being con-
stant here (see section 2), it allows me to zoom in (micro space) and out (macro
space) while directly assigning possible explanations to any spatial dimension. It
is unnecessary to redefine spatial boundaries when changing the concreteness
of explanation, i.e. one can use economic arguments, which apply to the city
space as a whole or to a single business as valid means of explanation in the meso
space. In the following section, I will discuss some of the issues that still exist
even if a relational concept of space is used.
42 Hagen Peukert

6. Discussion
The methodological framework presented here reveals opportunities as well as
challenges. Before discussing the opportunities, I would like to address two is-
sues that I believe are foremost to be solved: one methodological and the other
analytical. The methodological criticism is due to the explorative nature typical in
fields in which little research has been carried out. While language as a reflector
of culture has not been questioned, other indicators, such as the interplay of us-
ages, are less clear. From first sight, the choice to analyze usages seems arbitrary.
Considering the number of potential candidates, the argument is comprehensi-
ble. However, in the domain of urban sociology, the quality and quantity of usage
structures as a social practice has already been identified and sufficiently explored
(Häußermann and Oswald 1997), so that the choice of usage is well-founded.
This is not to deny that other possible candidates such as multilingual actions and
actors, habits, or customs are less eligible (Pennycook 2010), but they are hard to
operationalize quantitatively. Future research will have to identify further poten-
tial candidates and develop models that are capable of measuring their impact.
Now, one is left with the question why the diversity of usages, i.e. the number of
different functions per spatial unit, would be important in the endeavor of learn-
ing about languages in space. This diversity implies the usage structure of the spa-
tial unit, that is, the building in the case at hand. A high number of different usages
exhibits both a qualitative dimension (on the type level) and a quantitative one
(token). High diversity implies a different usage structure than low diversity. In the
one extreme, the number of different usages is one, which means that the usage
structure is homogeneous. In the other extreme, the number of different usages is
perhaps 20, which means that the usage structure is heterogeneous. From usage
frequencies between the extremes, it is much harder to make claims about the
structures because even five different usages can still reveal a quite homogeneous
structure when similar services cause a cluster of more or less equal usages. To il-
lustrate, in the case of offices, in which lawyers, tax accountants, financial services
and consultants conduct business, one would have four different usages, but the
usage structure is rather homogeneous. On the other hand, a building harbor-
ing a cell phone shop, a restaurant, a student apartment, and a hotel charging by
hour has a highly heterogeneous usage structure, even though its diversity index is
the same. This circumstance is not captured in the data in Figures 6 and 7 above.
Despite this, the basic idea of the model is not violated: Certain kinds of practices
imply different kinds of language use, e.g. the communication in the café is differ-
ent from the one in the tax office although some exceptions might apply. If these
practices intermingle in space and time, language use is likely to be effected as well.
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 43

The second criticism is concerned with the analysis in general and with dif-
ferent languages in particular. The identification of distinct languages through
scripts gives cause for some concern. To be precise, there is a record of cases in
which the alphabet of one language was used to transcribe another language,
e.g. Urdu script is used to transcribe German or vice versa as shown in Figure 5
above, and in some cases, Latin letters are used to transcribe Russian. Further-
more, brand names, proper names and borrowings are, in general, hard to justify
as belonging to only one language. How can one decide which language is meant
in each of those cases? These ambivalences could not be solved to the fullest since
the ambiguous cases were taken out of the model, which might skew the data.
Lastly, the analysis was functionally oriented. The possibility that linguistic
landscapes exist without a specific meaning and function regarding identity or
economic interest was excluded. It needs to be pointed out that the functional
approach makes sense in economic terms. Nevertheless, other principles of self-
organization, such as the market, or the identity concept could also account for
the interplay between languages, the usages in which languages occur, and the
monolingual or multilingual spatial settings in which both exist. In fact, there is
no reason to attribute this overall finding to chance.
Jørgensen, Karrebæk, Madsen and Møller (2011: 25) argue that it makes little
sense to classify languages in polylingual settings and to count them. For them,
polylanguaging blurs the boundaries of what was once believed different lan-
guage systems. This notion is connected with the shift in the current sociolin-
guistic thinking that involves highlighting local language practices (Pennycook
2010), linguistic repertoires (cf. also Gumperz 1972: 22; Luckmann 1979), and
communities of practice (Eckert and McConnel-Ginet 1992; Blommaert and
Rampton 2011). These notions seem to supersede the Chomskyan concept of
a language as a system despite the fact that “[l]inguistic knowledge cannot only
be characterized as a form of social action” (Blommaert and Backus 2011: 5).
There are usage-based approaches within cognitive linguistics, such as construc-
tion grammar in the Goldbergean understanding (Goldberg 1996) which are
well suited to explain the current phenomena of language contact and language
change (cf. Blommaert and Backus 2011: 7). So the “degree of entrenchment”
(Blommaert and Backus 2011: 6) is determined by actual language use as a social
action, but cannot be reduced to it. Hence, new constructions and features (in
the sense of Jørgensen, Karrebæk, Madsen and Møller 2011) become part of the
language by social and multilingual practices including all forms of language
mixing characteristic to new media, hip-hop, youth language, etc. Yet, the phe-
nomena of language contact, language change, and language mixing are not new,
but are the rule in the course of language development. Languages are dynamic
44 Hagen Peukert

and creative by definition (e.g. Fromkin et al. 2003: 27), and both criteria in the
history of all well-documented languages can be observed.
A case in point is the Middle English period in England (c. 10th–15th centu-
ries). During this time, tremendous variation persisted not only in the docu-
ments written by different scribes, but also in the work of one and the same
scribe (Burrow and Turville-Petre 2001; Crystal 2003; Horobin and Smith 2002;
Smith 2008). As an illustration, the Oxford English Dictionary lists 32 variants of
the lexeme right (OED 2012). Still, the missing standard (the standard language
emerged only after the introduction of the printing press in England in the late
15th century) does not prevent us from attributing the writings to one underly-
ing language system because the rigid syntactic system remained virtually unaf-
fected from personal spelling variation. Indeed, the much more volatile semantic
system underwent heavy borrowing from French vocabulary. Even this does not
question the overwhelming commonalities that Middle English still had and that
makes it still possible to attribute all variation to a common denominator.
By analogy, the vocabulary in a socially diverse multilingual environment is
expected to change rapidly. Blommaert and Backus (2011: 14) enlist items such
as single word learning, recognizing competence and embedded language learn-
ing as properties of multilingual environments, which leave tracks in the de-
velopment of language. Additionally, it would come as a surprise if borrowing
and phonological assimilations did not take place. However, much more time
is needed to influence the more rigid syntactic system of a language. These pro-
cesses are usually subsumed under the notion of grammaticalization (Hopper
and Traugott 2003), which as a process is gradual and slow. Long-term dia-
chronic studies have an advantage since, on the one hand, short-lived dynamics,
which affects neither the language system nor on social practices, level out. It is
these dynamics that bring about alleged complexities on the periphery which
have little chance to make lasting effects on the very nature of languages. On the
other hand, observations over time still allow us to use the relevant “pragmatic
and metapragmatic history” (Blommaert 2010: 4) of words and nexus analysis
to capture discourse practices. Together with cognitive linguistics in general and
construction grammar in particular one can explain the variation observed in
today’s multilingual city spaces. Thus the problem of classifying languages put
forth by Jørgensen et al. (2011) is a weak version of the general problem encoun-
tered in typology. In typological thinking, classifying languages is a complex
process and there will always be misconceptions of what a language, a dialect, or
some other variation of the standard language is. Fuzzy boundaries in the identi-
fication of languages at the periphery are not sufficient grounds for denying the
existence of distinct features that occur in the core of the language system. They
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 45

certainly do not prevent us from distinguishing one language from another with-
in a typological framework either. In essence, despite the dynamics in multicul-
tural environments, it is possible to define a language at a certain point in time by
displaying all characteristics of the core features at that moment. Sketching these
characteristics over a larger time span could give us a hint of a changing system.
What should therefore be learned from the results presented above (i.e. that
wherever the possible usages in space are diverse, people also make use of a vari-
ety of languages)? The results give room for two possible interpretations. Firstly,
shop owners usually communicate through the written sign and if the surround-
ing space happens to be multicultural, then these signs will also reflect this mul-
ticulturalism. By the same token, the diversity of usage structures seems to be
dependent on multiculturalism, too. Thus, linguistic diversity and usage diver-
sity occur together. And yet, one predicts the other. However, this explanation
cannot account for the deviation in the two locations mentioned in Section 5,
Spadenteich and Danziger Straße. There is sufficient evidence that both streets
exhibit a relatively high diversity in the usage structure, but this diversity is not
mirrored in the linguistic landscape. Either the higher degree of usage structures
is not due to the multicultural setting and cannot be bound to linguistic diversity,
or the interdependence of linguistic diversity and usage structures only holds in
certain spaces such as shopping areas. To make a safe claim, this bi-implicational
statement has to be rephrased as an implicational statement. A high degree of
linguistic diversity implies a high degree of different usages. The opposite is not
always true; that is, the usage structure will only under certain circumstances
predict linguistic diversity. Taking the spatial component into account, it can be
added that whenever the space is characterized by a commercially-driven, multi-
cultural environment, the number of different usages predicts linguistic diversity.

Figure 8: Linguistic landscape on Steindamm

46 Hagen Peukert

This second line of interpretation elaborates on the very nature of diversity

of the usages and the languages respectively. Whereas all businesses aim at com-
municating their existence, their products, or their services through semiotic
signs, they have different strategies on how to do that depending on their type
of usage (cf. Andrew 2012). As a consequence, focusing solely on the bare num-
ber of different usages, or to the number of languages visible in a space, leads
to questionable results. For instance, the distribution of the languages differs
substantially between the two main shopping streets. German and English are
equally dominant in the linguistic landscape of St. Georg. There are a range of
languages that occur equally frequently on Lange Reihe, which makes it more
equally distributed than Steindamm. Steindamm features a skewed distribution
of its languages (see Figures 7 and 8). These different kinds of linguistic diversity
can be captured in a set of indices that measure the particular distributions and
allow us to evaluate diversity dependent on the spatial setting (Peukert 2013).
Such indices have not yet been developed for usage structures. However, it is
fair to claim that the specific usages differ significantly in the shopping areas,
in which retailers of food, bars, and burlesque houses prevail. In a multicultural
district, these usages require the intensive reference to its identity (Buchholtz
1999). In fact, the easiest way to achieve such a relationship is by displaying a
common cultural component, that is, language. One can only speculate whether
the commitment to identity comes at the cost of excluding potential customers
who might not understand or are hostile against the presented culture, but it is
likely that the costs are balanced by a general demand of exotic appeal after all.
Indeed, it was observed that both the linguistic landscapes and the particular
usages are stable, which shows that the identity strategy is the right choice in
surviving in a competitive environment. Differentiating the kind of diversity also
explains why at Spadenteich and Danziger Straße the linguistic diversity does not
predict usage diversity.

7. Summary
This article set out to explore how diversity of languages and diversity of usage
structures interact as a relational concept in socially diverse metropolitan spaces.
There is some evidence of interrelations between these two variables in a mul-
ticultural setting that allow predictions on usage structures. However, specific
usages that typically occur in shopping areas account for our findings. Therefore,
the definition and selection of these spaces are crucial.
The results that were obtained have some consequences on our understand-
ing of the linguistic diversity in urban spaces. On the one hand, they highlight
Urban linguistic landscaping: Scanning metropolitan spaces 47

the need for a more systematic way of investigating the interdependencies of lan-
guage in space. It is important to design systematic empirical research setups and
to develop new methodologies in the field of language in space. This article has
presented one method for such a systematic approach. On the other hand, more
specific claims concerning where and under which conditions linguistic diver-
sity emerges could be made. Using linguistic landscapes as a method, the present
results imply a shortcut in the selection and identification of multilingual spaces
provided that information on the usage structures is more easily accessible than
acquiring the information through inspectorates of businesses, as was done here.
Concerning the possible conditions under which linguistic diversity emerges,
this study has presented one factor in the conglomerate of how language is used
in space. The relationship between the usage structures and the actual presence
of signs introduces the concept of relational space, a concept that has not been
previously described in a satisfactory way. In that respect, there is a need to look
for other predictors among usage structures. These predictors should meet the
criterion of referencing language and space. It seems to be clear that the diversity
of usages is only one impacting factor. Multilingual actions are a potential candi-
date that could fulfill the referencing between language and space, as this paper
has shown with usage structures. In future studies, hopefully, the identification
of more factors that help sociolinguists to arrive at a more complete understand-
ing will be seen. The overall picture of how language manifests itself in space
could only then be answered satisfactorily.

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Ideofiers in the commercial city:

A discursive linguistic landscape analysis
of hairdressers’ shop names

1. Setting the stage: from the writing to the discursive city

in sociolinguistics and linguistic landscape studies
Linguistic landscape studies (LLS) as a subfield of sociolinguistics has for the last
fifteen years contributed to our knowledge of linguistic diversity in a growing
bi- and multilingual world of urban environments. LLS foregrounded the writ-
ing city and thus extended the scope of sociolinguistic research on the talking
city to studies of written language use in the cityscape.1 LLS was setting the scene
for analyses of linguistic messages written in the public sphere in the 1990s and
evoked a still on-going debate on adequate operative methodologies to study
written messages as municipal or private and commercial, static or transgres-
sive signs, multimodal texts with varying scripts – signs in various forms and on
various media from municipal street name signs and traffic signs to commercial
signs and flyers, chalkboards, placards and stickers in the public sphere.2
LLS explored urban communicative spaces as multilingual spaces with power
imbalances of majority and minority languages by connecting linguistic data to
demographic data.3 Through this innovative turn, LLS have convincingly docu-
mented to which extent ethnic and regional cultures are visible in the writing

1 See Backhaus (2007: 1) who opts for a shift from the structuralist tradition of the
priority of the spoken word to written signage in the sociolinguistic study of language
variation in the city. Spolsky in his foreword to Backhaus 2007 (p. ix) claims that city-
scape might be a more preferable term than linguistic landscape for the study of public
signs in urban spaces.
2 See the programmatic LLS by Landry and Bourhis (1997), Backhaus (2007), McCor-
mick and Kant Agnihotri (2009), and the geosemiotic conceptions of signage devel-
oped by Scollon and Wong Scollon (2003).
3 A recent collected volume on the topic is Gorter, Marten and van Mensel (2012). LLS
proved to be a valuable scientific method to critically reflect political changes as social
processes in phases of transition as in the emerging post-Soviet East-European and
Pan-Asian new nations or unrecognized states with linguistic and social power shifts
after independence, see also Muth (2012 and this volume).
54 Amei Koll-Stobbe

urbanities, and foregrounded the ways minority groups are able to find a “voice”
in the written information setting of a city. Frequency and visible distribution of
languages in the city with its ethnically fragmented districts and neighborhoods
also gave evidence to how language policy agendas have materialized in multi-
lingual municipal signage.4
Recently LLS tried to open up for sociolinguistic shifts towards analyses (or
re-analyses) of discourse functions of city signage in a changing world of glo-
balization, where the modes of occurrence of language and languages them-
selves change, and where aspects of deterritorialized and translocal patterns of
language are visible next to or inserted into local patterns (Blommaert 2010: 5,
188ff.). LLS thus shift their attention to aspects of semiotic and discursive diver-
sity in the cities (cf. Jaworski and Thurlow 2010, Kallen 2010).
Blommaert opts for a sociolinguistics of mobility to complement the socio-
linguistics of distribution in the Labovian tradition. He sees the global world
as a complex web of villages that is connected by material and symbolic ties in
often unpredictable ways (Blommaert 2010: 1). Consequently he conceptualizes
multilingualism as a complex of specific resources that speakers or writers have
at hand. They may control these resources in their own creative ways.5 Creative
ways as discourse modes that are highly visible in the writing city will be fore-
grounded in this article.
Creative ways as situated ad hoc formations in public spaces have been docu-
mented as indexically meaningful semiotic resources by studies of vernacular
literacy or public English in African and Asian cities.6 Blommaert (2010) gives
as examples of such creative ways Shokilango Nescafé for a local café on Shok-
ilango road in a suburb of Dar es Salaam, or Sliming food in an advertisement

4 For distributive municipal regulations, cf. Backhaus (2009). Various contexts of lan-
guage regulation in Europe, Asia and North-Africa are addressed in part III of Sho-
hamy and Gorter, eds (2009).
5 I use the notion own creative ways as a programmatic red thread in this article which
explores situated verbal ways as discursive creations which index two discourse
modes in the writing and reading city, based on two different literacy skills that stem
from normative shifts in written genres (Section 3 below).
6 Cf. Blommaert (2008: 10) who conceptualizes grassroots literacy as a label for a wide
variety of ‘non-elite’ forms of writing, resulting from restricted educational access to
standard varieties of English and Pennycook’s (2007) discussion on specific intercul-
tural domains. In European contexts educational access to Standard English is not
restricted, albeit with normative inconsistency (Koll-Stobbe and Zieseler 2014). I see
grassroots literacy as a mode of bottom-up vernacular writing with English that can
also be spotted in European contexts of writing with English (Section 5.4).
Ideofiers in the commercial city 55

for a health food shop in Dar es Salaam. From a more variationist-oriented so-
ciolinguistic and systemic perspective, based on conceptions of language as a
(standardized) rule-governed static object, these creative ways would be labeled
as ungrammatical, or (with a more prescriptive attitude) stigmatized as “corrupt”
English. For Blommaert (2010) these shop names index the value of English as
translocal and transnational imaginary semiotic potential rather than ungram-
matical language use:
Seen from the angle of monoglot normativity, the people who wrote and used these in-
scriptions display incomplete insertions in economies of linguistic forms. In that sense,
they testify to some of the crucial problems of language policy in Tanzania: the lasting
prestige functions attributed to English combined with the extremely restricted access
to its prestige bearing, standard varieties. (Blommaert 2010: 188f.).

Restricted access to Standard English varieties in many African nation states

gives way for creative ways to encode associated meanings with English as a so-
cially symbolic code, using English not as a grammatically codified resource,
but as incomplete or truncated English language repertoires. These repertoires
can consist of spoken, vernacular and non-native varieties of languages, and an
overlay of differently developed literacy skills (Blommaert 2010: 9).
Does the linguistic landscape have a normative influence on linguistic prac-
tices as it operates in the social world (Cenoz and Gorter 2009)? The names
of small shops in African urban linguistic landscapes, which are not encoded
by attending to the normative expectations valid for top-down signage such as
street names or municipal signage, do not compete for the same territory: they
live, in a very real sense, in different, if parallel, universes (cf. Kallen 2010: 42).
Kallen proposes to analyze the linguistic landscape not as a single system, but as
a confluence of systems, observable in a single visual field, but operating with
different elements:
What gives the landscape its discursive, and even at times chaotic, appearance is that
these systems are not hierarchically nested within each other …The frameworks in the
landscape can be defined by the functions of discourse entered into by interlocutors
and by the language choices and forms of expressions available to these interlocutors.
I suggest that it is necessary to see the visual field in terms of separate visual discourse
frameworks. (Kallen 2010: 42f.)

Can the linguistic landscape of hairdressers’ names in European urban contexts

illustrate parallel visual discourse frameworks as a confluence of standard and
vernacular, of decontextualized and contextualizing discursive practices? Non-
standard writing and incohesive texts, visible in African urban writing as post-
colonial fragmented English as a second language, may position new or situated
56 Amei Koll-Stobbe

identities not transparent to the uninitiated reader because of their constrained

(lexical and semantic) mobility and features of heterography that tend to be in-
terpreted as erroneous deviances from standard orthography.7
What about European public discourse contexts where English as a foreign
language is undergoing a status shift to an international lingua franca (English
as a lingua franca, ELF)? Grassroots English can be spotted in the city signage in
German urbanities, such as hair-top team or cut for man (examples of hairdresser
shop names in Greifswald), or Outfit Style (a hairdresser shop name in Kiel), all
of which are only valuable as local shop names.8 And what about the creative
ways to name hairdresser shops in England off your head (in Lancaster)? Does
ambiguous and colloquial English signage constitute a parallel discourse uni-
verse that complements the codified lexical repertoire for shop names?
The concept of key in Huebner (2009) captures the discursive mobility in the
postmodern city as marketplace. Shop names constitute two types of discourse
keys that fulfill functions of hard sell strategies and soft sell strategies (estab-
lished for advertising discourse)9 to promote the shops as place where specific
services or products as a craft are on offer, or as place where services are on offer
as life-style products or social commodities (cf. Papen 2012). It is the amount
and grammaticality of the text, the explicitness of the message and the choice of
code that determines a more direct or referential reading versus more creative
ways of indirectness that need inferential decoding work done by potential read-
ers in order to understand the message of the shop signage.
I assume then that shop names reflect (inside and outside of Africa) a conflu-
ence of at least two discourse modes in the city as postmodern marketplace, a
discourse system of direct keys for the city as conventional spatial marketplace,

7 Cf. features of ‘non-elite’ (or vernacular) writing such as heterography, or vernacular

language use in Blommaert (2008: 11f).
8 See Blommaert’s (2010: 28f) discussion of emblematic versus linguistic meaning of
signage in public spaces. In my interpretation he foregrounds the associative transfer
of the symbolic meaning of English as a demographically and economically powerful
code, not of the semantic meaning of an encoded sign as systemic unit of the code,
as an essential aspect of grassroots literacy as vernacular literacy. From a normative
perspective the examples of German hairdresser shop names do constitute truncated
non-standard English, from a social perspective the Englishness contributes to the
identity of the shop, on the level of situated locality.
9 For hard sell versus soft sell advertising strategies, see Huebner (2009: 79), Fox (1985)
and Koll-Stobbe (2000: 85) and also Section 4 below.
Ideofiers in the commercial city 57

and a system of indirect discourse keys for the city as social marketplace in a
global consumer culture.
Before looking into the direct versus indirect keys to name a hairdresser shop,
the following section outlines the investments into potential code-choices that
are socially appropriate to attract potential customers in a globalizing urban

2. Language in the cityscape: global and local

investments in English
Frequencies and functions of languages employed in city signage characterize
the city as a marketplace of and for languages. LLS have verified empirically the
current reality of English as the global language visible in all urban areas associ-
ated with the dominant material culture (e.g. Schlick 2002, Backhaus 2007, Hult
2009, McCormick and Kant Agnihotri 2009, Kallen 2010, Papen 2012). World-
wide accumulated investments in English are made with regard to time, money
and effort expended for acquiring language skills and investments in language
teaching materials and technology (Coulmas 2005: 225f.).10 Because English lan-
guage teaching is an objective in primary to tertiary education systems world-
wide, modern Western city dwellers, residents, shoppers and/or visitors, may be
expected to have acquired basic or advanced literacy skills in English. Literacy
skills complement oral productive and receptive skills in native, and maybe sec-
ond or other local or foreign languages, enabling city dwellers to choose and
switch between languages which they are able to identify in the cityscape. Com-
mercial establishments and shops make use of multilingual or gradual bilingual
competences by encoding signage on and in their shops and stores in local and
(national, international, ethnic or educational) link languages.11
The national language, or a local variety, and the international lingua franca
of commerce may fulfill different functions in the multilingual city signage. With
regard to the linguistic cityscape of Tokyo, Backhaus stated that information
on municipal signage in English may be reduced to core information setting,

10 Cf. attitudinal and policy-preferred agendas for particular national Englishes in the
market of English language teaching in Blommaert’s (2010) critical account of accent
teaching as commodification of the American English accent.
11 See Hoffman (1996) for the concept of gradual bilingualism, and Knospe (2014) for a
more detailed account of competence in English as a complementary, i.e. education-
ally implemented code in European contexts that were “traditionally” modelled as
monolingual (ch.2).
58 Amei Koll-Stobbe

lacking the more detailed information elaboration given in Japanese (Backhaus

2007: 143). Hult (2009) in his studies on bilingual storefronts in two Swedish
cities found evidence, however, that English was primarily used as an index of
values associated with the global consumer culture and not as an international
lingua franca in the cityscape.
The use of English as a language of the cityscape may serve various cognitive,
symbolic or emblematic functions. Intelligibility and comprehensibility of stand-
ard national English(es) may not feature as sole objective, since the symbolic
function of a language may have determined the choice, as we saw above.
Nobody, be they native speakers or speakers of English as a second or foreign
language, knows all of a language, but everybody has expertise in some domains
or modes of a language:
Our ‘real’ language is very much a biographical given, the structure of which reflects our
own histories and those of the communities in which we spent our lives. (Blommaert
2010: 103)

Urban people with varying linguistic, ethnic and social backgrounds mingle in
the city, live side by side in their neighborhoods, and explore public spaces of
their environment as semiotic spaces in the real world. Urban storeowners and
potential shoppers can be seen as writers and readers of the cityscape, process-
ing whatever they can access as resources for meaningful interpretations. Do
Western-city shop names trace vernacularly-driven creative ways of public Eng-
lish in African cities as a layer of discourse practices in a globalizing world, or
do the (often) better educated Western city dwellers discover other resources of
languages as storehouses of cognitive and cultural knowledge, and render the
heterographic and vernacular instantiations of shop names (cf. section 1) to the
status of peripheral, messy local messages?
Koll-Stobbe and Zieseler (2014) documented a normative inconsistency
towards the targets of Standard British English versus American English, and
a penchant for hybridization and innovations across all researched language
modes in a multidimensional analysis of German students’ language skills and
awareness of English as a pluricentric world language. The innovations of ELF
users of English are known in educational contexts as fossilization, but inno-
vations can also be symptoms of nativization in ELF as a mode of commu-
nication, which may develop into various local varieties. English in Europe,
according to the sociolinguistic framework of ELF studies, is increasingly used
as a language of socialization. This implies that ELF users pick up discursive
skills, and subconsciously learn to use Anglophone discourse modes as mobile
discursive keys.
Ideofiers in the commercial city 59

Grammatically organized language modes have been, according to Kress and

van Leeuwen (2001), the most powerful modes, but there is a tendency to sup-
plant them by lexically organized modes:
More and more linguists… now conceive of people’s knowledge of language not in the
way Chomsky did, as a small, economical set of rules that can generate an infinite num-
ber of linguistic utterances, but, as a vast, maze-like storehouse of words and colloca-
tions of words, of fragments of language, idioms etc. (Kress and van Leeuwen 2001: 113)

Looking into hairdressers shop names will imply a quest into the confluence
of a grammatically-organized system of discourse and a lexically-organized dis-
course system as parallel universes of different discursive keys in the writing and
reading city.
In which way have modes of writing changed over the last 50 years? Norma-
tive shifts in genres of public writing, I shall argue, trace the advent of discursive
diversity in the writing city of our time.
Before studying discourse modes in the writing city, I shall discuss stylistic and
normative changes in writing as literary practice towards writing and reading as a
joint social activity type12 with a focus on the dimension of formality to informality.

3. Discursive diversity in the 20th century: formality

and informality as discourse modes
Within a cognitive linguistic framework, languages are understood as sets of re-
sources available to language users for the symbolization of thought and for the
communication of these symbolizations (Taylor 2002: 30). The basic building
blocks of language as resource and repertoire are signs. A descriptive meaning
of a sign as “inscribed surface displayed in public space in order to convey a
message of wider concern to a non-specified group of readers” (Backhaus 2007:
5) foregrounds the transactional message construction in the process of writing
and reading. Signs are the building blocks of discourse and text, which according
to Hoey can be defined as:
…the visible evidence of a …purposeful interaction between one or more writers and
one or more readers, in which the writer(s) control the interaction and produce charac-
teristically most of the language. The interaction between the writer and reader can be
called a discourse. (Hoey 2001: 11)

12 Cf. Clark (1996: 30ff) who elaborates on dimensions of joint activity types (related to
Wittgenstein’s notion of language games) as scriptedness, formality, verbalness, coop-
erativeness and governance.
60 Amei Koll-Stobbe

In addition to attending to LLS as a methodological potential to study discursive

diversity in the city, I also rely on corpus-linguistic analyses of on-going changes
in English discourse norms in the 20th century (cf. Mair 2006: 181–199). Drawing
on findings of various empirical studies, Mair detects a major stylistic shift in the
public discourses in contemporary Anglophone cultures which can be summa-
rized as a leveling between the more formal registers of written language and the
more informal registers of spoken language. He stresses that this change is not
restricted to informal choices of linguistic means that characterize formal versus
informal writing. Rather, a general informalization of cultural rituals (not con-
strained to Anglophone cultures) has been observed by the sociologist Norbert
Elias, and the historian Eric Hobsbawm, who point out a “demotic turn in the
tastes of the middle- and upper-class young” as one of the most significant trends
in the post-World War II industrialized world.13 This shift towards a greater in-
formality, with a subsequent attestation of informality as a cultural value, can, in
oral and literate contexts of communicative practices, be characterized as a shift
towards a colloquialization of contemporary English speech practices (cf. Mair
2006: 183ff.). As has been documented in representative corpus-linguistic stud-
ies, a preference for a colloquial over an elaborated written style extends from
popular written registers to more formal writing as well (Mair 2006: 185).
The concept of colloquialization is tied in with a significant normative shift of
what is envisaged as acceptable written English:
Away from a written norm which is elaborated to maximal distance from speech …
towards a written norm that is closer to spoken usage, and away from a written norm
which cultivates formality towards a norm which is tolerant of informality and even al-
lows for anti-formality as a rhetorical strategy. (Mair 2006: 187)14

If one accepts this corpus-based generalization, one may expect a layered conflu-
ence of discourse modes in the city reflecting on-going changes in literacy prac-
tices as discursive practices: a confluence of a more orally-oriented discourse
mode of assembled texts and acceptance of covertly-prestigious (colloquial)
variability, and a discourse mode adhering to the norms of standard writing, or
formal writing.

13 The discussion in Mair (2006: 185–6) is based on Elias, N. Der Prozess der Zivilisation,
1939; Studien über die Deutschen, 1989, and Hobsbawm, E. Age of Extremes: A History
of the Short Twentieth Century, 1994.
14 The colloquialization of English is also attested by critical discourse analysts. Fair-
clough (1992), for example, sees the on-going colloquialization of discursive activities
as a key change that characterises communicative practices of the recent past.
Ideofiers in the commercial city 61

Huebner (2009: 74) claims that the forms that language takes in the linguistic
landscape (LL) are influenced in part by the writer’s perception of the intended
audience. Informal or more oral norms of language use may be invested in and
thus complement more traditional norms of naming a shop to designate a shop
type. In the writing city of the 21st century we thus might expect formal and
informal names of shops indices for two discourse modes.
Since I shall look into the discourse diversity of shop names, a verbally repre-
sented genre, I can neglect a second on-going change in the dimension of verbal-
ness (Clark 1996: 30). Kress and van Leeuwen (2001) and Iedema (2003) analyze
the on-going change of displacing language and the scripting of joint activities
in writing as multimodal writing, which challenges and changes the established
representational order:

…the logics of linear progression and contiguity associated with language and linguistic
expression are seceding in part to more disparate, non-linear, non-hierarchical… circu-
lar and serialized kinds of representation. (Iedema 2003: 38)

The challenge to the representational order may also surface in one of the two
verbal discursive keys that I shall study in the genre of shop names: writing based
on an oral informal mode may have to trigger non-linear processing of informa-
tion in order to be interpretable. But this aspect of information processing and
discursive diversity in the writing city will be envisaged in section 5 of this arti-
cle. The following section outlines in more detail the two discourse modes that I
expect in the genre of shop names.

4. The genre of shop names: fragmented discourse

as identifier and ideofier
Following Huebner (2009), I study shop signage as genre: a class of communica-
tive events identified by both its traditionally recognized form and its common
functions with a shared set of communicative purposes and constraints on al-
lowable contributions in terms of content, positioning and form. Shop names as
products of linguistic and stylistic choices between traditional forms and stylistic
innovations can fulfill a commonality of functions that have been attested for
advertising discourse:
• to inform, to report, to describe or to assert,
• to express feelings and emotions,
• to establish, maintain and terminate contact between addressers and add-
62 Amei Koll-Stobbe

• to communicate meanings through a code which could not otherwise be

• to persuade or offer recommendations.
Advertisements and its sub-genre shop signs are used to promote a product. How-
ever, there is one major difference: Advertisements are published in print media,
on television, the radio or the Internet, whereas shop signs are displayed in the
public space (Edelman 2009: 142) on store fronts. Beyond the cognitive function
of information setting, the function of a shop name may be more than to inform
the potential customer in a direct and codified way about the shop type. In the
cities as socially stratified marketplaces in the 21st century, a shop name will also
have to fulfill more indirect phatic and meta-communicative functions that were
established in the persuasive discourse of advertising in the early 20th century by
professional communication agencies as soft-sell strategies.15
According to Kress and van Leeuwen (2001: 21), people have several alterna-
tive discourses available, and will use the most appropriate for the communica-
tion situation they are in. Kallen (2010) conceives of the potential alternatives as
non-hierarchically organized parallel universes of discourse in the city. In our
case of fragmented discourse in the form of shop names, the name of the shop
can serve as an important index for the business or craft as well as the shop
owner’s or creative director’s business aspiration. Successful hairdressers who set
up chains of hairdresser shops in various parts of the city or across cities nation-
wide, or internationally, use their proper name as a brand to attract customers.16
This is important because the names of business establishments are very often
meant to entice passers-by or potential customers to enter the shop (see Hueb-
ner 2009:75), and names may thus index a successful hairstylist, but also images
and themes relevant for the fashion-oriented city dweller.17 Postmodern hair-
dresser shop names may therefore not only function as referential signage for

15 See a critical overview of language functions in Robinson (2003: 41), Huebner (2009),
and Kelly-Holmes (2005: 8f) for the context of international advertising as commu-
nication. Whereas discursive modes and keys of shop signage have not been studied
extensively, advertising discourse according to Spolsky (2009: 3) has been. There is
no space to deal with aspects of advertising discourse in-depth (see Fox (1985), Koll-
Stobbe (2000) for more extended analyses.
16 Cf. Edelman (2009) who studies functions and ranges of proper names in advertise-
ments and shop signage.
17 Within the context of this article I do not have space to focus on age-, ethnic- or
gender-relevant aspects of hairdressers’ shop names, but see Section 5.2 for aspects of
gender specific services on offer.
Ideofiers in the commercial city 63

the ­distribution of a shop type in the city as geospatial marketplace, but also as
semiotic signage that indexes the intended image of the hairdresser in the city as
competitive social marketplace.
How do shop owners position themselves by means of their linguistic choices
for a shop name in relation to the potential customer? Linguistic choices may at-
test an intended shared socio-cultural positioning of shop owner and customer:
Being understood is not always the sign producer’s only or chief consideration. He or
she needs to trigger aspects of identity and aspiration that create a desire for whatever is
being sold. (McCormick and Agnihotri 2009: 11)

Informal and creative encodings of shop names as fragmented discourse open

a chance to transfer an intended situated identity. Though shop names that are
produced creatively, disrespecting the norms of standard lexical and orthograph-
ic repertoires, bear a risk of misunderstanding, at the same time this discursive
key, based on the skill of inferencing as joint social activity of writer and reader,
represents the transformative dynamics of socially situated meaning-making
processes in the writing city.18
My objective is to investigate the extent to which the names of hairdressers
reflect diversity of discursive keys in the writing commercial city. I assume that
the name of a hairdresser fulfills discursive functions of more direct versus more
indirect identifications of the hairdresser shop. The more direct identification is
triggered via referential semantic processing, and the more indirect identifica-
tion of the shop is triggered via semantic and pragmatic inferential processing.19
In the discourse genre of shop names, I expect two diverse identifying func-
tions of the hairdresser shop name:
1. a direct identifying function to index the craft as a frequent urban market-
place service (cf. Kallen 2010: 50f). I term this referential function of the shop
name identifier.
2. an indirect identifying function that indexes an intended image transfer to the
hairdressing shop to attract specific target groups of customers to the shop as
life-style service. I term this social function of a shop name ideofier.
These two functions represent the layered discursive keys of directness and in-
directness.20 I intend to show that hairdresser names reflect the writing city as a

18 Cf. Iedema’s (2003) concept of re-semiotization.

19 Cf. Koll-Stobbe (2000: ch.7) on the mental lexicon as dynamic semantic processor.
20 Both Backhaus (2007) and Kallen (2010) see linguistic landscapes as reflecting layers
of coexistence of older versus newer types of signs. Kallen (2010: 42) points out how a
64 Amei Koll-Stobbe

confluence of literacy practices and discourse modes. My hypothesis is that shop

names as conventional identifiers will be complemented by ideofiers as a situated
alternative to name a hairdresser shop.
In the next section I shall analyze hairdresser names as discursive practice
in selected inner-city areas of two English cities in order to see whether my as-
sumed ideofier function as an informal and own creative way to identify a shop
can be verified in the writing English city.

5. What’s in a name? Hairdressers’ names as discursive

keys in Lancaster and London
5.1. Methodology
Although the signage of storefronts has been included in empirical studies of
the LL of cities, or granted analytical space with a focus on commercial stores
(cf. Schlick 2002, Edelman 2009, Hult 2009, Kallen 2010, Papen 2012), to my
knowledge there are no representative studies of the signage of a specific type
of store or shop in cities. I shall focus on the indexical function of language
and lexical choices as discursive practice to name a shop of a particular ser-
vice in the city, hairdressers.21 I collected data according to the LL methodol-
ogy of hairdresser shop signage in Lancaster City, selected West End areas of
London, and considered supplementary data from a yellow pages directory
of hairdressers’ names in a German city as sample data for the discussion of
the results of my LLS on direct versus indirect modes to identify a hairdresser
shop by its name.
My LLS consists of a documentation of the hairdressers’ cityscape of Lan-
caster with a similar size sample of street areas from London (WC 2) as con-
trol data.22 I collected data in central Lancaster in the pedestrian shopping zone

linguistic landscape … contains within it remnants of different stages in its development.

I follow Kallen who wants to overcome the LL-metaphor as spatial metaphor, and
intend layering to include various conceptual or cognitive models for a shop name as
representing direct and indirect discursive layers to name a hairdresser shop (cf. also
Clark 1996: 353 on layering).
21 However, there is no space for an overview of changes in the socio-cultural history
of hairdressing, and its development from medieval bathers to national/international
chains of businesses (Corson 1965, Sherrow 2006).
22 Lancaster is a North English town with a population of 47,159 (Lancaster Urban Area,
Census Apr 2001). The control data were restricted to Covent Garden and Blooms-
bury in order to gain a comparable sample size of shop name signage.
Ideofiers in the commercial city 65

i­ ncluding Dalston Square, Market Street [to British Railway] and the central bus
station including the shopping centers Market, Marketgate, St. Nicholas Arcades
on two days in December 2011 with a digital camera. The London data were
collected on two days in December 2011 in the WC2 areas of Bloomsbury and
Covent Garden. In this article, I abstract from analyzing London and Lancaster
hairdressers’ shop signage (Lancaster: n=358; London n=345) and selectively
foreground the names of the shops (n= 31).23
Cenoz and Gorter (2009) classify entire store fronts as a single token, whereas
the type or kind of store, are their types (see discussion in Huebner 2009: 70ff.).
Within my research framework the focus will shift to data analysis of a type of
shop, and the respective shop names will be taken as language tokens. Since I fo-
cus on the discursive function of shop names, every name will be documented as
one sign irrespective of the morphological and syntactic complexity of the shop
names. The hairdresser shop will be seen as type; and the individual shop names
categorized as tokens. Chains sharing a name will be considered only once. I
documented a sample of 18 hairdressing shop-names in Lancaster. Most hair-
dressers were individual local businesses. Only three hairdressers belonged to a
chain operating at various locations. The name was thus regarded as a brand and
counted as one token, reducing my data base to n=15.
The London control data sample consists of 18 tokens with two tokens as
brands, which were considered as one token each (n=16). The similar-sized data
extract covers selected London WC2 area, including shopping streets and streets
of the theatre district.
I focused on the selected city areas as economically upward and competitive
social marketplaces with a high burden to attract affluent customers among the
mobile, professional city dwellers. For this article I could not study the whole
range of hairdressing facilities in complex and ethnically diverse housing areas
of Lancaster and London. Data of hairdresser shop names and hairdresser shop
signage in various inner city areas and suburbs will be considered in a follow-
up study. My small samples will thus not be revealing the visibility of discursive
modes of ethnic minorities, or the discursive keys used in the growing market
segment of shops offering the best price for hairdressing services.

23 I focused on the main name signage on the shop front (largest sign above, or next to
the entrance above the main display area facing the street). My database from a total
of 703 signs (overall Lancaster and London hairdressers’ storefront signage) will thus
be reduced substantially in number, see Tables 1 and 2 below.
66 Amei Koll-Stobbe

5.2.  Hairdresser shop names as codified identifiers

I hypothesized two major discursive functions of shop names as genre in the
writing city.24 If the informative function of the shop name is foregrounded, it
functions as direct identifier. The direct identifier has been the conventional
shop name in the city of pre- (and early) consumer culture and reflects the his-
tory and cultural heritage of hairdressers. I will trace these conventional identi-
fiers as documented in the New Oxford Dictionary of English (NODE) and the
OED online, to illustrate identifiers as codified lexical repertoire.
Identifiers as shop names referring to hairdressers have been continuously
visible in the early modern to postmodern cityscape. Direct identifiers as lexico-
graphically documented resource represent the origin of hairdressing as a craft
in medieval and early modern France since most of the codified lexical catego-
ries are borrowings from French into other languages.
1. Coiffeur is a generic term which today has connotations of an upmarket busi-
ness, catering to the needs of middle-class elderly ladies, or affluent younger
ladies. See in NODE, s.v. coiffeur: “a hairdresser”, borrowed from 19th c. French.
2. A second lexical category borrowed from French is salon, which is rooted in
early modern establishments that attended to the beauty needs of custom-
ers. It designates the fuzzy semantic edge between a hairdresser and a more
general beautician. Compare the NODE, s.v. salon: “an establishment where a
hairdresser, beautician, or couturier conducts trade.” Compound lexical cate-
gories such as hair salon or predictable collocations such as Hair Salon Rachel
specify the services on offer.
3. Another general name for the shop, also originating in French, and popular
until the 19th century is friseur. Friseur has no entry in the NODE, but an entry
in the OED including citations that document its prevalence in the 18th and 19th
century. Friseur is still a highly visible identifier for the shop type in Germany.
4. The generic identifier hairdresser is a hybrid compound (with a Germanic
and French etymology of its two lexical components) prevalent since the late
18th century. A hairdresser is, according to the OED, someone “whose busi-
ness is to dress and cut the hair.”
5. The lexeme barber, which has been borrowed early into English from French,
refers to the medieval beginnings of the profession directed to male custom-
ers. Compare the NODE, s.v. barber: “a person who cuts men’s hair and shaves
and trims beards as an occupation.”

24 The lexical category of a shop is taken as a generic term for a local hairdresser,
hair-stylist, barber, or hair salon (cf. Sherrow 2006).
Ideofiers in the commercial city 67

The hypothesis that hairdresser shop names directly identify the shop type could
be verified in the Lancaster and London data. About two thirds of hairdresser
shop names fall into the category of direct identifier. The direct identifier func-
tion indexed the type of shop, or the shop owner or artistic director, which is re-
flected as two subcategories of identifiers for my data samples below (cf. Tables 1
and  2). There is also evidence that the conventional identifier category salon,
which reflects the historical roots of hairdressers as general beauty and fashion
establishments, is revived to designate new services and an expansion of the busi-
ness or shop into the direction of (a) hair and beauty salons, offering hair and
other beauty services, or (b) hair and nail styling. The gender-specific identifier
barber is visible, though only as one name each in my sample corpus of inner-city
Lancaster and London. But there is evidence that the meaning of the codified lexi-
cal category is extended to index attention for grooming needs of males including
waxing unwanted body hair. This potential revitalization (or re-semiotization, cf.
Iedema 2003) of the barber shop has to be considered in my follow-up and more
refined study with a larger data base. A new hairdresser shop named Gentlemen
in Greifswald25 indicates that a hairdresser who exclusively attends to the needs of
male customers can also be indirectly re-imagined by a non-codified shop name.

5.3. A hairdresser is a hairdresser is a hairdresser is a hairdresser:

names as ideofiers26
Five out of 15 shop names do not adhere to the function of direct identifier, but
rather foreground ideas of the hairdresser and customer as joint actors in the city
as social marketplace (Table 1). They are produced to trigger an intended image
as situated identity for the hairdresser shop. These shop names verify my second
hypothesis as the shop name can also function as indirect identifier if its social
function is foregrounded.

Table 1: Sample of Lancaster city hairdressers’ shop names (n=15)

Discursive Function Frequency (n=15) %

Identifier of craft/business 6 40
Identifier of owner/art director 4 27
Ideofier of shop as social aspiration 5 33

25 Gentlemen opened on the main shopping street of Greifswald in January 2013.

26 Alluding to Gertrude Stein’s famous dictum “a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. The
truncated discourse is to symbolize the complexity of the construction of meanings
in a lexically-organized discourse mode (cf. Section 1).
68 Amei Koll-Stobbe

About a third of the names in my Lancaster data served the function of a name
as social identity marker or ideofier. The name of the hairdresser as potential
index to the hairdresser as a life-style commodity was thus reflected as a relevant
analytical category.
Looking into my London control data (n=16) we can see that the similar-size
sample confirms the tendencies for a shop name to fulfill a discursive ideofy-
ing function. What surprised me was that the ratio of identifiers to ideofiers is
almost identical (33% Lancaster, 35% London data), which documents that the
creative ways of indirect association with a hairdresser shop in the city seems to
be an effective and popular strategy to attract customers.

Table 2: Sample of selected London West End area hairdressers’ shop names (n=31)

Discursive Function Frequency (n=31) %

Identifier of craft/business 9 30
Identifier of owner/art director 11 35
Ideofier of shop as social aspiration 11 35

Combining the case study data from Lancaster and London, I was able to con-
firm that hairdresser shop names are intended as identifiers of the trade, but
also as an index to urban life-style values condensed into a name as fragment-
ed discourse. Hairdressers’ names as ideofiers are the product of investments
in hairdressers’ and their potential customers’ shared encyclopedic knowledge.
Ideofiers are the products of investments in language as semantic repertoire that
triggers meaning in absentia or “behind the scenes” of grammatical or lexical
structures in praesentia:
Language, as we use it, is but the tip of the iceberg of cognitive construction. As dis-
course unfolds, much is going on behind the scenes: … links are forged, abstract mean-
ings operate, internal structure emerges and spreads, viewpoint and focus keep shifting.
Everyday talk [and “writing”, AKS] and common sense reasoning are supported by in-
visible, highly abstract, mental creations, which …[language] …helps to guide, but does
not by itself define. (Fauconnier 2004: XXIIf)27

Shop names that invest in reasoning and mental creations demand a re-interpre-
tation of what is written. The semantic repertoire that language guides through
its complex maze of lexical layers is highly visible in my data. Ideofiers (such as
off your head and Gentlemen) are products of transfer between lexical layers such

27 Cf. also Koll-Stobbe (2000: ch. 7), and Evans (2009: ch.3).
Ideofiers in the commercial city 69

as polysemy and partial homonymy, and thus challenge the established order of
linguistic expression as grammatically and ordered representation.28
I consider partial homonymy an effective strategy for creating discursive
meaning in absentia via lexically organized, fragmented representations of lin-
guistic expression in praesentia. Conceptual blends, emerging as creative ad hoc
word-formations, represent an indirect discursive strategy to attract customers
who like to explore lexical categories as vertically organized semantic resources
(linking multiple, related or unrelated meanings). An example form the London
data is the shop name bladerunners with an intended blend of the shop context
and a film context (‘blade’ triggering a metonymic relation to hairdresser, and
an intertextually triggered, semantically unrelated, ideofying transfer to the cult
sci-fi film of the 1980s, Blade Runners, which can typically be inferred from cin-
ematic encyclopedic knowledge).
Evans (2009: 151) reflects homonyms as “unrelated in current usage”. This is
what I mean by creative own ways of designing a shop name as ideofier: a sense
of relatedness is triggered contextually, complementing grammatically organized
discourse modes with lexically organized discourse modes that can be read in
and out of context by those who feel attracted to the social game of contextual-
izing fragmented discourse in the writing city.

5.4.  Ideofiers as bilingual repertoires

To support my thesis that shop names as genre reflect a direct and an indirect
discourse mode in the writing city, I want to look into supplementary data from
German hairdresser shop names in order to test the visibility of the potential
resource of two languages in a gradual bilingual contact culture of a local and
global code. In addition to the German lexical repertoire of codified identifiers
of the shop type, we can expect alternative choices from the English language
repertoire, as well as code-blending of German and English into a shop name as
loan-blends.29 In the context of this article I focus on aspects of alternative code-
choices between English and German, and the discursive modes of the writ-
ing city in an ELF context, characterized by normative hybridization (Standard

28 There is no space to discuss the notions of polysemy and homonymy. A cognitive

semantic position models polysemy as an “underlying” conceptual phenomenon (not
a “surface” phenomenon) (Evans 2009: 148ff; Koll-Stobbe 2000: ch.4).
29 Cf. contact linguistic conceptions and analytical categories in Winford (2003),
Muysken (2000) and Knospe (2014) for a contact linguistic study of English-German
lexical transference and the Englishization of German in print media discourse.
70 Amei Koll-Stobbe

BrE and AmE) and nativization of English as a local ELF code (Koll-Stobbe and
Zieseler 2014).
I took a services and business directory corpus of hairdresser names in the city
of Kiel as my data base.30 The absolute number of tokens was 121. Two tokens
represent names of chains, and as a brand are considered only once. Ten shop
names document other languages than English and German and are excluded,
so that my analysis of code-choices represented in Table 3 is based on a corpus
of 109 hairdresser shop names in Kiel. 56 tokens of shop names give evidence for
the national language as a dominant resource (Table 3 below).
In my sample the direct identifier mode is the preferred discursive key in
the identifier category, but German is also used as a linguistic resource for the
ideofier mode. Compared with the Lancaster and London data the ratio between
identifiers and ideofiers as discursive keys for the national language character-
izes all samples: roughly a third of the names in the English inner-city and the
German Kiel city data are ideofiers.

Table 3: Hairdresser shop names in a German city of Kiel (n=109)

Language Choice Discursive Function Frequency (n=109) %

German 56 51
identifiers 41 73 (out of 56)
ideofiers 15 27 (out of 56)
English 18 17
identifiers 5 28 (out of 18)
ideofiers 13 72 (out of 18)
German/English ideofiers 35 32

If one looks at the alternative choices in English, there is a clear tendency to

use English as a repertoire for symbolic imagination (as ideofiers), rather than
as a grammatical repertoire (identifiers). This becomes even more evident in
the last category of shop names encoded as German/English loan blends and
native configurations of English as own creative ways. All German-English
blends function as indirect identifiers, or ideofiers, and transfer a local identity
through processes of inferencing and contextualization. Textual realizations of
shop names such as “HOT ‘N’ TOT” verify vernacular and grassroots literacy

30 Kiel is the capital of the German federal state Schleswig-Holstein with a population of
239,320 in 2012 (19.3% are immigrants and 8.0% foreigners) (Gewusstwo 2012/13).
Ideofiers in the commercial city 71

skills that Blommaert (2008) pointed out for the context of African cities (cf.
section 1 above). The shop name “HOT ‘N’ TOT is not intended as a creative
identifier for African hairstyles as a special service on offer in the shop (as the
service menu signage and a phone call with a request for information made
clear), but to trigger an imaginary, situated identity for a local hairdresser of-
fering hot services.
A critical analysis of the results yields that English and mixed German-Eng-
lish shop names taken together does not support the default choice of a shop
name in the native language German. The sample of hairdresser shop names in
a German city indexes the prominence of English as a resource for structural,
symbolic and encyclopedic writings in the city. Alternative code choices between
German and English as well as native loan-blends of English and German render
a discourse diversity in a gradual bilingual ELF city that documents the domi-
nant symbolic function of English as ideofier in cities as social marketplaces. It is
the social function of English as a resource for the fragmented discourse mode of
shop names as ideofiers that challenges the position of German in the commer-
cial city. Follow-up studies of the signage of other ELF cities will show whether
the results of my data analysis in this article can be verified.

6. Conclusion
In this article I tried to give evidence for the diversity of discourse modes rep-
resented in the writing city with the methodology of LLS of hairdressers’ shop
names. While I neglected total shop signage, aspects of multimodality of signage,
and aspects of morphological and syntactic complexity of shop names, I focused
on aspects of names as indexes for cognitive and social functions of language as
a semantic potential and discursive resource. Language as main component of a
shop name has to index not only the type of business, but also the style and aspi-
ration of the business as a unique shop in the constantly changing city as mobile
marketplace and life-style commodity. Abstracting from a programmatic, small
scale sample study, I showed that shop names may serve two indexical functions,
a direct referential one to identify the business and its services, and an indirect
discursive one to ideofy the intended hairdresser-customer relation as symbolic
As a culturally transmitted communication system and resource, language
traps its users at the same time as it offers them opportunities for development
(see Robinson 2003: 21). One such opportunity for development is the invest-
ment into “hidden” lexical complexity as discursive resource. Polysemy and
homonymy are multifaceted storehouses for contextualization that may trigger
72 Amei Koll-Stobbe

discursive meanings by non-linear processing. Hairdresser names as products of

linguistic strategies such as language play and conceptual blending reflect dis-
cursive practices of semantic upgrading that are considered important enough to
be targeted at a substantial group of city dwellers as potential customers. A third
of the shop names in my sample of English and German data were the outcome
of such creative ways to trigger a situated identity for a shop.
An analysis of shop names provides evidence for on-going changes in the
conception of the shop type and for changing discursive practices in the writ-
ing city. However, a small scale analysis is prone to anecdotal evidence.31 An
empirical analysis of a more representative corpus of shop names as a follow-up
study will result in more fine-graded insights into the diversity of hairdressing
as an economically, ethnically and gender-specific marketplace service attending
to the needs of variable groups of potential customers. In addition, it will pro-
vide further insights into the layered confluence of direct and indirect discourse
modes in the writing city.

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Karine Stjernholm, University of Oslo

Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study

of the sense of place

1. Introduction
The connections between semiotic signs and the sense of place have been widely
explored in linguistic landscape research.1 According to Coulmas (2009: 3), the
origin of writing coincided with the emergence of urban space. Earlier Haber-
mas (1991 [1962]) suggested that the first text displayed in open spaces was in
fact the seed of the public sphere. Ben-Rafael (2009: 40) specifies that in linguis-
tic landscape (hereafter LL) analysis, the focus is on the territorial-geographic
dimension of the public sphere, namely public space, which has its own rules
and regulations (Shohamy and Gorter 2009: 3). As a product and consequence of
social interrelations (Jaworski and Yeung 2010: 153, Lefebvre 1991), these rules
and regulations can in effect be understood as the place-specific (social) culture,
one that will naturally differ from one place to another. Space acquires its mean-
ing from various traces of human activity in the material world; embedding lan-
guage in a public space contributes to the creation of such meaning, or the sense
of place as it has also been called (Jaworski and Yeung 2010: 155).
This article sets two urban districts in Oslo side-by-side and examines
how local social culture is expressed in their respective LLs. It will first pre-
sent an overview of the sociocultural and economic determinants of these
districts. This overview functions as a contextualizing force for interpret-
ing how the sense of place varies considerably in each (Jaworski and Yeung
2010). This variation, as argued here, is expected to stem from sociocultural

1 I would like to thank my supervisors Unn Røyneland and Janne Bondi Johannessen
for their great support and belief in my work, and I especially thank my colleague
Elizabeth Lanza for her excellent comments on previous versions of this paper. I
would also like to thank organizers and participants at the symposium Dimensions of
Linguistic Landscapes in Europe: Materials and methodological solutions in Jyväskylä
in October 2010. A special thank goes to the editors for their patient and meticulous
work with this publication. At last, I would thank all shopkeepers I have talked with
in Grünerløkka and Majorstua who willingly have shared their stories and opinions
about naming of stores, signage, estate prices, and imperialism.
78 Karine Stjernholm

and economic differences between these two districts. The ensuing analysis
will demonstrate that these social trends observable in Oslo are similar to so-
cial development witnessed in several cities around the world. Development
that is well documented in globalization theory as global social processes
(Giddens 1990; Robertson 1992; Eriksen 2008). To describe the observed
differences in the LL of these two districts, two terms will be central, namely
disembedding and re-embedding (Giddens 1990; Robertson 1992). The dis-
cussion in the article is divided into a quantitative and a qualitative section;
the former will focus on which languages are present in the LLs, the latter
will show how iconography is useful as a method for interpreting visual ex-
pression in its sociocultural context.

2.  Theoretical aspects

Following Lefebvre (1991), sense of place is seen as a perceptible product of a
socially constructed space where people’s lives are reflected in the physical envi-
ronment, making space a contextualizing force where sociocultural meaning is
expressed. The sense of a place has also been referred to as its personality. Ben-
Rafael (2009: 42) points out that “[t]ogether with the architecture and the flows
of passers-by, LL is a major ingredient of the picture perceived by both residents
and visitors of a given locality describing its “personality” and distinguishing it
from other places”. Here, features that distinguish one place from another are
interpreted as sociocultural differences perceptible in our surroundings on both
a macro and a micro level. The distinctions on the macro level are apparent in
comparisons of, for instance, cities from different continents. They may, howev-
er, be evident in the comparison of two districts in the same city, although more
subtly. As this article will demonstrate, the sociocultural differences between the
two districts in Oslo are visible in their LL. Ben-Rafael (2009) has emphasized
LL as a gestalt in the social structuration of a place. While a space may include a
range of aspects, such as architecture, contributing to its sense and personality,
the LL is one of the constituents that is under the direct and instant influence of
social actors who shape and re-shape it constantly. By putting up (new) signs,
these actors can be seen as authors who decide what elements are present in the
LL. Further he points out how (Ben-Rafael 2009: 43):
Nothing warrants the congruence of these actors’ tastes and considerations though alto-
gether and without any preliminary consultation, each of them contributes to create this
overall picture of the place […].
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 79

Actors’ sociocultural frameworks overlap by virtue of being located in the same

geographic area, which exposes them to similar impulses from their surround-
ings. For example, by sharing a geographic marketplace, shopkeepers in a given
area automatically address the same audience,2 and it creates competition in the
LL that is closely connected to economic interests. Such a perspective is closely
related with Cenoz and Gorter’s (2009) discussion of the LL’s significance to real
economic processes, and this article stresses the link between economic markets
and the symbolism in linguistic marketplaces. In this context, Bourdieu’s (1991:
66) metaphor about the economics of linguistic exchanges becomes a literal
Linguistic exchange […] is also an economic exchange which is established within a
particular symbolic relation of power between a producer, endowed with a certain lin-
guistic capital, and a consumer (or a market), and which is capable of procuring a cer-
tain material or symbolic profit.

Even though his essay primarily addresses spoken language, the purpose in sit-
ing it here is to stress the dialectic between shopkeepers and potential customers
in the marketplace, which is intrinsically related to real economic exchanges. In
addition, Lefebvre discusses the connection between space, economy, and social
culture and suggests that “social space is produced and reproduced in connec-
tion with the forces of production” (Lefebvre 1991: 77). This perspective is of
importance for the study of LL, because in order to extract economic profit in
a district, the producers of linguistic tokens (i.e. the shopkeepers and owners)
need to be aware of the market in which the consumer identifies him- or herself.
In order to succeed economically, they must decipher their area’s local socio-
cultural code or, rather, its rules and regulations (Shohamy and Gorter 2009: 3)
with the LL acting as the visual interface between themselves and the consumers.
In the following investigation, the LLs of two separate districts will be examined
to compare how such sociocultural codes or rules are expressed in each of them.
To the end, the analysis will employ iconography, an analytic method commonly
used in art theory to interpret social and historical context. Iconography is based
on the idea that a work of art bears important qualities reflecting the social condi-
tions under which it was made. It is common in iconographic analyses to juxta-
pose different works of art to highlight their contextual differences and similarities

2 Even if shopkeepers address the same passers-by, they do not, of course, necessarily
address the same kind of customers, but they share the same physical or geographic
80 Karine Stjernholm

(D’Alleva 2005: 27–28) and to correlate the visual imagery with other (available)
cultural information that is pertinent to the reading of art (Preziosi 1998: 227). The
study of LL enables accessing the sociocultural trends, or context, of a given area
by projecting a sense of place that is more than the visual components but instead
combined the visual with the various sociocultural messages sent from authors to
their intended audiences through local signs. The visible expressions that are seen
as valuable in a specific context, can be said to reflect the ongoing social processes
and central values within that context. More specifically, signs relay the types of
ideas that are produced and reproduced at a given moment in a society. The vari-
ous components of a sign, such as design, name, symbolism and metaphor use,
are all representations of a man-made visual communication that springs from the
sociocultural contexts.
In art history, iconography is closely associated with art historian Panof-
sky who explains the ways in which artwork expresses sociocultural context as
In a work of art, “form” cannot be separated from “content”: the distribution of colour
and lines, light and shade, volumes and planes, however delightful as a visual spectacle,
must also be understood as carrying more-than-visual meaning (D’Alleva 2005: 21, after
Panofsky [1970: 205])

According to Panofsky, iconography has three levels. At the first level, viewers
carry out a basic formal analysis of the artwork. At the next, they identify the
motive before moving on to the third level, in which one deciphers the meaning
of the image. D’Alleva offers the following example: if one has a plastic object,
they will first identify the material, thereafter, its shape (let’s say a female figure).
Finally, they recognize the plastic woman as a Barbie doll, realizing its signifi-
cance as a popular toy since the 1950s and, perhaps, examining how the doll ex-
presses certain ideas about women’s bodies and their role in the society for which
it was made (D’Alleva 2005: 22).3
It is noteworthy that D’Alleva (2005) uses a commercial product to illus-
trate the iconographic art analysis, supporting the argument that signs in public
space reflect the sociocultural contexts in which these signs were produced.
As previously mentioned, a place is regulated by geographical-specific social
rules that make up the sociocultural frame acting upon authors as they choose

3 There is a discussion in art theory as to whether all these stages actually are a part of
the analysis, and especially the first level is debated (see e.g. Preziosi 1998: ch. 5) In
this article, I will not go deeply into this debate, but rather focus on how iconography
can be useful in LL analyses.
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 81

the style of their sign. Such rules thus play a significant role when LL is cre-
ated. Language is one example of those stylistic choices that are motivated by
stereotypes of readers, who form an essential part of the sociocultural frame
(Shohamy and Gorter 2009: 3). Authors follow what Spolsky (2009: 33) calls the
“presumed reader’s condition”, which assumes that they have an understand-
ing of their audience(s), or stereotypical reader(s), and more or less try to ad-
just its form and content accordingly. Remembering Panofsky’s opinion that
form and content form a unity, it is likely that language (including the choice of
fonts, letter sizes, store names, associated metaphors and symbolism) varies de-
pending on the sociocultural contexts and goods offered. This variation should
also be interpreted in the light of Bourdieu (2009 [1979]) who has shown how
taste distinctions and socio-­economic conditions in the population are closely
In the following analysis, the comparison of two districts will accentuate
the sociocultural differences between them, and the article highlights the
central role played by LL in imparting sociocultural messages to passers-by.
These messages contribute to molding the personality or the sense of these
places and support the notion that LL formation is in effect a structuration
process in its own right (Ben-Rafael 2009: 44). As noted in the introduction,
distinctions in the sense of the places examined here have similarities to social
processes that are well documented in globalization theory (Giddens 1990;
Robertson 1992; Eriksen 2008). As mentioned, the expressions disembedding
and re-embedding will be central in the analysis. Giddens (1990) describes
disembedding as a consequence of globalization whereby social relations are
taken out of local contexts and restructured, a process closely related to stand-
ardization, which will also figure prominently in this analysis. It will be argued
that disembedding and standardization constitute the main trends of the LL
in Majorstua, located in the western part of Oslo, as opposed to those found
to the east in Grünerløkka. In the latter area it is more useful to interpret the
LL in light of the term re-embedding, often expressed as glocalization, which
expresses a new focus on local identity or, rather, a globally re-embedding
trend to the local (see e.g. Robertson 1992).

3.  Points of focus

Spolsky (2009: 32) problematizes the issue of where to carry out an LL investiga-
tion and argues that, based on the fact that downtown areas vary in their pre-
ferred languages, an imprudent selection of streets can potentially lead to biased
and misleading results. This argumentation needs to be addressed. First, an LL
82 Karine Stjernholm

analysis presupposes an area with a certain density of signs, which requires a

certain density of people frequenting the area, and therefore also involves socio-
cultural exchanges. Taking into account these local social conditions, any given
place with a certain number of signs is of possible interest to an LL researcher.
Second, variation between different areas highlights the significance of LL analy-
sis in that disparity between place-specific tendencies in LLs is itself an argu-
ment for conducting an LL analysis. Ben-Rafael et al. (2006) have shown that by
comparing a range of places or districts in a city, it may be possible to reveal sig-
nificant sociocultural differences between them (also Huebner 2006; Hult 2009).
The following section presents an overview of the two districts from which my
data were collected.

3.1.  Places of investigation

Majorstua and Grünerløkka are two areas in Oslo’s inner central core. Major-
stua is located on the west side of Oslo, while Grünerløkka in east. Both districts
have long histories as local meeting places (Kjeldstadli 1990: 130), and apart
from the city center, they are two of the city’s most important shopping districts
or, in other words, “the main pedestrian arteries” (Spolsky 2009: 32) where
there are shops and where crowds gather also outside normal business hours
(Ben-Rafael 2009: 41). Figure 1 below illustrates Oslo’s inner core and the loca-
tions of these two districts, and the pedestrian arteries explored in the analysis.
Oslo has a long history of social division whereby “[t]he division between
east and west was a division between two social classes, two worlds […]”
(Kjeldstadli 1990: 130, author’s translation). The backdrop for this division was
the industrial revolution in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the new in-
dustrial areas grew near the power supplies of the river Akerselva. As a result,
Oslo’s blue-collar residents made their homes by the river in the east, while the
bourgeois population settled predominantly in the west. This development led
to the division of the city (Kjeldstadli 1990: 130) and signaled the start of the
social stratification that can still be seen in social statistics, as Table 1 below
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 83

Figure 1: Oslo’s inner central areas and the pedestrian streets of Majorstua
and Grünerløkka4

Table 1: Social stratification of Majorstua and Grünerløkka567

Majorstua (west) Grünerløkka (east)

Residents (2011)4 51,120 47,256
Average annual income (2010)5 71,900€ 40,100€
Average housing price per m2 (2010)6 7,100€ 6,100€

The analysis in this article was conducted during the spring and summer of 2010,
around the time when the data in Table 1 were collected. Majorstua and Grüner-
løkka have an almost equal number of residents, but the average annual income in

4 Source: maps.google.com, author’s modifications.

5 Statistical Yearbook of Oslo (hereafter SYO) (2011: 36).
6 www.utviklings-og-kompetanseetaten.oslo.kommune.no/getfile.php/utviklings-%20
Oslostatistikken/Inntekt/inntekt2010/inntekt08.05.11.htm (For residents aged 30–59,
July 19th, 2012).
7 finn.no (September 2010).
84 Karine Stjernholm

Majorstua is considerably higher than in the eastern district, and this is also reflect-
ed in the average housing prices that are higher in Majorstua than in Grünerløkka.
Majorstua has long been a commercial area, but Grünerløkka’s shopping dis-
trict was severely affected by the recession of the 1980s–90s, during which time
many shops were forced out of business (Børrud 2005: 278). Over the past dec-
ades, Grünerløkka has undergone a significant gentrification process and seen
a decrease in its working class population (Aspen 2005). Today, the district is
dominated by people in their mid-20/30s whose lifestyles are urban and whose
frequent meeting places are coffee shops and parks (Børrud 2005: 297). Grüner-
løkka has changed significantly, and the gentrification process has brought
Grünerløkka closer to Majorstua (Bråthen et al. 2007).
In addition to the gentrification, mobility plays a considerable role in Oslo today.
It is a city with highly mobile population, and some 25 per cent of Oslo’s residents
in 2005 had moved to the city within five years (Bråthen et al. 2007). Additionally,
immigration to Norway plays a considerable role in Oslo. Aure et al. (2011: 44) com-
pare two studies from 1972 and 2008 and show that the greatest change in people’s
motivation for moving within Norway was brought about by the increased emphasis
on “place” and “environment”. They also stress the connection between motivation
for moving and values connected to individualism, increased focus on leisure and
consumption, and how these factors are connected to identity or choice of lifestyle.
The division of the city of Oslo is also evident in the spoken varieties used there.
Historically, the dialect in Oslo has been divided into two geographical varieties of
the east and west sides (Hanssen et al. 1977: 7–8). The eastern variety is principally a
Norwegian dialect, while the western way of speaking has its roots in Danish. These
differences have however diminished significantly over the past century. Today, the
Oslo dialect can generally be regarded as a single speech variety with several distinc-
tive features used to mark either an eastern or a western identity (Stjernholm 2013).
This article will show that sociocultural and political ideologies are components
that contribute to how the western and eastern sides of today’s Oslo are socially
constructed. The local and national newspapers also contribute to this process by
repeatedly focusing on the social divisions. Aftenposten, a national newspaper, is
one of the biggest conservative publications in Oslo, and it continuously focuses on
this issue, publishing headlines such as “Differences in Wages Increasing between
West and East”8 and “This is the Divided City”.9 In 2011, the newspaper, Dagsavisen,

8 www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/oslo/Inntektsforskjellene-ker-mellom-vest-og-st-
6681649.html#.TzjcdSOpSpc (October 27th, 2011, author’s translation).
9 www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/article4144477.ece#.TzjcMCOpSpc (Article about
school results in Oslo, June 14th, 2011, author’s translation).
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 85

which was previously published by the Labor Party (Arbeiderpartiet),10 ran a series
of articles on “The Divided City”11 that led to a vibrant debate in several media
outlets. In addition, the national broadcasting network, NRK, has included an ex-
tensive graphic presentation of the division of Oslo in their Internet pages.12
During the spring of 2010, the Oslo Test (Stjernholm 2013), an online survey
of language variation in Oslo, showed a strong connection between place and re-
ported language variation. The survey amassed approximately 50,000 responses
from Oslo’s residents and revealed that numerous people in Oslo still experience
their city as divided, with both place and identity figuring as important factors.
Lastly, my own ethnographic observations also support the view that there
are considerable differences between Oslo’s east and west sides. I was born and
raised in this city, and my relationship to the city is an asset in this context inso-
far as it has provided me with inside knowledge of its culture. At the same time, I
am fully aware that my interpretation of the data might appear overly influenced
by my own personal views. My connections to Grünerløkka and Majorstua are
however balanced as I see myself equally attached to both sides of the city. Due
to their central locations, the two districts are metaphors representing in general
the eastern and western sides of Oslo. Thus, the sociocultural differences be-
tween these single locations may be interpreted to support the view of the city as
being divided between its east and west ends.
According to Spolsky’s (2009: 33) discussion of the presumed reader’s con-
dition, understood here as the shopkeepers’ comprehension of their audience
and subsequent attempts to adjust their communication towards potential cus-
tomers, the situation in Oslo leads to the hypothesis that if many shopkeepers
have different expectations about their audiences, and as such different ways of
communicating with them, we can expect the analysis to reveal significant dif-
ferences between the LLs in these areas, a finding that is of great importance for
the sense of these places.

3.2.  Methodological considerations

The number of signs in a given area of investigation can be overwhelming,
and it may be challenging to select on which items to focus. Huebner (2009:
70–71) discusses this problem of including all possible signs in an LL analysis

10 snl.no/Dagsavisen (August 16th, 2012).

11 www.dagsavisen.no/nyemeninger/alle_meninger/cat1003/subcat1016/thread
143516/#post_143516 (September 18th 2012).
12 www.nrk.no/nyheter/norge/1.7996583 (August 16th, 2012).
86 Karine Stjernholm

and argues for the classification of signs into genres. My methodological solu-
tion, in addition to identifying relevant districts for exploration, has been to
focus primarily on shop names. This focus is based on two assumptions. First,
compared to other signs, it is likely that names play a significant role in the
economic success of a store. The second assumption follows from the first,
positing that the store’s name, and the sign on which it appears, are often made
out to be more consistent than other signs in the LL. For example, sales posters
have a shorter lifespan and may more easily be replaced and (re)adapted ac-
cording to evolving needs, whereas choosing a successful store name demands
a certain level of effort and is typically meant to be a relatively permanent
In addition to having photographed all storefronts in the streets highlight-
ed in Figure 1, the analysis also includes an ethnographic component because
I have personally spoken with many of the shopkeepers and corresponded via
e-mail with one of them. The analysis is also supported by recordings from a
radio program on the topic of LL in Oslo. During the fall of 2010, the national
broadcasting company of Norway aired a segment about my research in which
several of the shopkeepers were interviewed, giving answers to support my own
As the analysis will show, there are salient differences in the types of stores
present in Grünerløkka and Majorstua.13 It is therefore not only signage that is
place-dependent, but also how different areas attract different kinds of stores.
This is also reflected in my argumentation that everything concerning the style
of the store’s sign, as well as the goods offered inside, will vary by context, and
that it is important for shopkeepers to be aware of the preferences of the po-
tential customers in their local market. This context-dependent nature of shop
names has also been pointed out by Blommaert (2010: 29–30) who exemplifies
his statement with the chocolate store Nina’s Derrière in Tokyo. While the literal
meaning of the name is subordinated in Japan, it would not likely find much
success in France. It is the indexical value of French that is salient in this context;
to simplify, to be successful, the name needs to be suited for local sociocultural
conditions. Even though the cultural differences between Japan and France are
quite obvious, it is likely that also cultural differences between different districts
in the same city are expressed through signs.

13 I will note here that the LL is a dynamic topic of research, and this analysis will there-
fore only be a presentation of a snapshot of Oslo. As I discussed in Stjernholm (2013),
Oslo is rather a film than a foto, a metaphor used by Bråthen et al. (2007: 36).
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 87

4.  A quantitative approach to visibility

This section will introduce the quantitative data set. At the time of investigation,
there were 199 shops facing the main shopping streets in Majorstua, compared
to 151 in Grünerløkka. Table 2 shows the shop names categorized according to
the various languages.
As illustrated in Table 2, there are two main differences in the language distri-
bution between the two districts. First, the use of English in store names is much
higher in Majorstua (30.2 per cent) than in Grünerløkka (16.5 per cent). Second,
as much as 45 per cent of the signs in Grünerløkka are in Norwegian, compared
to 29.6 per cent in Majorstua. The figures mean that the commercial landscape
is dominated by languages that Norwegians are likely to understand, and those
languages that are not obligatory in Norwegian schools, such as Italian, are not
widely visible.
The quantitative categorization presented in the table is potentially challenging
since there is not necessarily a straightforward division of languages in each case;
instead, there is some form of cultural or linguistic hybridization in the names.
One tendency in the material seems to be avoiding one specific language refer-
ence, which might in turn be interpreted as a neutrality strategy. By avoiding spe-
cific language references and resorting to hybridization or multi-referencing, the
shopkeepers can ensure a wider audience. Similar findings have been document-
ed in several LL analyses before this one (e.g. Backhaus 2007, Blommaert 2010).
In many instances, it may be particularly difficult to decide on a primary language
reference since their linguistic content is usually open to various interpretations.
This issue will be discussed further in the qualitative approach in section 5.

Table 2: The store names by languages

Majorstua (west) Grünerløkka (east)

Norwegian 29.6% (59) 45% (68)
English 30.2% (60) 16.5% (25)
Proper names 15.1% (30) 9.9% (15)
Italian 5.6% (11) 3.3% (5)
Fantasy names 3% (6) 4.6% (7)
French 3.5% (7) 2.7% (4)
Latin 2% (4) 2% (3)
Hybrid - 4% (6)
Spanish 1% (2) 2.7% (4)
Bilingual, Norwegian/English 0.5% (1) 2.7% (4)
Swedish - 1.3% (2)
88 Karine Stjernholm

Majorstua (west) Grünerløkka (east)

Bilingual, French/English 0.5% (1) -
Uncertain 9% (18) 5.3% (8)
Total 100% (199) 100% (151)

The Hybrid category consists of names that are impossible to position in a lan-
guage category, like the name no52.no, which will also be discussed further in
section 5. Uncertain names are difficult to put in a single language group, such as
the grocery chain, Kiwi (as in kiwi fruit) since the letter w is not commonly used
in Norwegian spelling and may therefore be regarded as foreign. The category
Bilingual (Norwegian-English) refers to names with both English and Norwe-
gian content, for instance, TilBords Factory Outlet, where TilBords (at the ta-
ble) is Norwegian, and Factory Outlet is in English. Fantasy refers to names with
creative spelling, like Champoo (a combination of the words Champagne and
shampoo; the Norwegian spelling would be sjampanje14 and sjampo) and qba, an
imaginative spelling of kuba (the cube), a name that will be examined further in
Section 5. The other major European languages (French, Italian and Spanish) are
all represented in both Majorstua and Grünerløkka, but with low frequencies.
Interestingly, a large part of Oslo’s population possesses language skills that are
not represented in the LL. This stems from the significant increases in immigration
from non-Western countries in particular to Oslo’s east end (Bråthen et al. 2007:
54–55). These immigrant languages are not, with the exception of one or two prop-
er names, incorporated into these LLs. The results demonstrate the low degree to
which non-western languages are admissible for marketing purposes in Majorstua
and Grünerløkka. In Grünerløkka for instance, roughly one fifth of the popula-
tion have immigrant backgrounds primarily from Africa or Asia (SYO 2011, 44),
yet from a commercial standpoint, languages from these continents are practically
non-existent. Urban researchers in Oslo have questioned this tendency, pointing
out that many traces of Grünerløkka’s role as an immigrant neighborhood appear
to be partially wiped out (Børrud 2005: 288). Lanza and Woldemariam (2009) argue
that the presence of some languages in LL, along with the absence of others, pro-
vides an ideological message as to the value and priority of certain languages over
others. The language choices found in my own material seem to represent the pres-
tigious side of Norwegian multilingualism, whereby the low value placed on immi-
grant languages appears to warrant their exclusion from these linguistic markets. As

14 In Norwegian it is optional whether to use the spelling Champagne (with an initial

capital letter) or sjampanje.
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 89

Shohamy and Gorter (2009: 2) write, “[t]he absence of languages, especially in areas
which are politically and socially contested, is important data to be studied.” Fur-
thermore, Jaworski and Yeung (2010: 154) note that by drawing linguistic bounda-
ries, it is possible to define and exclude those who do not belong to a society. After
a broad study of Norwegian official texts, Sæter and Ruud (2005: 50) concluded
that the symbiosis between political decisions, culture, and the economic market
serves to create sharply delineated landscapes for distinct groups in urban space.
As an illustration, Grønland, which is one of Oslo’s most multicultural districts, has
an immigrant population accounting for 39.4 per cent of residents.15 Yet, accord-
ing to an LL analysis conducted in that same area, African and Asian languages
are only accounted for in 13.4 per cent of the local signs and most of the instances
were either handwritten notes or a parts of shop or coffee house names (Berezkina,
2013). Moreover, the language on permanent signs was different from less perma-
nent signs, and “the use of non-Western immigrant languages seems to be restricted
to a highly unofficial part of the linguistic landscape of the area” (Berezkina, 2013).
It is reasonable to interpret the lack of non-Western languages in Oslo in the
light of the economics of linguistic exchanges since these exchanges, according
to Bourdieu (1991: 66), are established within a particular symbolic relation of
power. Considering Table 2 (and Berezkina’s 2013 findings), shopkeepers seem
to be aware of power dynamics. Again, Bourdieu’s use of metaphors is strik-
ing in connection with the findings, as “[a] language is worth what those who
speak it are worth […]” (Bourdieu 1977: 652). In this context, there is no need
to interpret Bourdieu’s statement as a metaphor because the connection between
language attitudes and real economics is clearly visible. It is essential for shop-
keepers to understand the market in which the consumer identifies him- or her-
self in order to extract any real economic profit from it, a structuration principle
also called “presentation of self ” (Ben-Rafael 2009: 46). Signs are an important
part of shopkeepers’ marketing strategies, which, if successful, will yield real eco-
nomic results. As a result, the shop will be able to maintain its position in the
local market, and be a more or less permanent fixture in the local environment.
High levels of such success may also lead to the expansion of a business, which in
turn could result in the shop taking up more physical space in the area, making
it even more visible. Large, permanent stores can eventually become landmarks
within a district as part of a developmental power spiral. As such, the dialectic

15 www.utviklings-og-kompetanseetaten.oslo.kommune.no/getfile.php/utviklings-%20
(September 4th, 2012).
90 Karine Stjernholm

situation between shopkeepers and consumers serves to structure and mold the
LL at the same time as context (i.e. the sense of place) is achieved, thus (re)
producing social trends and attitudes. This structuring process will necessarily
affect the status of the languages involved, leading to the deterioration of those
with too low a currency for the market at hand. Similarly, the results of Landry
and Bourhis’ (1997) investigation of ethnolinguistic vitality show that the display
of language in space is a major indication of language attitudes.
All in all, it can be questioned whether a quantitative categorization like this is a
useful way to analyze shop names considering how difficult it is to sort them by lan-
guage. However, as the discussion here shows, a quantitative categorization is a useful
way to visualize which languages are visible in the LL. In the following section, I will
take a qualitative perspective to the communication and marketing strategies in the
shop signs of these two districts. I will make use of iconography and the concepts of
disembedding and re-embedding to understand the role that LL play in molding the
personality or the sense of these two places.

5.  A qualitative approach

In Majorstua the shopping area is dominated by chain stores, and the district
illustrates an international trend towards what Leeman and Modan (2010: 185)
call the commodification of culture and commercialization of public space. The
majority of the newly set establishments in this area are global chains, and in-
dependent stores, according to my ethnographic interviews, have difficulties in
surviving in this context due to increasing rental prices.16 Spolsky (2009) has em-
phasized the differences between local and global signs in the urban space, stress-
ing that the existence of global signs is relevant, not primarily choice of language.
Importantly, the omnipresence of global signs at Majorstua is a dominant factor
in distinguishing it from Grünerløkka (cf. the proportions of English in Table 2).
In this qualitative analysis, I will illustrate how the LL trends contribute to create
highly different senses of place. This is done by applying methods from iconogra-
phy by juxtaposing two similar establishments from the two districts.

5.1.  Global and local

Benetton (Figure 2) is an example of an international chain store at Majorstua. The
chain has 6,400 stores in 120 countries worldwide,17 and these stores are recognizable
through standardization. The chain uses colors as the main item to be recognized

16 Personal communication with shop keepers in Majorstua (June 28th, 2010).

17 www.benettongroup.com/group/business/worldwide-presence (September 4th 2012).
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 91

and employs the slogan United Colors of Benetton.18 Their green logo is familiar to
most shoppers, and the interior appears to be more or less similar across locations.
The company’s Norwegian agent explained that Benetton tries to avoid verbal com-
munication, opting instead for more visual forms of advertising, and echoing the
hypothesis that linguistic expressions on signs are only one part of the style choices
made by and for a business.19 When verbal communication is needed in posters
or promotional material, English is the language used. Their stores are completely
standardized, which contributes to reducing the amount of resources necessary for
each venue, making them more economically profitable.
Standardization is clearly an important sales strategy, and standardization process-
es disembed these stores from their physical locations as they are adapted to a global
market and lifted out of their “situatedness” (Giddens 1990: 53). This does not neces-
sarily mean that all globalization means unification; according to Blommaert (2010:
24), “[e]ven if similar features occur all over the globe, the local histories which they
enter can be fundamentally different and so create very different effects, meanings
and functions.” The company on their web pages announces that when designing new
stores, they are “each time recognizing and respecting the value of the local culture”.20
This does not seem an insurmountable task as the company has managed to find a way
to standardize the stores in a way that allows them to fit all local environments. Even
if the effect on the local site may vary, the most affordable method for chain stores is
likely to find strategies that are able to adapt to each and every relevant location.

Figure 2: Benetton

18 www.benettongroup.com/ (September 4th, 2012).

19 E-mail correspondence with Benetton’s Norwegian agent, Linda Lorentzen (May 5th,
20 www.benettongroup.com/group/business/stores (September 4th, 2012).
92 Karine Stjernholm

This is visible in Benetton’s signage (Figure 2), where the sales posters in the
windows, produced centrally by their head office, are written in English. Eng-
lish, according to their Norwegian spokesperson, is the language used in all the
countries where Benetton is represented.
According to Cenoz and Gorter (2009: 58), the spread of English has been
a substantial part of LL’s economic dimension. For Benetton the standardiza-
tion of their business and their use of English appear to have a clear economic
motivation, evidencing once more the connection between real economy and
the economy of linguistic exchange. Importantly, in this context, the use of
English does not necessarily imply that the Norwegian language has a lower
value in the linguistic marketplace of Majorstua, but rather that it is simply
not profitable enough for international chains to use local linguistic resources.
Furthermore, at Majorstua, English does not evoke any negative associations
in Majorstua.

Figure 3: Benetton fall/winter campaign 2010

It is part of Benetton’s concept to have a global rather than local profile, as seen in
Figure 3, which shows a poster from their 2010 fall/winter campaign in which the
brand advertises itself explicitly as a global company with the slogan: It’s:my:time
Global Fashion Community. The company does not necessarily exclude local
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 93

languages, but they do choose to employ a language that is understood wher-

ever their goods are offered. If they were to print sales posters in every language
represented by the various countries in which they promote themselves, it would
entail significantly higher production costs and logistical challenges. Indeed, it
would demand considerable resources to produce posters linguistically adapted
to all the chain’s many branches, to ensure knowledge about local conditions, to
avoid spelling errors, adapt to local customs, and so forth. The use of English
makes Benetton standardized to fit in everywhere.
I will return to how the omnipresence of English among these major actors
has impacted the symbolic value of English in the LL when discussing the obser-
vation related to the Norwegian bakery chain United Bakeries below. According
to Blommaert (2010: 49), English is the language that defines upwardly mobile
trajectories; in addition to the economic argument, the use of English on Benet-
ton’s posters also communicates their role as a participant in an aspiring global
community. As such, branding becomes a form of identity construction, posi-
tioning the enterprise as a global actor, which, in this context, may be read as a
positive outcome.
Finally, it is noteworthy how Figure  2 also shows a sales poster written in
Norwegian. It illustrates a less permanent, locally produced sign that represents
the language of the local author. Someone in this store has written a special offer
in Norwegian, and this particular sales poster is directed solely to local passers-
by in a Norwegian neighborhood. So despite the fact that their global profile is
taken care of and imposed by their head office upon local actors, there is room
for local communicative acts that may be distinct from the official strategies.

5.2.  Balancing between global and local

In contrast to Majorstua’s chain stores, Grünerløkka is characterized by an abun-
dance of independent shops. One of these, no52.no (Figure 4), is a trendy fash-
ion store located in unit number 52 of the district’s main street, Thorvald Meyers
gate. As such, the name explicitly links the store to its address, where the build-
ing number is clearly visible on the outside wall. The use of such explicitly local
references can be interpreted as a reaction to the commercialization of areas like
Majorstua, and linked to what is described in globalization theory as a global
re-embedding process. Re-embedding is viewed as a response to the aforemen-
tioned disembedding, and can be briefly explained as a consequence or need for
distinctiveness in an increasingly globalized world (Eriksen 2008). It is closely
connected to glocalization (global localization), a term used to describe a new
focus on the local as seen globally (Robertson 1992: 174).
94 Karine Stjernholm

Figure 4: no52.no

Like no52.no, several shops in Grünerløkka have names directly expressing their
local conditions. Two examples may be found in Ryes (Rye’s), a bar located at Olaf
Ryes Plass (Olaf Rye’s Square), and qba (the cube), a creative take on the name
Kuba, which is a well-known place in Grünerløkka (q is pronounced /ku/ in Nor-
wegian). For the bar qba, the spelling warrants particular attention in that it can
be seen to represent the way the Oslo’s eastern spoken dialect inflects definite
singular nouns, with the suffix -a, as opposed to the traditional western variety
which would inflect this noun with -en, as in kuben. For instance, Stjernholm
(2013), reporting the results from the Oslo Test mentioned above, shows that the
respondents from Grünerløkka prefer the suffix -a over -en. I interpret the nam-
ing of this bar to be a glocalizing feature itself, as its pronunciation is also con-
tested21 and therefore reflects local linguistic circumstances in several ways. Note
also how visual, linguistic, and local features are all woven together in this name.
For Benetton, the sign’s style was part of a greater unity of profiling features, while
qba is compounded by linguistic and visual features, such as the q, which reflects
the sign’s sociocultural frame and evokes the local pronunciation. To illustrate

21 It is contested if this name is supposed to be pronounced with toneme 1 or 2.

Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 95

how the sociocultural frame is woven together with the style for no52.no’s sign,
I will return to iconography, as outlined in section 2, interpreting the sign in a
broader cultural context and discussing reasons for why precisely this sign was
chosen at its particular time and in its context (see D’Alleva 2005: 21).
A formal interpretation of the shop name no52.no reveals simply a sign with
letters on it. At the next level of analysis, these letters are recognized as the name
of the shop, as are the words Velkommen (welcome) and Grünerløkka. An even
broader interpretation of the sign reveals its context, that is, the name in connec-
tion with the store’s location in unit number 52, while the placement of Grüner-
løkka on the sign explicitly stresses the local once more. Moreover, no52.no can
be recognized as a domain name, expressing shopping possibilities on the Inter-
net as well.
The first abbreviation in no52.no makes the name visually symmetrical with
the domain name no, yet, as an abbreviation, it can be interpreted in several
ways. Number in Norwegian was in earlier times shortened to no, which lends
the name a historical flavor at the same time as the word also references the cur-
rent English abbreviation for number. However, the name is not totally ambigu-
ous; number as a concept is the most obvious interpretation of the abbreviation,
independent of what language it is meant to represent. The name can be read
as a hybrid between English and Norwegian, and further between the local and
global, as seen through its visual design. By highlighting ambiguity and hybridity
in the name and adapting its visual expression, the shopkeeper does not indicate
a preference for one language over the other but rather balances between local
and global. The aim here is to promote the online store, with all the global po-
tentials, but at the same time the entrepreneur emphasizes explicit references to
the store’s actual physical location. The shopkeeper was interviewed for the radio
program mentioned in section 3.2, where she underscored how important it was
for her to make her store fit in with its specific neighborhood. She also explained
that she had previously owned a store in Oslo’s central downtown, and this estab-
lishment had an English name, a choice that was not an option when she opened
her current store at Grünerløkka.
Taking into consideration the significant impact that the economic recession
of the 1980s–90s had on Grünerløkka’s commercial sector, and the fact that rapid
changes over the past few decades have transformed the area into an attractive
market for investments, the glocalizing trend in shop names can be considered
a sound communicative and branding strategy geared towards re-creating the
area as appealing to investors, and ensuring its continued economic growth.
The consequence for Grünerløkka’s sense of place is that the area is left with an
atmosphere or impression of being more like a neighborhood, as opposed to
96 Karine Stjernholm

Majorstua whose sense of place seems more disconnected or disembedded from

local city-dwellers. Put simply, the residents of Grünerløkka seem more directly
reflected in the shopping area.

5.3.  United Bakeries and Kontrastè

Returning to Majorstua, we find United Bakeries (Figure 5), an expanding
Oslo-based bakery chain. The choice of English as the promotional language
is not obvious for this store, and may be interpreted as inspiration taken from
the preferred language of greater international companies, such as Benetton. As
mentioned in section 5.1, the prevalence of English among these major actors
has affected its symbolic value, which may be one of the reasons why smaller
stores also choose to use the language, thus emulating the sales strategies of more
prominent chains. Stores with a much smaller degree of global orientation are of-
ten seen to adopt English as a marketing language and choose an English name.

Figure 5: United Bakeries

Section 4 discussed the fact that little value is placed on non-western languages
in the linguistic marketplace of these districts, yet at Majorstua it is obvious that
English is in fact very highly valued. It is likely that strategies employed by inter-
national companies are easily interpreted as successful, especially if we take into
consideration Blommaert’s (2010: 49) definition of English as the language that
defines upwardly mobile trajectories. The observation of United Bakeries is an
example of how strategic and symbolic choices in the advertising of major chains
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 97

also have consequences for Norwegian stores with a more local orientation. By
using this strategy, the name United Bakeries actually contributes to Majorstua’s
trend of disembedding.
Kontrastè, a Grünerløkka restaurant (Figure 6), has a hybrid name that carries
references to both the French language and re-embedding processes. Kontrast,
written without an e, is a Norwegian word borrowed from the French language; the
final e with the accent lends the name even clearer French connotations. However,
contrast in French is in fact written with a c and should either have an acute accent
(verbal use) or have no accent at all (noun). In the case of Kontrastè, the accent is
indexical in itself; the name is a hybrid between French and Norwegian, and since
this is a restaurant, it bears associations to French cuisine, with all its connotations.
Without committing to either French or Norwegian, the owner manages to
communicate Frenchness at the same time as it is possible to pronounce the
name as a Norwegian word. Again, Blommaert’s (2010: 29) analysis of the choco-
late store, Nina’s derrière, is relevant. The author points out that this name is only
barely French, and has in fact no linguistic French meaning; its significance is
merely semiotic since derriere is “a word whose origins lie in the stock vocabu-
lary of the language we conventionally call French” (Blommaert 2010: 29). Here,
the Frenchness of the name has an emblematic function. The motivation for
choosing a name like this one must be motivated by a wish to communicate cul-
tural stereotypes. As Kelly-Holmes (2000: 67) posits “it is unimportant whether
the advertisee understands the foreign words in an advertisement so long as it
calls up the cultural stereotypes of the country which the language is associated.”

Figure 6: Kontrastè
98 Karine Stjernholm

The contrasting of the final è in the design makes it easy to pronounce as a

regular Norwegian word, you can simply pronounce the word as the Norwegian
Kontrast. Once more, it becomes apparent that visual design and linguistic con-
tent are tightly interwoven, with the references in the name playing a central part
in this unity. Kontrastè refers to the unique elements of French cuisine, while also
expressing a dual reference to both French and Norwegian. Since it is important
for this neighborhood, in contrast to Majorstua, to be associated with the imme-
diate environment, the so-called Norwegian element of the spelling ensures that
patrons’ connection to the local is maintained.

5.4.  Fromagerie and Birkelundens lille franske ostebutikk

Finally, I will discuss tendencies in the naming of independent stores at Majorstua
as exemplified by the exclusive cheese store, Fromagerie (Figure 7), a name that
in no way communicates the store’s attachment to the local area. The motivation
for choosing a French name for a store like this is clearly to communicate French
cultural stereotypes similar to those evoked by Kontrastè. Fromagerie clearly refers
to the world-famous French cheese culture and industry. In addition to its evident
symbolic value and the fact that fromagerie means cheese store, the emblematic ef-
fect is strengthened by the choice to use a French name, which enhances the own-
er’s professional authenticity by signaling familiarity with such a renowned cheese
culture. Except for the brand names of some cheeses, the signs on the front side-
walk are written in Norwegian, just as with the signs outside the Benetton store.
Figure 7: Fromagerie
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 99

Like Majorstua, Grünerløkka has a cheese store with a clear French pro-
file; only this one has a Norwegian name: Birkelundens lille franske ostebutikk
(­Figure  8) (English: The little French cheese store in Birkelunden). While this
store also expresses Frenchness, it still maintains its connection to the local area
through two strategies. First, the name makes direct reference to the place where
it is situated, namely Birkelunden, a popular park in Grünerløkka; second, the
name is in Norwegian.
The language on the posters and signs outside Birkelundens lille franske os-
tebutikk is similar to those outside Fromagerie, as they are also predominantly
written in Norwegian, with the exception of some French brand names or catch-
phrases that most Norwegians already know, such as crêperie and Brie, which
contribute to the credibility of the store’s “Frenchness”. The shop has a hybrid
appearance between French and Norwegian, seeming to balance the need for au-
thenticity from both nationalities that it represents; it is French enough to claim
reliability and expertise on French cheese, while it is Norwegian enough to fit
into the Grünerløkka market.
Figure 8: Birkelundens lille franske ostebutikk

6.  Discussion and conclusions

The focus of this article has been on how the sense of place is expressed through
the LL in two districts in Oslo, Majorstua and Grünerløkka. They were chosen to
represent the west and the east sides of the city. Oslo has a historical background
100 Karine Stjernholm

of division wherein the east side has been known to be populated by blue-collar
populations, while the west tends to be associated with the bourgeois crowd.
Even though some of the social differences seem to be leveling out, they are still
visible in social statistics, and Oslo’s identity as a divided city is still of vital im-
portance (Stjernholm 2013).
In my analysis, the concept of sense of place was explored as a structuring
force. While both districts have been absorbed by capitalism, they seem to attract
a different kind of stores, a phenomenon which has clearly contributed to the
variability in the LL. This difference can also be read as a divergence in expecta-
tions related to customers in the areas. As regards to the LL, it may be seen in
relation to the “presumed reader’s condition” (Spolsky 2009: 33), meaning that
a sign’s authors have a certain concept of their audience and more or less try to
adjust the signs accordingly. These differences in the stores and in the signage
between the east and the west sides might then be interpreted as an expression of
different views about the type of customers who frequent these areas. Shopkeep-
ers in Majorstua and Grünerløkka evidently have differing expectations about
their audiences, who, in turn, have different expectations as to the stores they
prefer to visit. Such a relationship or dialectic situation between the local shop-
keepers and their audiences can be characterized as a structuration process, a
key component shaping the sense of a place.
In Oslo’s case, the differences in the sense of place have been brought about
by the sociocultural stratification. While it should be recognized that my find-
ings can indeed contribute to maintaining the notion of Oslo as a divided city,
these sociocultural differences are clearly visible in the social statistics of these
two districts. For instance, Section 3.1 discussed the high level of mobility within
Oslo’s population and referred to a study on individuals’ motivations for moving.
A study by Aure et al. (2011) highlight that the influence of place and environ-
ment have clearly become more pertinent during the last four decades when in-
dividuals make decisions on where to move and settle in. In light of my findings
on the LL, it is likely that preferences for a place make up an important part
of the structuration process in Oslo, whereby people’s expectations about place
are maintained through their shopping preferences. These expectations about a
place may also be significant for the spoken language in Oslo. The Oslo dialect
has traditionally two varieties, but the differences between these varieties seem
to have decreased. This process was already observed over a century ago (Lars-
en 1907: 14), but the leveling between the variants is still an on-going process
(Stjernholm 2013). In this process I hold that the notion of a place, the identity
connected to different parts of Oslo, has a conserving effect on the spoken lan-
guage, and the sense of a place is central for its identity.
Two faces of Oslo: A comparative study of the sense of place 101

In addition to maintaining the sociocultural content of an environment by

being central to its sense of place, this article shows that LLs also reveal another
kind of segregation in Oslo. As shown in the quantitative analysis, Grünerløkka’s
high concentration of non-western immigrants remains invisible in the district’s
LL, a finding that may also be interpreted as part of the structuration process
above. If shopkeepers feel that non-western languages have too little value in the
linguistic marketplace (see Bourdieu 1991), they will likely try to avoid the use
of these languages.
The qualitative analysis introduces iconography as an analytic method for
LL research, a framework generally used to interpret visual art. Through this
method, the analysis has aimed to highlight how linguistic features are inter-
twined with the general visual aspects of signs. In iconography it is important to
show the centrality of form and content when interpreting the context of visual
expression. The context read from the LL in Majorstua and Grünerløkka is that
international expressions, particularly in English, constitute the main trend on
the west side of town, while the opposite is true for the east; in Grünerløkka, the
tendency is for the LL to express a close connection to the local environment.
The above discussion connects these differences, and their impact on the sense
of place, to trends described in social theory as disembedding and re-embedding
(Giddens 1990; Robertson 1992; Eriksen 2008). The LL in Majorstua primar-
ily consists of signs that appear disembedded from the immediate community,
while the majority of signs at Grünerløkka focus on local references. This is evi-
dent both in the choice of a name and in frequent use of Norwegian, which thus
create what could be described as glocalizing or re-embedding trends. While
large international chain stores like H&M, Zara, and Benetton dominate the
streets in Majorstua and gives the area a global sense of disembeddedness from
the local neighborhood, Norwegian names with explicit local references ensure
that the sense of Grünerløkka is embedded to the place-specific environment.

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Mikko Laitinen, Linnaeus University

English on the move: What’s beyond

modernity and internationalism?

1. Introduction
This article discusses the presence and prevalence of English in public spaces
in one country which, in the Kachru’s (1985) paradigm, could be placed in the
expanding circle.1 My observations are drawn from two field trips in Finland, a
country in which the presence and importance of English has increased consider-
ably during the past few decades as part of processes of linguistic globalization and
mobility (Leppänen and Nikula 2007; Leppänen et al. 2011). The objective is to
present evidence of how public signage with English are used in their context and
of how such signs come to be locally interpreted in socially diverse contexts (Blom-
maert 2010: 2; Blommaert 2013: 118). The broad underlying aim of this article
is to suggest areas for future studies on the presence of English in the expanding
circle. In addition, focusing on the uses of English in public space means that this
article approaches a widely-debated issue in the previous literature in linguistic
landscape/signs in space studies. However, the objective here is move beyond the
most obvious conclusions as to how English is used in advertisements and public
signs as an index of modernity and internationalism; rather the objective is to pre-
sent new ways of approaching English in sociolinguistic landscapes.2 The discussion
here draws from the notions of semiotic landscapes, as suggested by Jaworski and
Thurlow (2010), and from linguistic landscapes by Shohamy and Waksman (2009).
In their discussion of what actually constitutes linguistic landscape studies,
Shohamy and Waksman (2009: 328) end up with a broad definition. They point
out that the object of study consists of all the possible texts that are displayed
and situated in public space. For analyzing these signs, they argue for the need
to dig deeper and suggest that all visible signs should be regarded as “tips of
icebergs” that require closer analysis. This means that texts and signs require
a more comprehensive analysis for emerging and situated meanings which in

1 I wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on an earlier
version of this paper. All shortcomings are solely mine.
2 Throughout the article, I use the concept of sociolinguistic landscapes to refer to my
observations. I understand signs in space as an inherently social activity since design-
ing, displaying, encountering and interpreting signs is always done by individuals.
106 Mikko Laitinen

turn contribute to shaping and designing the public sphere (cf. also Blommaert
2013: 1–3, 118). What is crucial for their approach is that the meanings of signs
in space are intertwined in socio-cultural, political and economic histories, as
their discussion on the signs in the Ha’apala memorial site in Tel Aviv shows. For
Shohamy and Waksman (2009), an important component in public spaces is that
they are dynamic. They are constructed and semiotized through texts that are
situated and displayed there, and when signs are altered and changed by people,
these actions reshape and redefine these spaces.
This notion of change resembles Blommaert’s (2010: 30–33) discussion of signs
as objects of study in today’s globalized environment of mobility and multilingual
resources. His discussion illustrates the key role of signs for his analysis, and he
points out how signs shift functions depending on when and how they are used,
encountered and read. In addition, he suggests that not only do people move
about in space, but signs also travel, and when this takes place, they may come
to be locally interpreted. This could mean for instance that delocalized (global)
printing works may be used in a range of (unexpected) spaces. What is important
is that spaces through which people or signs travel are not empty but coded with
norms and expectations. These, in their turn, influence the ways in which people
read and interpret signs. The common element between Blommaert’s (2010) ap-
proach and that of Shohamy and Waksman (2009) is dynamism and change.
This article continues with the theme of change and focuses on public signs in
one space which is currently undergoing change as a result of linguistic globali-
zation. Finland, like nearly every nation in the world today, is influenced by the
global spread of English (see various perspectives to it in Crystal 1997; McAr-
thur 2002; Phillipson 2003; Schneider 2003; Jenkins 2006; Mesthrie and Bhatt
2008; Seidlhofer 2011). The concept of influence in the Finnish context means
that, while English has been taught as a foreign language in the school system for
decades, there are now clear signals that its unofficial role as a foreign language
might be shifting towards that of a second language and a linguistic resource
which is actively made use of alongside the national languages (i.e. Finnish and
Swedish). Similar developments are observable in a range of contexts (cf. for
instance Hult 2012, Bolton and Meierkord 2013 on Sweden), and these chang-
es have been brought about by socio-cultural and economic globalization and
technological advances in communicational technologies. English has become
a linguistic resource drawn from and utilized in a range of contexts. Various
scholars have presented evidence of this change in Finland in media language
(Taavitsainen and Pahta 2008), in large-scale survey work (Leppänen et al. 2011),
in public spaces (Moore and Varantola 2004; Pahta and Moore 2012), and in ru-
ral areas (Pietikäinen, Lane, Salo and Laihiala-Kankainen 2011; Laitinen 2014).
English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism? 107

I will explore the uses of English in public space through two case studies in
which the observations are used as “tips of icebergs” leading to analyses of how
English comes to be locally interpreted. By doing so, I aim at contributing to the
large body of previous literature on the role of English in public spaces and lin-
guistic landscape (discussed in Section 2). As noted by Bolton (2012), the broad
conclusion of these studies seems to be that English tends to signal modernity,
fun, optimism and future-looking spirits, but my working hypothesis is that such
discussions do not (too often at least) dig deeper into the inner layers of the “ice-
berg”. English tends to be taken impressionistically at face value rather than as an
index of changing public spaces. It is high time that uses and functions of English
in public space are rethought and problematized in studies dealing with signs
in space. English is nearly everywhere and its diverse uses offer endless array of
material for analyses that should move beyond the most obvious explanations.
The structure here is such that Section 2 presents a brief overview of the role
of English in a set of previous studies, contextualizes the uses of English in Fin-
land by paying special attention to non-urban areas, and presents the theoretical
frame for the ensuing analysis. Section 3 consists of the description of my data
collection, and Section 4 presents an analysis of the two case studies.

2. Background
As pointed out in the introduction, the role of English, alongside multilingual-
ism and language policies, is one of the key themes in the previous research on
linguistic landscapes. Indeed, the implied meaning of the concept of multilin-
gualism in many articles seems to be that of the coexistence of language x and
English (or languages x, y and n plus English). For instance, a quick look at the
indexed words in Shohamy and Gorter (eds. 2009) and Shohamy, Ben-Rafael
and Barni (eds. 2010) shows that the presence of English is discussed extensively
in the majority of the contributions in these collections, which is hardly surpris-
ing, taking into account the considerable spread of English in the past few dec-
ades. For instance, Cenoz and Gorter (2009: 57) suggest that “the omnipresence
of English is one of the most obvious markers of the process of globalization” in
our modern societies (also Schlick 2003; Piller 2003).
A typical conclusion in linguistic landscape studies is that English is a sym-
bolic resource that is used to signal modernism and internationalism without
substantial communicative value (Bolton 2012), viz. it primarily fulfills what
Kelly-Holmes (2005: 8) calls the phatic and poetic communicative functions in
public signs and advertisements. As an illustration, in their discussion on public
spaces in Ethiopia, Lanza and Woldemariam (2009: 202) conclude that “English
108 Mikko Laitinen

does not have much communicative value in the signboards” but is rather used
as a decorative marker and a “marker of modernity”. Despite the fact that this
conclusion is based on their extensive quantitative data collection and on a set of
interviews with shop owners, it clearly illustrates how Shohamy and Waksman’s
(2009) metaphor of digging deeper into more detailed analyses could be made
use of in exploring the use of English in space.
This article moves from recording the presence of signs and languages to-
wards semiotization of spaces, and it thus adopts the theoretical perspectives
presented in Jaworski and Thurlow’s (2010) and Scollon and Scollon’s (2003)
discussions on the need to complicate the observations in linguistic landscape
research. Jaworski and Thurlow (2010) highlight the need for more nuanced and
context-specific analyses of texts that could provide clues of underlying ideolo-
gies which could be approached by observing spaces as semiotic entities. This
means, among other things, that space becomes a socially constructed notion
and that semiotic elements contribute to the ways people locate themselves in
space and construct a sense of place. This more prominent role of space also cor-
responds with the recent research insights in variationist sociolinguistics and in
particular with the third wave of variation studies, elaborated in Eckert (2012).
She argues that the focus in this third wave has shifted towards the idea that
linguistic variation not only reflects social meanings but also has a more central
role in constructing the social and spatial landscape. In other words, we place
ourselves in the landscape through semiotic practices, and we use linguistic fea-
tures and items to index memberships, and by spatial placement of linguistic
items and features, we also communicate these memberships to outsiders.
Visible languages and signs therefore become ideological acts that are used
to mark space, manifest ideologies and social realities, such as localness or com-
mercialism, etc. In addition, Jaworski and Thurlow (2010), drawing from Blom-
maert (1999), point out how these ideologies and social realities of signs may
also have a metalinguistic commentary function, which builds on the socio-
historical dimension of a location. This metadiscursive entextualization has a
normative element that indicates how signs in space should be read, viz. “the
preferred ways of reading …texts” (Blommaert 1999: 11). Put together, socio-
linguistic landscapes consist not only of the visible physical signs but also of the
ideological and socio-cultural components, the latter of which, to use the meta-
phor from Shohamy and Waksman (2009), could be used to uncover what lies
beneath the surface of the “iceberg”.
Teasing out these components requires that a researcher combines a range of
theoretical and methodological approaches which in this article consist of three
elements. Firstly, I will draw from the notions offered by the framework of the
English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism? 109

sociolinguistics of globalization that approaches the use of linguistic resources in

today’s mobile and globalized era and then elaborate on the discussion embarked
on in my introduction. Secondly, my analysis builds on the previous quantitative
evidence of a survey work that tackles the role of English in Finland (Leppänen
et al. 2011). Thirdly, it builds on my ethnographic observations on the uses of
English in Finland, elaborated in Section 3 below.
As pointed out in the introduction, one of the key notions in the framework of
sociolinguistics of globalization is mobility (Blommaert 2010). People, ideas and
commodities move about in unprecedented ways today. Tourism, for instance, is
a global industry moving large proportions of the world population, and it is a
form of industry that is worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually (UNWTO
2012). Tourism and capitalism have led to spatial reorganization in which physi-
cal spaces are constructed and invented (and re-invented) through the placement
of text and images (see Kallen 2009 and the articles dealing with tourism signs in
Jaworski and Thurlow eds. 2010). The same mobility also applies to signs that can
easily be copied, shared, and distributed quickly because of the various electronic
communication channels, such as the Internet. Blommaert (2010: 31) points out
how delocalized printed works are one consequence of mobility. Put together,
this means that people on the move encounter signs on the move in diverse spac-
es that are filled with “codes, norms, and expectations” (Blommaert 2010: 32).
What could these notions of mobility mean for my discussion on English uses
in Finnish spaces? This study presents observations of the uses of English focus-
ing on two particular types. Firstly, I have been interested in delocalized printing
works in which English is the only language in the signs, i.e. monolingual English
posters and advertisements that have been produced elsewhere but which have
been brought into the Finnish context as part of global flows of people, ideas and
commodities. Such signs in modern consumer-centered societies are numerous
and offer interesting research material for studying the global spread of English.
In addition, they (together with their placement) are material for understanding
space, exploring how it is constructed, and investigating how physical environ-
ment and signs create a context for human actions and ideologies and how signs
enable social actors to position themselves within one space.
It is clear that these monolingual signs signal modernity and internation-
alism, but the discussion in Section  4.1 aims to show that their placement in
physical space also indexes the place (cf. Scollon and Scollon 2003: 204–208).
The social meanings of these monolingual English signs on the move are natu-
rally heavily influenced by the physical space itself and by the fact that they are
made visible, i.e. the principle of indexicality in Scollon and Scollon (2003: 205).
Similarly, a considerable part of their social meaning stems from other signs in
110 Mikko Laitinen

the location. According to the principle of dialogicality, visible signs in space

form an aggregate. If this claim holds, an impatient reader, when encountering
claims that English signs function as markers of modernity and international-
ism, would naturally want to know what those signs are that signal tradition-
alism, conventionalism and nationalist ideas in the same space. An index, let
us say a sociolinguistic marker (Labov 1972: 320–321), only becomes a marker
because there exists a range of forms with a varying degree of social prestige, and
the same principle should also hold for signs in space. Even this simple example
illustrates that there is much more to be said about the role of English that goes
beyond simplistic claims of modernity and internationalism.
Secondly, I have been collecting observations on uses of English that are re-
lated to the mobility of people, in particularly in mass tourism contexts in today’s
globalized world (cf. Heller 2003). These observations are related to my interest
in how the sense of localness and local forms of speech may or may not be re-
flected in the uses of English as a global language. In semiotic landscape studies,
Dray (2010) explores the uses of Jamaican Patois creole alongside Standard Eng-
lish in Jamaica. She presents illustrations of signs in which the local written vari-
ety tends to be used as a marker of local values and manifest allegiance with the
local culture. My interest in the Finnish context in this study centers on the local
dialect marker in the north-western Finnish dialects, and in particular on /h/ in
non-initial syllables in the spoken dialects in the Tornio river valley area in rural
northern Finland. This feature is, according to Vaattovaara (2002, 2012), one of
the most salient markers of local speech and local identity in the area. In terms of
linguistic awareness, the regional /h/ is above the level of awareness for the great
majority of the local residents, and the region is widely recognized through this
dialect marker by people elsewhere in Finland. There exists plenty of inter/intra-
dialect and morphophonetic variation, but it appears primarily in three contexts:
(a) in post-consonantal positions such as authoon (into the car) where the corre-
sponding Standard Finnish forms would be autoon, (b) as a metathetic variant in
pre-consonantal positions as in kouhluun (to school, Standard Finnish kouluun),
and (c) as an assimilated variant in double consonantal positions kauphaan (to
the store, Standard Finnish kauppaan).
What makes this non-initial vernacular /h/ relevant for my purposes of ap-
proaching mobility, dynamism, and change in sociolinguistic landscapes is that
it is a salient feature in the region where there are a number of popular winter
sport resorts. These resorts were originally remote rural villages which started
attracting tourists in the 1930s, and they have since grown to be popular centers
for winter sport activities and also hubs for growing Christmas tourism. Up to
the mid-1990s, they mainly attracted domestic tourists, but today also increasing
English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism? 111

numbers of international visitors (see Section 3). In Section 4.2, I will provide

evidence of how this dialectal phonetic feature appears as a grapheme <h> in-
tegrated into English texts as a marker of local identity in signs in the tourism
space in Finland, and explore its social meanings.
The broad framework here is naturally the global spread of English, and my
data collection (see the next section) builds on the large-scale quantitative sur-
vey work on the role of English in Finland, carried out at the University of Jy-
väskylä in 2007 (Leppänen et al. 2011). It covered a range of thematic areas, and
our data set consisted of 1,495 respondents collected by random sampling strati-
fied according to gender, age and place of residence. One of the topics deals with
the degree of visibility and audibility of English in Finnish society (Figures 17
and 18 in the report), and it provides a quantitative backdrop for this study. The
results show that nearly everyone in Finland encounters English in the streets of
cities, towns and villages (78.8 per cent), and the visibility of English is high in
shops/stores (73.2), restaurants and cafes (69.7), means of transportation (61.2),
and in places of employment (53.8). There are, however, considerable regional
differences, and those living in rural areas report statistically significantly lower
number of encounters than those in cities and towns. The material presented
here offers a qualitative angle to the survey as I wanted to explore to what extent
systematic empirical qualitative observations would supplement the quantitative
survey results and provide a more detailed and context-specific analyses of how
people actually make use of English in various contexts (cf. Blommaert (2013:
41) on the need to understand signs in space and space itself through historical,
social, and cultural backgrounds).

3. Data
The observations presented in Section 4 are from two field trips, the first car-
ried out in summer 2009 and the second one spring 2010. The first one was a
six-day bicycle trip from Helsinki to the regional center of Oulu in June 2009
(described in more detail in Laitinen 2014). It started from the Central Railway
station in Helsinki and proceeded northwards towards the city of Oulu, which
is a regional administrative center and a hub for many IT related industries. My
route followed smaller rural roads, passing through larger cities and towns along
the way. The route was not planned ahead in detail, and the only thing known
beforehand was the end point, the city of Oulu. The decisions on where to go
and what particular routes to take were made each morning as the rationale was
to ensure that the route and the signage encountered would be as randomly se-
lected as possible.
112 Mikko Laitinen

The second data collection took place in 2010 in the winter sports center of Ylläs
in the Tornio river valley area in northern Finland. After the field trip covering sev-
eral hundred kilometers by bicycle, my objective was to focus on one space affected
by mass tourism. In addition, I grew up in the area in the 1970/80s, and my eth-
nographic observations draw from my past experiences in the area (cf. Blommaert
2013: 118ff on ethnography being “an intrinsically historical enterprise”). The ski
resort of Ylläs is located some hundred kilometers above the Arctic Circle in the
Finnish-speaking region of Finland, just south of the Sami regions. It is home to a
rapidly expanding tourism center that is located in two small villages. The popula-
tions of these villages are just a few hundred permanent inhabitants, but the tourism
center houses hotels, restaurants, and shops offering services to tens of thousands of
tourists in peak seasons. The area has attracted tourists for decades, but only during
the last 15–20 years has there been a massive increase of foreign tourists in the area.
Figure 1: Signs of mobility and tourism at the ski resort of Ylläs

In these types of circumstances, English naturally becomes the common lan-

guage of interaction. This is clearly seen in the fact that the local newspaper,
targeted primarily at tourists and visitors, also publishes an English language
version of their paper (the left-hand part of Figure 1). In addition, the seasonal
nature of tourism business also results in what Blommaert (2010: 149) has called
chaotic multilingualism that is seen in the number of unordered (and sometimes
unfinished) signage. The peak season is in winter time between early December
and late April, and much of the semiotic material in public spaces tends to non-
permanent (the right-hand part of Figure 1).
My material collection took place in the middle of the peak tourism season in
late March 2010. I was interested in tracing the uses of English, keeping in mind
that it goes without saying that English symbolizes modernity and international
English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism? 113

4.  What’s beyond modernity and internationalism?

4.1.  Delocalized printed works
Blommaert (2005: 205) suggests that our identities are always produced and so-
cially constructed. They are performed through signs that we place in the world,
and they are identified by others when they recognize these semiotic acts. At the
same time, the same signs form a landscape, a semiotic aggregate in which the
signs and the possible meanings attached to them turn space into a space, a lived
experience. Scollon and Scollon (2003: 214) call this experience “sense of presence
in a space”. It goes without saying that the purpose for which the place is intended
sets conditions for both the semiotic acts and the aggregates. So for instance in
commercial environments, sense of a place is obviously highly important, as most
signs have been placed deliberately. They exist for a purpose. According to today’s
business-to-consumer marketing theories (Dasu and Chase 2010), the most com-
mon purpose for visible semiotic material is to create trust between the place itself
(its owners and employees) and the other social actors (customers, passers-by, etc.)
Figure 2 illustrates a commercial mass-produced poster in English. It was
photographed during the field trip from Helsinki to Oulu in 2009 in a small town
of Kaustinen in the region known as Central Ostrobotnia. The region is primar-
ily rural and agricultural with the exception of the coastal areas where most of
the biggest towns are located. In addition, the area is well-known in the Finnish
regional popular imagery as an entrepreneurial area where the proportion of
small businesses is considerably higher than elsewhere in the country.
Figure 2: A monolingual English poster in rural Ostrobotnia
114 Mikko Laitinen

The sign was spotted in a roadside restaurant that is located next to a gas station
chain, and it consists of a long stretch of English text coupled with an old photo
that is meant to support the message in the sign. Its text that describes the so-
called Murphy’s Law, a partly humorous and satirical principle which, accord-
ing to Wikipedia (2013), is paraphrasable roughly as “Anything (and everything)
that can go wrong will go wrong”. It is generally thought to refer to the haphazard
nature of human life, pointing to the idea that one has to be humble, because one
never knows what will happen next.
What is of course noteworthy is that this framed sign is entirely in English. It
contains a rather long and difficult text that requires at least intermediate read-
ing skills despite the fact that similar posters are also available in the domestic
languages Finnish and Swedish. According to Taavitsainen and Pahta’s (2008)
investigation of multilingual media practices in Finland, English occasionally
occurs without translations in a range of contexts, both informal and formal.
Apart from the international brands like Coca-Cola, and so on, that were sold in
the restaurant, the sign was one of the few English items in the place.
There were no explanations of why the sign was there, and it would be de-
ceptively easy to claim that it was there just for decorative purposes, indexing
modernity and forward-looking progressiveness. So what makes this sign an in-
teresting topic, “a tip of the iceberg” for more complex meanings embedded in
histories, socio-cultural and political-economic developments?
The sign is first of all a commercial poster, and commercialism is often asso-
ciated with English and the Anglo-American culture (Phillipson 2003). Yet, on
its face value this English sign and its message are not used to persuade anyone
(an occasional passer-by) to consume, and one might be tempted to say that it
challenges and contests a commercial space because its purpose is clearly not
to persuade anyone to consume. It is not an advertisement for products, nor is
there persuasion involved. There is no hard or soft selling involved, but it rath-
er fulfills the interactional function, aiming at contributing to the atmosphere
(Huebner 2009).
It is also a delocalized printing work which has been produced elsewhere
most likely in thousands, if not millions of copies, and it nicely illustrates a sign
on the move in today’s globalized linguistic marketplace. Such a delocalized sign
in English is clearly an illustration of semiotic material passing through not only
horizontal spaces but also vertical ones in which norms, powers, equalities and
inequalities of the surrounding societies play a considerable role (Blommaert
2010: 34–38). A sign takes its meaning from where it is placed.
In addition to the language choice, the location of this sign is important
for understanding its possible social meanings. It was placed in a commercial
English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism? 115

establishment which logically means that it is intended to support the busi-

ness and create positive connections with the people who encounter it. Its
presence clearly points to the fact that the intended audiences are able to un-
derstand its rough meanings and establish a connection between the signs
and its placement. In this case, the discourse meanings in place are related
to how this sign might display collective identities in the region (Ben-Rafael
et al. 2010).
The location of the gas station was in a very small rural village where jobs
are most likely scarce. So the intended message an entrepreneur would want
to convey for the clientele is that of humbleness in front of the clientele and
to recognize the arbitrary nature human life. Life is, just as “Murphy’s Law”
humorously hints, capricious, and this is a message that a self-employed per-
son would want to express to his/her possible clients in rural areas. As already
pointed out, the purpose of the sign is clearly not to sell anything directly, but
rather to send a message that what is recognized is the haphazard nature of life
and that the difference between success and failure is thin. This might not be
a conscious choice, but a highly likely message, because it is difficult to believe
that the sign would be used to describe the business. A respectable business
owner might not want to transmit the more concrete meaning of Murphy’s Law
to their customers: that their products and service will certainly go wrong and
cars serviced here break down. Rather, this poster contributes to building a
collective identity.
In this particular case, this message is best expressed in English, a foreign lan-
guage in the rural context in Finland. The humorous “law” is well known in the
Finnish context, so nearly everyone should be able to recognize it, but the foreign
code ensures that the social meanings expressed the sign remain abstract, thus
reducing the likelihood of direct and undesirable connections between the sign
and the space where it is visible.
What I have aimed at illustrating here is that this type of mobility of English
signs and in particular their placement in space and time could be emphasized
more in future research focusing on the linguistic globalization and the spread of
English. The methods of semiotic landscape studies offer a useful methodologi-
cal toolbox for this type of analysis. Signs in which English appears are salient all
over the world, and it could be useful to explore how they contribute to people’s
sense of place and to the ways how we locate ourselves in space by claiming own-
ership, by excluding and including others and interacting with them. This point
is also highlighted in two observations of English signs in which local identities
form an integral part of the sociolinguistic landscape in which English is used, a
topic which I go on to discuss below.
116 Mikko Laitinen

4.2.  On the use of local vernacular elements in English texts

Figure 3 below shows a commercial outdoor sign in the tourism resort of Ylläs.
It was located outside a large building complex housing a mixture of shops, in
which tourism paraphernalia was sold, and restaurants that are primarily open
only during the tourism season. The sign consists of two lexemes in Finnish
(the proper name of the establishment Otsonpesä means a bear’s den, and lah-
jatavaratalo is literally a department store of gifts and souvenirs) with a more
descriptive English text of the articles sold. The other semiotic items include an
arrow indicating the location of the shop entrance in the building complex and
a stylized bear which highlights the connections between the shop name and the
animal bear (otso is a poetic, archaic term for a bear).
The sign seems to be of local produce and a unique creation, since the layout
and the alignment of the descriptive English lexemes is slightly uneven, suggest-
ing that it might be handmade by the owners themselves. In addition, it does
not contain any recognizable global elements such as well-known international
brand names. The most obvious conclusion of what it does show however is that
there are clear elements of truncated multilingualism in the form of incorrect
capital letters in the proper names (i.e. in the adjectival form of Lapland; this
spelling variant is discussed extensively below) and misspelling parts of the com-
pound nouns (handigrafts instead of handicrafts).

Figure 3: Using English to communicate local values

English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism? 117

Overall, this type of a surface-level analysis clearly supports Blommaert’s (2010:

149) conclusion of chaotic use of multilingual resources in global tourism con-
texts. However, playing with the placement of <h> in the lexeme (Lapphis instead
of Lappish delicacies) also suggests that this individual sign is more interesting
than it might seem on a quick analysis. As pointed out earlier in Section 2, h both
as a phoneme in speech and as an orthographic element in writing is the single
most salient vernacular feature in the Finnish dialect of the area. In this sign, the
designer/owner has engaged in a verbal play that makes use of the placement of
the <h> in the lexeme.
This verbal play draws from spoken and written vernacular of the area in
which the illative case of many bi-syllabic lexemes, such as the noun Lappi (Lap-
land), varies between the Standard Finnish variant Lappiin and the dialectal Lap-
phiin (or Laphiin in which the dialectal <h> appears as an assimilated form in
double consonantal positions, discussed in Section 2). According to my intui-
tion (based on my background as a native speaker of the regional dialects of the
area until my early 20s), the spoken realizations of this particular lexeme vary
between the h-full and h-less pronunciations, but the h-full form is often used
as part of enregistered styles, indicating associations to local speech, values, or
lifestyles. For instance, a Google search of the lexeme Lapphiin (carried out on
15 May 2013) resulted in 186 hits originating predominantly from various online
discussion fora. The great majority of the relevant hits were such in which the
form (Lapphiin) was used to indicate writers’ willingness to travel to Lapland and
to make a stylized reference to popular stereotypes associated with the region,
shown in (1), or by posters who identified themselves as locals and were making
hyperbolic statements indicating that they are locals, as in (2) (the illustrations
show the original postings with their rough translations and the emphases by
the author):

(1) Kysyä nyt uskonsuuntaa ja päälle todeta se Aivopesuksi? Sanoit itsekkin kuu-

luvasi kirkkoon ja nyt kehua retostelit lähteväsi Lapphiin lysthiin pithoon…
voi pyhä sylyvi ja kaikki muukki naiset? (English translation: To ask for one’s
religious beliefs and then point out that religion is brainwashing? You your-
self said that you belong to the state church (i.e. to the Evangelical Lutheran
Church of Finland) and now you’re boasting that you’re going to travel to Lap-
land to have some serious tourism fun…… o, holy Mary and other women too)
(an online discussion forum post December 2009, available at http://portti.
iltalehti.fi/keskustelu/showthread.php?p=11853787, accessed 15 May 2013)
(2) Tällä kertaa meni 3 viikkoa toimituksessa = kimallesuihkepullon takia pittää
tulla laiffalla, seilasi ekkana tuolla vanhassa osoitteessa ja sit vasta ehti tänne
118 Mikko Laitinen

ylös Lapphiin elikkä aika kohtuullisessa ajassa tuli. (English translation:

This time the delivery took three weeks = this was because of the hair spray
bottle; it was shipped by sea, and it was first delivered to my old address,
and only then made it here to Lapland, so it was a reasonably fast delivery)
(an online discussion forum post, August 2008, available at http://rouva-v.
vuodatus.net/lue/2008/07/rollikakku, accessed 15 May 2013)

Returning to lapphis delicacies in Figure  3, one possible explanation is that it

is a misspelling, similar to handigrafts in the same figure. However, in the lat-
ter lexeme, the nature of misspelling consists of altering two orthographically
closely similar graphemes (<c> and <g>, or phonemes /k/ and /g/), whereas in
the case of lapphis the nature of the spelling alternation deals with the order of
graphemes in the lexeme. In addition, considering the fact that one of the graph-
emes is a highly salient element of the regional speech, other explanations turn
out to be more likely.
So what are the possible meanings of the word play in lapphis delicacies?
It is most likely used to align oneself with the local identity and manifesting
one’s commitment to local speech and local ways of living to target audiences.
These target audiences are primarily domestic since the feature is well above
the level of linguistic awareness in Finland. The sign and the spelling are used
as metadiscursive entextualizations, mentioned in Section 2. They consist of
display of locality and local speech, and function to indicate association with
local identity (cf. Labov’s (1972: 4–42) well-known observations on Martha’s
Vineyard). It may of course be that such a display may be completely invis-
ible for an outsider observer. Moreover, the illustration in Figure 3 is similar
to the uses of Jamaican Creole in Dray’s (2010) study in which she found the
use of vernacular texts to be used as styling standard (global and commercial)
texts, such as the KFC advertisements. However, there are also considerable
differences between this illustration and the vernacularly stylized signs in her
study. What is important here is that the stylizing takes place in the English
code, and it is not the case that the Standard English (or Standard Finnish)
text would be accompanied with vernacular elements, but the vernacular ele-
ments have been merged into the English. The author/owner is engaged in
an active verbal play using English, and this verbal play balances between
informativity, credibility (as a seller of tourism paraphernalia) and a sense of
It may of course be the case that the type of mixing of linguistic resources
shown in Figure 3 was an exception and an unintentional spelling error. Figure 4
English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism? 119

below however shows a similar use of vernacular <h> used in media texts origi-
nating from the same region. This time the illustration comes from a local news-
paper published in the two municipalities where the winter sport resort of Ylläs
is located in Lapland. The sign was spotted some year and a half after my field
trip to the winter resort.
Figure 4 shows the logo of the cultural events week in the municipality of
Muo­nio, just north of Ylläs. Muonio is a small rural municipality with some
2.500 inhabitants, and home to a smaller but equally international winter sports
resort as Ylläs. The culture events week was organized in late November 2012
with the theme of eight seasons of the year. The theme comes from the local folk
wisdom that the typical four seasons of the year are not sufficient for describing
the variations in the climate and flora of the region, and that the natural phe-
nomena are best described through eight distinct seasons.3
Figure 4 shows the regional <h> embedded in English text even though it does
not appear in the Finnish text. It consists of the event logo, which was designed
by a student from the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, some 200 km south-
east from Muonio (personal communication with the head of the educational
and cultural department of the municipality of Muonio, Ms. Elli Kangosjärvi on
29 May 2013). In addition to the pictorial elements of a stylized reindeer sur-
rounded by colorful leaves, the sign also consists of two types of textual material.
Firstly, below the logo, there is the factual information on the event itself (cf.
Kress and van Leeuwen 2006: 186–193), and this Finnish text in the rectangle
stands for Muonio early winter 2012. Secondly, the text above the logo (i.e. ka-
heksan vuoenaikaa) stands for a vernacular representation of the regional dialect
in which a non-domestic <d> has been elided (Standard Finnish: Kahdeksan
vuodenaikaa = Eight seasons in English), and this text is translated into English
as eight sheasons. Here, the Finnish vernacular <h> is added to the English text
for the purpose of creating a vernacular representation of the Finnish theme
(personal communication with Ms. Kangosjärvi). So, what is noteworthy is the
fact that the Finnish version of the name does not contain the regional <h>, but
it has been added to the English version.

3 These eight seasons are discussed at the homepages of Siida, a cultural center for Sámi
culture and Arctic nature at http://www.siida.fi/contents/8-seasons?set_language=en
(accessed 15 May 2013).
120 Mikko Laitinen

Figure 4: The vernacular Finnish <h> use incorporated in English texts

Even though both the signs in Figures 3 and 4 are high stakes advertising gen-
res, one important difference between them is the level of production. Lapphis
delicacies is produced by an independent small-business owner whereas the eight
sheasons comes from the municipal sector. However, the similarities are striking,
as English is being used as resource through with associations and alignments
with local values and cultures are transmitted to both domestic and international
audiences. What one sees in these practices is creative use of norms. Some of
these uses may be accidental spelling errors, but they also illustrate conscious
exploitation of the resources in which place and locality play a considerable role.
More importantly, signs like these show that the meanings created through the
use of English in the expanding circle are far more complex than previously
thought and offer interesting material for analysis.

5. Conclusions
In this article I have approached a set of uses of English in signs in public
spaces in the expanding circle, and the broad aim has been to chart uses
and functions of English in countries where the role of English is chang-
ing. Finland, according to previous research, is clearly among these coun-
tries, and the objective has been to illustrate how the methods of linguistic
and semiotic landscape studies could, in the future, be made use of to trace
the global spread of English and linguistic globalization. At the same time, I
have tried to examine how English is used in microcontexts by aiming for a
English on the move: What’s beyond modernity and internationalism? 121

more comprehensive analysis for emerging and situated meanings which in

turn contribute to shaping and designing the public sphere (cf. Shohamy and
Waksman 2009; Blommaert 2013). This has meant asking questions such as
what kinds of function does English use have in addition to the most obvious
ones, such as indexing internationalism and modernity, as much of the previ-
ous literature show.
Understanding the uses of English in space requires ethnographic approach
as the analyses in Section  4 show. It might have been tempting to classify the
three observations presented here only on their surface level, but as the analyses
show, there is a great deal of information related to the possible motivations for
using English and its functions in the context that can only be accessed through
the socio-cultural, political and economic histories of the locations in which
the observations took place. As for future studies, ethnographic interviews that
would focus on both the sign producers and possible audiences/readers could
provide an additional angle to the topic.

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Part II:
Semiotic landscapes and signs
in virtual space
Mia Halonen, University of Jyväskylä

Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses

and functions of a hybrid sign

1.  Focusing on social media landscapes

The various social media form a significant part of the semiotic landscapes to-
day. In the Western world, a great part of the adult population uses a range of
internet-based applications both at work and at home. Adolescents, in turn, may
even be described as digital natives (Prensky 2001), meaning that they have spent
much of their lives using various technological applications, playing games,
browsing the internet, and participating in social activities through applications.
It is fair to say that computers and various internet-based social media applica-
tions have become an important space where people spend time, encounter and
make use of semiotic signs. These social media applications offer activities and
a space for social interaction for a growing number of people. In addition, there
exists considerable diversity in terms of activities in which people participate.
They range from blogs to innumerable chats rooms and to highly diverse social
media groups where practically any topic may be discussed (e.g. Vertovec 2007;
Blommaert and Rampton 2011).
It might not be too far-fetched to say that these various social media spaces
form real places for many people. These spaces could be compared to spend-
ing spare time and encountering semiotic signs in a real physical space, such as
moving around in a city, taking a walk, or engaging in mediated activities such
as movies. The change whereby social media has emerged as a space has been ex-
tremely rapid, permanent, and holistic. The concept of social media landscapes
refers to virtual and digital spaces in which people move about and interact, and
their emergence is the reason for studying signs in social media using the frame-
work of linguistic landscapes. Up to today, social media have yet not been stud-
ied in large scale or perceived as one form of landscape, probably because of their
virtual nature. However, Shohamy and Gorter (2009) and Shohamy and Waks-
man (2009: 315) emphasize the idea of studying digital spaces as landscapes.
Because of the considerably increased uses of social media, it is justifiable and
reasonable to perceive social media as one form of landscape. The aim of this ar-
ticle is not only to apply the linguistic landscape framework to the study of social
128 Mia Halonen

media discourses but to contribute to both of these approaches. The objective is

first to add a new perspective into studying linguistic landscapes and perceiving
virtual environments as landscape, and, second, to explore the kinds of opportu-
nities and affordances social media could offer for interaction. In this sense the
article relates to studies in social media discourses (e.g. Androutsopoulos and
Georgakopoulou, eds. 2003; Leppänen 2008, 2012; Leppänen, Kytölä, Jousmäki,
Peuronen and Westinen 2014).
The various social media applications in the internet are accessed through
computers, which, interestingly enough, are physical objects, thus making the
concept of space dual in nature. On the one hand, wandering in and using social
media applications offer an access to countless opportunities to navigate through
spaces and interactions one would never have a chance, in real life, to engage in.
In this sense, social media offer completely virtual spaces with no restrictions.
On the other hand, social media can also be an extremely static experience since
people participate in activities by staying in one physical location. Furthermore,
wandering in and accessing social media is inherently a material process because
accessing the internet requires certain technical equipment. These material re-
quirements also make social media landscapes partly exclusive, at least when
looked at globally. Not everyone has access to computers, no matter how glo-
balized the internet actually is.
In this article I restrict myself to one geographic context and explore social
media as part of the virtual Finnish linguistic landscapes. More specifically I
look into global spaces where participants primarily resort to Finnish as the lan-
guage of communication, and the focus is on the uses and functions of a highly
hybrid lexical element, siisdaa and its spelling variations of siis, daa and siis daa.
It is an ambiguous sign and will be explained in more detail in Sections 2 and 3
below. I will trace the sign in a range of social media spaces to (1) see what kind
of affordances these spaces offer for people to interact, and (2) analyze how the
sign is used in social interaction in these spaces and what it reveals of the nature
of virtual interaction.
After the introduction to siisdaa, Sections 4–6 will draw from studies
concerning writing practices in digital environments. These digital environ-
ments offer and attract countless opportunities for playing with language.
Pennycook (2007: 35) suggests how linguistic resources offer possibili-
ties for “enjoying its ‘ludic’ uses”. In this linguistic play, languages, signs
and resources are circulated and mobile (e.g. Blommaert 2010; Stroud and
Mpendukana 2009), hybridized and heteroglossic (Leppänen 2012) and re-
semiotized (Iedema 2003: 30) or enregistered (Agha 2003). Practices include,
Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and function of a hybrid sign 129

for example, abbreviations, acronyms and phonetic spelling imitating spoken

accents (Androutsopoulos 2003), various types of “spelling rebellion” (Sebba
2003, 2007; Kataoka 2003) and numerous other ways of playing with and
enjoying languages (Rowe 2009). I will begin by first introducing the sign
and motivating its selection by briefly presenting my previous ethnographic
study investigating communicative and interaction practices in Finnish el-
ementary schools.

2. Background: previous ethnographic observations

of siisdaa
This study on social media stems from my previous work on school ethnogra-
phy (e.g. Halonen 2009, 2012a). Choosing siisdaa originates from my school
ethnography carried out with sixth-graders in lower elementary schools in
Helsinki in 2006 and 2009. The study design consisted of a range of linguistic
tasks which pupils completed using papers and pencils, i.e. without any tech-
nological tools. This is unfortunately a common practice in Finnish schools
where the technology-rich communicative practices outside school context
are not met with in educational settings (Taalas, Tarnanen, Kauppinen and
Pöyhönen 2008).
During the completion of the tasks, two aspects turned out to be of extreme
importance for the pupils. Firstly, they presented themselves as being digital na-
tives, meaning that they wanted to highlight their competences in using the vari-
ous resources of the digital world in their texts. In addition, they made it clear
that the default space for writing for them consisted mainly of digital spaces, i.e.
the internet and applications in mobile phones. In their written performances
using traditional tools, they often used siisdaa as an index of the language and
communicative practices of digital spaces. Alongside this item, there were other
resources which clearly point to internet discourses (e.g. Sebba 2003; Kataoka
2003; Halonen, 2012a). Secondly, they used siisdaa as a meta-comment, a state-
ment aimed at commenting on the research itself and the tasks related to it.
­Figure  1 below is a typical example of such activity. The pupil has completed
the task but the answers given indicate that he has not understood the rationale
of this exercise or its instructions. This is clearly seen in the fact that the pupil
(Aaron, a pseudomyn) has circled all the numbers on one line and has yet an-
other circle around the numbers on that line. Towards the bottom margin he,
however, comments on, as I interpret it, the entire activity with two forms of
siisdaa (circled with a dotted line).
130 Mia Halonen

Figure 1: Siisdaa on an answer sheet of a lower elementary student

What Aaron does with the signs is to mark that the task has been in some way
meaningless. This meaninglessness may indicate that the task had been unrea-
sonable or too difficult for him. There is of course no way of knowing exactly
since the sign itself does not provide any details of his exact stance.
In addition to the pupil’s stance, what is interesting is the ambivalent nature
of this activity of meta-commenting. Aaron has completed the task by circling
numbers on all the six lines. The lines point to samples which were played to the
pupils who had to select numbers that corresponded to numbers on a map that
was part of exercise. Together with completing it, he marks the task as being in
some ways meaningless. By carrying out these two activities on the same answer
sheet, he is able to take two simultaneous actions in relation to the researcher or
school as a whole. That is, he is, on the one hand, being compliant by completing
the task, and on the other hand, being rebellious by marking his negative stance.
Using siisdaa for commenting exemplifies a typical activity in completing the
tasks, but what is important here is not the activity only, but the hybridity of the
linguistic resources used. Many of the signs used by the pupils were meta-com-
ments on the on-going actions drawn from English-based abbreviations, such
Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and function of a hybrid sign 131

as lol (laughing out loud or lots of laugh) or lmao (laughing my ass off). Both of
these items are commonly used in computer-mediated communication in social
media. In addition, they are semantically similar to the siisdaa in that they func-
tion as markers of ambiguous stance illustrated in the fact that pupils completed
the activities but at the same time ironically commented on them. It seemed that
it was important for the pupils to be able to indicate that their typical space for
writing was various digital environments.
The general salience of the indexes of social media in the answers and the
­awareness that there is a great gap between the literacy practices at school (i.e. the
traditional paper and pencil method) and those outside school (i.e. computer-­
mediated activities in the digital world) (Taalas et al. 2008) led me to look for
siisdaa in social media landscapes. Even though the ethnographic observation
presented here took place among young adolescents at school, it is clear that the
use of siisdaa and other similar items in social media spaces need not be restrict-
ed exclusively to them. In the next section, I will offer a more detailed descrip-
tion of siisdaa and introduce the data from various social media applications.

3.  Siisdaa in social media

What does siisdaa mean? How has it emerged, and what are its functions in
computer-mediated communication? It is a non-referential and indexical hybrid
form of at least two languages and is commonly used by Finnish adolescents
today. It is clearly of informal register and has its origins in spoken language.
It is often written as one word siisdaa, but can also be written as two separate
words. It consists of the Finnish particle siis which could be paraphrased as ‘like’
or ‘so’. The daa, most likely, comes from the English duh, conventionally written
orthographically as d-u-h, but written in a phonetic fashion in the sign in focus.
The Urban Dictionary (2012) defines duh as a sign indexing that the previous
speaker or the recipient has done or said something completely unexpected and
indexing surprise, paraphrased as “what is it that you mean” or “how did you end
up with that kind of conclusion”. It has been described in the Finnish version of
the Urban Dictionary (Urbaani sanakirja 2012) in similar ways as the duh in the
English one:
“Used typically in an answer if someone has said something self-evident or something
that the listener finds stupidly expressed” and “Are you a little stupid?”, “You mean you
didn’t really know that?” and “Oh really? (sarcastic)”.

As the discussion of Aaron’s remark shows, the pupils use the sign for comment-
ing actions in an ambiguous way. They had completed what they were supposed
132 Mia Halonen

to do but commented on their own compliance with the sign. This might arise
(partly) from the use of particle siis as a preface in reported speech (Routarinne
2003). Thus, siis contains an element of inherent intertextuality and polyphony,
double-voicing (Bahtin 1981), which makes it particularly suitable for marking
an ambivalent stance.
In the case of siisdaa, I prefer to use the term sign instead of a particle or a
word to highlight the hybrid, non-referential and indexical nature of the form.
Furthermore, the indexical nature of siisdaa as a sign is also highlighted by the
fact that it gets its meaning because of where and when it is located in the world
(cf. Scollon and Scollon 2003: 2–6). The sign is thus an index marking, often
ambiguously as indexes tend to do, that some part of the activity to which it is
related is perceived or at least presented as perceived as ambiguous. The activity
has been completed but the sign is used to comment on the activity itself. Thus,
the core activity marked by the sign is the ambiguity of the activity. Depending
on the local context, this ambiguity may be interpreted as for example arro-
gance or speaker-centred epistemic position marking that the speaker/writer
is the most knowledgeable participant in the interaction. However, it is always
also dual in nature since its producer has nevertheless joined in the action. It is
a resource by which a participant may, at the same time, join in an action and
mark it as being in some sense suspicious – both the activity itself and his/her
participation in it.
To start my netnography (cf. Kozinets 2010; Kytölä and Androutsopoulos
2012) on siisdaa in 2009, I used a simple Google word search for finding oc-
currences of siisdaa and siis daa (appearing in this order and in these forms),
and got altogether over 30,000 hits. The number of hits should be considered
only suggestive since it also includes cases in which the sign searched for is re-
peated in another context. However, considering the informal nature of siisdaa,
the number of hits is substantial and clearly suggests that it is in use. The places
where it primarily occurs are interactive spaces where participants react to oth-
ers’ communicative actions and anticipate reactions from them. These spaces are
mainly various chat rooms. Simultaneous, contradictory and ambiguous actions
seem to be typical of social media, and siisdaa is a marker of this ambiguousness.
It is this ambiguousness, seen in Aaron’s answer sheet, which I will next explore
through illustrations from social media.

4.  Affordances of visibility in social media landscapes

One characteristic element of social media spaces is that they offer users a range
of slots for different types of activities. They contain slots for naming (a) oneself
Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and function of a hybrid sign 133

using nicknames, user names, accounts or screen names or (b) the communi-
cative activity itself, through a title/topic slot in e-mail messages or blogs for
instance. These slots offer varying degrees of visibility, and a different font or
font size may be in these slots than in the rest of the text, and the sign is clearly
positioned in a prominent location in these spaces. In the Western way of read-
ing, at least, the position tends to be the upper left corner or towards the top of
the text (Kress and van Leeuwen 2001).
According to my netnographic observations, one of the prominent tenden-
cies of using siisdaa in social media is that it appears in the most visible slots of
sites. These slots are typically nicknames and headers. Figure 2 below illustrates
a typical use of siisdaa. It comes from an internet community site called IRC-
Galleria (‘internet relay chat gallery’) (http://irc-galleria.net/), which at the time
of writing was one of the biggest networking sites targeting young adults in the
Nordic region. This community however tended to be used mostly by young
adolescents from 9 to 15 years for the purpose of making friends. Here, the most
prominent slot the site offers is the header where one can find siisdaa (marked
with dotted oval).
As mentioned earlier, social media offer its users this kind of varying levels
of visibility for their use, affordances of visibility. Typically, the most prominent
space is used, and the semiotic signs used in this space, like siisdaa here, frame
the entire message and the communicative activity. In this particular case that
involves friend seeking activities, the virtual “self ” becomes marked as ambigu-
ous. The implied meaning is that “this is not dead serious” or that “please do not
really believe that I think like this”.

Figure 2: Affordances of visibility in internet chats

134 Mia Halonen

In Figure 2 siisdaa appears in one location, and it offers the most visible slot in
this space. In Figure 3, it is used both as a header and as a username (both marked
with dotted ovals). Just like the internet chat above, Habbo hotel is a virtual social
community where participants primarily try to make friends and socialize with
each other with the help of visual avatars, shown in Figure 3. The participants in
this space are roughly of the same age as in the chat gallery. As shown in Figure 3,
both of the two most prominent slots are occupied with siisdaa.
The two instances in Figures (2) and (3) show how the affordances of vis-
ibility are used in marking the communicative activities with siisdaa. As Aaron’s
case (Figure 1) suggested, siisdaa is used when the activity in which a participant
is engaged is marked as ambiguous. And even people voluntarily join in these
activities, it seems to be the degree of engagement that is marked as ambiguous,
and the sign communicates a sense of unexpectedness or non-seriousness. By
using this sign as a frame for the site and their activity, and even for the vir-
tual selves, participants are able to mark the activity as being not (completely)

Figure 3: Avatars in Habbo Hotel

Siisdaa seems to be frequently used in social media sites where the primary func-
tion is to seek friends for chatting. Such an observation is of great interest since
the primary function of the spaces presented and of the activities taking place
there is to seek contact and make friends. The ambivalence that the sign brings
in to the activity offers the virtual self an honorable way out if something un-
pleasant happens. In this sense, the sign functions as an innovative means of
doing classic face work (e.g. Goffman 1967; Brown and Levinson 1987). When
Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and function of a hybrid sign 135

compared to signs in public space in previous linguistic landscape research, siis­

daa could be described as carrying out the communicative function of a street
advertisement or a street name. It directs the readers where to go and how to
interpret what is going on. Next, I will turn to exploring the functions and posi-
tions of siisdaa in other types of social media, namely discussion fora.

5. Siisdaa highlighting an epistemic position of “knowing

better” or “not caring”
The previous section described the ways of using siisdaa in social media applica-
tions used for establishing social relationships. What was typical in these spaces
was the visibility of the sign. The same kind of visibility is also made use of in
other types of sites and activities, namely in various discussion fora where par-
ticipants often look for and offer information through questions and answers.
From the point of view of organizing social interaction, asking and answering
constitute inherently epistemically asymmetrical activities in which those who
give answers position themselves as epistemic authorities over those who ask
questions (see Drew 1991; Heritage and Raymond 2005). These positions tend
to generate ambiguous activities since it is the participants who give answers to
each other and thus engage themselves in the activity. However, they often mark
their answers with some explicit marker of epistemic superiority combined with
mocking the questioner and indicating that the question has been silly. Mock-
ing, then, is in contrast with the very action of answering. Why bother answer-
ing at all, if one holds the answer self-evident or the question silly. Again, this
pattern represents the very same strategy that Aaron used in his answer to the
school exercise. The internet affords numerous spaces where to claim epistemic
superiority and show arrogance while one is, simultaneously, taking part in an
on-going activity.
The next extract, Figure  4, comes from a discussion forum of a magazine
called KaksPlus (loosely translated as two plus) which is popular among young
adults chatting in general but especially asking questions related to young fami-
lies. The exchange of comments shown below originated as responses to a ques-
tion related to technical equipment, and more particularly “why can’t we see
blue-ray films?”
136 Mia Halonen

Figure 4: A discussion thread with siisdaa

The chain is presented as nested boxes that indicate this question has been re-
acted to. The original question is nested inside a series of quotes from other
writers. Such a practice is typical of meta-commenting in turns in internet dis-
cussions in which the first post sent is the innermost one in the chain and those
encircling it are answers or reactions to it. The layout does not show whether
references to the previous messages are intentional or obligatory, resulting from
the technical solutions on this site. In Figure 4, the chain has already become
quite long and the original question is no longer visible. The innermost message
here is a direct answer to the question, and the writer has chosen siisdaa as his/
her username (the dotted oval). The box on the left contains my paraphrase of
the message.
Without going any deeper into the discussion, this answer is a nice illustration
of epistemic superiority. First, the writer uses siisdaa as a screen name which is
a way to make his/her stance visible even without reading the answer itself. Sec-
ond, the writer does not provide an answer to the question, despite the fact that
he/she claims a position as a knowledgeable person, but instead mocks the ques-
tioner as being “in a state of unconsciousness” and offers Google as the source
for answer. This is a straight translation: in the original, the word “unconscious-
ness” is not idiomatic Finnish, like it is not idiomatic English either. However,
when using this word the participant can refer both to not knowing something
and to physical unconsciousness, and this ambiguousness here, I argue, increases
the ironic stance. Third, the writer ends the message with ugh as a separate unit.
This again highlights the superior stance adopted by the writer, indexing that
this is the final word, and that this conversation should not continue; ugh is a
stereotypical stylization (conventionalized in writing in the form u-g-h) of a Na-
tive American chief ending his speech (i.e. “I have spoken, there is nothing more
Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and function of a hybrid sign 137

to say”). Thus, in this extract, participation, arrogance and epistemic superiority

are intertwined. Using siisdaa as one’s screen name or header is a common prac-
tice in chat rooms as well. By having the arrogant siisdaa in a prominent slot in
one’s message, the entire text is meant to be read through this framing.
Figure 5 illustrates a similar case from another discussion forum, but this time
the writer, much in the same way as adolescents discussed in Section 4 above, al-
ready anticipates negative reactions. The discussion topic deals with how to take
negative criticism on one’s short fiction texts posted in the internet. This extract
comes from a site called Suomi24 (Finland 24), which has dozens of discussion
fora for expressing one’s thoughts. Through framing the message with siis, daa
accompanied with a smiley, the writer highlights the ambivalent nature of the
action. Even though one interpretation of the writing could be that it should be
taken seriously, the semiotic sign siisdaa frames the action as light-hearted. The
ambivalence in the entire action provides an escape route in case someone takes
the message seriously.

Figure 5: Siisdaa in anticipating mockery

It might be difficult to understand the contents of the text without the context
of the entire chain of posts, but the writer first reacts to events in the real world,
and then starts to mock the yellow press. Without going any deeper into the
complex arguments of the text, one can see that the writer uses the particle siis
a lot, which alone can work as a preface for an (often angry) explanation (VISK
§1132). By using siis, daa as the nickname, the writer is also able to present his/
her position already in the header. The readers will know what to expect of the
text. Here, the writer argues that if someone provides negative criticism for his/
her texts, then they have not read the entire body of his/her work. By using siis,
daa as the header of the message, the writer is able to direct the reader that the
post should be taken light-heartedly. The entire message naturally reacts to the
138 Mia Halonen

previous comments, which are not shown, but the sign here functions as a way
of anticipating negative reactions.
In Sections 4 and 5, I have looked into the uses of the sign siisdaa as part of the
local social activities. In the next section, I will show how the sign can be used as
a style marker by adolescents.

6.  Siisdaa as a style marker

According to Rampton (1995), typical places for finding indexical uses of semiot-
ic signs, crossings over languages or a person’s language skills, are communicative
rituals: greetings, thanking, or commenting on an action. The interactional func-
tion of siisdaa consists of commenting, so it forms a meta-activity and a ritual.
These ritual actions also typically favor various hybrids and innovations when
speakers and writers use all the communicative resources that they know, no mat-
ter how truncated such resources might be (Blommaert 2010: 103–106, 134, 167).
Figure 6 below comes from a site of a monthly magazine targeted for elemen-
tary school children (http://koululainen.fi). It is a popular moderated site used
almost exclusively by girls of about eight to fourteen years of age (cf. the sites
analyzed in Figures (2)–(4)). The information in the second circle right below
the topic line indicates that the average age of the users in this discussion thread
is 13. The target group of young girls is also apparent in the stereotypically girly
look of the site where the dominant colors are pink and yellow and in the ad-
vertisements of horse magazines. I have added an English translation of one of
the posts in the callout box and a set of highlights are marked with dotted ovals.
Figure 6 is an extract from a discussion thread in which the topic is Me-­
Wannabe-Pissikset. The title alone clearly suggests what this discussion is about.
Me is in the sequential place preceding the English loan word wannabe. This
item is ambiguous since it could be the Finnish first-person plural nominative
pronoun me, an inclusive pronoun and a strongly group-oriented one. Alterna-
tively, it could point to the English first-person singular, which in turn would
highlight the individuality of the participants. The word wannabe shows that the
site is above all for linguistic performing and stylistic presentations (Goffman
1959; Bauman 1977), for practice and intentions (Leppänen 2008). The entire
discussion and the group are thus dedicated to presenting oneself as a real pissis
(a youth subculture or style of girls) (pissikset stands for the plural form). In ad-
dition, the presence of the acronym lol in the title suggests that the activities are
not to be taken seriously. Therefore, there already exist numerous indexes of the
same type of a positioning communication which I have discussed above. Siisdaa
marks the communication as ambiguous.
Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and function of a hybrid sign 139

Figure 6: Siisdaa as a style marker

In this context, siisdaa seems to be a part of a whole enregistered style (see, Agha
2003; Eckert 2008a) associated with a subculture for girls named in the Finn-
ish media debate as pissis. This concept dates back to the 1960’s but was taken
up again in the Finnish media in the 1990’s in discourses dealing with young
female behavior (see about the development of the discourse Halonen and Vaat-
tovaara forthcoming). This cultural stereotype consists of expensive but tasteless
clothing, heavy drinking (of cider) and consequently peeing on the streets (pissis
is a slang noun derivative from the vernacular verb for urinating). In addition,
it includes the stereotype of speaking in a certain manner, associated typically
with the regional speech in the Helsinki metropolitan area. This urban linguis-
tic stereotype in the Finnish context tends to be negative. However, in spite of
the labels generally perceived as negative by others, some girls voluntarily de-
fine themselves as pissis-girls and claim that this self-definition is a feminist act.
Thus, the entire concept is bound to be ambivalent and ambiguous (Leppänen
140 Mia Halonen

2012; Halonen 2012b; Vaattovaara and Halonen forthcoming). This is very much
the same as in corresponding stereotypes of social groups in other countries. The
various indexes of pissis speech could be compared to the perceptions of the Brit-
ish chavs or American betches (Williams 2012) or Valley girls (Eckert 2008b)
whose speech, among other indexes, is perceived as a marker of them belonging
to the another, often (but not always) lower, class, and being undereducated,
suspicious or despised (cf. Hinton et al. 1987: 125–126; Hayward and Yar 2006;
Renouf 2007; Bucholtz et al. 2007; Le Grand 2010). Among these groups there is
also ambiguousness: self-respect and rebellious positioning of the self regardless
of the general negative judgments.
In the context of being, i.e. presenting oneself as and aspiring to be a pissis-
girl, the siisdaa sign also has value on its own. First of all, it indexes a register
and a style, and secondly in this particular context it not only indexes the same
ambiguousness as in the cases analyzed above, but also a position and a stance of
the whole group and pissishood. The functions of the sign in this context point to
not caring about what others think, but, at the same time, anticipating negative
reactions from other. This register contains a lot of loan words and acronyms
mainly from English as well as unconventional punctuation and spelling in writ-
ing. Using these resources is a means for presenting adherence to a group and
claiming a group identity. In this site, this acting out can be seen, for example, in
the empty contents of the discussion thread. There exists meta-comments on the
use of phrases and signs such as ihqu and siis daa, which indicate desire to try to
be like a pissis. It is noteworthy that participants supervise each other closely, and
the norms of writing and right kind of behavior are very strict. For these young
girls, being a pissis is probably still something that they are not because they are
too young. For them, the concept is nevertheless something very interesting be-
cause the discussion has been created for practicing being a like one, but the girls
still claim that they are not serious about pissishood. What is important to notice
is that the writer says: “in here one tries to be a Pissis” and not “in here one tries
to be like a Pissis” (translations and the emphasis by Halonen), which of course
implies a difference in the nature of being.
The language used and the functions of the sign are important resources in
the Goffmanian (1959) way of presenting oneself as a pissis, doing one (Sacks
1992 [1970]), doing an pissis-I (cf. Butler 2005: 7–8), that is, making use of the
semiotic resources associated with pissishood. When using semiotic resources,
doing a social group identity is carried out by using indexes higher than those of
the first order index (Silverstein 2003). That is, indexes that have grown out of
the first meaning. Often this happens as a consequence of some ideological pro-
cesses; this is what happen for instance in the case of siisdaa indexing a pissis, of
Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and function of a hybrid sign 141

iconization (perceiving siisdaa as essentially belonging to this group) and eras-

ure (erasing the feature from own repertoire) (Irvine and Gal 2000).
Playing with metapragmatic knowledge of registers, styles and indexes is
typical in social media performances. They are inherently ambivalent activities
where one can simultaneously practice being and not-being, practicing, per-
forming and thus experiencing what it feels like to be someone else. In the case
of adolescents using siisdaa the indexicality of the sign is direct (Ochs 1992)
because the group seems to be conscious of the link between specific features
and social identity.
Finally, I will briefly come back to my point of departure, the exercises done
by the pupils participating in my fieldwork in Finnish schools. Figure 7 presents
another student’s (Elina) product to an assignment of writing a letter to a friend.

Figure 7: A letter imitating social media landscapes

142 Mia Halonen

Here, one can see the pupil’s strong orientation towards her real world writing
practices as to the general layout and structure of the letter. The piece has been
written as a dialogue, not as a monologue as would be expected from a letter. Its
formatting imitates a chat room exchange and shows that this is the typical way for
Elina to write. She has also drawn a mouse and a computer on the paper, probably
to further index that her default writing space is the internet and its social media
applications. In this extract one can also see (almost) the same sign as in Aaron’s
paper (Figure 1), this time in the form siis ihquu daaa (ihqu, loosely translated
as vernacular lovely, written phonetically). Here the sign is, just like in the pissis-
site, indexing the writer’s identity as part of the group using this style of speech.

7. Conclusions
I have discussed a single hybrid sign, siisdaa, in various social media spaces.
This sign indexes the ambiguous position of participants in relation to the activ-
ity they engage in. The ambiguity is clearly shown in the fact that participants
engage in communicative activities but simultaneously index that they aim at
distancing themselves from it, and indicate that they want to remain unattached
and avoid sounding too serious about the topics discussed. The way this ambigu-
ousness might be interpreted is context dependent and varies from an index of
epistemic superiority or arrogance to insecurity and self-defense depending on
how one’s actions might be reacted to. This sign is also a prominent part of the
style adopted by the so-called pissis-girls, the general position of which could be
defined as not caring too much or not being too serious.
In the framework of linguistic landscape research, the internet and social
media offer an increasing number of opportunities for signing with the mixture
of translocality (Leppänen 2012). The various social media platforms and appli-
cations are simultaneously global and local. They are global in their rhizomatic
net spreading everywhere, and local when offering a venue for creating and in-
terpreting signs (Blommaert 2010: 99–101; Pennycook 2010: 129). Social media
applications and the internet should be considered as specific linguistic land-
scapes where people spend a lot of their spare time. One should not be confused
by the virtual nature of these spaces. Even though the spaces are somewhere out
there, they are explored and experienced as material places just like other types
of physical landscapes. It is important to keep in mind that virtual social spaces,
when used for browsing and navigating through, form real physical locations.
Because of the extreme diversity and inherently opaque and often anony-
mous nature of social media, they naturally do not only create asymmetry be-
tween the participants but also situations where no-one can be sure of common
Social media landscapes: Tracing the uses and function of a hybrid sign 143

communicative ground, which is emphasized by Blommaert and Rampton

(2011). I argue that an abundance of various forms of ambivalence, as illustrated
here, constitute a prominent feature in social media interaction. Since the non-
sharedness is multiplied in the internet, it might lead to stronger claims about
one’s positions and attitudes in the first place. Participants position themselves in
relation to what they claim they know and what they assume the others to know.
At the same time, what seems to be of special interest for the participants in so-
cial media is to have a way out to escape from the situation. In other words, if the
other interactants challenge one’s position, it is important to index in advance
that one has not been completely serious about the issues discussed.
The ambiguousness discussed here leads to a key question that many schol-
ars in linguistic landscape research have also asked. The question deals with the
entire process of signing, including intentions, the possible interpretations, and
assumed interpretations of a sign. Some scholars have called for more attention
to the process of producing the multilayered and indeterminate signs which can
be understood at the same time (typically among diverse recipient groups) as
an icon, an index or a symbol (Malinowski 2009). What is needed in linguistic
landscape research is more knowledge about how and why particular signs are
made. What are the communicative intentions, beliefs and ideologies behind
them? How are they read, with what interests, interpretations and discourses?
Coulmas (2009: 22) puts this requirement in the form of questions of ”who is
able to read this sign” and”who reads it”, and in relation to language in the form
of an argument that”there is someone out there who reads language of the sign”
(also Pennycook 2009; Spolsky 2009).
In their dynamicity, internet and social media differ from the many other
recent focus areas in linguistic landscape research, such as soundscapes, because
digital spaces are mobile. This dynamicity is one of the challenges for studying
internet as a linguistic landscape. My approach has been that of combining so-
ciolinguistic knowledge with micro-level analyses of situated cases, but for the
future one could, using in-depth ethnography, dig deeper into the complex dy-
namics of language variability in various digital landscapes.

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Constructing a cross-border space

through semiotic landscapes: A case study
of a German-Czech organization

1. Introduction
Since 1989, the German-Czech frontier has considerably changed. It has changed
from a border which one was hardly able to cross and that which separated dif-
ferent economical systems and political blocs to an internal boundary line within
the European Union, which nowadays scarcely limits the cross-border mobility
of persons, goods, services, and capital. Nevertheless, this border can still be de-
scribed in terms of (a) varying political (viz. legal and bureaucratic) systems,
(b) linguistic differences (viz. Czech-German language border, important lan-
guage vs. small language in terms of speakers’ numbers and status as a foreign
language in other countries, as suggested in Freier and Wohlgemuth 2007), and
(c) economical asymmetries (viz. different currencies and differences in income)
(Holly, Nekvapil, Scherm and Tišerová 2003). After 1989, many forms of Czech-
German contact and cooperation have been established along the frontier, and
some of them can be described as German-Czech organizations. We define a
German-Czech organization as follows: it is an organization in which one or
more of the essential stakeholder groups (e.g. sponsors, employees, and clients)
are located on both sides of the border.
This article deals with semiotic landscapes of such a binational and bilingual
German-Czech organization. Using an organization from the cultural sector1 as
an example, we would like to demonstrate how this organization aims to create a
specific “cross-border space”. Our interest in describing this organization derives
from the rediscovery of space as a source of social transformation, programmati-
cally initiated by Lefebvre’s Production de l’espace (1974). Borders, the crossing of
borders, and the emergence of contact spaces are of great importance within the
spatial turn of cultural studies, as discussed by Bachmann-Medick (2006) for in-
stance. According to Bhabha (1994: 319), “to revise the problem of global space

1 During the material collection phase, we guaranteed our informants not to use the
real name of the organization, and therefore in this article we resort to the notion of
‘the organization’ when discussing our observations.
150 Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula

from the postcolonial perspective is to move the location of cultural difference

away from the space of demographic plurality to the borderline negotiations of
cultural translation”. We aim to show that the self-characterization of this organi-
zation, observable in its semiotic landscapes, refers to such a borderline and aims
to create a cross-border contact space where the staged cultural and linguistic
differences become translatable as soon as they are displayed.
Furthermore we want to find out whether the cross-border space created
by the organization can be the basis for social transformation (i.e. diminishing
cultural asymmetries of the Czech-German border). Our analytical perspec-
tive is situated within qualitative social research, especially within the theory
of language management elaborated by Nekvapil and Nekula (2006) which al-
lows including activities of language planning (organized or transsituational lan-
guage management) as well as discourse itself (simple or situational language
management) in the analysis. In order to describe the conceptualization of the
cross-border space in the organization, we will analyze its semiotic landscapes.
This means taking into account all the signs provided by a specific space (cf. de
Certeau 1984). For this purpose we do not only use visual, but also written and
spoken verbal signs as a part of social practice, as suggested and argued by Kress
and Van Leeuwen (2001) and Jaworski and Thurlow (2010).

2.  Theoretical and methodological background

This article is methodologically based on ethnomethodology and its assump-
tion that social structures are negotiated and re-produced in interactions. Bor-
ders, including the Czech-German border discussed here, are construed social
structures, i.e. they are “artful practices” (Garfinkel 1972: 309) that need to
be performed in a certain way (e.g. by carrying out border controls, erecting
boundary stones). According to Bauer and Rahn (1997: 7, translated from Ger-
man by the authors), “the discovery of borders of any kind is always the re-
covery of something that originated in people’s heads: projections. Beyond the
mental faculties – rationality, imagination and retentiveness – no border exists.
[…] The invisibility of the border requires its aesthetical refinement or in fact
coarsening.” Crossing borders needs some visible or audible marker, especially
in Europe that has aimed at breaking down bureaucratic representations of the
borders as part of the Schengen treaty. In our analysis we want to find out in
which way the semiotic landscape of the organization contributes to the perfor-
mance of “doing being” (Sacks 1984) a cross-border organization.
Our analysis of the semiotic landscapes uses the theory of language man-
agement (cf. Jernudd and Neustupny 1987, Neustupny and Nekvapil 2003).
Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes 151

According to Nekvapil and Nekula (2006) and Nekvapil and Sherman (2009),
this theory suggests that in interaction, spoken and written statements are not
only produced and received, but are also reflected and managed by the partici-
pants in due consideration of the communicative norms in the context. Such
communicative norms can be described for example in terms of grammatical
norms, language attitudes, or expectations of political correctness. Language
management processes usually consist of the following steps and can be broken
off after each step: (1) noting a deviation from a norm or expectation; (2) evalu-
ating the deviation; (3) designing an adjustment to the deviation; (4) implement-
ing the adjustment. When encountering interactional problems, participants
design and execute metacommunicative activities (such as code-switching, self-
or other-initiated repairs, metacommunicative comments etc.). Such activities
that occur during interaction are referred to as simple language management.
When a group of individuals learns and generalizes from previous interactions,
this may lead to cross-interactional, organized language management. This or-
ganized language management can take place in social structures of different
levels, such as families, organizations, or the state. Simple language management
activities on the micro level of interaction not only represent ad hoc solutions for
communication and interaction problems, but also reflect linguistic standards
that are the result of activities of organized language management. Therefore,
activities of simple language management are a source for the analysis of the
(linguistic) ideologies of an organization on the macro level.
While language management theory has primarily been used on verbal data,
our argument is that it might be useful to use it on complex semiotic data (vis-
ual and verbal) as well. Following de Certeau’s (1984) definition of place and
space, we consider semiotic landscapes, on the one hand, as visual composites
that are the result of pre-interactionally organized language management, and,
on the other hand, as spaces where linguistic and metacommunicative activi-
ties (both oral and written) take place in interactions that are aimed at discur-
sive re-production of the semiotic design of the organization. In the analysis
of the semiotic landscapes of the organization presented here, we combine the
theory of language management with approaches to visual semiotics, as pre-
sented for example by Scollon and Scollon (2003) and Jaworski and Thurlow
(2010). Thereby, pre-interactionally organized language management is not
limited to language choice and language use, but language is integrated into a
complex semiotic system that comprises the locality, the linguistic and visual
representations of the (cross-)border territory, the architecture and design of
the building, the use of the visual differences between writing systems and
­other iconic artifacts.
152 Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula

To achieve a comprehensive understanding of this semiotic landscape, our

analysis utilizes a range of verbal and visual data. They include photographs
of the building and the rooms the organization is located in, and printed or
electronic texts published by this organization, e.g. leaflets, brochures and its
website. Public or semi-public events of the organization (e.g. receptions, self-
presentations) as well as internal interactions (e.g. team meetings) were observed
in a participative manner, digitally recorded, and later transcribed. In addition,
members of staff of the organization were interviewed about the establishment
and further development of the organization as well as about the internal and
external language choice and language use. The interviews used for this article
were conducted by German native speakers and in the German language. In the
presentation of our analysis we first deal with the aspects of the semiotic land-
scape that are part of the public communication of the organization (3.1.). In
the next section (3.2.) we refer to the parts of the semiotic landscape that can be
characterized as internal communication.

3.  The semiotic landscapes of a cross-border organization

The organization is a German-Czech cultural center that aims to enhance the
cultural exchange between the Czechs and Bavarians in the border region.
Therefore, various events (exhibitions, concerts, workshops and discussions) are
organized and take place in the building of the organization as well as in differ-
ent locations in the border region. At the time the data were collected, there were
four full-time employees in the organization: the German head, the Czech depu-
ty head and two German employees responsible for the program and event man-
agement. In addition, there is one German employee with a part-time contract
and two Czech trainees. While among the German employees only one has very
good communicative knowledge of the Czech language, the Czech employee is
considered as a bilingual, and significant knowledge of German is a precondition
for trainees from the Czech Republic.

3.1.  Public communication

This organization is located in a small German town close to the German-Czech
border, almost in the middle of the Bavarian-Czech boundary line. This location
already represents an identity-providing characteristic, and the guidebook to the
buildings explains that “it was self-evident to establish in this place a cultural
gateway which offers visitors (…) bilingual information regarding the cultural
life in the Bavarian and Czech neighboring regions” (Baumeister 2007: 4, authors’
translation). The cross-border space of the neighboring regions described in this
Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes 153

way can also be experienced visually by visitors. A walk-on map of the border
area that covers the floor of one of the rooms of the organization (­Figure 1) illus-
trates the symmetric expanse of the Czech-German border around the location
of the organization described here.

Figure 1: Walk-on map of the German-Czech border area

The map roughly divides the Czech-Bavarian borderline in half and illustrates
the distance between Plzeň on the Czech side and Regensburg on the German
side of the border. So it quickly becomes obvious for an occasional visitor why
the organization, placed on the periphery of two national states, considers itself
as the center of this border region, a border region that is conceptualized as a
symmetrically Bavarian-Bohemian, not as an asymmetric (due to the size of the
countries) German-Czech one.
A visitor can stroll over the map that displays Czech and German topo-
nyms (e.g. Regensburg, Plzeň, Waidhaus, Domažlice). These names give a
visual impression of two political units (the borderline is part of the map)
and two linguistic worlds (there are no exonyms used on the map). This
visual presentation helps to construct the identity of the organization by in-
dicating the cross-border space of its activities and by integrating linguistic
(and cultural) components from both sides of the border. Another map is
used on the website, and there, the eastern administrative districts of Bavaria
154 Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula

(Oberpfalz, Niederbayern, Oberfranken) and the western districts of the

Czech Republic (Plzeňský kraj, Karlovarský kraj, Jihočeský kraj) are similar
in expanse, too. On that map only the borders of the districts are inscribed,
so that the viewer has to reconstruct the political border according to the lan-
guage of the regional administrative units (e.g. Plzeňský kraj, Oberpfalz). In
this symmetrical visual representation of the border region as a cross-border
space, language is the only distinctive means by which the political border is
So we can state that the peripheral location of the organization with respect
to the whole national state at the frontier is (re-)conceptualized as the center of a
common German-Czech border region, and it becomes a contact space between
Germans and Czechs through these visual representations. This view is contrary
to the perceptions of this region expressed by employees and area residents, who
clearly emphasize the peripheral location in relation to administrative and eco-
nomic centers (e.g. Munich, Nuremberg or Regensburg) and the resulting lack
of occupational prospects and recreational activities, especially for the younger
generation. The area is often referred to as “back here” (Interview 03, line 434,
authors’ translation).
The building which the organization is housed in is located in the middle of a
small town and was completely renovated in 2006. Its architecture also highlights
its cross-border nature. The building was renovated in a way that preserved its
regional characteristics, e.g. by the choice of the materials. Where materials were
used that are rather typical for the architecture in administrative and economic
centers (e.g. glass), a reference is made to the glass industry traditions that are
strong on both sides of the border, and the guidebook, which can be bought in-
side the building, explains the architectural design.
Summing up, we can say that the architecture refers to the border region, and
the guidebook clearly points this out:

“From that point of view, the building of the [name of the organization] in [name of
the location] represents a commitment to common traditions in the German-, respec-
tively Bavarian-Czech, border area. […] Altogether – inside and outside, formally and
with regards to content – the architecture of the cross-border meeting place and cul-
tural center represents the manifestation of a common tradition and – after the fall of
the iron curtain – of a common future in Europe.” (Baumeister 2007: 4 f, the authors’

The cross-border identity of the organization is explicitly visualized even on the

outside of the building, and during special events, the façade is decorated sym-
metrically with Bavarian and Czech flags or colors (shown in Figure 2).
Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes 155

Figure 2: Use of national colors on the outside of the organization

During exhibitions and events, there are banners on the outside of the building
giving information in German and in Czech. In a primarily German-speaking en-
vironment the presence of not only the Bavarian (or German), but also the Czech
national colors and the Czech language, with its diacritical system, serves a symbol-
ic function based on sociocultural associations (Scollon and Scollon 2003: 119), as
a visual re-presentation of the Czech-German border and a symbol for the purpose
of the organization as the center for Czech-Bavarian cultural exchange pari passu.
As seen in our discussion, the nature of the organization as the center of a
cross-border space is evoked by the walk-on map (common geographical space,
re-conceptualization of the periphery as center), by the regionally influenced
architecture of the building (common traditions as shared cultural space), by the
use of flags (referring to different political spaces) and by the use of languages
(referring to different linguistic spaces). The organization aims to transform a
space into a common social space, an area of cultural exchange, “a meeting place
and cultural center”. Inside the building there are four main rooms, accessible by
a central staircase. These main rooms are named by compounds which consist of
an abbreviation of the organization and a specific room name. These names are
central (for the staircase), forum, media, dialog and info. These names make use
of internationalisms – both Germans and Czechs use the Latin written system –
which can be traced back either to German, Czech, English, Latin or Greek ori-
gins, so for instance, central may be traceable to either the German form zentral
or the Czech equivalent centrální. The symmetrical effect is strengthened by the
156 Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula

consistent use of small letters, that is, by the removal of the German typeface
of the script (i.e. German nouns come with capitals, while Czech and English
nouns are written with a small initial letter). So a word cannot, at least with cer-
tainty, be assigned to one language, and this practice of drawing from one form
of a superordinate artificial language creates linguistic ambiguity. This use of an
artificial language as a means for creating linguistic neutrality corresponds with
Latin being used in the name and the logo of the organization. Of course Latin
is not used in the communication of the cultural center, neither is English, nor-
mally a widespread lingua franca of contact situations. The linguistic ambiguity
in the naming of the main rooms of the organization can be seen as a symbol to
neutralize linguistic asymmetries, and it contributes to the creation of a commu-
nicative symmetry inside this German-Czech organization.
Another example for creating linguistic symmetry comes from an installation
with the title Language in Space located in the building staircase. The installation
was, as is explained in the panel attached to the staircase, devised by Czech and
German pupils during a workshop. By giving this contextual information, the
installation is presented as the result of Czech-German interaction, an artifact
of the specific cross-border social space. Pairs of German and Czech words for
everyday objects and activities are printed on steel panels (Figure 3). The guide-
book to the building explicitly refers to this visual symbol which works with
both languages and their typefaces, explaining it as follows: “When Germans
and Czechs meet at the opening of an exhibition and search for the translation
of a word during their conversation, they could find it on the walls” (Baumeister
2007: 12, the authors’ translation).
Figure 3: Installation Language in Space
Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes 157

The differences between the two languages, visualized by different lexical sys-
tems as well as by the typeface (Czech diacritical marks), become a tool to al-
legorize the political border using the linguistic border. At the same time it offers
possibilities to cross the represented border via interaction and translation. The
pairs of words relate to and translate each other. Occasional viewers are thus
reminded of learning activities, since they might be tempted to invent corre-
sponding terms in the language familiar to them (i.e. pairs of words in different
languages). So crossing borders is portrayed as something that can be learned,
and the organization uses the bilingual semiotic design to show that the Ger-
man-Czech (linguistic) border can be surpassed. Furthermore, in terms of lan-
guage management, we can consider this display of words as an encouragement
for social interaction in this place (“when Germans and Czechs meet”) and the
installation itself as a symbolic act of pre-interaction management. During the
interaction between Czechs and Germans communicative problems that are
typical for language contact situations, e.g. the “search for the translation of a
word”, can be solved with the help of the semiotic landscape of the organization.
So this installation fulfils two functions that are both vital to the semiotic land-
scape presented here. On the one hand, by visualizing the two linguistic systems,
it symbolizes the cross-border referential space. The linguistic border is high-
lighted as an aesthetical representation of the political border: cultural transla-
tion as the staging of cultural difference (cf. Bhabha 1994). On the other hand,
the border is distinguished at the same time as translatable, suggesting that the
cultural differences can be negotiated by linguistic translation (and by the help
of the organization). Through this one sign and the explanations given to the
visitors by the guidebook and the panel explaining the history of the installation,
the organization is conceptualized as the result of German-Czech interaction
and it is deliberately displayed as a centre of German-Czech social interaction,
representing the common social space created by the networks and activities of
the organization.
Another example of linguistic symmetry inside the building suggests that the
uses of languages in space can be considered as symbolic. The bilingual lettering
on the sanitary facilities, offices, and signs indicating directions, as is the case in
Figure 4, showing the door to the terrace, seems to have a symbolic rather than
an informative function. This bilingual lettering is addressed to both German
and Czech users (visitors and employees) of the building. It is evident that during
the design of the semiotic landscapes of the building, its likely or desired use (in
particular by users from both sides of the border) was taken into account, since
the building is situated in an explicitly German-speaking environment but it was
intended to attract both German and Czech visitors. Thus this lettering has a
158 Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula

symbolic function not only for the employees and trainees, who are able to navi-
gate inside the building without the lettering after a while, but also for German
visitors who would expect and need the German lettering only (we assume that
knowledge of Czech is rare among German visitors). Moreover, this symbolic
function of the bilingual lettering also applies to Czech visitors who could like-
wise try to find their way relying on German signs. At least a passive knowledge
of German can be presupposed for Czech visitors (cf. Freier and Wohlgemuth
2007), which is why German or English wording would be informative enough
for occasional visitors

Figure 4: Use of bilingual lettering in the organization

As for the more non-permanent semiotic materials of the organization, the

publications for instance, are consistently bilingual. They include information
materials such as flyers, program leaflets, annual reports, etc. The alternative of
separating the German and Czech versions was not realized, even though such
materials would be easier to produce (e.g. more content can be provided on one
page, less restrictions for the layout) and more comfortable for the recipient (a
monolingual page is easier to read). This practice becomes particularly notice-
able in the bilingual design of the Internet presence that plays a very prominent
role in the self-representation of the organization. While multilingualism in the
virtual space is mostly realized by monolingual contents that are (more or less
Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes 159

completely) displayed in different languages, the organization has chosen a syn-

optic bilingual display of Czech and German contents. German and Czech ver-
sions of the texts are arranged in the neighboring paragraphs or columns. This
enables the reader to see quickly that the German and Czech contents are obvi-
ously equivalent, but at the same time it makes the pages much more difficult
to design and to read because of the limited space and the resulting restriction
in the typeface. These disadvantages are well known to the management of the
organization, as one of our interviewees states:
“Well, from the beginning the [name of the website] was bilingually designed, there:
there have always been er discussions, er er yes that you can click on the language first
and then er well er on the website, of course due to the bilingualism there is less room”
(Interview 02, lines 728–732, authors’ translation).

However, despite these disadvantages, this is the way the management wants to
represent the organization on the Internet. This strategy corresponds with the
symmetric use of Czech and German visual and verbal signs observed and de-
scribed above. Fully symmetric bilingualism is seen as a pre-condition for Czech-
German cooperation pari passu, as pointed out by one of our interviewees:
“On the other hand, I said that I’ll stick to bilingualism, I mean the real bilingualism,
because er, because these are er, unique characteristics of [name of the home page] and,
and er we, we are a project whose top priority from the beginning was bilingualism also
here inside the building and there, er is no compromise” (Interview 02, lines 732–737;
authors’ translation).

The bilingualism in the semiotic landscape allows the organization to avoid a

deliberate language choice in their visual communication as regards the quantity
of language. But the way the language is arranged in physical space, e.g. on the
wall, on a sheet of paper, or on the monitor screen of the visitor of the website,
forces the organization to choose a preferred language. That is, the content in
one language has to be placed under or on the right side of the content in the
other language and will therefore be only the second one to be seen and read by
the viewer: “The mere fact that these items in a picture or in the world cannot
be located simultaneously in the same place produces a choice system” (Scollon
and Scollon 2003: 120; cf. de Certeau 1984: 117). Seen from the perspective of
the ordering of the lettering, the symmetry cannot be kept up, and there is a
hierarchy of preferred and secondary language resulting from the physical col-
location of the languages. As can be seen on the picture of the installation Lan-
guage in Space in Figure 3 above, the German version of the word is always put
in front of the Czech word, suggesting that the former is of greater importance
or use to the reader (cf. Scollon and Scollon 2003). While the language order of
160 Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula

the inscriptions in the building can be considered as indexical (showing that the
building is located in Germany and that therefore German is used as the pre-
ferred language), the language choice in the virtual space is more deliberate. The
conceptualization of the website of the organization as a space outside of Ger-
man or Czech territory is even stressed by the choice of the neutral domain .net
instead of the German (.de) or Czech (.cz). But even in this third space the code
of preference is quite clear, as German is always placed above the Czech texts if
aligned vertically, and in the left position if aligned horizontally. In addition, the
fonts of the Czech lettering are not black but grey, which makes them less visible
than the lettering of the German texts. So within the bilingualism displayed here,
a clear preference for the German version of the texts is observable.
We can thus describe bilingual texts in spatial terms, (1) as a hierarchy be-
tween the languages which is evoked by the reading direction (left/top is more
important than right/down) and which indicates which language could be con-
sidered as preferred and which one secondary; and (2) as a phenomenon of sim-
ultaneity that involves the reader into a linguistic Czech-German contact space.
Even if the reader is not capable of speaking the other language, it still remains
visible and reminds the reader of the fact that this is the utterance of a bination-
al and therefore bilingual organization. Knowing that the content is nearly the
same, the reader is, at least visually, part of a process of translation, even with-
out any linguistic competence in the other language. As de Certeau (1984: 117)
defines space as a practiced place, a binational space emerges by the practiced
bilingual place that is provided by the organization.
There is also evidence for language management activities regarding the se-
miotic landscape of the organization. Those activities become evident in the lay-
ering of the semiotic landscape. For instance, there are communicative situations
in which the linguistic symmetries described above are not helpful. In a formal
meeting of the advisory board which we observed, the hand-outs were provided
to the participants in advance in a folder. Due to the fact that the folders of the
organization are, following the linguistic symmetry concept, designed with a bi-
lingual German-Czech inscription, in this specific situation there is a need to
mark somehow whether the folder contains a Czech or a German version of the
handout. This function cannot be fulfilled by the original semiotic design, so an
adjustment is needed. The adjustments took place in the form of post-it notes
on the folders, and they bore abbreviations that indicated the language of the
hand-out inside. These abbreviations followed the abbreviations of international
transport, and D (i.e. Deutsch) indicating German and CZ (i.e. Czech) the Czech
version rather than Č, which would have been the symmetric solution, as shown
in Figure 5. So in this specific case, the bilingual symmetrical use of language
Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes 161

(bilingual folders) is seen as inadequate and is dealt through a specific corrective

procedure (added labels).

Figure 5: Marking of monolingual texts with bilingual covers

Another example for language management in the semiotic landscape of the or-
ganization can be seen in Figure 4 above. While the inscription of the name of
the building terrace on the door is presented bilingually (horizont and obzor), the
warning Achtung Stufe [Mind the step] is only inscribed in German in the origi-
nal semiotic design of the door. However, a piece of paper has been attached to
the door, bearing a printed warning in both German and (below and in a smaller
font size) Czech language (Vorsicht Stufe!/Pozor schod!), adjusting the monolin-
gual utterance of the organization by adding a bilingual one.
It is, however, obvious that not only is written communication a matter of lan-
guage management in the observed organization but also those essential fields
of oral communication are regulated, too. For example, the official parts of all
public (e.g. discussions, opening receptions) and semi-public (e.g. the summer
parties) events of the organization are interpreted simultaneously or consecu-
tively, despite of the considerable financial expenses and time involved. Through
this kind of refusal to make a choice of language, which can be described as a
consequent non-adaptation (cf. Vandermeeren 1998), the German-Czech action
162 Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula

space of the organization is reconstructed in its public events through semiotic

landscape, and the organization puts its function as (linguistic) mediator be-
tween Germans and Czechs into practice.
Furthermore, the cross-border character of the organization analyzed here is
represented not only by the choice of language in general, but also by the spe-
cific use of language, such as when the employees talk about the work of their
organization. This interaction may take place on the one hand via a direct or
indirect reference to the border (“on both sides of the border“, “on the Czech
side“, etc.) and the border area (e.g. via toponyms), or by re-constructing the
border through symbolic linguistic representation (e.g. code-switching). On the
other hand, it may take place through identity management, using national cat-
egories (Czechs, Germans), or alternative, e.g. collegial categories (cf. Nekvapil
1997) that may be modified by the speaker through national specifications (e.g.
“Czech visitors“, “German employees“, etc.). Such ethnically modified collegial
categories highlight the (linguistic) border and illustrate the cross-border iden-
tity of the organization.

3.2.  Internal Communication

The fact that the public communication of the organization is designed bilin-
gually poses the question of what kinds of resources are used to fulfill the re-
quirements of being a bilingual. So in the following short section we compare
the public language use to the internal language use. If we were to transfer the
displayed symmetrical use of Czech and German (despite the fact that there is
a preferred language) to the internal activities of the organization, the modus
operandi for internal communication would be a polyglot dialogue. Every par-
ticipant of an interaction could speak in their mother tongue, while being able to
rely on the fact that all other participants have at least sufficient passive knowl-
edge of their language to understand all of the utterances. Through participant
observation we were able to learn that the language used in official internal
communication (e.g. in internal meetings) of the organization is predominantly
German, so Czech employees adapt linguistically to German as the language of
internal communication. The gap between bilingual external communication
and monolingual internal communication can be illustrated with the help of the
following extract from the recording of an internal meeting:

69 P1 (director, German native speaker): Was there something, well, I mean,
that is related to the food,
70 that was okay wasn’t it? =
Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes 163

71 P2 (vice-director, Czech native speaker): = It

72 [was okay, yes
73 P3 (employee, German native speaker): [Yes, it was okay
74 P2: And I think all were satisfied with it
75 P1: We have this list of the food that was offered
76 [I mean
77 P2: It’s even bilingual
78 P1: Ha?
79 P2: We even have it bilingually [P3 laughs]
80 P1: Yes, and ah, what I realized is that ah with the rolls, there are, well,
81 of rolls left
82 P3: [Hm
83 P2: [Yes
84 P1: Because people […] (Rec03, lines 69–84, authors’ translation)

The extract is taken from a recorded evaluation of an annual event that is

of great importance to the self-representation of the organization. The direc-
tor, chairing the meeting, and his employees (Czech and German native speak-
ers) are discussing the progress of the event. When the topic turns to the food
served (line 69) and the employees share their director’s opinion that the food
“was okay”, a written document is hinted to (maybe to serve as a model for next
year’s event): “The list of the food that was offered” (line 75). At this point, one
of the Czech employees, the vice director, jokes that they even have a bilingual
version of it (line 77), because the document is simply the bilingual menu that
was used during the event. While the bilingualism of the document as a part
of the semiotic design of the public communication is taken for granted, the
bilingualism of the document designed for internal use (as a model for next
year’s choice of food) triggers a metacommunicative remark by P2, stressing
the bilingualism of this document. The comment, though repeated by P2, is
more or less ignored by the chair of the meeting (indicating that this fact has no
practical meaning in this context), but is acknowledged as striking by the laugh
of P3 (line 79).
This episode clearly indicates that the language use is quite different in exter-
nal and internal communication. While the organization represents itself as a
bilingual German-Czech organization to its external stakeholders (e.g. by using a
bilingual menu), the observed internal communication (e.g. meetings) is mono-
lingual (bilingual documents for internal use are clearly flagged as an excep-
tion, as a deviation from the standard). At the same time, it reflects the language
164 Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula

situation of the German-Czech border region. For Czechs, cross-border activi-

ties are connected with the use of a foreign language, as opposed to their Ger-
man interlocutors (cf. Freier and Wohlgemuth 2007). Thus we can state that the
bilingual semiotic landscape of the organization has primarily a symbolic func-
tion, representing something distant (the Czech Republic) rather than indicating
something present (bilingual communication in a cross-border organization).

4. Conclusions
In times of the deconstruction of political borders, the asymmetry between the
German and the Czech side of the border seems to be primarily a linguistic one,
i.e. related to the differences of languages (cf. Marx and Nekula 2010). The sym-
metrical German-Czech nature of the cross-border organization is based on a
linguistic substrate of the border (Rahn 1997: 177–206), which stresses the dif-
ference in national languages. This substrate is used to present and to cross, or
to remove the border via translation or by creating symmetries. To illustrate its
mission as a gateway between Germany and the Czech Republic, the organi-
zation has created a bilingual semiotic landscape that constructs a geographi-
cal (by referring to places on both sides of the border) and social (by referring
to intercultural interaction) cross-border space. If we compare the external or
public language uses (i.e. the set-up of the place and its events) and the internal
language use (language choices in formal internal interaction), we can state that
the dominant language norms are quite different: bilingualism vs. asymmetrical
adaptation of Czech employees to their German interlocutors. The public semi-
otic landscape of the organization shows how Czech-German interaction could
be, not how it is.
By analyzing activities of simple and organized language management that
are related to the semiotic landscape of the organization, we can state that the
specific contact space provided by the semiotic landscape of the organization can
be seen in terms of Foucault (1991) as a heterotopy. The emphasized symmetry
of this artificial space differs remarkably from the existing political, economic,
linguistic and sociocultural asymmetries of the border area that are an encum-
brance to cross-border activities. Von Bismarck (2002: 137, authors’ translation)
points out that “in contrast to utopia, [heterotopy represents] a real place, a kind
of a social alternative draft, which fulfils illusory and compensatory tasks”. The
heterotopy of a cross-border space that is constructed by a semiotic landscape
allows the following conclusions. In terms of de Certeau (1984), this heterotopy
or postulated specific cross-border identity can be spoken of as a place, while
the everyday practices observed in the organization (the lived places or space)
Constructing a cross-border space through semiotic landscapes 165

reflect the language situation along the German-Czech border in a more realistic
manner. Furthermore, we can say that in facilitating social change along the bor-
der, the organization plays an ambiguous role, because the crossing of borders is
inseparably connected to the reconstruction of borders, and one cannot cross a
border that is not marked as a border. The observed semiotic landscape contrib-
utes to the reconstruction of the border as well as to its crossing.

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Part III:
Exploring linguistic landscapes
in the former Eastern bloc
Petteri Laihonen, University of Jyväskylä

Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional

majority: Language ideologies among
Hungarians in South-West Slovakia

1. Introduction
This article is an investigation of the linguistic situation in South-West Slovakia
and its interpretation by local inhabitants through the notion of linguistic land-
scape (hereafter LL), here understood broadly as texts displayed in visual space.1
This study has two broad aims. Firstly, the general distribution of the languages
in the LL of two historically Hungarian villages is established. This distributional
picture is compared to (inter)national and local conceptions about the visual use
of different languages in South-West Slovakia. Secondly, using an ethnographic
approach and making use of the data gathered during one month fieldwork, a
set of individual signs and sign genres is analyzed from the viewpoint of their
semiotic characteristics, also focusing on language ideologies of the producers
and readers of such signs.
Discourses on the current LL in South-West Slovakia are characterized by
the fact that this region encompasses large areas where Hungarians make up
the majority of the population. Hungarians, typically living in the areas border-
ing Hungary, account for c. 10 per cent of Slovakia’s population, and they form
a historical minority whose identity is often constructed in opposition to the
majority. As Sloboda (2009: 184) states, there is anxiety “about the Hungarian in-
habitants’ possible disloyalty to the young Slovak state and about the possibility
of southern Slovakia’s secession.” In his view, these perceived majority fears make
this region’s LL fundamentally different from many other European bilingual
areas. The areas inhabited by Hungarian speakers can be seen in the following
map (see Figure 1).
Data for this study are collected from two villages in South-West Slovakia.
The first, (Slovakian name: Reca, Hungarian: Réte) is located 25 kilometers east

1 This research was financed by the Academy of Finland grant 137718. I thank Marian
Sloboda, István Lanstyák, Miklós Kontra, Gizella Szabómihály, Juliet Langman and
two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions.
172 Petteri Laihonen

of Bratislava2, and it is situated along the western border of the Hungarian ma-
jority settlements. The second village (Slovakian: Trhová Hradská, Hungarian:
Vásárút) is located in the middle of a Hungarian majority region, 60 kilometers
east of Bratislava. They represent two ends of a continuum, with Reca on the
border of a Hungarian majority region, where changes in the demographic and
linguistic situations are rapid, and Vásárút in the Hungarian heartlands.

Figure 1: Hungarian settlements in Slovakia in 2011 (courtesy by Örs Orosz)

As is well known, the notion of LL started as a way to map language choices and
to quantify visual characteristics of signs in public places, mainly in the com-
mercial centers of cities. The results are considered comparable to language cen-
suses and surveys, thus contributing to our understanding of the sociolinguistic
context of a given community (Cenoz and Gorter 2006: 67–68). LL has also been
deemed significant since it “serves as the emblem of societies, communities and
regions” (Ben-Rafael et al. 2006: 8). In the case of multilingual sites, “circulating
sociopolitical discourses about multilingualism are concretely observable in how
languages are deployed visually in constituting the linguistic landscape” (Hult

2 I use the place names in the language of the majority in the given settlement.
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 173

2009: 91). As Hult (2009: 92–93) further explains, through a view of “discourse
as language-in-action”, discourses can be analyzed on the basis of the distribu-
tion and visual semiotics of signs. Hence qualitative studies of discourses of sig-
nage form the new trend in LL research (Coupland 2012). At the same time,
important investigations on the viewpoints of the readers/audiences (e.g. Garvin
2010) and producers (e.g. Malinowski 2009) of signs have emerged. Several
studies now combine quantitative and qualitative analyses so that distributional
results are accompanied with discourse analysis of visual semiotics including
consumers’ and/or producers’ accounts of their significance in the local context
(e.g. Marten 2010). In addition, villages and areas where the minority forms the
regional majority have been investigated (Dal Negro 2009).
This study combines these approaches with the notion of language ideolo-
gies (cf. Jaworski and Thurlow 2010: 11) and investigates how the LL displays
ideas of relationships between people, socio-political issues and language (e.g.
Gal 2006a: 388). The structure is such that after the background sections, I will
provide general distributional accounts of the LLs of the two villages to see what
is typical for signage in general in the region today and to discuss possible differ-
ences between the villages. I will then examine the various categories in the LL,
focusing on monolingual signs in contrast to bi- and multilingual signs. I will
focus on emblematic and often contested signs that employ arrange of inscrip-
tions (bilingual, Slovak, Hungarian, English, Italian, Latin and/or missing) which
highlight ideologies about language and discourses surrounding them. I conclude
with an analysis of local semiotic and discursive practices as well as norms and
their transgressions from the viewpoint of the discourses of readers and produc-
ers of such signs.

2.  Sociolinguistic overview of the two villages

Reca had an overwhelming majority of Hungarians when it was ceded from
Hungary to Czechoslovakia in 1920. It was returned to Hungary in 1938 and
restored back to Czechoslovakia in 1945. By the autumn of 1945 the Hungarian
school was closed and Hungarians together with Germans were declared state-
less people to be purged from the country. However, the allies did not approve
the expulsion of c. 600,000 Hungarians, and various measures were adopted by
the Czechoslovak state to weaken their position as much as possible (Vadkerty
1999). The population exchange with Hungary, forced through international
pressure, removed c. 40 families (Cseplő 1995: 31, 47), they were replaced by
Slovaks from Hungary. In my interviews and casual conversation with the ethnic
Hungarians in the area, they described the deportations of Hungarians and the
174 Petteri Laihonen

new ethnic and economic structure (see Vadkerty 1999) as a persisting trauma
and a death blow to the Hungarian community in Reca.
The Hungarian school was reopened in 1949. However, from that time on
the Hungarian school has lost a growing number of pupils to the Slovak school
(Metzner 2000: 7–10). Today, for every 10–12 students entering school in Reca,
only about two are placed in the Hungarian school, while the remaining are
placed in the Slovak school, although some of these students are speakers of
Hungarian as their first language. This practice suggests that Hungarian affili-
ation is rare among families and that the knowledge of Hungarian among the
children is dwindling.
At the end of the 20th century, roughly two-thirds of the Reca inhabitants
worked in Bratislava (Cseplő 1995: 32), which carries an emblematic Slovak im-
age for many of my informants. In the 2001 census, Reca counted a Slovak ma-
jority of 55 per cent among the 1,239 inhabitants for the first time in its history.
After the transition towards capitalism in 1990, people have regained their lands
which they have often sold to real estate developers. In 2011, the number of Hun-
garians has diminished to 37 per cent (portal.statistics.sk), and this development
suggests that the village is gradually transforming into a suburb of Bratislava.
Language shift is taking place in Reca. Among the 80-year-olds, there were a
few individuals who told me that they can barely communicate in Slovak, and
they reported troubles communicating with their grandchildren who seldom
speak Hungarian. The churches and cultural events are overwhelmingly Hun-
garian, as there are no Slovak cultural organizations and no Slovak churches;
however, two congregations have some services in Slovak. In the two cemeteries,
the newer the graves are, the more Slovak inscriptions they have. In the local
pub, the middle-aged male generation was highly bilingual. According to my
fieldwork notes, languages were constantly switched, and apparently no default
language could be detected. According to my personal observations, it is a norm
to greet most people in Slovak in Reca. A pro-Hungarian attitude is rare in the
village, however, a handful of men make an effort to use only Hungarian inside
the family and enroll their children in the Hungarian school. Those men are
influencing their wives, many of whom attended Slovak schools and might still
prefer to use Slovak with their bilingual friends and colleagues. In these families
the use of Slovak is reduced to work and to the life outside the village. The family
environment is kept as Hungarian as possible. However, during visits to these
families, I experienced that the children are competent in Slovak as well.
As for Vásárút, there are hardly any historical remarks of other nationalities
than Hungarians. It was ceded to Czechoslovakia in 1920, but unlike the Reca
residents, the Hungarians in Vásárút escaped the population exchange program in
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 175

1945–1948. Vásárút has had only Hungarian schools nearly throughout its histo-
ry, however, Hungarian schools were banned altogether between 1945 and 1948,
and Slovak teachers came to the village. Soon after the Hungarian school was reo-
pened, the Slovak school was closed due to lack of enrolment (Presinszky 2002).
Vásárút still has an overwhelming majority of Hungarian first language
speakers (92 per cent in the 2011 Census). In the village center, the conversations
take place in Hungarian and to some degree also in the local Romani language.
The local Roma, use their language amongst themselves and pass it on to their
children. My research showed that no written use of the local Romani language
could be traced.
The village is primarily agricultural, but jobs in agriculture have been reduced
heavily since 2004 when Slovakia joined the European Union. Even though a
large number of emerging small enterprises have replaced the lost jobs in agri-
culture, more and more people are seeking employment in Bratislava or other
cities. The spoken language used in the workplaces in Vásárút is Hungarian and
Slovak is used in written official documents.
Vásárút has a Hungarian school and kindergarten, and the nearest Slovak pri-
mary school is in the neighboring village which attracts children from the area (on
proposals for bilingual education in Slovakia, see Langman 2002). According to a
teacher in the Slovak school, only one-third of the children are speakers of Slovak as
the first language. During the last few years, this school received no children from
Vásárút where putting children into the Hungarian kindergarten and the school
is a norm. At the same time, it was felt that the Hungarian school did not provide
the children with the much needed skills in Slovak, since vocational schools and
higher education, often unavailable in Hungarian, require a strong knowledge of
Slovak. The contemporary expansion of Hungarian higher education in Slovakia,
and the chance to study in Hungary are gradually changing this picture. However,
my local informants considered that official matters have to be carried out in Slo-
vak. The teaching of Slovak in the Hungarian schools, even though it comprises a
high number of hours, was felt to be too concentrated on grammar and literature.
A general belief was that the village youth (a) lacked the linguistic competence
needed to participate in the prestigious education available in Slovak, and (b) did
not come into contact with the everyday registers of Slovak needed to communi-
cate with their Slovak peers. A retired bilingual lady, who had spent most of her
life among the Slovaks, reported having as many private pupils as she could handle,
since so many parents wanted to ensure that their child learned Slovak.
Most adults use Slovak with contacts outside Vásárút; however, only few villag-
ers have Slovak friends and they feel insecure in some domains of Slovak. Several
informants believed that competence of Slovak has dwindled among the younger
176 Petteri Laihonen

male generation since the abolishment of compulsory military service. High civil
service positions are typically considered to be unavailable for the villagers due to
lack of language skills. For instance, a successful local entrepreneur, who was cam-
paigning for the Hungarian party in the parliamentary elections, stated that she
had refused to be considered as a candidate at first, because she lacked the needed
competence in Slovak. After the candidate list became public, other villagers were
surprised of her nomination, since “she doesn’t speak Slovak well enough”.
To sum up this section, the local language practices and ideologies have de-
veloped differently in the villages due to the varying economic, educational,
migration, and geographic processes. Reca is a bilingual village, with observable
patterns of language shift to Slovak and with little resistance to the dominant
language ideology. Vásárút is a monolingual Hungarian community, and the lo-
cal ideologies support the use of Hungarian in local contexts. However, in non-
local realms, the use of Slovak is a typical and generally accepted practice by the
villagers. As will be shown later, these observations are reflected in the LLs of
the villages, and language shift is displayed in the LL of Reca and resistance to
the hegemony of Slovak in the LL of Vásárút.

3.  Linguistic landscapes and language politics in Slovakia

Slovakia has become famous for its disputes on language laws, which provide a
macro level ideological context for analyzing local LL. According to Ondrejovič
(2009: 26), the Slovak language is supported by the “status as the only official
language of an independent and sovereign state”, and according to law it “takes
precedence over other languages used in the territory of the Slovak Republic”
(Ondrejovič 2009: 16). Since Slovakia’s independence in 1993, the language laws
have served the purpose of creating a homogenous European nation state. The
ideology of protecting the state language against the minority languages is a typi-
cal European idea in the nation state building. For instance, the Venice Com-
mission3 (2010: 10) recently stated that “the protection of the State language has
a particular importance for a new State in which, as it is the case for the Slovak
Republic, linguistic minorities represent a high percentage of the citizens of the
population”. In this ideology, the Hungarian minority is viewed as a threat to the
state language and thus state sovereignty. For instance, the need for tightening
an amendment to the Law on the State Language was explained on the Slovak
Ministry of Education homepages as follows:

3 The Venice Commission is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional

matters (see www.venice.coe.int).
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 177

Members of the Hungarian national minority […] live largely in the southern areas of
Slovakia. […] Citizens of the Slovak nationality living in areas of mixed nationality are often
denied the right of access to information in the state language particularly in those munici-
palities where they live in a minority. Official announcements, notices on cultural and other
events, notices and adverts in public spaces are in many cases provided only in the Hungarian
language, in contravention also of the previously applicable law. Pushing the Slovak lan-
guage out of public life in an area of mixed nationality in Slovakia often causes citizens of
Slovak nationality material harm and hinders their full inclusion into the social and work-
ing life of their immediate environment […] There is thus repeatedly discrimination of Slo-
vak citizens in the territory of their own state. (The Language… 2009, emphasis in original)

This argumentation claims that many signs in public spaces in Southern Slovakia
are in Hungarian only. The way this passage combines the issues of language,
state, territory, nationality, and citizenship is notable. It can be read as an exam-
ple of the European ideology of “one language=one nation=one state=one ter-
ritory” (Gal 2006a: 378). As Gal (2006b: 164) stresses, because this ideology is
impossible to achieve, the emphasis is placed on exhibiting loyalty towards the
state language. The Hungarian minority is explicitly constructed as violating this
display of loyalty in public space, which has a direct consequence for the citizens
of Slovakia, here read as those of Slovak descent.
The use of the Slovak language in public or official domains is regulated by
the Law on the State Language (1995, with several amendments later). The basic
principle is that the state language should be used in all domains in the public
space and in official written documents. Minority languages may be used in speci-
fied domains, places, spaces, media, and by some categories of speakers which
have been codified in several national laws and international treaties ratified by
Slovakia. The nationalist Slovak coalitions have pushed for the tightening of the
language law through extending the notion of public occasions, stretching the
scope of documents that cannot be bilingual (school certificates for Hungarian
schools have been an emblematic case), and elevating the range and extent of
fines for ignoring this legislation. Some international organizations have tried to
push Slovakia to follow international treaties, such as the European Charter for Re-
gional or Minority Languages. In the 2nd monitoring report the committee notably
concludes that Slovakia has not fulfilled the recommended undertakings (see Ap-
plication…, 2009). The coalitions of Slovak moderates and Hungarian parties usu-
ally achieve compromises stretching the allowances to use the minority language.
The network of national laws and international treaties will not be discussed in
detail here (for the latest developments, see Third Report…, 2012), since my goal
is to give an overview of signage in the villages and its interpretations, not to re-
port how the language laws are perceived by the inhabitants. As already shown by
178 Petteri Laihonen

Langman and Lanstyák (2000) and also confirmed in my fieldwork, even though
frequent reference to the language laws are made, the inhabitants, including mu-
nicipality leaders or powerful entrepreneurs, have not typically read the laws. Nor
do they follow the changes in the wordings of the law, but construct an overall
impression of it based on media discourses which they follow selectively.

4.  Methodology and material

The Landry and Bourhis (1997) approach to LL, i.e. cataloguing language choice
in signs, can be criticized for oversimplification on two grounds. Firstly, like cen-
sus data, it presumes the existence of distinct homogenous languages. However,
hybridity in signs, and in names in particular, is common in multilingual re-
gions (Edelman 2009), and linguistic variation is also displayed in signs so that
Hungarian inscriptions in Slovakia often differ from inscriptions in Hungary or
Romania. Secondly and more importantly, quantitative methods often fall short
in explicating the logic behind the LL. For instance, in the pioneering study by
Landry and Bourhis, the LL was seen as a one-to-one indicator of linguistic vi-
tality. However, as Jaworski and Thurlow (2010: 10–11) argue, the presence of a
language in the LL “is not necessarily the best indicator of ethnolinguistic vital-
ity of its speakers. Rather, the presence or absence of a language on […] signage
in combination with the type (or genre) of signs, their contents and style, are
indicative of […] language ideologies.”
In the case of Southern Slovakia, we still lack a general distributional account
of the LL and thus also an empirical understanding of this contested region. Such
a description should enable us to see whether official signs in public places are
often only in Hungarian, as claimed by the Ministry of Education or whether
Slovak actually “takes precedence over other languages” (Ondrejovič 2009: 16).
Such an examination will also take into account the presence and function of
English and other languages in the LL.
In order to see beyond the numbers and to understand how the local inhab-
itants interpret the sociolinguistic situation they live in, I engage in the qualita-
tive analysis of discourses of signage through the notion of language ideologies,
broadly defined as “cultural, metapragmatic assumptions about the relationship
between words, speakers, and worlds” (Gal 2006a: 388). In line with the discourse
analytic LL research, my analysis focuses on conceptions of the relationships of the
semiotic properties of the signs, agency, language choice and socio-political issues,
drawn from the perspectives of the producers and readers of the signs. Unlike in
the case of cities (see Malinowski 2009), the village context, at least in Slovakia, al-
lows for a fairly easy approach to readers and producers of various signs.
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 179

In the analysis of the LL, I use a continuum reminiscent to the typical bottom-
up/top-down, public/private dichotomies widely applied in quantitative linguistic
landscape research (e.g. Ben-Rafael et al. 2006). However, they have also been wide-
ly criticized lately (e.g. Kallen 2009). That is, as Gal (2005) has shown, such catego-
ries should not be seen as simple dichotomies but as language ideologies. That is,
we should investigate what assumptions are included in the relationship of language
use, social characteristics and the speaker (Gal 2005: 26). For instance, in the case of
language laws, defining something as public or official is connected to state sover-
eignty and thus to the state language monopolies, but at the same time, this category
is subject to constant political battles. As will be shown, signage of otherwise private
businesses can target not only local co-inhabitants as their target audiences and pri-
mary readers but also governmental inspectors (cf. Kallen 2009: 273–274).
I carried out fieldwork in the two villages during four weeks in November
2011. About one thousand pictures were taken and 40 interviews in Hungarian
were carried out. The interviews were audio-recorded semi-open conversations
at villagers’ homes. The planned themes for discussion were issues of language
use and included ideas about the LL. Most of the informants were Hungarians,
but in addition, a Slovak and a Roma informant (family) were interviewed in
each village. Since Hungarians are typically poorer and less educated than the
average citizens in Slovakia (Lanstyák and Szabómihály 2005: 54), I aimed to
interview the villagers without a college degree or high economic status. In both
villages, I interviewed around 15 Hungarians and their family members. In ad-
dition, I interviewed five middle-class individuals, viz. school teachers, munici-
pal officials and entrepreneurs. My objective was to follow the villagers’ life as
closely as possible to acquire a sense of how they moved through the LL. I was
lodged at a local family and I followed them to the nearby town where they run
their errands about three times a week and where the youth attended the lo-
cal high-school. Even though I was clearly a foreigner and an outsider in the
villages, the fieldwork period was enough to construct a closer picture of the
life (family history, family relations, work, education, networks, socio-economic
status, mobility, communication, and views on different language related issues)
of these families. The villagers in general sympathized with my interest in their
lives and experiences and I received several spontaneous invitations to meet peo-
ple. My knowledge of Hungarian was an important factor and somebody carry-
ing out the same research in Slovak would probably get different results.4 Besides

4 Contacts with Slovak intellectuals were established before and after the fieldwork.
There were no Slovak administrators or local political leaders in the villages. I met the
mayors of both villages, who were ethnic Hungarians similar to the administrators at
180 Petteri Laihonen

the photos and interviews, many informal conversations were documented in

fieldwork notes and various materials were gathered. To save space, informants’
accounts are abridged and translated to English by the author. To protect inform-
ant identities, only minimal personal information will be provided.
A general picture of the LL in the two villages will be presented first through
statistics. I counted and documented all the signs in the public space. Signs inside
institutions or houses, as well as inscriptions on gravestones were not considered
public. However, for the qualitative analysis some of these signs are included. For
the quantitative analysis, I decided that the same sign would be counted only once.
A unit of quantitative analysis consisted of a text with a transparently coherent
features, texts in texts, such as graffiti, were counted as autonomous texts. For the
statistical analysis, the typical subjective elements and uncertainties remain. Hy-
brid inscriptions were at times approximated to some language, even though they
could be assigned to others as well. Nevertheless, general tendencies can be traced
with the statistical analysis, and they are deepened through the qualitative analysis.

5. General distribution of languages in the linguistic

It is obvious that census data should be dealt with caution, particularly since they often
exclude or misrepresent information on bilingualism or biculturalism. This may be
because census collection often builds on the ideology of monolingualism (see Moore,
Pietikäinen and Blommaert 2010). However, census data can still provide general in-
formation on affiliations, and can be considered relatively reliable in the case of Slovak
and Hungarian.5 Table 1 shows the results for first languages from the 2011 Census.

Table 1: First languages in the 2011 census data (portal.statistics.sk)

First language Reca – Réte Trhová Hradská – Vásárút

Hungarian 39% 92%
Slovak 57% 5%
Other 4% 3%
Total number of inhabitants 1378 2160

the public offices. My attempts to visit the Slovak school and Kindergarten in Reca
failed; however while in Vásárút, I succeeded in interviewing a teacher employed at a
near-by Slovak school.
5 I.e. the data are reliable at least in comparison with the Roma in the villages. In the
interviews with the Roma, the census categories seemed irrelevant; their numbers in
the censuses are often contested.
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 181

A quantitative overview of the linguistic landscapes based on language choice

in the public space is provided in Table  2. The difference between the ethnic
compositions is clearly reflected in their linguistic landscapes. Moreover, as the
percentage of Slovak only signs exceeds that of the percentage of Slovak first
language speakers in each case, we can surmise that the LLs display power rela-
tions. It should be noted that the presence of Hungarians and the percentages
of Hungarian signs in the LLs resemble the situation of Palestinians in Israel in
Ben-Rafael et al. (2006). However, Arabic is still relatively much more visible in
Israel than Hungarian is in Slovakia.
Reca, the community undergoing language shift, has an unequal presence
of Hungarian in public signs relative to the population. The census data in Ta-
ble 1 show that 39 per cent have Hungarian as their first language, while only
24 per cent of the signs include Hungarian. In contrast, speakers of Slovak as
the first language comprise 57 per cent of the inhabitants but 70 per cent of
signs are in Slovak only. In the case of Vásárút it is even more obvious that the
numbers indicate different statuses of the languages. The census data indicate
that Vásárút has 5 per cent of speakers of Slovak as their first language and 43
per cent of the signs are in Slovak only. In contrast, while 92 per cent of the
inhabitants are speakers of Hungarian as their first language, and only 45 per
cent of the signs contain Hungarian elements. Monolingualism in general is
frequent in the LL, but bilingualism characterizes only one-third of the signs
even in Vásárút.

Table 2: Use of languages in public signs (the percentages are rounded to zero decimals; the
figures in parentheses show actual observations)

Language(s) Reca-Réte Trhová Hradská-Vásárút

Slovak 70% (76) 43% (130)
Slovak-Hungarian 16% (17) 27% (82)
Hungarian 8% (9) 16% (50)
Slovak-English 5% (5) 3% (8)
English - 5% (14)
Others 1% (1) 7% (20)
Total 100% (108) 100% (304)
Slovak included 91% (98) 74% (224)
Hungarian included 24% (26) 45% (136)
182 Petteri Laihonen

To examine the relationship between reported first languages and the choices on
signs in the LL in more depth, I will next examine language choice across vari-
ous categories of signs. I have categorized signs primarily on the basis of (a) the
space in which they occur, (b) the agency displayed through it (who might have
posted/ordered it), and (c) on their contents and forms. I provide a quantita-
tive summary followed with a qualitative analysis that focuses on local language
ideologies. The signs have been grouped into seven categories ranging from top
(international signs) to bottom (private signs). This order indicates a continuum
from Slovak to bilingual and to Hungarian signs.
As for signs with an international dimension, Table  3 shows that Reca has
hardly any signs in which English is used. The three Slovak signs in Vásárút are
EU billboards and advertisements indicating EU funded projects. This ‘Slovak
only policy’ in the EU-related signs (see Figure  2) is striking, since for other
types of signs all these institutions had bilingual inscriptions, or in the case of the
school in Vásárut, there were more monolingual Hungarian than Slovak signs in
its inner spaces. The community leaders told me that they had received explicit
orders “from the ministry” on what kind of EU-related signs should be placed
and where, and not following these rules would be a risk during the inspec-
tions.6 A consequence of the signs for the Hungarian language use is that the
expressions in these signs are spread in Slovak. As one (well-educated) inform-
ant stated, she does not think there is a Hungarian expression for fond (‘fund’, see
Figure 2), although there is Hungarian alap.

Table 3: Signs with an international dimension (1.2% of all signs)

Language(s) Reca-Réte Trhová Hradská-Vásárút

Slovak - 3
Slovak-English 1 -
Slovak-Hungarian - 1

6 Inspections, which also pay attention to language issues, were frequently referred to
at schools, by entrepreneurs and by local council employees. My interviewees men-
tioned that inspectors come from the ministries in Bratislava or from the regional
governmental offices in near-by towns. Further investigation into the issue of inspec-
tions was out of the scope of this study.
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 183

Figure 2: EU sign in Vásárút (Slovak only)

The bulk of the category understood as official by the local people consists of
signs produced and controlled by state offices, ministries or (formerly) state-
owned companies (see Table 4).
There are no differences between the villages in this category. The signs in
this category are road signs, and the names of neighboring villages and cities
are displayed in Slovak only (see Figure 3). The informants did not consider the
bilingual road signs important for them. A typical account is illustrated in the
following quote: “Well, for understanding the signs there is no problem, every-
body knows the Slovak place names here, but perhaps we could feel a bit better if
there would be bilingual signs.” However, there exists a grass-root civil campaign
towards bilingualism which has gained some attention in the villages, and the
quick removal of the bilingual road sign in the nearby Dunaszerdahely in 2011
was cited as an example of the hostility of the Slovak officials towards the Hun-
garian language. A local Slovak couple did not see the case this way, and they
thought that road signs and maps should be in the official language of the state
only, since monolingualism, according to them, was the international norm.

Table 4: State signs (14% of all signs)

Language(s) Reca-Réte Trhová Hradská-Vásárút

Slovak 16 40
Slovak-English 1 1
184 Petteri Laihonen

In line with road signs, everything connected to transportation or communica-

tion is in Slovak only, thus implying that all contacts outside the village should be
monolingual in Slovak. In addition, Hungarian place names are very infrequent-
ly used outside their own settlements, and official maps never display them. It is
noteworthy that even the maps in Hungarian schoolbooks produced in Slovakia
had no Hungarian place names. Apart from road signs (as seen in Figure 3), also
all other traffic signs on bus stops or in train stations are displayed in Slovak only.
The post office has signs invariably in Slovak only, and the Slovak Post rep-
resents monolingualism in its visual image. Signs in Hungarian are forbidden
in its company language policy (although there are occasional signs in English).
According to a local post official, if over 50 per cent of the staff is Hungarian,
they are allowed to use Hungarian in spoken communication. My experience
from the post office was that both Hungarian and Slovak were used in spoken
interaction in Reca, but I witnessed only Hungarian use in Vásárút. Some Hun-
garian newspapers and bilingual postcards are sold in the post office in Reca, but
in Vásárút, however, the post has greeting cards in Slovak, and thus villagers buy
them at a private newsstand which only sells Hungarian cards.
An important subcategory consists of a range of warning signs and notices.
Local Hungarians often commented that such signs should be in Slovak, since they
are official, however, in fact, according to the law (see Third Report…2012: 54–55),
signs on the threat to life and health should be bilingual in minority settlements.

Figure 3: A road sign in Slovak only in Vásárút

In the realm of municipalities bilingualism is dominant in both villages (see Table 5).

It is noteworthy that the transition in 1990 resulted in some autonomy in the munici-
palities, but it also led to the so-called sign wars (Kontra 1996) when the municipalities
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 185

with over 20 per cent minority share received the right to have bilingual place signs.
Even though some people mentioned that the Hungarian settlement-limit signs have
been demolished a few times by nationalist Slovak youngsters, most people consid-
ered that bilingualism in municipality signage has been well established and gener-
ally accepted. Bilingual signs placed by the municipality have the Slovak version in
the dominant position, i.e. placed before or above the Hungarian text.

Table 5: Signs placed by the municipality (16.7% of all signs)

Language(s) Reca-Réte Trhová Hradská-Vásárút

Slovak 6 9
Slovak-Hungarian 14 26
Hungarian - 5
Others - 9

Spoken communication in the municipalities differs between Reca and Vásárút.

Hungarian is the default language in Vásárút, whereas in Reca the newly elected
mayor stated that “9 out of 10 want to use Slovak when they come to the office,
so what can you do?” In the interviews the municipal leaders in both villages
emphasized that they support bilingualism. However, they lacked the resources
for producing materials in two languages: “I just don’t have the time to translate
everything”. Both leaders considered other issues as higher priority than using
Hungarian in signs (cf. Mrva and Szilvássy 2011: 56–57).
What are the monolingual signs placed by the municipality then? In Reca
these include texts on the trash cans for instance, and a sign on the Slovak kin-
dergarten (see Figure 4). It is noticeable that the signs for Hungarian schools or
kindergartens always include a Slovak explanation that the school uses Hungar-
ian as the medium of instruction. That is, they present the marked case against
the unmarked ones of monolingually labeled Slovak institutions.

Figure 4: Slovak Kindergarten in Reca (left) and a Hungarian school in Vásárút (right)
186 Petteri Laihonen

In Vásárút, the coat of arms on the mayor’s car bears only the Slovak name of the
village. In mayor’s own words this is because “I didn’t order the Hungarian name
because I move around a lot, I go often to Bratislava, too. I don’t want any trou-
ble.” In the inner spaces of the two municipality halls both monolingual and bi-
lingual coats of arms were on display in different places. A bilingual version was
used on the trash cans in Vásárút. The homepage of Vásárút (www.vasarut.sk),
which has Hungarian as its default language, displays the coat of arms with the
Slovak name of the village. It was, however, changed to Hungarian in December
2011, possibly as a consequence of my field work: I asked for the rationale of us-
ing the Slovak place name on a Hungarian homepage, and the answer was: “Well,
we didn’t even notice it, the homepage design was ordered from a programmer
who did it for several villages around here. Perhaps we should mend that in the
next update.”
The Hungarian signs in the municipal institutions in Vásárút included feltá-
madunk “we will be resurrected” above the gate of the municipal cemetery, the
timetable on the school door, and an advertisement for a cultural event. In gen-
eral, the cultural life in both villages is conducted predominantly in Hungarian.
However, in Reca, the Slovak school and kindergarten contribute with Slovak
cultural programs at different festivities in the village.
Commercial signs are central to the general LL of the villages. They make up
about half of the signs and show considerable differences between the two loca-
tions (see Table 6).

Table 6: Commercial signs (48.7% of all signs)

Language(s) Reca-Réte Trhová Hradská-Vásárút

Slovak 43 58
Slovak-Hungarian 1 52
Hungarian 1 17
Slovak-English 2 7
English - 11
Italian - 4
Others - 4
Total 47 153

The commercial signs in Reca were almost solely in Slovak. The informants
­recalled that there were bilingual signs at the grocery store, but that they were re-
moved during the last rejuvenation of the village. The local entrepreneurs did not
consider it important to use Hungarian in writing. What is more, a Hungarian
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 187

owner of a repair shop stated that he would never place bilingual signs or signs
in Hungarian at his business, because “we have reached that level that all Hun-
garians understand Slovak texts, we do not bother ourselves with such issues,
business is all that counts.”
The commercial signs in Vásárút show more diversity. Yet it is striking that a
slight majority of these signs are in Slovak only. What makes a Hungarian shop-
keeper in an overwhelmingly Hungarian village produce texts only in Slovak?
Business owners often stated that inspectors requested signs in Slovak. One ac-
count was that “I had no sign, and the inspectors were coming, so I asked Niki7
to make me signs quickly, no matter how they look. Next time I will make them
bilingual”. The shopkeeper further reported receiving remarks that he was set-
ting a bad example by not using Hungarian on his signs.
The high number of bilingual commercial signs distinguishes Vásárút from
Reca. In Vásárút, there seems to be a constant shifting between Slovak only and
bilingual signs. According to the informants, certain firms that use bilingual sig-
nage now had Slovak monolingual signs in the past; others have turned from bi-
lingual advertising to monolingual Slovak ones. There was also the widely-cited
example of how remarks on monolingual signage have made an entrepreneur
produce bilingual texts. Among the business owners, it was considered that the
law requested signs in Slovak. However, the local norm was to display informa-
tion in Hungarian, too.
In the bilingual signs the Slovak text is typically placed before (to the left) or
above the Hungarian and occasionally also in larger font. In Scollon and Scol-
lon’s (2003: 119–120) terms, Slovak then is the preferred code and Hungarian the
peripheral. In the commercial bilingual signs in Vásárút, however, the Hungar-
ian text can appear as the preferred element in the sign. This is the case for 19
per cent (10/52) of Slovak-Hungarian bilingual signs. For instance, in Figure 5,
the phrase for opening hours is in Hungarian above and before the Slovak. This
can be seen as contesting the dominant ideology of putting the Slovak in the
preferred position in bilingual signs, often referred to by the informants as a
general principle of the language laws. However, according to the language laws,
“no sequence of texts is determined” (Third Report…2012: 54) for commercial
signs in minority settlements.

7 The names are pseudonyms.

188 Petteri Laihonen

Figure 5: Hungarian as the preferred code in Vásárút

The name of the owner is displayed in many commercial signs. At times, Hun-
garian names (and the Hungarian order of last name followed with the first
name) are used. However, most female owners have kept the Slovak -ová suffix
(female names without it were allowed in 1994, see Lanstyák and Szabómihály
2005: 58). A Hungarian cultural activist stated that she would have dropped the
suffix if she had not been a business owner. According to her, she did not want to
take the risk of being subjected to too many inspections for this kind of display
of Hungarian-ness. Business names are most often international expressions in
some Indo-European orthography (e.g. Ferrofruct, Judi Bar), Slovak names are
used rarely (e.g. Jednota). There were two cases of Hungarian business name use
in bilingual signs in Vásárút. In the first one, the Hungarian orthography is used
(Korona ‘Crown’ for a pub), in the other the name has been translated to Slovak:
Patkó – Potkova [sic!] (‘horseshoe’ for a restaurant).
What are the 17 commercial signs in Hungarian in Vásárút? Some of them are
ad hoc signs which inform of the meals of the day on a chalkboard in a local inn
(pénteken őzpörkölt, English: Friday: Venison paprika stew). Permanent signs are
posted by individuals selling something or offering services. In these rare cases, all the
names are in Hungarian as opposed to the place names which are always in Slovak.
The use of languages other than Slovak and Hungarian in the commercial
sector seems to be modest when compared with the wider European context
(see e.g. Edelman 2009, Hult 2009). There are two kinds of bilingual signs, a
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 189

typical translation and the other one a hybrid sign. There are two Slovak-English
hybrid signs in Reca. One of them is a Horse Show, where the program is both in
English and in Slovak. In Vásárút, the use of English is apparent in names (e.g.
AD-SHOP) and in product advertising (e.g. wenice® KIDS FASHION). Slovak-
English bilingual signs include the monitor of a money teller, which has “please
insert your card” in Slovak and English.
The use of Italian names takes place in a local café (see Figure 6). The owner
explained that the Caffé del Moro sign had come together with all kinds of other
supplementary products, such as sugar and glasses. Sugar packages had texts in
Italian and German. The café in general had Slovak-Hungarian bilingual signs.
The use of English and Italian names or internationalisms for shops and cafés
in the Hungarian majority region of Slovakia is explained by Lanstyák and Sza-
bómihály (2009: 67) as a strategy to avoid translating the names to either Slovak
or Hungarian. In small rural villages such as Vásárút, customers are primarily
Hungarians, so using a Slovak name would be a marked choice, and a mono-
lingual Hungarian name could likewise be considered as taking an overtly pro-
Hungarian standpoint which is often deemed as provocative and avoided by the
entrepreneurs. Thus, the use of English or Italian is a way to escape this problem.
In Reca the names of companies are mostly in Slovak. That is, Slovak names are
the unmarked choice. Here the internationalisms can be seen as barely attracting
more attention by displaying a West-European orientation (as one informant in
Reca put it “there was a time when western products were all we longed for”).
Figure 6: Dolce Vita and Caffè del Moro in Vásárút
190 Petteri Laihonen

A linguistic characteristic of Hungarian in Slovakia is the adoption of product

names from Slovak. Lanstyák and Szabómihály (2005: 68, 71) define transparent
loan words as “imported” borrowings. Such expressions as horcsica for mustard
(Standard Hungarian mustár), párki for sausage (Standard Hungarian virsli) and
zsuvi for chewing gum (Standard Hungarian rágó) are widely used in the villages.
They were first introduced in Slovak in the villages (Lanstyák 2000: 155) and the
way that they have become a permanent part of the local variety of Hungarian
is further explained by the fact that they are still mostly sold in packages that do
not contain Hungarian inscriptions. However in the local café, žuvačka (zsuvi
‘chewing gum’) was translated to rágógumi which is very rare. It is noteworthy
that in Figure 7, Hungarian is above the Slovak, which was the only case in the
café. In brief, the display of the Standard Hungarian rágógumi alongside the em-
blematic žuvačka is definitely a marked event.

Figure 7: ‘Chewing gum’ in Vásárút with Hungarian above and Slovak below

To sum up, commercial signs are most often in Slovak only, especially in Reca,
whereas a considerable number of commercial inscriptions in Vásárút are
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 191

bilingual and in special cases monolingual Hungarian. It seems to be important

to use Hungarian but at the same to avoid overt displays of Hungarian-ness in
the latter. To some extent, this complex ideology can be seen behind the prefer-
ence of naming bars, cafes and shops in English and in Italian.
As for religious signs, religious life was conducted primarily in Hungar-
ian in both the locations. Reca has a Reformed and a Catholic Church where
the services in Slovak are held every second Saturday, but otherwise they are
in Hungarian. The Reformed Church has services in Hungarian only, however
an Evangelical congregation uses the premises every second week for a service
in Slovak. In Vásárút, there is only a Catholic Church, which holds its services
in Hungarian.

Table 7: Signs connected to the churches and religion (2.9% of all signs)

Language Reca-Réte Trhová Hradská-Vásárút

Hungarian 4 6
Latin 1 1

The church is an important autonomous institution where a non-vernacular

version of the Hungarian language is used (Table 7). However, church signs are
primarily confined to inner spaces. The public religious signs typically consist
of statues of the saints. The texts are in Hungarian or Latin. In Vásárút, a statue
with the year 1756 has a text in Latin, but a woodcarving next to the Reca Cath-
olic Church from 2006 has the text Stephanus Rex. According to the local in-
formants, the name of the first Hungarian King (H: I. Szent István, 1000–1038)
was carved in Latin as a precaution, to avoid conflict. As shown in Figure  8,
one finds a statue of Saint Wendelin with no text in Vásárút. According to sev-
eral informants it was left blank intentionally, since “this madness [of compul-
sory Slovak inscriptions] will not last forever, and we have eternity to wait”.
The churches thus represent the only public sites which present a Hungarian
LL. In church exteriors, Latin is used for avoiding trouble or inscriptions are
192 Petteri Laihonen

Figure 8: Saint Wendelin in Vásárút, with no text

Table 8: Public signs placed by civic organizations (1.5% of all signs)

Language(s) Reca-Réte Trhová Hradská-Vásárút

Slovak 1 -
Slovak-Hungarian 1 -
Hungarian 2 2

Among civic organizations, the cultural association for Hungarians in Slovakia,

Csemadok, is active in both villages and arranges symbolically significant events
and displays signs in which Hungarian is often used (see Table 8). It has erected
a kopjafa, a wooden monument with the word rendületlenül carved on it in Reca.
Rendületlenül (‘steadfastly’) is the emblematic word of the second Hungarian na-
tional anthem (Szózat). In Vásárút, Csemadok, together with other Hungarian
organizations and the municipality, has erected a statue of Lajos Kossuth, a mid-
19th century freedom fighter and the father of Hungarian democracy (Figure 9).
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 193

This monolingual statue was presented as a major achievement by the commu-

nity leaders, since it was “done in the worst Mečiar years” (1994).

Figure 9: A statue of Lajos Kossuth in Vásárút (Hungarian only)

Signs posted by private individuals mainly consist of self-made posters and ad-
vertisements or writings/graffiti. There are also stickers that have been manu-
factured industrially, but which have been stuck or nailed to visible places of
peoples’ homes. The most typical public signs placed by private persons could
be found both in self-made and manufactured versions. There are few bilingual
signs placed by private persons (see Table 9). One reason for their scarcity is that
manufactured bilingual signs are not available.

Table 9: Public signs placed by private individuals (13.8% of all signs)

Language(s) Reca-Réte Trhová Hradská-Vásárút

Slovak 10 17
Slovak-Hungarian 1 3
Hungarian 2 20
Others - 4

Among the private signs in Reca, mostly in Slovak, there is a poster for a lost
dog, a graffiti, and a beware-of-dog sign, which is only available in Slovak, in four
different manufactured forms. In addition, there are mailboxes with Pošta above
194 Petteri Laihonen

and Noviny (English newspaper) below. These mailboxes are sold at the post of-
fice which has them only in Slovak. The two Hungarian public signs placed by
private individuals include Réte painted on a trash can and a private Hungarian
war memorial (1914–1918, 1941–1945) in the cemetery. It was judged to be a
private because it was erected by a private person.
The numbers in Table  9 show a mild dominance of Hungarian in Vásárút.
However, several of the Hungarian sign types appear only once, whereas for in-
stance the most frequent Slovak signs can be found on nearly every street. Fur-
thermore, some Hungarian signs are self-made, such as the one in Figure  10.
There is also a case of transforming a Slovak product into Hungarian: the owner
of a Hungarian mailbox stated that “I first erased the Noviny and then scratched
off the caron from š, turning it to Hungarian posta.” This is an example of some
of the resistance that exists to the monolingual norms of Slovakia.

Figure 10: “Newspapers” in Hungarian in Vásárút

6. Conclusions
This article has illustrated that the numerical majority of Hungarians in the
South-Western parts of Slovakia is barely displayed in the LL. These results
Linguistic landscapes of a minoritized regional majority 195

may be compared with the results in Del Negro’s (2009) observations of Ger-
man speakers in the autonomous South-Tirol or with the Palestinians in Is-
rael (Ben-Rafael et al. 2006). The majority fears that signs would be provided
only in Hungarian in public space proved highly overrated. For my Hun-
garian informants, the main objective was to “avoid problems” and not to
“provoke” with a markedly pro-Hungarian stand by insisting on Hungarian
inscriptions. Even for activists, linguistic rights in education were considered
more important than signs, and according to local ideologies, the LL is not
the primary indicator of ethnolinguistic vitality; rather it is the Hungarian
My article has combined the quantitative and qualitative methods. The quan-
titative and descriptive lines of LL investigation are meeting their limits (see e.g.
Blommaert 2013: 2–3). However, together with qualitative analysis and the eth-
nographic approach, they were valuable in this study since the Hungarian region
in Southern Slovakia presents a highly disputed case of which languages are on
display. Further, and most importantly, it has been the target of varying claims
whether it contains a high number of minority language signs. That is, follow-
ing Blommaert (2013: 2–3), the quantitative account is a good first step to see
what languages are present in the LL and to what extent. This first step should
be followed by an interpretive analysis of the “stories about the cultural, histori-
cal, political and social backgrounds of a certain space” (2013: 41). Undoubtedly,
such analyses should form the majority of LL studies on Southern Slovakia in
the future.
The quantitative analysis has illuminated a Slovak dominant LL with nests of
bilingual, Hungarian and other signage in Hungarian villages in South-West Slo-
vakia. The notion of language ideologies enabled a qualitative study of the ideas
that are circulated among the local inhabitants, explaining the construction and
development of the LL. The dominant ideology reflected in the language laws
is that Slovak, as the only official language, should take precedence over other
languages in the LL, and that the use of a minority language in public space is a
potential offence to state sovereignty. Resistance to this ideology is present but
rare among the informants. The local Hungarians connected the use of Hun-
garian inscriptions at times to a display of Hungarian nationalism, which was
to be avoided. This ideology, together with memories of collective punishment,
explains why speakers of Hungarian display an ambivalent view to Hungarian
signage in South-West Slovakia. Finally, language ideologies explain why Hun-
garian villagers in Slovakia, at times representing an overwhelming local major-
ity, do not demand or produce bilingual or Hungarian signs even to the extent
that the language laws would allow.
196 Petteri Laihonen

Application of the Charter in the Slovak Republic, 2nd monitoring cycle. 2009.
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Sebastian Muth, University of Greifswald/University of Fribourg

‘Ruralscapes’ in post-Soviet Transnistria:

Ideology and language use on the fringes
of a contested space

1.  History, identity and language in a borderland

This article presents a qualitative survey of linguistic landscapes of rural Transn-
istria. Before discussing the implications and possible motivations for this sur-
vey, a few remarks on the peculiar history and the status of this territory are
necessary in order to understand why and how Transnistria is currently under-
stood as an ethnically and politically contested space. This self-declared republic
is an internationally unrecognized political entity that is usually not in the focus
of applied linguistic research. It is a product of the breakup of the Soviet Union in
the late 1980s and early 1990s, when new nation states and de facto independent
territorial entities emerged from the area of the former USSR. Officially called
Приднестровская Молдавская Республика in Russian or ‘Pridnestrovian Mol-
davian Republic’ in English, it once was part of the former Soviet Republic of
Moldova, which gained independence in 1991. Located between the historical
Romanian region of Bessarabia and the Republic of Ukraine, Transnistria has
long been a multi-ethnic and multilingual borderland in the focus of both Rus-
sian and Romanian aspirations and can be considered a borderland where “Lat-
inity and Slavdom” meet. It has a size of 4,118 square kilometers and since its
width varies between three and thirty kilometers, it is rather a “strip of land”
than a country (King 2000: 178–180). Map in Figure 1 below illustrates the rath-
er oddly shaped territory.
The roots of the conflict can be traced back to the formation of the USSR
and the establishment of the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic
(MASSR) in 1924 that incorporated present-day Transnistria as well as parts of
western Ukraine (Roper 2004: 104). Bessarabia on the right bank of the Dniester
River developed into an integral part of the Romanian empire until the onset
of World War II. After the war the Soviet Republic of Moldova was formed to
include both Bessarabia and the Transnistrian parts of the MASSR. In the follow-
ing years, skilled workers from Russia, Ukraine and other Soviet Republics mi-
grated to Moldova and Transnistria. In 1989 approximately 550,000 speakers of
Russian lived throughout the region left and right of the Dniester River (Nygren
200 Sebastian Muth

2008: 82; Roper 2004: 105). Already soon after the WWII, Russian became the
language of wider communication, and, as in many parts of the former USSR,
this development resulted in an asymmetrical bilingualism where speakers of
Russian and Russophone Ukrainians only used Russian while Romanian speak-
ers were required to accommodate themselves towards the lingua franca of the
former Soviet Union.

Figure 1: Location of Transnistria between Ukraine and its unrecognized border

with Moldova (scale 1:750.000).1

Romanian spoken in former Bessarabia was changed to the Cyrillic script, and
Soviet scholars highlighted the linguistic differences between Romanian and
the dialect of Moldovan (Rom. Moldovenesc), deliberately trying to fabricate a

1 Cartographic material was obtained by using OpenStreetMap (www.openstreetmap.org).

Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 201

distinct Moldovan language and a distinct Moldovan cultural identity as well

(Pavlenko 2008b: 280, Roper 2004: 105). In that respect, the issue of Roma-
nian in Transnistria is a decisive element that creates additional political ten-
sions between Transnistria and Moldova. While we can regard Moldovan as a
dialect of Romanian rather than a language in its own right (cf. Sebba 2007),
policymakers in Soviet Moldova envisioned it to develop into a prime marker
of a distinctively Moldovan cultural and ethnic identity. Along with the disin-
tegration of the USSR, a growing national consciousness and initial but short-
lived aspirations of joining a ‘Greater Romania’, Moldova reintroduced the Latin
script, while the dialect in Transnistria continues to be used in Cyrillic alone.
In both Moldova and Transnistria, the Romanian language or its variety, Mol-
dovan, continue to function as distinct identity markers. While many speakers
regard the Moldovan dialect as a non-prestigious basilect (cf. Ciscel 2007), it is
officially referred to as Romanian in Moldova by pro-Romanian political action
groups such as ‘Bassarabia Pamant Romanesc’ (‘Bessarabia is Romanian soil’),
once again highlighting cultural bonds with neighboring Romania and in the
same time promoted as a tool to exclude local speakers of Russian. In Transnis-
tria on the other hand it largely functions as a symbolic part of the multifaceted
local identity-puzzle.
Within Soviet Moldova, Transnistria enjoyed a special status, as it had “been
through the phase of collectivization already before World War II”, and its politi-
cal elite was perceived as being more loyal than the one in Bessarabia (King 2000:
183). In fact, until 1989 no first secretary of the Communist Party of Moldova
came from Bessarabia, and the political and industrial power base was at least
partly concentrated in the Transnistrian capital Tiraspol rather than Chișinău,
the political and cultural center of Moldova (King 2000: 183). When the inde-
pendence movement in Moldova emerged in the late 1980s, tensions ran high
on the left bank of the Dniester as the local political elite feared the loss of their
influence. Moldovan nationalists campaigned to abandon the Cyrillic script in
Romanian and advocated for closer ties with Romania. In the final years of the
Soviet Union many started to view Moldova as a nation belonging to the Ro-
mance cultural sphere again. Because of its large share of Russian- and Ukrain-
ian-speakers, local political elites in Transnistria were able to use these fears of
Romanization and rallied the population against their Bessarabian neighbors.
The outcome was a destructive civil war that reached its peak in 1992 with over
1,000 dead or wounded, 130,000 internally displaced persons and the effective
partition of Moldova (King 2000: 178). Transnistrian forces were supported by
units of the Russian army stationed in the region, and, later on, the Russian Fed-
eration became a staunch advocate of Transnistrian self-determination.
202 Sebastian Muth

Today the main reason for the continuing existence of the territory as a de facto
independent political entity lies in ongoing efforts of the Russian Federation to
remain politically and culturally present in the region and to ensure that it has the
ability to influence the Republic of Moldova politically. It considers the region not
to be foreign, but “near abroad”, applying the same patterns of geopolitical influ-
ences it uses in other disputed regions of the former USSR (Popescu and Wilson
2009: 41–43). These patterns include decisive efforts to russify the population by
issuing Russian passports and promoting the language through cultural institu-
tions like Фонд Русский Mир, the Russian World Foundation, which is very active
in the region. Out of 530,000 inhabitants, around 80,000 to 100,000 hold Russian
passports (Popesco and Wilson 2009: 42). Subsequently, the construction of a dis-
tinct Transnistrian political and cultural identity relies on the ethnic Russian and
Ukrainian population, and the language they speak is the foremost expression
of separateness from Moldovan identity and culture. Furthermore, much like in
other parts of the former Soviet Union where a clear understanding of a political
and cultural identity is yet to emerge, Transnistrian political elites rely on historic
figures such as Russian field marshal Aleksandr Vassiljevitš Suvorov (1729–1800)
to create a sense of national belonging and identity (King 2010: 119–120), a com-
mon phenomenon especially in contexts where national identity is a mere blank
space that needs to be ‘filled’ to create a sense of cultural belonging and to enhance
national cohesion. According to King (2010: 120), the neighboring Moldova re-
verts back to ancient times and celebrates King Ştefan cel Mare, Southern Ossetia
praises its most prominent literary figure Kosta Getogurov, Tajikistan employs
Amir Ismail Samani and Kyrgyzstan refers back to epic figures such as Manas.
The demographic makeup of the population consists of roughly equal shares of
ethnic Russians, Moldovans and Ukrainians. Russian, Romanian in Cyrillic script
and Ukrainian are the official languages. Nevertheless, Russian is the language of
wider communication throughout the territory and is essential in work life, higher
education, and the media. Although all Transnistrian regimes symbolically highlight
the multilingual status of the territory, Moldovan elites often point out that Roma-
nian is suppressed, and schools using Latin script in teaching face obstacles and are
even frequently shut down (Dura 2010: 20, Nygren 2008: 95, Roper 2005). Ukrain-
ian on the other hand is confined to the status of a home language, and in urban
contexts most Ukrainians have been Russophone for generations (cf. Ciscel 2007).

2.  Linguistic landscapes in the post-Soviet sphere

Certainly there is truth in the statement that the formation and construction of
particular identities in linguistic landscapes cannot be separated from political
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 203

issues. This fact has been addressed in surveys in Ukraine (Pavlenko 2009,
2010) and in various Eastern European countries (Brown 2006; Sloboda 2009)
where language use in public spaces is often highly contested and bears a clear
political dimension. In many parts of the former USSR, “derussification” and
“de-sovietization” (Pavlenko 2008b: 282) are common phenomena that attract
scholarly attention. Various sociolinguistic phenomena, language shift and the
removal of the former lingua franca (Russian) from the public sphere, are reali-
ties in many post-Soviet societies. In most cases, scholars observe a relationship
between language use and the construction of new national political and cul-
tural identities that favor former titular languages that are seen as useful tools
in the search for new national identities. A number of surveys of the linguistic
landscapes and on language policy in post-Soviet settings have been carried out
recently, mainly focusing on the status of Russian as a new minority language
in Estonia (Rannut 2008), Latvia (Pavlenko 2011), Lithuania (Muth 2012), Mol-
dova (Muth and Wolf 2010; Muth 2012), Ukraine (Bilaniuk and Melnyk 2008;
Pavlenko 2012) and, to a certain extent, Kazakhstan (Smagulova 2008). Political
implications of language use have also been studied in Belarus (Brown 2006;
Sloboda 2009).
Keeping this in mind, the tremendous political, demographic and economic
changes that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union provide an ideal setting
where linguistic landscape research as a sociolinguistic paradigm can establish
a relation between societal dynamics and language as a cultural expression (cf.
Coupland 2010). As Pavlenko (2009: 253) notes:

Post-Soviet countries offer a fruitful context for diachronic study of linguistic land-
scapes because, in the past two decades, post-Soviet symbolic landscapes have under-
gone drastic changes reflecting both nation-building efforts and transition to the new
capitalist and global economies.

This notion of linguistic landscapes includes officially sanctioned language use

that is expressed on signage made by governing authorities, other public bodies
or that is a result of prescriptive norms influencing sign-makers in their choices.
It also encompasses signs that are expressions of the transition towards capi-
talist, market-driven economies, a factor that is most striking if viewed from a
diachronic perspective in the post-Soviet sphere. Nevertheless, what is crucial
for our linguistic landscapes observations is the reflection of nation-building ef-
forts and nationalist’ ideologies that form a decisive part of the identity construc-
tion of many post-Soviet societies. The importance of publicly visible signage as
part of an ideological construction of the public sphere is exemplified by Slo-
boda (2009: 175) who claims that “ideology is more controllable in [linguistic
204 Sebastian Muth

landscapes] than in the spoken word” and concludes that “ideology […] trans-
forms, recognizes and recruits individuals as its subjects”.
While his argument is based on observations in Belarus, the Czech Repub-
lic and Slovakia, the significance of linguistic landscapes as part of the material
world also applies to Transnistria. Certainly this neither applies to all signage nor
does it imply that most signs found connect to nation-building efforts; yet signs
often tell about the metacultural functioning of language and are expressions of
nationalist’ ideologies. In that respect, Sloboda (2009: 181–185) identifies five
different “phenomena” that exemplify this connection. These include (a) large
ideological and commercial signs, (b) street name signs, (c) place-name road
signs, (d) cautionary and other regulatory notices, and (e) graffiti and politi-
cal advertising. While his list is not exhaustive, Sloboda’s distinction provides a
methodological foundation that captures the link between linguistic landscapes
and the broader ideological context. Moreover, it provides an interesting inter-
pretation of the aspect of authorship ‘from above’ that is based on both types of
signs and their contents in relation to the ideological forces that create them.
While some scholars observe a tendency that the status of Russian as a lan-
guage of wider communication in the area is institutionally challenged (Pavlen-
ko 2011), the linguistic landscapes of both Moldova and Transnistria provide a
slightly different picture. Unlike in countries such as Latvia or Lithuania, Russian
retains its prominent status as a second language in the public sphere in Moldova
(Dumbrava 2003, 2004; King 2000; Roper 2005). This is closely linked to politi-
cal instability, economic decline and the lack of national and political identity
(Ciscel 2007, 2008). The economic outlook in Transnistria is equally grim and
like in Moldova, many inhabitants emigrate to Russia, Western Europe or North
America. Nevertheless, for the last two decades Transnistrian political elites have
been active in promoting a genuinely local political and cultural identity that is
founded on two decisive aspects. On the one hand, it is rooted in the institutional
and cultural nostalgia that connects governmental policies with the region’s So-
viet past, a time perceived to be economically and socially stable. On the other
hand, the peculiar geopolitical position of the territory between “Latinity and
Slavdom” (King 2000: 178) results in the promotion of Russian culture as a prime
marker of a genuinely Transnistrian national identity. In both aspects the Rus-
sian language is the common denominator, as it serves as a symbol of the Soviet
past and of a renewed allegiance with Russia that once again guarantees continu-
ity and political stability.
With respect to linguistic landscape research, Transnistria represents a test
bed where the analysis of publicly visible displays of written language could
show if the general tendencies of language shift and the removal of Russian in
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 205

the post-Soviet linguistic landscape are reversed in Transnistria. Furthermore,

it contributes to our understanding of the relationship between language in the
public sphere and the construction of political and cultural identity in contested
spaces. But before embarking on observing the ruralscapes of Transnistria, one
needs to specify a set of key terms.

3.  Ruralscape vs. cityscape

The notion of ruralscape, as opposed to the commonly used term cityscape,
originates in photography. M.  Michelle Illuminato, an American scholar and
artist, defines “Ruralscape as an investigation into ruralness” (ruralscape.tum-
blr. 2011) by observing the changing patterns of live in rural communities in
upstate New York with the help of photography.2 In other contexts the notion
of ruralscape is not part of academic discourse in linguistics, although scholars
such as Dutta (2011: 7) use the term when referring to the dichotomy between
urban and rural patterns of language use within specific contexts. This rather
broad definition leaves room for interpretation, and if we apply the notion to
linguistic landscape research, a ruralscape may refer to displays of written lan-
guage in non-urban settings that reflect the particular geographic location and
socio-demographic reality of the area. Usually, signs displayed in villages and
provincial towns differ in both form and function from those found in cities and
while most surveys of linguistic landscapes have scrutinized publicly visible texts
in urban agglomerations of considerable size (Backhaus 2007; Huebner 2006;
McCormick and Agnihotri 2009; Pavlenko 2009, 2012) only a limited number of
studies focused on rural settings, among them Dal Negro (2009) in her survey
on the representation of German in Southern Tyrol. Signs in rural contexts are
aimed at a different, less socially stratified audience, and the number of different
text types and categories of written language in a ruralscape do not match those
in a city (cf. Laitinen, this volume). Furthermore, signs and texts in a rurals-
cape are usually more static and less transient in their appearance, with layers of
different commercial and ideological discourses next to each other and with a
considerable smaller impact of the forces of globalization and commodification,
at least with regard to the visibility of publicly displayed texts. Ben-Rafael et al.’s
(2006) assumption that “the linguistic landscape is not a homogenous territory”
certainly applies to ruralscapes as well, yet we might argue if within the “single

2 Her notion of ruralscape based on the observations in rural parts of New York State
in collaboration with Brett Hunter can be accessed at http://ruralscape.tumblr.com/
206 Sebastian Muth

visual field” of a rural linguistic landscape, the same “confluence of systems”

operates (Kallen 2010: 42) if compared to decidedly urban contexts. Ben-Rafael,
Shohamy and Barni (2010: xiii) note that they are:
[…] moulded by different circumstances – historical, social, political, ideological, geo-
graphic and demographic – and at the same time illustrate processes that are inherent
to their own dynamic, which, in turn, participate in the melding of the wider social and
cultural reality.

As such this does not imply that we ought to view rural linguistic landscapes
differently, but while historical and political contexts apply to rural and urban
areas, these two types of areas do not necessarily share similar social and cultural
realities. Like cities, rural areas are characterized by language contact and, within
post-Soviet contexts, often high social mobility of its inhabitants. Nevertheless,
various linguistic groups often coexist in rural areas over long periods of time,
not being influenced by demographic shifts comparable to that of urban popula-
tions. The notion of relative mobility becomes particularly salient with regard to
industrialized urban areas of the former Soviet republics which have witnessed a
considerable influx of migrants from other parts of the USSR.
Apart from those characteristics, the main differences between rural- and
cityscapes lie in diverging methodological approaches and the desired outcome
of the analysis. A quantitative or distributive approach to survey ruralscapes
hardly makes sense, as villages, small towns or even the stretch of a highway
rarely provide a considerable number of signs that could be analyzed according
to language, function or particular genre. A discursive perspective on the other
hand is a feasible way to describe and analyze language use on signs in non-ur-
ban contexts. This perspective can be further expanded by adding a contrastive
view that includes locations with different ethnic compositions or geographic
locations. While the number of signs itself is fairly limited in any ruralscape,
this does not necessarily imply less meaningful insights into patterns of lan-
guage use. Given the relatively small number of items visible, locals might be
helpful informants sharing background knowledge that outsiders cannot gain

4.  Methodological perspectives

The established methodological approach in linguistic landscape analysis fol-
lows Landry and Bourhis (1997: 25) who view advertising billboards, shop signs,
placards or any other displays of written language as manifestations of the lan-
guage situation in a designated area. Within the last decade their approach has
been followed by various scholars in numerous urban settings such as Backhaus
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 207

in Tokyo (2007), Cenoz and Gorter (2006) in Leuwaarden and San Sebastian,
Huebner in Bangkok (2006) as well as McCormick and Agnihotri in Cape Town
and Delhi (2009).
The field focusing on minority languages in cityscapes has emerged strongly
in recent years. Studies by Ben Rafael et al. (2006) in Israel or Cenoz and Gorter
(2006) in the Dutch part of Friesland and in the Basque Country have revealed
overt and covert power relations and have highlighted the connections between
language and political culture. In addition, various studies have also concen-
trated on cultural and political identities that are expressed through language
use on signs in Ireland (Kallen 2009), Israel (Trumper-Hecht 2009), and Wales
(Coupland 2010).
My analysis of rural Transnistria follows the understanding that linguistic
landscape research aims at documenting language use in bi- and multilingual
communities and providing a picture of real-life patterns of language use in the
public domain. While we cannot establish a direct link between patterns of lan-
guage use on signs and the vitality of languages in Transnistria in general, we can
nevertheless determine characteristic signs and regard them as expressions of
the “cultures that generate them” (Coupland 2010: 78–79), essentially referring
to them as cultural texts. As Scollon and Wong Scollon (2003: 2) conclude, signs
and symbols:
[…] take a major part of their meaning from how and where they are placed – at that
street corner, at that time of the history of the world. Each of them indexes a larger
discourse […]

With regard to the specific focus on ruralscapes, signs ought to reflect the spe-
cific geographic and social characteristics as well as provide insight into the var-
ious discourses characteristic of rural Transnistria. This encompasses patterns
of language use on signs, specific forms and functions of signs in peripheral
linguistic landscapes in post-Soviet contexts, but most importantly will provide
insights into the ideological construction of public space within a politically
and culturally contested area. Assuming that all texts that are visible are cultural
representations and index larger discourses (cf. Coupland 2010, Jaworski and
Thurlow 2010), this study approaches Transnistria’s ruralscape from an ethno-
graphic point of view. Within the framework of ruralscapes this also implies
rejecting a distributive approach based on numerical counts of languages as
proposed by Backhaus (2007: 62–63), mainly because of the limited number of
signs available to us.
The study itself is based on signs from institutional and commercial actors
as well as private individuals in two towns (Rybnitza and Dubossary) and three
208 Sebastian Muth

villages (Erzhovo, Saratei and Bolshoi Molokish) in central and northern Transn-
istria. Each of the settlements has a unique demographic composition, and while
they differ in size, the characteristics of their ruralscapes were largely similar in
both language use and function of signs. For each settlement the conventional
Russian and Romanian names are given as well as the size of the population
and the demographic makeup.3 Furthermore, each linguistic landscape item is
provided with a GPS-tag that allows tracing the signs by their geographical posi-
tion.4 In addition to that, local informants were asked to comment on particular
signs and on language use in their community in general. The main purpose
of the analysis is both to establish a connection between the ongoing efforts to
construct a distinctively Transnistrian political and cultural identity and to dem-
onstrate that surveying a ruralscape can provide equally meaningful results if
compared to urban linguistic landscapes.

5.  Linguistic landscapes in the small town of Rybnitza

This journey through the linguistic landscapes of rural Transnistria begins in
Rybnitza (Рыбница; Rîbnița), a town with approximately 60,000 inhabitants. It
has a decidedly non-urban feel and the center of town is characterized by low-rise
apartment blocks, wooden houses, parks and dilapidated industrial structures.
It is located on the banks of the Dniester River right opposite the Moldovan
town of Rezina. While a bridge connects the two cities, locals rarely visit the
other side of the river. The demographic makeup of Rybnitza is typical for a town
in northern Transnistria with a majority of Ukrainians (45 per cent) and equal
shares of Moldovans with 25 and Russians with 24 per cent respectively (Eremia
and Răileanu 2009: 141). Despite its demographic composition that ranks ethnic
Russians as the third largest group, Russian appears to be the dominant language
in the linguistic landscape.
Figure 2 presents a welcome sign next to a local ‘Sheriff ’ supermarket just
north of the border post that divides Rybnitza from its western twin city Rezina

3 The demographic composition of communities in Transnistria is a point that requires

additional attention, as we work with data from the 2004 Transnistrian census that
is not necessarily accurate (Eremia and Răileanu 2009). The Moldovan population
census conducted in the same year can be considered more reliable but does not cover
Transnistria. Data on the number of L1-speakers of the languages are not available in
the Transnistrian census, most likely because of political reasons.
4 These GPS-coordinates are provided for each figure in the labels.
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 209

in Moldova. It is a monolingual Russian sign to inform its readers that ‘Rybnitza

was founded in 1628’ (основана в 1628 году РЫБНИЦА).

Figure 2: Monolingual Russian sign welcoming visitors opposite to the Transnistrian-­

Moldovan border post (47.755844, 28.991972)

Although it was just a first impression about local patterns of language use on
signs, it is an archetype for the whole of rural Transnistria. The color code of
the sign is eye-catching and resembles that of the Russian flag. Although it is
not certain if the choice of white, red and blue was intended by the authors of
the welcome sign, it is placed right behind the border post and might serve as a
symbol signaling the entry into the Russian sphere.
Crossing the town on foot, one notices that billboards are not a characteristic
feature of the linguistic landscape of Rybnitza. Figure 3 illustrates one such case. It
is a novelty in downtown Rybnitza and advertises American-style hamburgers by
the Moldovan fast-food chain Andy’s Pizza that has branches throughout Moldova
and Transnistria. At the time of material collection, one of their newest restaurants
had opened on the opposite side of the road and judging by the high number of
visitors it seemed to be popular among young people and students from the near-
by branch of the State University. The advertisement uses the catchphrase БУРГЕР
18 РУБ, a transliteration of the English word ‘burger’ and the price of 18 Transnis-
trian Roubles, roughly 1.50USD at the time of research. While one does not know
whether passers-by were actually familiar with the term БУРГЕР, which is a fairly
recent addition to the Russian lexicon, all students from the nearby university I
inquired with knew the word and associated it with American culture and lifestyle.
The name of the establishment also conveys these notions of western orientation.
210 Sebastian Muth

Figure 3: Local meets ‘global’: Billboard in Russian and an English brand name on the cor-
ner of ul. Lenina and ul. Kirova in downtown Rybnitza (47.763907, 29.005877)

Towards the north along the ul. Kirova past the central market and the cultural
palace, shops give way to low-rise apartment structures and warehouses. The
main post office of Rybnitza is located in one of the apartment buildings, and
in front of it, there were two postboxes (see Figure  4). Both bore the Russian
inscription ПОЧТА (‘mail’), the red being used for national mail inside Transn-
istria and the blue one for letters and postcards to Moldova and other countries.
This peculiar situation of having two postboxes is common practice in Transnis-
tria, as the ‘Transnistrian Postal Organization’ (Почта ПМР) is not recognized
internationally and cannot issue its own stamps for instance; for international
mail, Moldovan stamps have to be used and letters have to be placed into the
blue postbox. The red box can be used for intraterritorial mail with Transnistrian
stamps. Inside the post office clerks seemed to be eager to keep the spirit of the
Soviet Union alive. I was told that the inside is preserved in exactly the same way
as before 1990. Displays inside were exclusively in Russian including signs that
read ПОЧТА CCCP as well as forms that used letterheads by the ‘Ministry of
Communications of the USSR’ (Министерство связи СССР). Apart from the
nostalgic feel of the place, the dominance of Russian on the outside and inside
of the post office was striking. No signs other than Russian were visible and no
forms or documents were available in one of the other two languages, Romanian
and Ukrainian.
In the very center of the town at the corner of ul. Gagarina and ul. Kirova, the
Rybnitza branch of the Transnistrian State University ‘Taras Shevchenko’ is lo-
cated. It is the only institution of higher education in northern Transnistria and
offers a comprehensive range of subjects. Three plaques right next to the main
entrance were some of the first things that students actually pointed out to me.
Like most official signage on government institutions, all official languages are
arranged symmetrically with equal space and font; Russian on top, Romanian in
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 211

Cyrillic script in the middle and Ukrainian at the bottom. Without lexical or se-
mantic errors all three index that this is the Rybnitza branch of the Transnistrian
State University Taras Shevchenko (see also Figure 5):

Figure 4: Postboxes for national and international mail outside the main post office on ul.
Kirova in Rybnitza (47.766936, 29.010619)



The students were speakers of Russian but claimed to have receptive skills in
Ukrainian. Romanian on the other hand was not part of their repertoire and in
fact they found the display in Romanian rather amusing. Although the Moldo-
van border is only a ten minute walk away from the university, no one actually
knew Moldovans in nearby Rezina or any speakers of Romanian at all.
212 Sebastian Muth

Figure 5: Trilingual signage at the Transnistrian State University (RFPGU) at the corner
of ul. Gagarina and ul. Kirova, Rybnitza (47.761686, 29.001925)

The use of all three official languages on the sign in front of the university has a
symbolic value that aims at representing Transnistria as a multilingual and multi-
ethnic country that values and recognizes its linguistic diversity, much unlike the
neighboring Moldova. In fact, while on a symbolic level this might be true, the
reverse situation applies to day-to-day practices in language use, especially with re-
gard to linguistic landscapes. Moldova does not have much bilingual official signage
left and the general tendency points towards public actors preferring monolingual
Romanian signage, yet private linguistic landscape actors confidently use Russian
in advertising, on shop fronts and on informal signs. In Transnistria patterns of lan-
guage use on private signs mirror the dominance of Russian in everyday life. Appar-
ently there is no need to use any other language than Russian to advertise products
or services, as it is the language understood by the whole of the population.
On the central square a notice board informs passersby about upcoming events
in the nearby Cultural Palace (see Figure 6). The whole structure, made out of con-
crete and wooden panels, is divided into four placards that were individually de-
signed and painted by hand. The headline of the structure reads ПРИГЛАШАЕТ
ДВОРЕЦ КУЛЬТУРЫ (‘the Cultural Palace invites’) in Russian, while the placards
announce two concerts, an exhibition and a dance event. This information is sole-
ly conveyed in Russian and the only instance Romanian appears is on the second
placard on the right, where the name of a Moldovan folklore group is depicted. It
is the ‘National Ensemble Arneutul’ (Народный ансамбль Арнэутул),5 a Roma-
nian name in Cyrillic script that most likely refers to an ancient tribe of the region.

5 Information about the group can be obtained at http://pmr.name/catnews/tv-pmr/

51979-narodniy-ansamblarneutul-otmetil-serebryaniy-yubiley.html (04.11.2011).
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 213

Figure 6: Noticeboard in Russian next to the Cultural Palace in Victory Park, Rybnitza
(47.766691, 29.007443)

Apart from this symbolic use of Romanian and the trilingual signage in front of
the university and the nearby municipal council, Russian was the sole language
displayed in Rybnitza.
One of the most striking landmarks of Rybnitza is a memorial that is dedi-
cated to the victims of the Second World War and the Transnistrian Independ-
ence War (see Figure 7). It is set on a hilltop overlooking the residential suburb
of Valchenko and the Moldovan side on the right bank of the river Dniester. The
inscription in Russian reads ‘nobody is forgotten, nothing is forgotten’ (НИКТО
НЕ ЗАБЫТ НИЧТО НЕ ЗАБЫТО) which is a phrase that is often depicted on
World War II memorials throughout the post-Soviet sphere. The memorial was
kept immaculately clean, yet young skateboarders used it to practice their moves.

Figure 7: Part of the war memorial commemorating the victims of the Second World War
and the Transnistrian ‘War of Independence’ on ul. Titova, Rybnitza (47.759991,
214 Sebastian Muth

Judging by its topography and size, Rybnitza is rather a town than a city and its
linguistic landscape did not exhibit the same multitude of genres, forms, and in-
formal displays of written language as many other urban agglomerations in other
parts of the world (cf. Huebner 2006; Backhaus 2007). Yet patterns of public and
private signage differed slightly if compared to genuinely rural settlements, a
topic that will be discussed in the following section.

6.  The ruralscapes of northern Transnistria

Approximately ten kilometers north of Rybnitza, the village of Erzhovo (Ержово;
Hîrjău) with a population of roughly 3,000 inhabitants (Eremia and Răileanu
2009: 100) stretches along the banks of the Dniester River. It is a typical rural
Transnistrian settlement that consists of low-rise houses and dachas, a small
town center with a cultural house, a school and partly abandoned apartment
structures. The demographic makeup of Erzhovo is not entirely traceable, but
the village has a majority of Ukrainians that constitute 72 per cent of the popu-
lation (Eremia and Răileanu 2009: 100). The rural council shown in Figure 8 is
the administrative center of the village, located right next to the cultural house.
De jure all administrative bodies are required to display multilingual signage
in the three official languages of Transnistria and in this particular case this
practice is adhered to. Next to the front door of the council building, Roma-
nian depicted in Cyrillic is written on top (СОВЕТУЛ СЭТЕСК ДЕ ДЕПУТАЦЬ
and Ukrainian signage on official buildings in Tiraspol that often contained lexi-
cal errors, the languages displayed by the ‘Village Council of People’s Deputies’
used correct spelling. The Transnistrian coat of arms that strongly resembles
the one used by the former Moldavian Socialist Soviet Republic is shown on the
sign as well, being both a symbol of its statehood and at the same time an offi-
cially imposed connection to the region’s Soviet past. As on all official trilingual
signage in Transnistria, all three languages share equal space and font and while
Romanian appears on top, one can doubt whether it is the language most inhab-
itants of the village use in their everyday conversations.
While in small cities such as Rybnitza patterns of language use on signs are
easily recognizable because of a relatively high number of placards, small posters
and the occasional shop, typical ruralscapes like Erzhovo do not provide clearly
visible patterns at first sight. Hence, further inquiries with passers-by are needed
in order to learn about the functions and meanings of publicly visible language
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 215

within this particular community. This proved to be no easy task, but it was pos-
sible to get hold of two women around 60 years of age who were passing by and
who were asked to comment on the three languages visible on the sign. They
claimed to be speakers of Ukrainian, but were able to identify the Romanian and
the Russian part of the sign as well. They used the term ‘Moldovan’ instead of
Romanian and stated that both speakers of Moldovan and Ukrainian live in the
village. Nevertheless, Russian is the language that people use in shops, at schools
and when visiting local markets in Rybnitza or Kamenka. They stated that speak-
ers of Moldovan are at least their age and that young people do not seem to care
about that language. Regarding Ukrainian they confirmed that it is a language
used at home and among friends, but on the question about the dominant lan-
guage both in their village and in nearby Rybnitza, both univocally claimed it to
be Russian. On the question whether the trilingual signage at the village council
has any particular meaning they expressed a rather positivistic approach and
stated that “this is the law”.

Figure 8: The rural council of Erzhovo, Rybnitza rayon (47.804317, 29.007269)

Figure 9 shows the signage of a pharmacy located opposite to the rural council
across. It displays bilingual Russian (АПТЕКА) and Romanian (ФАРМАЧИЕ)
and both languages share equal space and font and like throughout Transnis-
tria, Romanian is written in Cyrillic script. In addition, one might assume that
another official language is included because АПТЕКА is used in Ukrainian as
216 Sebastian Muth

well. This highlights the aspect of bivalency, a phenomenon in bi- and multi-
lingual areas where “genetically close languages” are spoken (Pavlenko 2009:
251). A visit inside confirmed that the Romanian part of the sign has a rather
symbolic meaning as the salesperson of the pharmacy claimed to speak Ukrain-
ian as her mother tongue and, in addition, speaks Russian fluently. She stated
that Romanian is not spoken by her customers and Russian or Ukrainian are
used instead when buying pharmaceutical products. While these inquiries are
far from being representative they clearly show a pattern that points towards
the same asymmetrical bilingualism that was characteristic of urban centers in
many republics of the former Soviet Union. Furthermore they stress the domi-
nance of Russian as the sole language of public communication in rural Transn-
istria and apparently, speakers of Romanian and Ukrainian easily accommodate
their speech towards speakers of Russian, both because Russian-speakers do not
have knowledge of either of the two other official languages of the territory and,
arguably, because of social conventions by which one ought to use Russian in
public anyway.

Figure 9: Pharmacy displaying Russian, Romanian in Cyrillic script and a placard

in English in Erzhovo, Rybnitza rayon (47.803931, 29.007615)

Between the villages of Erzhovo and Saratei (Сарацей; Sărăţei), a mural cel-
ebrates 20 years of Transnistrian statehood. Saratei itself has 400 inhabitants
and is comparable to Erzhovo in its demographic makeup with a 75 per cent
majority of ethnic Ukrainians (Eremia and Răileanu 2009: 146). This mural in
Figure 10 is monolingual in Russian, and it is structured into three parts and
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 217

painted with colors that closely resemble Soviet symbolism and contemporary
Transnistrian ideology. The year 1990 commemorates the year when the territo-
ry declared its statehood, and it is followed by a slogan that reads 2 СЕНТЯБРЯ
– ДЕНЬ ОБРАЗОВАНИЯ ПМР (‘September 2 – Day of the formation of the
PMR’). It marks the two decades of de facto independence and sovereignty from
Moldova. The mural was one of many comparable political manifestations that
were placed in villages on main thoroughfares and as such were aimed at motor-
ists and locals alike. Such murals fulfill two major functions as they serve both as
displays of ideology that signal independent Transnistria that has existed since
1990 and at the same time connect to pre-1990 traditions of political propa-
ganda that used to be characteristic of linguistic landscapes in the Soviet times.
While the Soviet Union is long gone, it seems to exist as a notion that continues
to be upheld by local authorities as an image of a past that provided welfare,
stability and order.

Figure 10: Propaganda celebrating 20 years of statehood of Transnistria between Erzhovo

and Saratei, Rybnitza rayon (47.804702, 29.008314)

In general, public signs that were set up by public authorities to enhance national
cohesion and to build a distinct Transnistrian political and cultural identity of-
ten follow established patterns of public propaganda on signs, apparent in the
choice of colors and fonts. Only in the capital Tiraspol and larger urban centers
did official bodies use banners with photographs and distinct fonts. Most of the
time, these banners highlighted the close political and cultural ties between Rus-
sia and Transnistria or were specifically aimed at young people. Apart from their
contents, language use is an important factor in the political propaganda of the
Transnistrian authorities. Throughout the country such signs only depicted Rus-
sia but never any other of the two official languages of the territory.
218 Sebastian Muth

While there are no prescriptive policies that urge sign makers to include or
omit certain languages, both scholars and locals in Rybnitza stated that they never
come across murals or other officially endorsed political propaganda made after
the breakup of the USSR that displayed any other language apart from Russian.
Such patterns are understandable given the symbolic function the lingua franca
of the former Soviet Union has for political elites and the quest for a distinctively
Transnistrian cultural and political identity. On the one hand, it connects Transn-
istria with the Russian cultural sphere and signals continuity; on the other, it es-
tablishes a clear boundary towards Moldova, Latinity and the Romanian language.
Further north along the Dniester River, the village of Bolshoi Molokish
(Большой Молокиш; Molochişul Mare) lies in a small valley surrounded by
farmland and forests. It is a village of roughly 1,200 inhabitants with Moldovans
constituting around 80 per cent of the population (Eremia and Răileanu 2009:
121). At the junction where a secondary road leads to the village a bus stop dis-
plays the Russian name of the settlement. The sign on top of the bus stop in Fig-
ure 11 displays an abbreviated form of the name of the village (Б МОЛОКИШ).
Compared to the findings in urban linguistic landscapes throughout Eastern
Europe (Brown 2006; Pavlenko 2009, 2010; Muth 2012) this is a rather somber
specimen of written language installed by some sort of public body, but never-
theless a very typical example in the ruralscapes of Transnistria. It is common in
many respects, as it is monolingual Russian and displays only the Russian name
of the village, while omitting its Romanian equivalent.

Figure 11: Bus stop on the main road from Rybnitza to Kamenka near Bolshoi Molokish,
Rybnitza rayon (47.84853, 29.027268)
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 219

Linguistic landscape items were scarce in Bolshoi Molokish itself, but at the
western entrance to the village, some remnants of a Soviet past were visible,
among them sign at the entrance to an abandoned collective farm (see Fig-
ure  12). The sign is characteristic of a ruralscape as it represents a linguistic
landscape from the past and depicts an archetypical name that was used for nu-
merous collective farms throughout the former USSR, КРАСНЫЙ ОКТЯБРЬ
(‘Red October’).

Figure 12: Monolingual Russian sign near a former collective farm in Bolshoi Molokish,
Rybnitza rayon (47.849642, 29.030593)

Although parts of the sign have disappeared, speakers of Russian can still grasp
the meaning of the phrase that refers to the October Revolution that lay the
foundations for the Soviet Union. The sign also illustrates the obvious limita-
tions in the survey of ruralscapes. In the whole of the village this was almost
the only display of written language visible and while it is certainly a historic
novelty it can be doubted if and to what extent it connects to real-life language
use of today. Few other signs were visible in the villages north of Rybnitza and
most of them were either simple shop signs that only contained the Russian word
магазин (‘shop’), monolingual Russian placards offering products and services,
and official signage. Apart from the examples in Figure 8 and Figure 9, all were
monolingual Russian.
220 Sebastian Muth

7.  Dubossary: At the Transnistrian frontier

Moving away from the north along the M4 highway towards the fertile lowlands
of Transnistria to the south, the territory becomes a narrow stretch of land sand-
wiched between Moldova and Ukraine, at some points only three kilometers
wide. The largest settlement of the area is Dubossary (Дубоссары; Dubăsari), a
small town with a majority of ethnic Moldovans where one might expect differ-
ent patterns of language use compared to Rybnitza. The town is located 55 kilo-
meters south of Rybnitza and has a population of roughly 35,000 inhabitants of
whom 43 per cent are ethnic Moldovans. Ukrainians constitute the second larg-
est group with 30 per cent while Russians make up 23 per cent of the population
(Eremia and Răileanu 2009: 85). While this pattern is typical in central Transn-
istria where Moldovans constitute the majority of the population, its peculiar
geographical position might suggest a less dominant role of Russian as well.
Given the small size of Transnistria, no municipality in the country is located far
from either Moldova or Ukraine, but Dubossary can be considered a true border
town. It lies on the eastern bank of the Dniester River that divides Moldova and
Transnistria, but Molovata Nouă (pop. 1,800) and Cocieri (pop. 4,100), two vil-
lages with over 80 per cent ethnic Moldovans east of the river under the control
of the Moldovan authorities, directly border the city to the north (Eremia and
Răileanu 2009: 70, 121). Because the Moldovan villages are only accessible by an
irregular ferry from Moldova, Dubossary has become a transiting place for those
traveling to and from the enclave. The Ukrainian border is also close and lo-
cated approximately 20 kilometers to the east and northeast. The town witnessed
heavy fighting during the 1992 war because of its strategic location; nevertheless,
the ethnic composition of the area remained stable (Roper 2004: 109).
When entering Dubossary from the south, one of the first displays of lan-
guage visitors notice is a sign made out of concrete and steel depicting the town’s
coat of arms and its name in Russian shown in Figure 13. Vendors at the nearby
central bus station claimed that before the war between Moldova and Transn-
istria the welcome sign also showed the Cyrillic version of Dubossary’s Roma-
nian name, Дубэсарь, the same apparently applied to street and road signs in
general. Given the fact that the town was the scene of armed clashes between
Moldovan and Transnistrian forces in the early 1990s, the removal of Romanian
seems plausible. Next to the welcome sign, small houses dominate the town and
a limited number of private signage is visible. Public signs are equally scarce, but
street signs were visible and patterns of language use were similar to the obser-
vations in Rybnitza and the northern villages, i.e. all of them were monolingual
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 221

Figure 13: Sign welcoming visitors to Dubossary (47.256107, 29.15767)

Figure 14 shows such a public display of language that signals one of the main
thoroughfares of Dubossary, ул. Свердлова (‘Sverdlov street’). On the other side
of the river in the Republic of Moldova, similar street signs cannot be found, as
they are either bilingual in Romanian and Russian or depict Romanian alone.
Furthermore, street names honoring Bolshevik party leaders such as Yakov Sver-
dlov were mostly replaced after Moldova gained its independence in 1991. As
part of the (re)construction of a Transnistrian identity that refers to the Soviet
past, Transnistria, on the other hand, continues to use Soviet symbolism in the
public sphere. Transnistrian authorities refer to the relative stability Transnistri-
ans enjoyed in the USSR, a notion that is reflected in street names, place names
and the use of symbols resembling those of former Soviet Moldova. Apart from
these references to the shared memories of the Soviet Union, Russian emerged
as an additional piece in the Transnistrian identity puzzle that distinct from its
Latinate neighbor to the west.

Figure 14: Monolingual Russian street sign in the outskirts of Dubossary (47.256136,
222 Sebastian Muth

Shop signs are another common feature in any linguistic landscape, but in rural
settings and small towns they are often scarce. Nevertheless, even in settings
like Dubossary shop signs provide insights into patterns of language use by pri-
vate and cooperative actors. Figure 15 serves as an example from nearby the ul.
Nabatnaya and represents a bilingual Russian-Romanian shop front advertising
dairy products. Whereas most shops in Dubossary only display Russian and oc-
casionally use English catchphrases such as ‘Sale’ or ‘Electronics’, it was possible
to find remnants of Soviet-Moldovan signage as well. In this particular case the
Russian name is shown and the Romanian translation is given next to it. On top
there are the Russian words KEФИP and CMETAHA (‘kefir’, ‘cream’) and right
next to it the corresponding Romanian terms ЛAПTEAKRУ (‘sour milk’) and
CMЫHTЫHЭ in Cyrillic script. Beneath that we read MOЛOKO (‘milk’) and
the Romanian term ЛAПTE. One might assume that such bilingual signage is an
expression of the ethnic makeup of the town where the majority of inhabitants
is of ethnic Moldovan origin. Nevertheless, salespersons and customers inside
the shop confirmed that the bilingual signage dates back from Soviet times when
such displays of written language were commonplace throughout Dubossary.
Furthermore, some of those informants stated that despite the close proximity
of the Moldovan border just one kilometer away, such Romanian signage has no
meaning anymore and they would not expect any new shop to display any other
language apart from Russian.

Figure 15: Bilingual Russian and Romanian shop front ul. Nabatnaya, Dubossary
(47.25907, 29.157155)
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 223

At the central bus station a few hundred meters to the west, small shops ca-
ter to transiting travelers and locals alike. Apart from a food stall and a small
grocery shop, there was a secondhand dealer located right next to the waiting
area (Figure 16). It is a store selling used clothes and shoes and uses the English
loanword СЕКОНД ХЕНД (‘secondhand’) that is fully copied into Russian and
displayed in Cyrillic letters. Further information about opening hours is given
in Russian and reads that the shop is open from 9 am until 6 pm but closed on
Sundays (РАБОТАЕТ 9 18 ВЫХОДНОИ ВОСКРЕСЕНЬЕ). It is not clear why
the authors of the sign wrote ВЫХОДНОИ instead of ВЫХОДНОЙ, but this is
probably not a spelling error and no indicator of a lack of proficiency in Russian
either. Most of the shop front utilizes language for purely informative reasons
and while СЕКОНД ХЕНД is a relatively new addition to the Russian lexicon, it
is not used in a symbolic way but instead to inform about what the shop has to
offer. This particular shop front also illustrates a multilayered commercial sign
as a close look at the writing on the upper section of the door reveals the previous
occupant of the store, a perfumery (ПAРФЮМЕРИЯ).

Figures 16 and 17: Monolingual Russian shop front of a secondhand store at the central
bus station and placard offering to buy human hair on ul. Chekhova,
Dubossary (47.260447, 29.154793; 47.259849, 29.155716)

Figure 17 on the other hand is an example of informal signage surveyed on the

ul. Chekhova. Informal displays of written language such as advertising placards
and handwritten notes provide valuable insights into the real-life practices of
language choice by individuals and non-governmental bodies who are not nec-
essarily governed by official regulations but instead choose the language they
deem suited to attract passers-by. It is typical in many respects, as it mirrors
224 Sebastian Muth

both common patterns of language use as well as giving an insight into the cur-
rent economic state of the territory. It is a monolingual Russian placard attached
to a lamppost offering to buy human hair. It is dominated by the catchphrase
ВОЛОСЫ, the Russian plural form of ‘hair’. Beneath that both the conditions
clients have to meet in order to sell their hair are given (natural hair from 35cm
of length, dyed from 40cm onwards) as well as the address of the establishment
that will buy it. Such signs can be found all over both Transnistria and Moldova
(cf. Muth and Wolf 2010) and mirror the grim economic situation many people
face in the region.
After a walk through the town, the central bus station appears to be the live-
liest place in Dubossary where travelers transit to Ukraine, Moldova and the
Transnistrian capital Tiraspol. One linguistic landscape item that is an unusual
example of an informal public sign is a notice painted on the outer wall of the
station informing motorists that they have to pay for parking here (ПЛАТНАЯ
СТОЯНКА ТРАНСПОРТА see Figure  18). Displays of written language that
share the characteristics of informal signage in both appearance and materials
used but were put up by official bodies (in our case the administration of the bus
station) are a novelty in any linguistic landscape. Language choice on the other
hand confirms our previous observations and points towards the exclusive use of
Russian and its status as the first language of publicly visible communication in
the territory. On the right side of the picture, another monolingual sign signaling
a taxi rank (СТОЯНКА ТАКСИ) is visible.

Figure 18: Russian painted on a wall at the central bus station, Dubossary (47.260272,

But a wait at the bus station also reveals other non-conventional linguistic land-
scape items. It has long been argued whether moving objects such as trains, trams
and buses should be included in a survey of publicly visible signs (cf. Sebba 2010:
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 225

60–61). While in earlier publications Gorter (2006: 3) opted not to include them
for practical reasons, later surveys explicitly mentioned them as linguistic land-
scape items (Shohamy and Gorter 2009: 2). This question is of particular con-
cern when applying a strictly distributive and quantitatively oriented approach
as the prime research method, but in our case such observations are certainly
beneficial for a balanced picture of the ruralscapes of Transnistria.
Figure 19 shows part of the local ruralscape in motion, namely a bus traveling
from the Ukrainian city of Uman towards the Moldovan capital Chișinău. On its
route the bus travels through three different political entities that recognize four
different languages and one dialect as official: Ukrainian in Ukraine, Russian,
Ukrainian and Romanian in Cyrillic script in Transnistria as well as standard
Romanian in Moldova. The bus was mainly used for short segments and the bus
driver confirmed that not many travel the whole distance from Ukraine to the
Moldovan capital. Instead, many board the bus at such small stops comparable to
the one at Bolshoi Molokish seen in Figure 11. Behind the windshield a bilingual
plate that shows both origin and destination of the bus. Russian is dominant and
depicted on top (КИШИНЁВ – УМАНЬ) while Ukrainian is shown beneath in
smaller print (КИШИНIВ – УМАНЬ). Intermediate stops such as Rybnitza and
Kamenka are given at the bottom of the plate and are exclusively shown in Rus-
sian. Although Russian is not an official language in Ukraine6, it appears to be
used as a language of wider communication that can be used in a post-Soviet
transnational context. Regardless if dealing with L1-speakers of Ukrainian or
Romanian, Russian is considered to be a code that is useful for interethnic com-
munication, while in Transnistria it is even more than that. It is the language
most inhabitants are confronted with in the public sphere.

Figure 19: Ruralscapes in transit: Russian and Ukrainian place names in the front of a bus,
Dubossary (47.260359, 29.154729)

6 For a comprehensive look of the ongoing debate on the status of Russian in Ukraine,
see Bilanyuk and Melnyk (2008) and Pavlenko (2008a/ 2011).
226 Sebastian Muth

8. Conclusions
Any survey of a linguistic landscape can only provide a limited account of
practices in language use by members of a certain community, yet it gives an
idea about the symbolic and informative values of languages. In the case of the
Transnistrian ruralscapes, the first insights did not necessarily provide a detailed
account of patterns of language use on signs, but given the peculiar political,
historic and sociocultural background of the region, they showed that the com-
monly recognized categories of “derussification” and “de-sovietization” that were
observed in many other parts of the former USSR (Pavlenko 2008b: 282) do not
apply to Transnistria. On the contrary, it appears to be one of the few exceptions
where exactly the opposite seems to have happened. The only similarity between
Transnistria and other parts of the former Soviet realm where Russian has been
already removed from the public eye lies in the fact that both are top-down en-
deavors that are part of a wider political picture and include aspects such as
identity-formation and cultural demarcation either towards the western or Rus-
sian cultural and political sphere.
For Transnistria as a whole, language use and the promotion of the Russian
language is a crucial part of its unique post-Soviet identity. Nevertheless the term
post-Soviet should not divert from the fact that the territory’s political and cul-
tural identity is intrinsically Soviet at least in its appearance. Soviet symbolism
and the use of the former lingua franca Russian are integral parts of the Transn-
istrian ruralscape and the linguistic landscape. On the one hand, multilingual
signs installed by public actors in front of government offices and rural councils
do not fit into that picture at first sight, yet they can be seen as symbolic manifes-
tations of an image of a society that is multilingual from the outside. But within
this particular domain of public signs, one notices that political propaganda that
refers to aspects of Soviet symbolism, such as Figure 10, is exclusively Russian.
Signs displayed by individual actors, private enterprises or cooperatives on the
other hand clearly illustrate real-life patterns of language use among Transn-
istrians regardless of their ethnicity and the particular location they live in. In
case any other language apart from Russian was used it bore a purely symbolic
dimension or was a remnant from times when Transnistria was part of Soviet
With regard to Sloboda’s (2009) different “phenomena” that exemplify
the connection between the metacultural functioning of language and the
expression of nationalist ideologies, the ruralscapes of Transnistria provide
interesting insights into the effects of superimposed linguistic, political and
cultural values. In a broad sense, all signage in the Transnistrian periphery
Ideology and language use on the fringes of a contested space 227

can be viewed as explicit results of local nation-building efforts. Shop signs

only depict the de facto ‘national language’ Russian, or, to a lesser extent the
Moldovan variety of Romanian in an orthographic form characteristic of pat-
terns of language use during Soviet times. In many ways, reverting back to
Soviet Moldova is a crucial element on signs in Transnistria, especially those
relating to ideology (Figure 10), historic events (Figure 7) or place names
(Figures 13 and 19). Moreover, these aspects exemplify the efforts to con-
struct a hybrid Soviet-Transnistrian cultural identity that extends to publicly
visible signage as well.
In relation to the framework of ruralscapes, the particular case of Transnis-
tria serves as a test bed for further studies in peripheral linguistic landscapes in
non-urban contexts (cf. Pietikäinen 2010). Although the Transnistrian rurals-
cape lacked a plethora of different actors, genres, voices and opinions on signs,
it nevertheless provided meaningful results that will help in our understanding
of language use on the fringes of a contested space, as ideology in any linguis-
tic landscape is not a quantifiable object, but rather an individual notion vested
within a particular context. It remains to be seen, if the territory manages to
proceed further on the path towards a distinct identity that can be considered
rather unique within post-Soviet contexts.

All except the five items from Dubossary were surveyed in March 2011 during a
stay as a guest lecturer at the Department of Foreign Philologies at the Rybnitza
Branch of the Transnistrian State University (RFPGU). I want to express my grat-
itude to Igor Alekseevich, Viktoria Grigorjevna and their wonderful colleagues
who despite difficulties do tremendous work educating young Transnistrians.

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Olga Bever, University of Arizona

Linguistic landscapes as multimodal

and multilingual phenomena

1. Introduction
1.1.  The Ukrainian context
This discussion presents a comprehensive analysis of linguistic landscapes (LLs),
meaning that it considers languages and scripts embedded in larger contexts of
the semiotic representation of the signs. The approach stresses the interconnec-
tion of multiple modes of representation of linguistic and semiotic resources
involved in the construction of LLs, especially in how the visual design com-
bines print, image, form, layout, code preference, and color. According to Jewitt
(2011), the interconnections between and across different modes and the inter-
semiotic realizations of meaning are central to the multimodal research. This ap-
proach supports a recent perspective on the multimodal study of LLs: “Analysis
and conceptualization of texts according to multimodal approaches calls for the
need to become aware of the way in which language is embedded in a variety of
semiotic devices” (Shohamy and Waksman 2009: 316–317). Thus, the present
study of LLs is grounded in the notion of text in a broad semiotic sense; meaning
making in LLs involves multiple semiotic and linguistic resources and their in-
teraction, which facilitate negotiation of ideologies and discourses in particular
socio-cultural and geo-political contexts. The discussion is thus aimed at the
analyses of the linguistically, politically and culturally contested spaces, where
“LL is not only the manifestations of social structure and dynamics but also an
arena through which various agendas are being battled, negotiated and dictated”
(Shohamy and Waksman 2009: 321).
A well-known definition of linguistic landscapes is: “The language of public
road signs, advertising billboards, street names, place names, commercial shop
signs, and public signs on government buildings” (Landry and Bourhis 1997:
25). Crystal (2003: 94) stresses the notion of outdoor media as represented by
posters, billboards, electric displays, shop signs, etc. as the most noticeable part
of everyday life. In the last decade, the field of LL has expanded rapidly, bringing
in new approaches and methodologies to the conceptualizations and analyses of
observations. Today, the traditional quantitative approach of counting the oc-
currences of different languages is enriched by qualitative analyses of the LL’s
234 Olga Bever

structural properties that involve linguistic and non-linguistic elements. The

object of study can now be defined as multimodal multilingual textual forms
in socially, politically, culturally and ideologically charged spaces where mean-
ing is constructed, negotiated and interpreted through multimodal semiotic
and linguistic resources. These resources reflect contact between communities,
discourses and ideologies (Gorter 2006; Cenoz and Gorter 2008; Shohamy and
Gorter 2009; Bever 2010, 2012; Jaworski and Thurlow 2010). Following Barthes’s
(1977: 37) view on the analysis of textual forms containing both, linguistic and
non-linguistic elements, this discussion exemplifies the shift from the analysis of
“enumeration of elements” (quantitative analysis) in LLs towards the “structural
description… to grasp the relation of these elements”.
In the LL research, the post-Soviet countries occupy a unique position due
to the recent dynamic transformations in their political, economic, ideologi-
cal, social, cultural, and educational domains. After the breakup of the Soviet
Union, each newly developed independent state has introduced its own official
language policy, strengthening the status of the titular languages and imposing
official regulations on the use of Russian, the lingua franca of the former USSR
(Pavlenko 2006, 2008). Since the 1990s, signs of governmental and private es-
tablishments have undergone remarkable changes across the post-Soviet space.
These changes have resulted in multifaceted, multilingual and multimodal
landscapes represented in advertising posters, billboards, shop signs, etc. The
post-Soviet LLs reveal sensitivity of the semiotic and linguistic representations
to the political and social transformations, national language policies and de-
Russification, open market economy, globalization and privatizing of the public
space (Yurchak 2000; Sebba 2006; Sloboda 2009; Pavlenko 2009; Bever 2010). As
Pavlenko (2009: 254) points out, the visible public spaces are the central area for
enforcement of language policies by public authorities; hence “linguistic land-
scape has emerged as a space where language conflicts have become particularly
The following discussion analyzes the LLs in Zaporizhzhya, a predominantly
Russian speaking city in south-eastern Ukraine (see map in Figure  1 below).
This discussion examines how meaning is constructed and negotiated in the LLs
utilizing different semiotic and linguistic resources and different modes of visual
representation, and how the observations presented here reveal competing and
coexisting local, national, and global ideologies reflected in the official language
policy and everyday language practices. The illustrations presented below are
selected from a large set of photographs taken in 2009–2011 in the central part of
Zaporizhzhya (Bever 2010). They are selected as representative of LLs that pro-
vide a broad spectrum of linguistic and non-linguistic elements. The discussion
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 235

focuses on the intersemiotic relations (Royce 1998) between and within verbal
and nonverbal elements of these signs. It demonstrates how multilingual signs
draw from multimodal resources when they are used to negotiate local, national
and global ideologies in post-Soviet south-eastern Ukraine.

Figure 1: The location of Zaporizhzhya in Ukraine (map source http://geography.about.


After the break-up of the USSR, the Ukrainian government introduced the lan-
guage policy as a part of the nation-building and national identity formation. In
this policy Ukrainian became the only official language, and the language of the
national identity, nation-building, national unity, and ethno-linguistic identifi-
cation. Russian, the lingua franca of the Soviet space, “the native language of 30%
of the population of Ukraine (www.ukrcensus.gov) and one used and understood
by the majority of the remaining 70%” (Pavlenko 2008: 275), became a minority
language. Since then, the Russian language has undergone reduced functions in
official and educational domains, including the public sphere, media and adver-
tising. It has, nevertheless, continued its status as the preferred language in many
domains in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. Thus, the implementation
of the official language policy of 1991 has resulted in conflicting, competing and
yet coexisting ideologies and discourses in relation to the status and use of two
dominant languages, Ukrainian and Russian.
The ongoing negotiations over the language policy and language use in
Ukraine are linked to the larger socio-historical, geo-political, and ethno-­
linguistic contexts. From a historical perspective, Ukraine is a multilingual state
236 Olga Bever

with two dominant genetically close Slavic languages, Ukrainian and Russian.
The sociolinguistic profile of the country as a whole has an ethnically and lin-
guistically heterogeneous composition. There are speakers of Ukrainian, Rus-
sian, and other regional languages, wide-spread Ukrainian-Russian bilingualism
of various degrees of proficiency on individual and societal levels, and a Ukrain-
ian-Russian language contact variety, a colloquial mixture, surzhyk. There is a
large population of ethnic Russians and non-ethnic Russian speakers who con-
sider Russian their mother tongue or use Russian as a part of their linguistic
The main sociolinguistic characteristic of the country is an asymmetrical
distribution of languages along geographical lines. Ukrainian dominates in the
western parts and Russian in the east and south, while the central part is linguis-
tically more mixed. Overall, the Ukrainian context consists of a wide spectrum
of language practices, viz. Ukrainian, Russian, balanced and unbalanced Ukrain-
ian-Russian bilingualism, and surzhyk, in which the language choice is linked to
a range of factors, ranging from language ideologies and attitudes, to individual
competencies and domains of use. Thus, despite the official language policy and
the efforts of strengthening the national identity, the country maintains its wide-
spread bilingual Ukrainian-Russian language practices and Russian continues
to dominate in many domains of language use in the east and south. A large
body of contemporary scholarship has focused on Ukrainian ethnicity and na-
tionality, language policy and language use, the role and prestige of Ukrain-
ian and Russian in construction and negotiation of identities and ideologies,
and Ukrainian bi- and multilingualism (Pirie 1996; Bilaniuk 1997, 2005, 2010;
Kuzio 2000; Arel 2002; Marshall 2002; Kulyk 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011; Pavlenko
2006, 2008, 2009; Sovik 2007, 2010; Bilaniuk and Melnik 2008; Besters-Dilger
2009a; Mazenko 2009; Bever 2010; Verschik 2010). The recent scholarship has
revealed that the socio-historical, socio-political, and ideological contexts are
not monolithic. The regional division and historical and socio-political com-
plexity of the country entail ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences that are
embedded in ideological and discursive practices on the individual and com-
munal levels. In many contexts, the language choices are often interpreted as
reflecting a pro-Ukrainian and pro-Western allegiance, as opposed to a Russian
allegiance. These ongoing disputes over ethno-linguistic and national identities
have also been articulated in academic analyses that have brought attention to
heterogeneous identities and multilingual and multicultural practices as normal
and legitimate in the Ukrainian context. Put together, the LLs in Ukraine reveal
negotiation of national, local and global ideologies, and discourses that are rep-
resented in linguistically, socially, and culturally heterogeneous spaces.
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 237

1.2.  Linguistic landscapes as an object of study

The post-Soviet transformations, the nation-building and globalization have
stimulated the emergence of multilingual linguistic spaces in which Ukrainian,
Russian, English and other world languages appear in both Cyrillic and Roman
scripts. These changes have transformed public spaces and are reflected in vari-
ous media, advertising, and in private and official signage. They reveal the ongo-
ing negotiation between local, national and global ideologies and discourses in
post-Soviet Ukraine (Bilaniuk 2005, 2010; Bilaniuk and Melnik 2008; Pavlenko
2009, 2010; Bever 2010; Kulyk 2010).
The media is a crucial site, on the one hand, of the overt articulation of various ideolo-
gies and the competition between them… and, on the other the covert embodiment and
naturalization of dominant ideologies. (Kulyk 2010: 84)

The Ukrainian context creates a special case of multilingual language practices

on both individual and societal levels, which underlie linguistic and ideological
tension between the official language policy and everyday language practices.
The LLs reveal this tension in the coexistence of languages, scripts, and images
and the complexity of interconnected linguistic and non-linguistic forms. The
interplay of languages, images and scripts creates heterogeneity. For instance,
various textual forms exemplify linguistic and cultural creativity, indexing a
complex negotiation of meanings from the perspective of the creator and the
reader of the signs. These signs utilize linguistic and semiotic resources in a crea-
tive manner (a) to comply with the official language policy, (b) to address the
local community, and (c) to convey connections with the global markets.
The research on media as an arena for language policy and uses in Ukraine
has mainly addressed cinema, television and radio, newspapers and books
(Besters-Dilger 2009b; Bilaniuk 2010; Kulyk 2010, 2011). Bilaniuk (2005) refers
to ‘a turbulent history’ of the regulations concerning languages in advertising.
The post-Soviet Ukrainian Law on Advertising has undergone several modi-
fications: the 1996 Law on Advertising required Ukrainian to be used in ads
and advertisements “except in areas of compact minority populations” (Bilaniuk
2005: 180). However, trademarks and brand names were allowed to appear in
other languages including English and Russian. Later, the 2003 Law required
that advertising, including trademarks, should be translated or transliterated in
Ukrainian. Then, in February 2004, trademarks were again allowed to appear
in their original language without duplication in Ukrainian (see Bilaniuk 2005,
Sovik 2007).
Several prior studies have addressed public signage as a significant factor
of post-Soviet transformations and elevated status of the Ukrainian language.
238 Olga Bever

Bilaniuk (1997: 94–95) describes the changes in public signage after the 1991
Ukrainian independence:
One could see the traces of this transformation in various road and building signs.
Where it was possible, only a few letters were painted over and modified in order to
change a word into Ukrainian from Russian… Graffiti changing Russian words into
Ukrainian ones also appeared occasionally on advertising billboards. Official build-
ings declared their identity in building plagues that were Ukrainian-English as often as
Pavlenko (2009) provides an overview of studies of LLs in post-Soviet countries,
and in Ukraine in particular. She addresses changes in public signage in post-
Soviet countries such as language erasure (replacement, deletion, and modifica-
tion), upgrading and downgrading, regulation, and transgressive signage. She
notes that the LLs in post-Soviet states are dynamic phenomena that contribute
to understanding language choices and ideologies. Pavlenko (2009: 268) exam-
ines the official and private signs in Kyiv and addresses the Ukrainian context
as an “arena of contestation of existing linguistic regimes” especially along geo-
graphical lines.
Bilaniuk (2005) discusses the Ukrainian-English-Russian language mixing in
public signs and advertising in Kyiv, stressing the visibility of English in public
signage since Ukrainian independence. The increased visibility of English and
Roman letters in commercial signs in Kyiv has marked prestige, fashion and
Westernization and addresses foreign clientele (Bilaniuk 2005: 182). Bilaniuk
and Melnik (2008) mention a juxtaposition of languages in public signs, media
and advertising in Ukraine, bringing out complex decisions that involve atti-
tudes and ideologies. This is in line with Kulyk’s (2010) view on the complex
relationship of media and ideologies, and how both Ukrainian and Russian are
accepted on different levels: the former as the language of state and the latter as
the language of the social practice.
Pavlenko (2010) examines LLs in Kyiv from a diachronic perspective, ana-
lyzing language use in commercial and private signage in different historical
periods. She argues that the changes in LLs are a result of the political transfor-
mations. Despite the efforts of Ukrainization today, Kyiv remains a city of three
languages where Ukrainian dominates, Russian is disappearing and English
emerging (see also Sovik 2010 on Kharkiv).
The following discussion focuses on signs in the predominantly Russian-
speaking city Zaporizhzhya in the Ukrainian south-east. According to the 2001
Ukrainian census (www.ukrcensus.gov), the population of the city is approxi-
mately 800,000 people, and it is also the administrative center of a region of
about 2 million people. The sociolinguistic and ethnic composition of the city
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 239

is heterogeneous (Russians, Ukrainians, Russophone Ukrainians and Ukraino-

phone Russians) with Russian dominating historically in various domains of use
in the present-day. The region was populated by ethnic Ukrainians and Russians
with significant dominance of Russian speakers (Wilson 1995; Bilaniuk 1997;
Jackson 1998; Kuzio 2000; Sovik 2007). There was a tremendous influx of Rus-
sian speakers during industrialization in the 1920s and 1930s.
The presence of ethnic Russians and Russophone Ukrainians and the ur-
banization resulted in Russian dominance in multiple socio-economic domains
(Bilaniuk 1997; Jackson 1998; Kuzio 2000). In discussing post-Soviet political
changes and language composition in Zaporizhzhya, Jackson (1998: 110) states
that Russian is “the only language heard” in the city, and “Even in schools where
Ukrainian has become the major language of instruction, Russian is still the
dominant language outside the classroom…” Bilaniuk (1997: 112) points out that
Russian is widely spoken in Zaporizhzhya, although speakers mix in Ukrainian
words and have Ukrainian accents. At the same time, Ukrainian has remained
as the primary language used by the Ukrainophone population of the city and in
rural areas (Bilaniuk 2005, 2010; Sovik 2007, 2010). The educational system and
media has considerably contributed to this maintenance (Pavlenko 2009).
The post-Soviet Ukrainian transformations have led to major efforts aimed
at de-Russification and Ukrainization in education, media and advertising (Pav-
lenko 2008). They have also impacted how the census data are reported. For
instance, the post-Soviet Ukrainian census 2001 gives the numbers on language
distribution by the whole region without differentiating the city and the rural
population (www.ukrcensus.gov). According to these data, the regional linguis-
tic composition including both rural and urban areas is almost equal between
speakers of Ukrainian and Russian. These data ignore critical sociolinguistic
characteristic of the Russian language dominance in the urban areas (Sovik
2010). Thus, although the city is generally known as highly Russified (Kuzio
2000; Sovik 2007), the actual data on the linguistic distribution are not provided
in the official census.

2.  Modality and multimodality

The theoretical foundations of multimodal research rest on a number of fields,
ranging from social semiotics and systemic functional grammar (Halliday 1978,
Hodge and Kress 1988), visual design and communication (Kress and van Leeu-
wen 2001, 2006), and material representation of meaning through semiotic re-
sources (Scollon and Scollon 2003). For Halliday (1978), language is socially
situated and is part of a larger semiotic system where language and text together
240 Olga Bever

can constitute a sign. Kress and van Leeuwen (2001, 2006) expand Halliday’s
three social metafunctions of language (ideational, interpersonal and textual).
They apply the metafunctions of language to modes of visual design to catego-
rize the representational and communicative realization of semiotic resources.
Scollon and Scollon (2003) introduced the geosemiotic system that integrates a
social action in a physical world in a specific social context and specific place,
with social actors, visual semiotics and their interaction.
These approaches share the common theme that multimodality involves a
range of interconnected semiotic modes representing and communicating so-
cial action in specific sociocultural contexts. This is in line with Barthes’s (1977:
32) view that during the construction and interpretation of a sign, the image
undergoes “a spectral analysis of the message”. This implies that every instance
of the textual form (e.g. a shop name sign, a billboard or an advertising poster)
contains a number of signs (linguistic and non-linguistic) that “form a coherent
whole” (Barthes 1977: 35). The cultural and literal messages define the relation
between the signifiers and signifieds (Barthes 1977: 37). Thus, there are complex
layers of signifieds beneath the immediate surface structure of LLs, containing
denotational and connotational meanings. These convey the scope of the literal
and symbolic messages mediated by the cultural and linguistic competences of
the producer and the reader of the signs.
According to Barthes (1977: 35), the signs unfold their meanings through
evoking the signification drawing from heavily cultural knowledge. This in-
volves familiarity with both local and global signifieds, and the idea that “the
viewer of the image receives at one and the same time the perceptual message
and the cultural message” (Barthes 1977: 36). Just as Barthes (1977: 42) differen-
tiates “the literal message and symbolic message” in his analysis of “Italianicity”
in French advertising, Blommaert (2010: 29–30) differentiates the linguistic sign
and the emblematic function of “Frenchness” in the sign of a Tokyo chocolate
shop. In the world marketplace, this delocalized production of signs relies on
linguistic and cultural competence of the producers and the readers of the signs,
and may serve symbolic and indexical functions interchangeably, depending on
the sociocultural context and individual competences. As Jewitt (2011: 95) notes:
Multimodal research examines how people make meaning through their selection of
the most apt semiotic resources from the range of modes that are available to them in a
particular space in a specific moment of time.

Scollon and Scollon (2003: 91) claim that “modality is a feature of specific so-
ciocultural groups and their coding practices and so this becomes an extremely
important area for analysis in a globalizing world”. In the texts where several
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 241

languages and scripts are involved there is a system of preference where the rela-
tive position of languages conveys prominence or code preference. “The pre-
ferred code is on top, on the left, or in the center and the marginalized code
is on the bottom, on the right, or on the margins” (Scollon and Scollon 2003:
120). This definition is consistent with the notion of language prominence in
the Western cultures (Scollon and Scollon 2003; Backhaus 2006, 2007; Huebner
2006; Pavlenko 2009). This is also in line with Kress and van Leeuwen’s (2001:
56) perspective on “grammars for design” that connects design practices, social
domains and available semiotic and linguistic resources (see Figure  2). Thus,
discourses are expressed through the modes, modes are ‘shaped’ in response to
discourses, and discourses and modes are ‘socially shaped’ by design practices.

Figure 2: Schema of Kress and van Leeuwen’s (2001) organization of multimodal design

The following analyses are specifically focused on how LLs combine print, im-
ages and other visual semiotic resources. The approach maps the interconnec-
tions of linguistic and non-linguistic elements in design and architecture of the
signs. These relations, coordination and configurations are mediated and rep-
resented through multiple communicative modes (print, images, colors, font,
shapes, etc.) and are embedded into and constructed by a larger social, cultural
and political context. “The meanings in any mode are always interwoven with
meanings made with those of all other modes co-present and ‘co-operating’ in
the communicative event. The interaction of the modes is itself a part of the
production of meaning” (Jewitt 2011: 14). These multilevel analyses demonstrate
242 Olga Bever

how linguistic, cultural, social and ideological phenomena are represented in the
construction of the signs and what semiotic devices are involved in design and
interpretation of the signs.
Coulmas (1999: 160) defines reification, social control and aesthetic as critical
functions of written language. Reification refers to the relation between the inten-
tional and the conventional layers in meaning making, so that “in writing, a linguis-
tic message becomes an interpretable object which must be self-sufficient because
the author may not be at hand for clarification”. Social control reflects the dynam-
ics of social organization and reinforcement of power relations through status and
standardization of varieties of language. The aesthetic function serves as an artistic
expression to facilitate “the visual impression for proper reception” (Coulmas 1999:
160). Thus, visual representations are linked to the production and interpretation
of the text, and serve as vectors, mediators and facilitators of the meaning making.

3.  The case of two M’s

Before moving on to the Ukrainian LLs, Figures 3 and 4 below illustrate how the
multimodal analytic method can be used to integrate the various dimensions
of multimodal design. They display functions that communicate socially and
culturally established meanings through linguistic and semiotic modes, such as
shape and color.
Figures 3 and 4 represent two examples of the letter M. Their differences show
how grammar (or regularities) of design are expressed through the interconnec-
tion of discourses and social practices, design practices, semiotic resources and se-
miotic layering. Figure 3 is the sign for a metro station in many places in the world,
and Figure 4 is the sign for McDonald’s restaurants chain all around the world.

Figure 3: Typical “M” indicating a metro station

Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 243

Figure 4: Worldwide “M” indicating a McDonald’s restaurant

What processes, parameters and properties are involved in defining which let-
ter signifies a particular social practice? What is the process of recognition and
interpretation of a meaning communicated by these signs? Shohamy and Waks-
man (2009: 316) point out that:
Even when we do refer to the linguistic aspect per se, there is a need to pay attention
not only to the meaning conveyed by the language but also to the meaning provided by
the visual aspects of language like typography, placement in the semiotic layout, color,
spatial and kinetic arrangements etc. as part of meaning construction template.

The letter M has its origin in Greek script, and appears in both Roman and Cy-
rillic alphabets. Coulmas (1999: 152) discusses the importance of the font and
the style of the letters representation, including “graphical properties of letter
shapes…, proportions, angularity and roundness”, which define “how much de-
viation can be tolerated for a given letter shape to still be recognized”. Thus, the
visual characteristics in Figure 3 and Figure 4 convey the diversity of the social
meaning while maintaining the commonalities of orthographic and linguistic
characteristics. The sharp edges and metallic features of the metro M are charac-
teristic in many cities of the world. Aside from their conventionality, the features
themselves may suggest a connection to machinery, and inanimate mechanical
devices. In contrast, the rounded shoulders of the M in McDonald’s may convey
friendliness and warmth.
244 Olga Bever

There is a sharp contrast in the colors, so that the sign in Figure 3 is in red
and in Figure 4 it is bright yellow. These primary colors signify different mean-
ings in the Western socio-cultural context. According to Kress and van Leeuwen
(2002: 355), red is for danger, or can be associated “with flames or blood, or other
phenomena of high symbolic and emotive value”; yellow is “warm and sunny”
(Wierzbicka 1996: 315, cited in Kress and van Leeuwen 2002: 353). Kress and
van Leeuwen (2002: 343) refer to color as a semiotic resource, “a mode, which
like other modes, is multifunctional in its uses in the culturally located making
of signs”, and linking the ‘meanings’ of colors to the associations and a particular
socio-cultural and historical context, place and time. They discuss the notion of
‘grammar’ of color as a system of the meanings of colors that articulate “socially
established and maintained convention” and “the regularities of meaning that
might surround the uses of colour” (Kress and van Leeuwen 2002: 344–345).
The understanding of these meanings is linked to various ideological discourses
and social practices, where “[t]he micro and macro, the ‘local’ and the “global”
exist at the same time, and interact in complex ways” (Kress and van Leeuwen
2002: 345). The use of the colors in the signs reveals “differential motivations
and interests of sign makers in the different groups” (Kress and Van Leeuwen
2002: 345).
This approach to analyzing the color as a part of the semiotic system of mul-
timodal signs is applicable to various communicative, representational and in-
terpretational functions in different socio-cultural contexts. In the following
discussion, we shall see the role of color in several examples.

4.  Bivalency in Ukrainian linguistic landscapes

Russian and Ukrainian are east Slavic languages with shared Cyrillic orthogra-
phy and with many identical elements on syntactic, morphological, and graph-
emic levels. Bilaniuk and Melnyk (2008: 344) estimate the lexicons to be highly
similar. Speakers of these two languages typically understand each other because
of their typological closeness, similar orthographic system, and the historical
coexistence over a long period. As Bilaniuk (2005: 203) notices:

There is no simple way to characterize the degree of mutual intelligibility of Ukrainian

and Russian… The grammatical structures of Ukrainian and Russian are mostly very
similar, but some differences do exist… In some cases written language may be easier to
understand … because some words appear identical in writing.

Woolard (1999) discusses the concept of linguistic and orthographic bivalency. It

refers to the “simultaneous membership of an element in more than one linguistic
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 245

system” (Woolard 1999: 6). Bivalent elements (words, morphemes, phonemes)

“belong equally to two recognized linguistic codes”, so “the play is not between
the two meanings of a single word, since each word allegedly has only one, but
rather between its two linguistic affiliations” (Woolard and Genovese 2007: 488).
Bivalency occurs frequently in closely related languages as a linguistic resource
that can be purposefully or strategically activated to serve social, ideological and
political agendas. Bivalency has been recognized as a socially and linguistically
significant aspect of bilingual practice in bilingual communities (Woolard 1987;
Shell 1993; Heller 1999; Woolard 1999; Woolard and Genovese 2007; Bilaniuk
and Melnyk 2008; Bever 2010).
The linguistic and structural similarities of Ukrainian and Russian underlie
the essential role of bivalency in Ukrainian LLs. Bivalency is a highly contextual-
ized phenomenon, but in the Ukrainian context strategic uses of bivalent ele-
ments in the LL allows one to avoid open linguistic and ideological conflict. As
Pavlenko (2009: 251) argues, the indeterminacy of language is a common char-
acteristic of the signs that employ the genetically close east Slavic languages: Rus-
sian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian (cf. Bilaniuk 2005, Bilaniuk and Melnik 2008).
Bever (2010) proposes that LLs in Ukraine use two kinds of bivalency, viz.
naturalistic and strategic. The naturalistic bivalency can be intentionally em-
ployed as a strategic bivalency to avoid ideological and linguistic conflicts in
publicly displayed signs. Thus, overlaps between the grammatical, lexical and
orthographic properties of Russian and Ukrainian allow assigning linguistic
items to one or the other language or to both because sometimes one cannot tell
which language a sign is using. In this way, bivalency assists in negotiating the
contradictions between the monolingual official language policy and the local
multilingual language practices.
The principle of bivalency covers relations between the three most com-
mon languages in today’s LLs in Ukraine: Ukrainian, Russian and English.
The trilingual diagram in Figure 5 presents the inventory of Roman, Cyrillic -
Russian and Cyrillic - Ukrainian alphabets showing their shared graphemic
characteristics. Figure 5 shows complex relationship of shared and divergent
characteristics on graphemic and phonetic levels between all three alphabets
(Bever 2010, 2012). This diagram extends the principles of inventory and rep-
resentation of shared characteristics introduced earlier for the Roman and
Cyrillic scripts by Feldman and Barac-Cikoja (1996) and Angermeyer (2005).
According to the Feldman and Barac-Cikoja’s (1996) analysis (in Angermeyer
2005: 521), some overlapping characters share phonetic values in Roman and
Cyrillic alphabets (e.g. А, Е, К, М, О, Т), while other have different phonetic
values (e.g. B, C, H, P, X, Y).
246 Olga Bever

Figure 5: Trilingual diagram relating Roman, Cyrillic Russian and Cyrillic

Ukrainian scripts

In Russian and Ukrainian, the divergent elements overlap on phonetic levels:

both Ukrainian И and Russian Ы have the sound /y/, while Russian И has pho-
netic value /i/, which is the same as in Ukrainian I /i/. The letter E presents a
similar bivalent effect: it corresponds to/e/or /ε/ in Ukrainian and/je/in Russian.
Table 1 demonstrates this phoneme–grapheme correspondence:

Table 1: Phoneme-grapheme correspondence in Russian and Ukrainian vowels

Phoneme Grapheme Russian Grapheme Ukrainian

/y/ Ы И
/i / И I
/je/ E Є
/ε/, /e/ Э E

In addition to graphemic and phonetic commonalities, there is a significant

overlap between Ukrainian and Russian at the lexical, syntactic and semantic
levels. Some nouns coincide in their singular forms, while their plural forms
have alternations or substitutions of the endings Ы (Russian) and И (Ukrain-
ian) with almost the same phonetic value /y/. So the languages (Ukrainian and
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 247

Russian) have a significant overlap on different levels of representation and are

mutually intelligible, particularly in their written form. This guides the reader
(Russian and /or Ukrainian) towards the meaning from the bivalent elements
(in Cyrillic) without attributing them particularly either to Russian or Ukrain-
ian. The surrounding context can give a clearer attribution of the text to Russian
and /or Ukrainian.

5.  Bivalency illustrated

The main street of Zaporizhzhya presents a high density of private and govern-
mental signs, and I will focus on private businesses and entertainment estab-
lishments due to their highly creative nature (for more systematic review of all
establishment categories see Bever 2010).

5.1.  The case of “AРИZOНА”

Figure 6 is the main sign for a gambling club, and it is representative of how so-
cial, linguistic and cultural practices intersect. АРИZOНА /arizona/ points to the
state of Arizona where the gambling industry is highly developed in some Native
American reservations (in these analyses, the interpretation of “Native Ameri-
canness” is presented from the Western perspective). Here the different modes of
the sign convey American imagery associated with geographical location, social
practices and ethno-cultural stereotypes (Piller 2001, 2003; Martin 2007).

Figure 6: Sign of a gambling club

248 Olga Bever

The sign is nearly bivalent between Russian (АРИЗOНА) and Ukrainian

(АРIЗOНА). It is written in Cyrillic in Russian with the Roman letter Z in the
central position instead of the Cyrillic З. Bivalency on the phonetic level and
the foreign appearance of the letter Z are employed as linguistic and semiotic
devices. The Roman Z provides Cyrillic-Roman code-mixing on the graphemic
level based on phonetic similarities: phonetically, both Roman Z and Cyrillic З
have the same sound – /z/. Thus, the local customer can recognize the Z as З via
the phonetic and graphemic surround, general knowledge of Roman script and
of the relations between Arizona, American West and casinos. Here the use of
the foreign name and the Roman grapheme Z signals foreignness and affiliation
with an exotic culture, which intensifies the nature of the business. The graph-
eme Z is used as an attention-seeking device or as an attention-getter to achieve
exclusive effects of a foreign culture (Piller 2001, Bhatia and Ritchie 2006). The
lower line (the activity type) is in smaller font and in Russian – Сеть Игровых
Клубов (“The Network of Gaming Clubs”). This informs the local Russophone
customers what the establishment actually is.
Aside from the literal texts, the sign as a whole represents a strong example
of the convergence of local and world cultures, integrating multimodal elements
from Slavic, Native American and American West with global social and cultural
practices. This sign exemplifies Barthes’s (1977) notion of the mutual interaction
of texts and iconic symbols. The interconnections between the various semiotic
resources with multiple modes of representation create a strong visual effect and
of course inform the viewer about the nature of the establishment. The yellow
and red colors intensify the nature of the establishment conveying risk, excite-
ment and danger (Kress and van Leeuwen 2002). The artistic frame resembles
feathers or the horns of a male steer. The three numbers 777 are considered to
be lucky numbers in many cultures of the world (Leighton 1977; Clotfelter and
Cook 1989; Kim and Notsinger 2008; Demetrian 2010). They are framed in a fan
shape that resembles feathers in a Native American headdress. Thus, even if the
viewers were completely illiterate, they might still grasp the basic concept: This
establishment is exciting and exotic.

5.2.  The case of “STEELЬНАЯ ПОСУДА”

Figure 7 is a sign with the name of a cookware store. The text of the sign
STEELЬНАЯ ПОСУДА (“Stylish Cookware”) uses the image of the metal cook-
ware and the print to facilitate the meaning. The print exploits linguistic creativ-
ity (Ross 1997; Martin 2002, 2007; Ustinova and Bhatia 2005) in English-Russian
language mixing on different levels of representation. The convergence of two
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 249

languages and scripts in the upper line creates a meaningful ambiguity in the
message by mapping phonetic, morphemic, and semantic representations of
English and the bivalent Russian/Ukrainian morpheme СТИЛЬ all in the ini-
tial morpheme STEEL (Figure 7 and Figure 8). Without language mixing, the
sign would be a noun phrase in Russian, which is near-bivalent in Russian and
Ukrainian, as in the following:
The adjective STEEL-ЬНАЯ (in Russian СТИЛЬНАЯ) consists of two
parts: the initial content morpheme is in Roman script STEEL in a larger font
and in a red color, followed by the Russian Cyrillic part ЬНАЯ, which is in a
smaller font in a blue color. The element Ь is partially covered by the Roman L.
This segmental overlap highlights the Roman script in the English morpheme
STEEL while preserving an indication of palatalization (Ь) in the correspond-
ing Russian morpheme. In the bivalent Russian counterpart СТИЛЬ (style),
the Л and Ь would be perceived as a whole, corresponding to the single pho-
neme /l’/. In contrast to Ukrainian and Russian, English lacks the palatalized
/l’/, but it is necessary to preserve an indication of palatalization (Ь). The com-
bination of the English morpheme and Roman script utilizes overlapping pho-
netic properties of English STEEL (СТАЛЬ /sta:l’/ in Russian) and Russian
СТИЛЬ /sti:l’/ (STYLE /stajl/ in English). So, the overlapping properties on the
phonetic level and meaning in both languages communicate the dual quality
of the cookware product (both “stylish” and “steel”), and provide a stimulating
Figure 8 shows how the linguistic elements on morphemic, phonetic, and se-
mantic levels converge. The crossing arrows connect translations of correspond-
ing lexemes STEEL – СТAЛЬ; STYLE – СТИЛЬ. The overlapping phonetic
representations are in the middle rectangles in the corresponding lines. The
mixture of the images and print shows the role of multimodal interconnections.
Consider how a customer familiar with Russian, Ukrainian and English would
perceive the sign. On the left, there is an image of a typical pot/pan with a swoop-
ing link to the text. The customer might process the whole from left to right as:
“metal pan > steel (English) > stylish (Russian/Ukrainian) > cookware”. “Steel” as
an English word is sufficiently close to the Russian “stal’” to become recognizable
when adjacent to the image of a metal pan. On phonetic and graphemic levels,
the initial segment STEEL is a transliteration of the Russian СТИЛЬ with pre-
served palatalization Ь through graphic rendition of Russian palatalized /l’/. So,
the ambiguity in the communicative intensions of the creators of the sign can be
250 Olga Bever

resolve through both transliteration and morphological pun. It is clear here that
the creators of the sign demonstrate a high level of linguistic and cultural aware-
ness and rely on both local and international consumers.

Figure 7: Sign of a private cookware store

Figure 8: Diagram of convergence of linguistic elements on morphemic, phonetic,

and semantic levels in the cookware store sign

5.3.  The case of “MUSIC HALL”

Figure 9 is the trilingual sign of an entertainment club. It is an example of
negotiation between local, national and global ideologies in three languages.
It employs multimodal devices that modify the “code preference through
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 251

the order and size of font and texts in the respective languages” (Pavlenko
2009: 252). Each line contains a parallel short phrase that appears in the
three languages not as translations, but with different messages. Thus, the
upper line is in Ukrainian НIЧНИЙ КЛУБ /night club/, the English text
stands as MUSIC HALL, and the lowest line is in Russian – ФИНСКАЯ
САУНА, РУССКАЯ БАНЯ “Finnish sauna”, “Russian ‘banya’ ” (a cultural
concept similar to sauna).

Figure 9: Sign of an entertainment club

The position of the three languages in this example signals ambiguity in code
preference in relation to national and global ideologies. From the top-bottom
(ideal/real) principle of text composition (Kress and van Leeuwen 2006, Scol-
lon and Scollon 2003), the Ukrainian phrase signals a preferred position as an
official language because of its upper line position, larger font, and bright red
color; then English is in the middle line as an international language and an
‘attention-getter’. The centered code preference position marks English as a pre-
ferred language. Finally, Russian is in the bottom line complying with its status
of a minority language.
With the use of multiple phrases in different levels, this sign reveals nego-
tiation of language ideologies, involving compliance with the official Ukrainian
language policy, while preferring English as an international language. Although
the first line is in Ukrainian in red and uses the larger font, the second line in
English uses the artistic half-circle framing to intensify the centrality of its text
(Huebner 2006, Kress and van Leeuwen 2006, Pavlenko 2009). Thus, while the
Ukrainian phrase signals its dominant position as an official language, the Eng-
lish phrase evokes the global culture that the club connects to. Finally, the bot-
tom Russian phrase conveys the Russian cultural concept and conveys loyalty to
the Russophone population.
252 Olga Bever

5.4.  The case of “JAZZ casino”

Figure 10 is a bilingual advertisement billboard that uses English centrally in
both the name and the function of the business (“JAZZ casino”). Its various
modes of representation communicate the meaning through interrelations of the
images and the text where the verbal message is supported by the image. A larg-
er font line СКОРО ОТКРЫТИЕ (OPENING SOON) is a phrase in Russian,
which informs the local population that the casino will be open soon. This is also
conveyed by the image of the opening zipper framing the name sign. The verbal
text “Jazz Casino” is supported by the combination of the silhouette of a woman
playing the saxophone, the piano keys, and the yellow and red colors circle in the
central position. As in the sign “ARIZONA” (Figure 6), the circular arrangement
of the piano keys reminds one of a Native American headdress. We see again that
the literal text, iconic pictures (the player of the saxophone, the zipper opening)
and more abstract symbolic features (piano keys as a headdress), all interact to
mutually support each other in a common message.

Figure 10: Sign for an opening jazz/casino club

5.5.  The case of “PROSTOR”

Figure 11 shows a name of the store, which is a Russian word transliterated to
Roman script: PROSTOR (‘space’, ‘scope’, ‘expanse’), where the letters in the sign
name PROSTOR are arranged symmetrically with the accent on the centrally lo-
cated and enlarged letter ‘S’. In Russian the name would be ПРОСТОР /prostor/,
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 253

and in Ukrainian ПРОСТIР /prostir/. The sign is organized in an advertising

style, using the slogan as a functional line below the name. In the line below,
the name of the store appears the second time as a head noun in the Ukrain-
ian slogan ПРОСТIР as the store name in a smaller font. The Ukrainian slo-
gan (in English: “The expanse of your fantasy”) is near-bivalent with its Russian

Figure 11: Sign of a private store

This sign exemplifies the negotiation between local, national and global ide-
ologies, by displaying a Russian word masked by the Roman script, while
articulating national allegiances through using the Ukrainian flag colors, yel-
low and blue. It is probably no accident that the syllables are separated by
the colors in a way that isolates the morphemes pro (in yellow) and stor (in
blue). This is an example of linguistic creativity where an English-looking
word stor(e) and the Roman script serve as an attention-getter while, actually
utilizing Russian and at the same time communicating loyalty to the Ukrain-
ian national agenda.

6. Conclusion
This discussion has suggested how “the meanings in any mode are always inter-
woven with the meanings made with those of all other modes co-present and
‘co-operating’ in the communicative event” (Jewitt 2009: 14). Meanings interact
in “a single textual phenomenon in a relationship that can be referred to as in-
tersemiotic complementarity” (Royce 1998: 25). The analyses have highlighted
multimodality as an integral component in interpreting and analyzing LLs, and
the examples show how LLs are multimodal, multilayered and multidimensional
public expressions. The discussions demonstrate how texts in LLs direct “the
reader through the signifieds” (Barthes 1977: 40), and how the “spectral analyses
254 Olga Bever

of the message” (Barthes 1977: 32) unfold the relationship between the linguistic
and non-linguistic elements while delivering the text as a whole.
By employing local, national and global semiotic and linguistic resources, LLs
represent languages, scripts, and cultures in contact. The messages in LLs are
mediated and communicated through the cultural and linguistic competences
of the local population. The meanings in LLs are conveyed through intercon-
nection, hybrids and fusion of multiple modes across discourses and ideologies,
involving social, cultural, economic and political forces. As the examples in Sec-
tion 5 demonstrate, meaning making and communication are insured by design
practices though varied semiotic modes and the interconnections between the
various semiotic resources.
The LLs in Ukraine frequently use English, foreign-sounding words and Ro-
man script. The uses of English seem to convey modernity, prestige and affilia-
tions with the global market. In the Ukrainian context with ongoing contested
language ideologies, English and foreign-sounding words and the Roman alpha-
bet replace Russian in many LLs (Pavlenko 2009). These foreign elements serve
as new sociolinguistic mediators between Ukrainian and Russian (Bever 2010).
This is in line with Sebba’s (2006: 109) analysis of post-Soviet space where “the
Latin alphabet is seen to be neutral in the sense that in this context it does not
have strong associations with one particular group”. Thus, English and Roman
with their hybrid forms on various levels of representation serve as ‘attention-
getters’ while simultaneously providing a linguistic and ideological ‘shield’, avoid-
ing the direct opposition between Ukrainian and Russian. English-Ukrainian
and English-Russian hybrid forms signal renegotiation of the linguistic spaces
though creating a novel contact zone with the mediator language.
A main result of this investigation is clarifying the role of English and the
Western languages in enriching the textual devices in Ukrainian LLs and di-
verting attention from the linguistic and ideological conflict between Ukrainian
and Russian. The south-eastern Ukraine urban case serves as an example of how
English and the Roman script interplay can be a global mediator in contested
contexts by smoothing over the local and national linguistic conflicts. In analyz-
ing the role of English as a global language and as a lingua franca, House (2003:
574) argues for the benefits in “accepting hybridity and using English creatively
for one’s own communicative purposes”. This is also consistent with the view of
English as an attention getter and the source for linguistic creativity in world
advertising (Martin 2002, 2007; Piller 2003; Bhatia and Ritchie 2006).
This research has demonstrated that the multimodal approach offers a use-
ful perspective on the interconnection of linguistic and non-linguistic semiotic
resources in the study of LL. This approach considers LLs as texts in a broad
Linguistic landscapes as multimodal and multilingual phenomena 255

semiotic sense, including sociocultural and socio-political aspects, linguistic

and cultural competences, beliefs and practices on individual and societal levels,
and discourses and ideologies embedded in the production and interpretation of
the signs. This approach also views a meaning making event as transactional in
which meanings are facilitated intrinsically through the interaction of the con-
text, the content and architecture of the sign, and the competences of the readers
and viewers. Thus, the linguistic and non-linguistic elements, their configura-
tions and interactions induce the signification of the signs in different layers of
representation, and support each other in meaning making. The meaning is con-
structed by the text creator’s and the viewer’s perceptions and interpretations of
the signs in their contexts. These processes involve sensitivity to the interplay of
the multiple cues embedded in various modes of linguistic and semiotic resourc-
es. This transactional model underlies the meaning making in LLs and suggests
that the multimodal analyses facilitate understanding of the interconnections
of the sociocultural context, social and linguistic practices, language policy and
language use in individuals and society. The analyses of the signs demonstrate
that the multimodal approach to examining LLs shows that language contact,
language mixing, and script mixing are a part of a larger picture. The intermodal
contact utilizes various modes and their interactions in meaning making and
negotiating local, national and global ideologies and discourses.

Multilingualism, both individual and territorial, has language(s) in question.
Various actors, forces and factors continuously mediate, facilitate, produce and
reproduce discourses of “language as problem”, “language as resource” and “lan-
guage as right”. These discourses, suggested by Ruiz (1984) as “orientation in lan-
guage planning”, have become a critical point in Ukrainian crisis of 2013–2014,
turning the European integration and anticorruption “Maidan” revolution into a
deadly armed conflict in the Eastern Ukraine.
This chapter was submitted before the former Ukrainian President, Yanu-
kovych, signed the 2012 Law on the Principles of the State Language Policy, be-
fore the “Maidan” revolution and the subsequent 2014 Ukrainian crises. It was
striking to many in Ukraine, and around the world, that the very first vote of
the Ukrainian parliament after the victorious “Maidan” revolution in February
2014 was to repeal the 2012 Law on the Principles of the State Language Policy.
The 2012 law had allowed the use of 18 regional languages in Ukraine if at least
10% of speakers of a particular regional language lived in a defined administra-
tive territory. According to this Law, Russian received the status of a regional
256 Olga Bever

language in the eastern and south-eastern regions of Ukraine, including the

research site. The vote to reverse this law in February of 2014 empowered na-
tionalistically oriented discourses with Ukrainian as the only official language.
It reinitiated the struggle over the status and the use of the two dominant lan-
guages, Ukrainian and Russian. This reignited the tension between Ukrainian
West and East and created massive fears among the Russian-speaking popula-
tion of nationalistically oriented forces. These fears led to separatist pro-Rus-
sian movement in the Eastern regions of Ukraine, threatening the unity of the
country, and resulting in armed conflicts in the Eastern regions. Although the
vote to repeal the 2012 law was later vetoed by the interim president of Ukraine,
it served as an indicator and a catalyst of the open confrontation between na-
tionalistic and multilingual ideologies. The struggles over language policy and
language use keep triggering ongoing debates and confrontations on various
levels of the Ukrainian, Russian and global communities. The Ukrainian crisis
of 2014 has demonstrated how language policy has served as a catalyst for es-
calating open conflicts of contested and competing ideologies, identities, and
deeper political and regional divisions in modern Ukraine, bringing language
rights and language use to the frontline of the local, national and global politics
and policies.

The author would like to express her gratitude to the editors of this volume for
their encouragement. The author also thanks the various anonymous reviewers
who have commented on the earlier versions of this article. Research for this
article was supported in part by a fellowship from IREX (International Research
and Exchanges Board) with funds provided by the United States Department of
State through the Title VIII Program. These organizations are not responsible for
the views expressed here.

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Monica Perotto, University of Bologna

The presence of the Italian language

in the linguistic landscapes of Moscow

1. Introduction
Moscow, which today may be considered an example of a multilingual metropol-
itan city, presents an interesting case for linguistic landscape studies since Rus-
sian is de jure the dominant language, but several other languages de facto coexist
with it.1 Migration has for long been an important contributing factor for the
city growth and was considerable already during the Soviet times. The various
landscapes of Moscow, both ethnic and linguistic, are in continuous evolution.2
The various ethnic groups usually do not live as compact communities;3 they
are only formally homogeneous and mainly display considerable internal social
stratification (Arutjunian 2005), but they do not appear to develop separatisms
and form ghettos (Vendina 2011).
Though the local language policy enforces the paramount role of Russian,
the commercial and cultural life of the city is so lively that its globalized look
can only be interpreted as multicultural and multilingual. This article will show
that despite the considerable presence of a range of languages and cultures in
the linguistic landscape, Russian is by no means threatened by other languages,
not even the most powerful ones. The central aim of this contribution is to in-
vestigate the vitality and use of Italian, which can be seen neither as a language

1 Moscow has always been, and indeed continues to be, a multiethnic and multilingual
city, even though there is no official demographic strategy in the distribution of the
resident population. For more information about the ethnic composition of the popu-
lation of Moscow before the 2010 census see Bell 2009: 132. According to the 2010
census, the population of Moscow is 11,541,101. See: http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/
The Slavic population is about 90%. The five biggest national groups are: Russian
(9.9 mil.), Ukrainian (154,000), Tatar (149,000), Armenian (106,000), and Azerbai-
jani (57,000). Data from the 2010 population census: Moskva v tsifrach (Moscow in
Numbers): http://100lichnost.ru/rubrica/30/16816.
2 Although 122 national groups lived in Moscow in 1970, migration began increasing
significantly at the end of 1990 (Gavrilova 2001).
3 Ukrainians and Belarusians live in a rather scattered fashion, while Caucasian com-
munities are often concentrated in the eastern or southeastern districts.
264 Monica Perotto

of migration nor a powerful minority language, since the number of Italian

population registered in Moscow is quite low.4 The small Italian population in
Moscow is employed in an array of fields, and they do not live in any particular
area of the city; it is, therefore, not possible to define them as a community of
It is, however, noteworthy that the demand for Italian courses is high, suggest-
ing that this language maintains its vitality and prestige in Russian culture and
life. As Barni and Bagna (2007: 531) suggest that “Italianisms in the world bear
witness to the prevalence of positive traits, linked to the perception of aspects of
Italianness such as quality of life, well-being, dynamism and creativity.”5
In present-day Russia, particularly Moscow, the Italian language is still con-
nected to values and positive stereotypes traditionally assigned to the Italian
culture, viz. good cooking, beautiful architecture and design, as well as fashion
and elegance. But when interpreted within the context of modern social com-
munication, the presence of Italian in urban signage can acquire new symbolic
As most of the signs in which Italian is used are connected to the cultural or
commercial sectors, it might be fair to claim that the Italian language is much
more present at the bottom-up (non-official) level, referring to the distinction
proposed by Gorter (2006: 3). The strict language legislation in Russia brings
about the fact that official signs throughout the city must be written in Russian
only, with the exception of major roads signs, in which both Cyrillic and Latin
characters are used, and some billboards which convey historical tourist infor-
mation in Russian and English.
The structure is such that before analyzing the visual material collected in the
city (approximately seventy photographs taken in different parts of central Mos-
cow over the last three years, mainly near subway stations or in shopping cent-
ers/areas), this article presents the state-of-the-art in Russian sociolinguistics,
i.e. the various approaches to the so-called jazyk goroda, the city language. This

4 More info on http://www.esteri.it/MAE/IT/Sala_Stampa/Pubblicazioni/Annuario_

Statistico/annuario 2012. It is important to highlight that during the Soviet period
the Italian population registered in Moscow was quite small, counting just 235 people
(data from the 1989 census, Filippov 2009: 17), but in recent years the presence has
been growing: 1,708 individuals in 2009, 1,877 in 2010, 1,999 in 2011.
5 Gli italianismi sono testimonianza del prevalere dei tratti positivi, legati alla per-
cezione delle caratteristiche che l’italicità possiede in termini di qualità dello stile
di vita, benessere, dinamismo, creatività. (Bagna and Barni 2007: 531, the author’s
Presence of Italian language in linguistic landscapes of Moscow 265

brief overview of Russian sociolinguistics will be used to define the framework

of this study.

2. Studying urban languages in Russia:

past and contemporary approaches
The study of urban languages in Russia originated within the dialectological
trend during early Soviet times. One of the most significant works in this field
is the article O lingvisticheskom izuchenii goroda (On the Linguistic Study of the
City, 1928) by the prominent Russian sociolinguist Larin, a promoter of urban
multilingualism and an expert of both the standard and substandard varieties of
Russian in Moscow. Larin (1977: 190–191) asserted that the struggle amongst
different languages and social dialects is an expression of social stratification in
More recently, drawing from this perspective Krasil’nikova (1988: 7) began
stressing the heterogeneity of urban language as a communicative unit with a
complex structure (slozhnostrukturirovannoe kommunikativnoe tseloe) whose
systematic study requires both linguistic and social approaches. Accordingly, she
included a range of sociodemographic variables in her study, such as types of
towns and cities, migratory flows, economic and social boundaries, and urban
and rural forms of communication.
In the late 1980s, the study of urban languages in Russian sociolinguistics
developed in two main directions: (a) the language of the city population (rech’
gorozhan) as a functional system composed of styles, regionalisms and socio-
lects, and (b) the language of city life (jazykovoj byt), place names (toponyms),
signage and advertisement language, which form the so-called jazykovoj oblik
goroda (linguistic image of the city).6
Over the last decade, the works of Trushina (2001) not only involved com-
municative processes and visual texts, but also cultural habits and traditions in a
more culturally-oriented approach, the so-called kul’turologija goroda (city cul-
tural studies), while Kitajgorodskaja (2003a: 128) chose a linguistic and semi-
otic approach, studying the changes in the naming of objects: smena rechevych
odezhd (change in linguistic dress). According to Kitajgorodskaja (2003b: 56),
Russian sign and billboard language has developed from having a merely deno-
tative or locative function in the Soviet period to today’s advertisement messages

6 See the collective works on the language of Ural cities: Zhivaja rech ural’skogo goroda
(1988), Jazykovoj oblik ural’skogo goroda (1990), Funktsionirovanie literaturnogo ja-
zyka v ural’skom gorode (1990).
266 Monica Perotto

(“iz znaka izveshchenija v znak reklamy”)7. For instance, a typical Soviet shoe
shop Оbuv’ (Shoes) has now become Obuv’ dlja vsech! (Shoes for Everyone!),
bearing a stronger colloquial accent. In the post-Soviet Russia, there is an evi-
dent general tendency to change object and place names so that they may carry
a new communicative function, that is, one that is more commercial than polit-
ically-loaded. Among contemporary Russian sociolinguists, it is Kirilina (2009)
whose approach is the closest to the present-day linguistic landscape approach,
viz. studying the vitality of language use in public space to determine the role
of majority versus minority languages in a multilingual society and relating the
observation to the existing language policies and planning activities.
In the present work these last two approaches will be used because they best
illustrate the role of Italian in present-day Moscow. Italian holds a strong position
among other European languages in the city (cf. Bagna and Barni 2007: 531who
point out that it is second only to English in visibility) and its vitality in Moscow
is evident in some particular contexts, including fashion, cuisine, the real estate
market and interior design. The creative use of the Italian language (transliter-
ated, translated, alone or in mixed forms, indicating brands, toponyms, and so
on) seems to be a new positive trend, in any case subjected to language policy
regulations. Although the sense of Italian culture conveyed through language is
often associated with stereotypes and clichés, it, in most cases, reflects positive
values and attitudes.
The increased presence of the Italian language in Moscow is also mani-
fested in the growth of various private language courses and the introduction
of Italian as a curricular subject in the public schools and universities. As many
surveys on learning Italian as a foreign language confirm (Vedovelli 2002, De
Mauro, Vedovelli, Barni and Miraglia 2002), the Italian language is frequently
chosen not only as the language of culture, but also for professional purposes.
Therefore, the developing and updating a rich linguistic and educational of-
fer would be the necessary condition for increasing the presence of Italian in
Russian life.
Although the presence and visibility of Italian in Moscow is not the direct
result of it being taught in schools or universities, the two factors are linked. In-
creased visibility of a language can positively contribute towards promoting new
economic and cultural contacts and increasing the demand of Italian in educa-
tion and in business. As Bagna and Machetti (2012: 228) suggest “the Italian vis-
ible in urban linguistic landscapes potentially activates learning”.

7 English: From informative signs to advertising signs.

Presence of Italian language in linguistic landscapes of Moscow 267

3. The presence of Italian in Moscow education

and cultural life
The development of multilingual language planning has been the basis of the
Russian educational system since the Soviet period.8 Today, the efforts of Mos-
cow schools are mainly directed at developing skills in Russian and other Eu-
ropean languages. Some 60 schools have special programs for learning foreign
languages such as English, French, German and Italian.9
Concerning Italian in particular, there are several schools and associations
promoting the language and culture of Italy, the most important being the Isti-
tuto Italiano di Cultura, the cultural institute of the Italian Embassy in Moscow,
which organizes cultural events and Italian language courses. The Società Dante
Alighieri (S.D.A.) and Biblioteca Dante Alighieri hold cultural events every Satur-
day (ital’janskie subboty, Italian Saturdays), while the Italian language certificate
P.L.I.D.A. (Progetto Lingua Italiana Dante Alighieri)10 is issued in cooperation
with the Rome branch of the S.D.A, with the scientific support of Sapienza Uni-
versity in Rome. The S.D.A also promotes the development of language training
for teachers in association with the Education Office at the Italian Consulate.
The most famous Italian school in Moscow is named in honor of Italo Calvi-
no, and over fifty other Russian schools with approximately 3,000 students are
linked to PRIA (Programma Rasprostranenija Ital’janskogo Jazyka).11 All these
Russian schools follow the programs of the Russian Ministry of Education and
sometimes employ native Italian teachers; however, the majority of the teachers
are Russian with a degree in Italian.

8 See the chapter: “Types of Bilingual Education” in Glyn Lewis (1972: 181). For more
recent information concerning the situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union,
see: Belousov, Grigorjan and Poznjakova (2001: 41–68). Nowadays, 20% of teaching
time in Moscow schools is devoted to ethnic classes (almost 25% of school children
are non-native Russian speakers), but the number of completely ethnic schools re-
mains low – 3 Georgian, 2 Armenian, 2 Tatar, 3 Jewish and 1 Lithuanian (Shejkina
2011) – and unable to satisfy the real demand.
9 See http://www.esteri.it/MAE/IT/Politica_Estera/Aree_Geografiche/Europa/I_nuo-
vi_rapporti.htm and http://100lichnost.ru/rubrica/32/16818
10 Dante Alighieri Italian Language Project. Four official certificates of Italian are issued
in Russia: PLIDA, CELI, IT and CILS. See Vedovelli 2002: 192 and http://www.gedi.
11 Italian Language Distribution Program. The member schools of PRIA promote the
study of Italian at many different levels. They also take part in events organized by the
Italian Embassy, such as student festivals, theatre evenings and performances.
268 Monica Perotto

The presence and motivation for studying the Italian language abroad was the
core of the Italiano 2000 program, a study of the perceptions of Italian language
and culture throughout the world, developed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs under the direction of Tullio De Mauro (University of Rome Sapienza)
and Massimo Vedovelli (The University for Foreigners, Siena) (De Mauro, Ve-
dovelli, Barni and Miraglia, 2002). This program aimed to identify how Italian
is perceived in terms of values and concepts, in the “global market of languages”,
where each language operates as a system of cultural items linked to economic
or political opportunities.
Another important research tool, created for this purpose by the Centre of
Excellence at the University of Siena, is MapGeoLing: a linguistic observatory
that has been developed to be used as a special database obtained by mapping
urban linguistic repertoires.12
The main conclusion of the Italiano 2000 program is that the spread of the
Italian language throughout the world is “under uncontrolled variability” (De
Mauro, Vedovelli, Barni and Miraglia 2002: 247), which means that the popular-
ity of Italian depends on its capacity to satisfy local needs of linguistic contact
and other forms of cultural exchange.
After roughly ten years of promoting this program, my research now focuses
on the highly diverse market of languages in Moscow. Paying attention to urban
linguistic landscapes, we can detect what has changed in the perception of Italian
and understand which opportunities the Italian language, culture and economic
production may have in relation to the contemporary Russian world.

4.  Italian in signs and billboards in Moscow

4.1.  Signs and their legislative context
Landry and Bourhis (1997: 25) assert that “the language of public road signs,
advertising billboards, street names, place names, commercial shop signs and
public signs on government buildings combine to form the linguistic landscape
(LL) of a territory, region or urban agglomeration.”
A typical view of Moscow streets presents most signs (both commercial and
official) in Russian, with a strong presence of loanwords, especially Anglicisms
(tury, hauz, kruiz), as can be seen in Figure 1. The presence of English is undoubt-
edly very strong in contemporary Russian language and society. Kitajgorodskaja

12 For more information see Barni and Bagna (2009).

Presence of Italian language in linguistic landscapes of Moscow 269

(2003a: 127) points out that “billboards adequately and visually fix the changing
picture of social life in the city” (the author’s translation).13

Figure 1: Moscow billboards

Figure 1 illustrates that Italian plays a prominent role in Moscow social life, par-
ticularly in the food sector. In this picture, there are a few Italianisms such as
espresso kappucino in the logo of the famous coffee house (Kofe Hauz), one of
the biggest chains of coffee shops in Russia which, in fact, is not of Italian origin.
This may be why the word kappucino is written incorrectly, occurring in the logo
with only one c, and on the company website and menu sometimes with one p.
This observation may be compared with Vedovelli’s (2005: 591) examination
of the word freddocino, a kind of cold cappuccino, commercialized by a German
company as a new product, whose origin is, however, not clear. This comparison
indicates that the Italian food experience recalls positive connotations in many

13 Vyveski adekvatno i v pryamom smysle slova ‘nagljadno’ fiksirujut peremenchivuju

kartinu sotsial’noj zhizni goroda.
270 Monica Perotto

places, and that the symbolic values of Italian words can stimulate linguistic cre-
ativity through the formation of strange and original neologisms.
Barni and Machetti’s (2012) distinction between “Italianisms” and “pseudo-
Italianisms”,14 applied to all brand and menu names containing Italian words,
proves to be very useful. However, a further consideration may be added. In the
case of official Italian brands related to haute couture, Italianisms guarantee high
visibility to Italian products while the names themselves are very stable, rarely
changing (especially because of copyright issues), and producers of these signs
are thus unable to be creative when designing, producing and placing restaurant
and other shop names and signs. The choice of Italian names and words seems
to be more a matter of prestige, elegance and pleasant sounds given to shops or
restaurants to attract customers rather than a matter of offer and sale contents.
Hence, we can certainly agree with Caramitti (2012: 59) when he states “Italy is
the essential trend maker in taste and beauty.” However, from the point of view of
Russian legislation, Moscow linguistic landscape is highly regulated, and it must
adhere to the following language policy regulations:
–– A ll signs for Russian firms, companies and/or organizations must be written
in Russian (art. 5.1, sub-section 9 of Government Decree No. 335/1996 and
No. 442/1999);15
–– Billboards of joint (Russian and foreign) companies must be written in Rus-
sian. Only if the logo is legally registered in a different language, it may be
written in Latin or other characters (art. 5.1, sub-section 10 of G D No.
335/1996 and No. 442/1999);
–– The size of a commercial sign, written in a language other than Russian, must
be half the size of its Russian counterpart (art. 5.1, sub-section 10, GD No.
335/1996; art. 3.4.1 GD No. 442/1999);
–– The use of foreign words potentially leading to a distortion of information is
prohibited (art. 5.5, Federal Law 14.07.2011, New draft).16

14 “Italianisms, i.e. Italian expressions, phrases and sentences inserted into a LL outside
Italy, and pseudo-Italianisms, terms produced using Italian word-formation models,
with a creative outcome” (Bagna and Machetti 2012: 219).
15 Postanovlenie ot 16.04.1996 N. 335 “O pravilah razmeshchenija sredstv naruzhnoj
reklamy i informatsii v g. Moskve” [On the rules of the placing of advertising and
information signs in the city of Moscow]. http://lawrussia.ru/texts/legal_105/do-
16 Federal’nyj Zakon “O Reklame” (novaja redaktsija). http://www.marketch.ru/
Presence of Italian language in linguistic landscapes of Moscow 271

In reality, not all billboards and signs follow the provisions set by law as seen in
Figures 2, 3, and 4. These pictures illustrate shop signs with inscriptions linked
to Italian, the use of which is an extremely widespread practice in commercial
signage. In the first shop window, Dimensione Danza Dance Wear, no Russian
translation is present at all. In the second, there is only a Russian transcription
of both the Italian and English words (Bambino, Bamby Way). In the third, both
the Russian and Italian versions (Artikoli/Articoli) appear. This last shop window
formulation is a legally correct translation, but the lettering is the same size in
both languages. The first uses an authorized Italian commercial logo, and the
second uses loanwords that do not affect the main message.

Figure 2: D
 imensione danza/Dance Wear shop in the Evropejskij shopping center
in Moscow

Figure 3: Children’s wear and toy shop Bambino/Bembi-Vej in Passazh in Moscow

272 Monica Perotto

Figure 4: Perfumer shop Artikoli/Articoli in Passazh in Moscow

One can find many restaurants serving Italian-style menus or pizza in Mos-
cow (though, sometimes they also offer other types of cuisine), with a variety
of interesting names evoking the beauty of Italy, its artistic monuments and/or
traditions. Kitajgorodskaja (2003a: 132) stresses how, in the Russian mentality,
everything chuzhoe (someone else’s) is perceived as exotic. A range of names,
such as famous Italian artists (Donatello, Leonardo), Italian resorts and historical
buildings (Sanremo, Palazzo Ducale) and popular Italian songs (O sole mio) are
often used.
Some restaurants have traditional Italian names such as Osterija (tavern) Tos-
cana, Trattorija (inn) Terrasa, Trattorija Venetsija, suggesting that they are dem-
ocratic17 and economic. Others propose a friendlier and confidential approach18:

17 Here the term democratic means simple, accessible to everybody. See the article:
Demokratichnye ital’janskie restorany: [Democratic Italian Restaurants] “Il Patio,
Viaggio, Mi Piace, Benvenuto, Mamina Pasta”. http://www.gastronom.ru/article_res-
to.aspx?id=1001260. Also Bagna and Barni (2007: 544) confirm the positive connota-
tions of such Italian words as osteria and trattoria, which are often associated with
positive traits like tradition, simplicity and genuinity of Italian food.
18 The colloquial and confidential approach is another peculiar element of post-Soviet
appellations in public space.
Presence of Italian language in linguistic landscapes of Moscow 273

Da Chikko, U papy Karlo19 (at Daddy Carlo’s), Mamina pasta (Mum’s pasta). The
names of the restaurants are often written in Cyrillic, but follow the Italian mod-
el: da Chikko means at Chikko’s, in Russian u Chikko, as with U papy Karlo (at
Daddy Carlo’s). In some cases, the idea of simplicity is directly provided through
the name: Trattorija Semplice (Modest Tavern); in other cases, there is an explicit
indication of elegance and exclusiveness: Restoran-butik Kolonnа (Restaurant
boutique Colonna), an old restaurant transformed into a Butik by the famous
Georgian artist Tsereteli. The word ekskljuzivnyj, now very popular in Russian, is
widely used in online presentations of restaurant services.
Nonetheless, a domestic/familiar language model is also being used for ex-
clusive restaurants with commercial logos in Italian (i.e. Mamma Giovanna) or
Russian (i.e. Mamina pasta – Mum’s pasta). The current naming of restaurants
and shops often follows the principle which Kitajgorodskaja (2003a: 191) calls
adresant-sobstvennik (the owner is the sender of the message), while in Soviet
times the pokupatel’-adresat (the message is focused on the buyer) prevailed. For
instance, a typical Soviet-era shop selling women’s clothing would have been
called Natasha or Ljudmila, not after the owner, but because these were very
popular female Russian names.
An Italian name conveys a sense of authentic Italian food, but more often than
not, it simply shows that the commercial logo belongs to an Italian company. An
Italian name also conveys the sense that customers should enjoy the experience
and, in fact, a famous Moscow restaurant chain is called Mi piace (I like it). The
menu is based on different types of more or less genuine Italian pizzas, yet one
can also find hybrid culinary mixes, such as tomato salad with smetana (sour
Overall, Italian cuisine in Moscow’s linguistic landscapes is perceived as a
model of authentic living, of the culture of eating healthy, well-prepared and
delicious food.

4.2.  On the use of Italian in menus

Menus in Italian restaurants and coffee shops are often written in two or three
different languages (Russian, Italian and English), and the Italian version is
sometimes incorrect. The following creative and/or peculiar uses have been
spotted during my observations:

19 Caramitti (2012: 64) notes that restaurant names often evoke literary models: Papa
Karlo is Buratino’s father in the Russian version of the Italian novel Pinocchio by Carlo
Collodi, very popular in Russia.
274 Monica Perotto

–– D ouble consonants: *кapuchino or *кappuchino (the correct form is cappucci-

no), *rukkola (rucola), *buffala (bufala), *panakota (panna cotta), *pepperoni
(peperoni), pasta *arab’jato (arrabbiata).
–– Number agreement: in Antipasty (pl.) *ital’jano (sing.) in which the first item
is written in the plural, whilst the second one is in the singular. The correct
form is antipasti italiani.
–– Phonetic transcription: *radicho (radicchio).
The words pasta and pizza are usually correct, since they are frequently used and
can be considered assimilated loanwords everywhere in the world.
Italian food and recipes are considered such positive models that they are not
only used for naming restaurants, but also pop culture venues, as is clear from
the sign for an Italian study club, named Tiramisu after the famous Italian dessert
(see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Italian club Tiramisu, Moscow: Real Italian, with real Italians

Figure 6: Italian cinema club, Zemljanoj val str., Moscow

Presence of Italian language in linguistic landscapes of Moscow 275

This is typically the case when “the visibility of Italian brands appears to be
closely related to their capacity to attract sense-building mechanisms associated
with positive values” (Bagna and Machetti 2012: 221). Even when the name of
the club is in Russian and is entirely unrelated to Italian cuisine, like Ital’janskij
Kinoklub (Italian cinema club, see Figure 6), the typical Italian food symbol is
maintained in order to convey a creative, positive meaning.

4.3. On the role of the Italian language in history,

architecture and design
Italian toponyms are not as popular in Moscow as they are in St. Petersburg
where one can find the famous Rossi Street (ulitsa Rossi), and names such as the
Italian Street and Italian bridge (Ital’janskaja ulitsa, Ital’ianskij most) in the city
center. There is little trace of Italy and Italians in Moscow, aside from the Rome
underground station (Metro Rimskaja) and Garibaldi Street (ulitsa Garibal’di),
though Italian architects once significantly contributed to the city’s artistic land-
scape and numerous loan words were borrowed from Italian. As the Russian
linguist Shanskij (1972: 101–102) underlined, it was during the reign of Peter the
Great that words such as kupol, balkon, arka, mozajka, barokko (dome, balcony,
arch, mosaic, baroque) entered the Russian lexicon.
Today in the so-called Quartiere Italiano (Italian District), new buildings and
apartments exhibit special details and decorations called Evroremont, European
finishes. These constructions bear Italian city names such as Venice, Florence,
Rome, Milan, Turin, Naples, Genoa, while a village called Piccola Italia (Little
Italy) lies in the suburbs.20 It is interesting to note that these new luxury houses
are no longer designated with the typical Russian name dacha, but rather kottezh
(cottage), taunhauz (townhouse), or even viletty (small villas).
Furthermore, the Italian language seems to dominate the design scene in
shops selling high quality furniture, household goods and interior decorations.
In most cases, the names are semantically transparent (Arredo Italian interiors),
but sometimes one may come across some highly original and indeed incom-
prehensible associations, as is the case in Alto Senso (High Sense) beauty center.

20 Already in the ’90s Shmeleva (1991: 33) analyzed the so called “godonyms” (street
names and toponyms) of the Soviet period, as semiotic indicators of a new reality.
Historically these godonyms and toponyms were defined on the basis of semantic
models. In a more recent work about the analysis of contemporary Moscow city lan-
guage Kitajgorodskaja and Rozina (2010: 119–145) deal with the new renomination
of urban toponyms and city objects.
276 Monica Perotto

These observations suggest that an Italian name is a symbol of style in Moscow

linguistic landscapes, and its use evokes associations of elegance and luxury, no
matter how the sign is written and what is referred to.
The function of Italian words or loanwords of Italian origin on signage is of-
ten demonstrative. Shmeleva (1991: 35) uses the word vitrinnost’, display words.
In Russian vitrinnost’ literally means how to organize a window display, but here
it refers to words that are put on show, as in the name of a beauty centre: Persona,
Imidzh Laboratorija (Person, Image Lab) or the even slightly ideological sense,
as in Libertà, salon ital’janskoj mebeli (Freedom, Italian furniture show room).

4.4.  Popular culture and Italian stereotypes

The use of the Italian language in signage in contemporary Russia proves to be
present in the different domains of the society, and its uses are related to cultural
activities such as art, music, theatre, and popular culture.21 An illustrative example
is from the name of the shop Mamma Maria (in Figure 7), which sells embroidered
items in both its physical store and online. Beyond the domestic model of naming,
some of the photos in the virtual shop appear along with the song Mamma Maria
by Italian pop group Ricchi e Poveri, which is popular in Russia today. In this case,
the logo has been left in Italian, yet the meanings created by the slogan are both
funny and familiar: Mamma Maria, we embroider love! (vyshivaem ljubov’!).
Figure 7: Embroidery shop Mamma Maria, Moscow, Vernadskij ave

21 Italian opera and classical music, which once played an important role in Russian cul-
ture, may now be found only in big theatres and opera houses, while the new model
of popular culture and pop music seems to prevail. As Ogienko (2010: 67) affirms
“Italy occupied and maintained a primary role in the history of music throughout the
sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Almost all countries have borrowed
from Italian music terminology, Russia included.” (author’s translation)
Presence of Italian language in linguistic landscapes of Moscow 277

As another evidence of the Russian interest towards Italian pop culture, I could
mention the script I saw on a T-shirt in a shop window (see Figure 8), recalling
the words Lasciatemi cantare (let me sing) drawn from the famous song L’italiano
by Toto Cutugno, which is very popular in Russia. However the Russian text Las-
ciara Mi Kantara is an incorrect transcription of the original words and bears
very little resemblance to the Italian.

Figure 8: T-shirt “LASHARA MI KANTARA” in a shop window, Moscow

Notwithstanding the typical friendly stereotypes regarding Italian pizza, food,

fashion and design which seem to create a very positive image of Italy, my obser-
vation also point to other stereotypes of Italian reality in the Moscow linguistic
landscape. As confirmed by Bagna and Barni (2007: 545) the words mafia and
padrino (godfather) are bound to typically negative traits of Italian way of life.
The poster in Figure 9 shows one of the so-called Maf Clubs, clearly depict-
ing a creative use of such stereotypes in public places. Both the concept of mafia
and the film The Godfather are perceived as leisure symbols in the slogan “we
play Mafia here” touted by a club proposing the popular party game Mafija.
In the logo of a similar club Al Ponte, we find the Italian expression grande
mafioso carrying positive connotations in order to attract lucky players to the
Mafia Game.
278 Monica Perotto

Figure 9: Maf Club, Moscow, Miklucho Maklaja str.

5. Conclusions
Although Moscow is a multicultural, multilingual city, Russian plays a dominant
role in public space and is used on all public signs and billboards. This role is
mainly determined by the current language policy, but English, Anglicisms, and
loanwords are also common in commercial advertising. As noted in the geo-
linguistic mapping carried out across the world by Bagna and Barni for the Lin-
guistic Observatory of the Centre of Excellence at the University of Siena, and
presented in various publications concerning Italian in public and social com-
munication, “in the global market of languages each idiom is present as a system
of language-culture-society and economy and therefore its role can be measured
on the basis of the cultural forms it produces.” (Bagna and Barni 2007: 529–530).
Analyzing the presence of Italian words in the Russian language, culture-
bound words (with a strong incidence in the fields of music, art and architecture)
were more common in the past, while today’s occurrences are more relevant in
other fields, such as cuisine, fashion, design.22 Italy is perceived not only as a
cultural or esthetic model, but also as an attractive industrial country. Signs with
Italian words are mostly connected with the cultural or commercial world, and
they do not only convey informative contents as znaki izveshchenija (informative
signs) but also change their illocutionary function into advertising signs (znaki
reklamy) (Kitajgorodkaja 2003b: 56).
Except for the names of famous fashion brands which do not use the Cyrillic
script and normally do not manifest linguistic transformations, the use of Italian

22 See Nicolescu 2006: 146–148 and Shanskij 1972: 101–102.

Presence of Italian language in linguistic landscapes of Moscow 279

words in commercial billboards and signs is sometimes exposed to morphologi-

cal changes and adaptations to the language of the host country on the basis of
a range of creative processes. These creative practices may include for instance
contamination of the original model, formation of neologisms, creating pseudo-
Italianisms and mixed forms.
Italian is becoming increasingly popular in Russia today, as it is the object
of study it both in public schools and private courses. This is probably not only
brought about by the significant commercial and cultural relations that exist be-
tween the Russian Federation and Italy, but also to the visibility of the Italian
language in Moscow linguistic landscape.
As the observations presented above show, Italian is used in various specific
fields such as cuisine, fashion, design, and music. The sense of Italian culture,
as conveyed through language, is often associated with stereotypes and clichés
(pasta, pizza, Italian food in general and the mafia), but in most cases, reflects
positive values, such as beauty, elegance and creativity. Caramitti (2012: 73)
points out that the image of Italy conveyed by public signs and commercial bill-
boards tends to encourage the myth of a fabulous country, or rather, of a”front”
culture, while real contemporary Italian culture, including art, cinema and litera-
ture are almost absent in this global picture.
The majority of the Italian words I have come across in social and commer-
cial communication are symbols of a positive and healthy way of life, a prestigious
culture and tradition, as well as a productive world. One can only wish that this
kind of positive perception of Italian values in the Russian society will be main-
tained and that positive images of Italianness become increasingly frequent. To
avoid the spread of Italian beauty and elegance as a bare commercial myth, the
support of strategic policies of Italian institutions will be necessary. This can mainly
be achieved through the improvement of Italian language education and by giving
more visibility to the organization of cultural events and the distribution of new cul-
ture and art products able to form a more accurate perception of the Italian identity.

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for Moscow?] Polit.ru, 20.10.2011, http://www.polit.ru/article/2011/10/20/
msk_vendina/ (accessed 16 July 2014).
Contributing Authors

Olga Bever is Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Teaching,

Learning and Sociocultural Studies at the University of Arizona. Her research is
focused on multilingualism and multimodality, post-Soviet space and globaliza-
tion, linguistic landscapes and various media, and the intersection of language
policy, language education and language use.

Mia Halonen is a Senior Researcher in the Centre for Applied Language Stud-
ies at the University of Jyväskylä. She earned her PhD and holds a title of do-
cent in Finnish linguistics in the University of Helsinki. Her areas of expertise
include interactional practices from informal, everyday to formal interactions
in both speech and writing, resources of performing oneself, sociophonetics
and language ideologies and ideologies in general shown in linguistic practic-
es. She has published on these issues from various angles, both nationally and

Amei Koll-Stobbe studied English and Russsian Philology at the Univeri-

ties of Gießen and Freiburg. She received her Ph.D. in English Linguistics at
Freiburg with a qualitative analysis of aphasics’ narratives. After the Habilitation
at Kiel University, she now holds a chair in English Linguistics at the University
of Greifswald. Her research interests are languages as semantic potentials and
cross-linguistic repertoires. The current focus is on multimodalisation and in-
formalisation of discursive practices in authentic arenas of language use. She has
been an invited scholar to the English Department of Princeton University, and
a visiting professor to Eldoret University in Kenya and Macquarie University in

Petteri Laihonen is a postdoctoral reseacher at the University of Jyväskylä. His

PhD (2009) explored multilingualism in the Romanian Banat. In 2011–2013,
Laihonen carried out a postdoctoral project on the Hungarian minorities in Ro-
mania, Slovakia and Ukraine. His publications deal with multilingualism, lan-
guage ideologies and linguistic landscapes.
284 Contributing Authors

Mikko Laitinen is currently Professor of English Linguistics at Linnaeus

University. He obtained his doctorate from the University of Helsinki and has
worked as a researcher at the University of Jyväskylä and in the Research Unit for
Variation, Contacts, and Change in English. His research interests include quan-
titative approaches to English as a lingua franca from a diachronic perspective,
variationist sociolinguistics, linguistic diversity in early 19th century vernacular
writing, and the study of multimodal public signage. He is the author of Agree-
ment Patterns in English (2007) and one the co-authors of National Survey on the
English Language in Finland: Uses, Meanings and Attitudes (2011).

Christoph Marx is researcher at the Bohemicum (University of Regensburg).

His research is focused on language management in (intercultural) organizations
and language contact along the Czech-German border. Recently he has contrib-
uted to the monograph Grenzen der Grenzüberschreitung: Zur »Übersetzung-
sleistung« deutsch-tschechischer Grenzorganisationen (with N. Engel et al.).

Sebastian Muth is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute of Multilin-

gualism at the University of Fribourg and previously at the University of Greif-
swald. His research interest includes medical tourism and the sociolinguistics of
the former Soviet Union.

Marek Nekula is Professor of West Slavic Languages and Literatures at the Uni-
versity of Regensburg. He has published on the semiotics of space, bilingualism
and contact linguistics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and grammar. Recent pub-
lications include the monograph Grenzen der Grenzüberschreitung: Zur »Über-
setzungsleistung« deutsch-tschechischer Grenzorganisationen (with  N. Engel
et  al.) and the volume Sprache, Gesellschaft und Nation: Institutionalisierung
und Alltagspraxis (K.-H. Ehlers et al.). The volume Language in Space – Space in
Literature is expected to be published in 2015.

Monica Perotto is Assistant Professor of Russian Language and researcher at

the University of Bologna, School of Languages, Literatures, Translation and In-
terpreting. Her research interests are focused on sociolinguistics, mainly on the
situation of the Russian language in the RF and CIS, multilingualism, language
policy and planning, as well as on the situation of the Russian language in the last
emigration wave in Italy and abroad. She has published a book called Language
and Identity in the Russian Speaking Population Living in Italy. At the moment
Contributing Authors 285

she is working with selftranslations in RF and CIS (in the Soviet and Postsoviet
period) with particular regard to language policy.

Hagen Peukert holds a position as research associate at the department of Eng-

lish Linguistics at the University of Hamburg. His main interests comprise multi-
lingualism, language acquisition, and the diachronic and computational analysis
of English. He held several postdoctoral positions at the University of Kassel, the
University of Hamburg and as a visiting professor of Computational Linguistics
at the University of Bremen. For four years, Hagen carried out research at the
interdisciplinary Cluster of Excellence on Linguistic Diversity in Urban Areas
(LiMA), in which the effects of multilingualism in metropolitan spaces were in-
vestigated from linguistic, educational, and sociological perspectives.

Karine Stjernholm has a Ph.D. in sociolinguistics from the University of Oslo.

Her contribution in this book is part of her doctoral dissertation about the lan-
guage development in Norway’s capital Oslo the past 40 years. She is now work-
ing as head of section in the Norwegian Language Council.

Anastassia Zabrodskaja is currently Professor of Estonian as a Second Lan-

guage at the Institute of Estonian Language and Culture in Tallinn University.
She also works as a Senior Research Fellow in Sociolinguistics at the Institute of
Estonian and General Linguistics at the University of Tartu. Her schorlarly in-
terests include Russian-Estonian language contact and code-switching, Estonian
linguistic landscapes, and ethnolinguistic vitality and identity of Russian-speak-
ers in the Baltic States. Anastassia is an experienced trainer in cross-cultural
communication. Her recent publications include “Hot and cold ethnicities in
post-Soviet space” in the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development,
co-edited with Martin Ehala, and “Signs in context: Multilingual and multimodal
texts in semiotic space” in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language,
co-edited with Tommaso Milani.
Author Index

A Bourhis, Richard Y. 15, 17, 24, 53,

Agha, Asif  128, 139, 143 74, 90, 103, 178, 197, 206, 229, 233,
Androutsopoulos, Jannis  15, 22, 128, 259, 268, 281
129, 132, 143, 145–7
Arutjunjan, Jurij  279 C
Calvino, Italo  267
B Caramitti, Mario  270, 273, 279, 280
Backhaus, Peter  18, 22, 32–3, 47, Cenoz, Jasone  55, 65, 73, 79, 92, 102,
53–4, 57–9, 63, 72, 87, 101, 205–7, 107, 121, 172, 196, 207, 228, 234, 257
214, 227, 241, 257 Ciscel, Matthew  201–2, 204, 228
Bagna, Carla  12, 23, 264, 266, 268, Coulmas, Florian  57, 73, 77, 102,
270, 272, 275, 277–80 143–4, 242–3, 258
Bahtin, Mihail  132, 144 Coupland, Nikolas  173, 196, 203,
Barni, Monica  12, 15–6, 22–4, 50, 207, 228
103, 107, 121, 124, 198, 206, 227, Cseplő, Ferenc  173–4, 196
230, 260, 264, 266, 268, 270, 272,
277–80, 282 D
Barthes, Roland  234, 240, 248, Dal Negro, Silvia  173, 196, 205, 228
253–4, 256 De Mauro, Tullio  266, 268, 280
Bell, Marina  263, 280 Dray, Susan  110, 118, 122
Belousov, Vyacheslav  267, 280
Ben–Rafael, Eliezer  14–6, 22–4, 33, E
47, 50, 72, 78, 81–2, 86, 89, 102–3, Eckert, Penelope  43, 48, 108, 122,
107, 115, 121, 124, 172, 179, 181, 139–40, 144
195–7, 205–6, 227, 230, 260, 282 Edelman, Loulou  62, 64, 73, 178,
Bever, Olga  6, 21, 233–61, 283 188, 196
Bilaniuk, Laada  203, 228, 236–9, Evans, Vyvyan  68–9, 73
244–5, 257
Blommaert, Jan  11–2, 14, 17, 22,
43–4, 47, 54–8, 71–2, 86–7, 91, 93, F
96–7, 102, 105–6, 108–9, 111–4, Filippov, Vasilij  264, 280
117, 121, 127–8, 138, 142–4, 180,
195–6, 198, 240, 257 G
Bolton, Kingsley  14, 16, 22, Gal, Susan  141, 145, 173, 177–9, 196
106–7, 121 Garvin, Rebecca  173, 196
288 Author Index

Gavrilova, Irina  263, 280 Koll–Stobbe, Amei  5, 7, 14, 18,

Georgakopoulou, Alexandra  22, 128, 53–74, 283
144–5, 147 Kontra, Miklós  171, 184, 197
Giddens, Anthony  78, 81, 91, Krasil’nikova, Elena  265, 281
101–2 Kress, Gunther  59, 61–2, 74, 119,
Glyn Lewis, Evan  267, 280 122, 133, 146, 150, 166, 239–41,
Goffman, Erving  134, 138, 140, 244, 248, 251, 258–9
144 Krysin, Leonid  281–2
Gorter, Durk  11,13, 15, 17, 22–5, Kupina, Natalija  280–1
30, 33, 49–50, 53–5, 65, 72–5, 77, Kytölä, Samu  15, 23, 123, 128,
79, 81, 92, 102–4, 107, 121–4, 132, 146
127, 144, 146–7, 172, 196–8,
207, 225, 227–31, 234, 257–8, L
260, 264, 280 Labov, William  54, 110, 118, 122
Grigorjan, Edik  267, 280 Laitinen, Mikko  5, 7, 11–25,
105–124, 205, 284
H Landry, Rodrigue  15, 17, 24, 53, 74,
Hélot, Christine  12, 23, 280 90, 103, 178, 197, 206, 229, 233,
Huebner, Thom  56, 61–2, 65, 73, 82, 259, 268, 281
85, 103, 114, 122, 205, 207, 214, Langman, Juliet  171, 175,
229, 241, 251, 258 178, 197
Hult, Francis  57–8, 64, 74, 82, 103, Lanstyák, István  171, 178–9, 188–90,
106, 122, 172–3, 188, 197 197
Larin, Boris  265, 281
J Leppänen, Sirpa  13, 105–6, 109, 111,
Janssens, Rudi  12, 23, 280 123, 128, 138–9, 142, 146
Jaworski, Adam  11, 16, 23, 33, 49,
54, 74, 77, 89, 103, 105, 108–9, 122, M
150–1, 165, 173, 178, 197, 207, Machetti, Sabrina  266, 270,
228–30, 234 275, 280
Jewitt, Carey  233, 240–1, 253, 258 Mair, Christian  60, 72, 74
Majdanova, Ljudmila  280
K Malinowski, David  143, 146, 173,
Kalenchuk, Marija  282 178, 197
Kallen, Jeffrey  54–5, 57, 62–4, 74, Marten, Heiko  17, 23–4, 53, 73–4,
109, 122, 179, 197, 206–7, 229 173, 197, 229–30
Kelly–Holmes, Helen  62, 74, 97, 103, Meierkord, Christiane  106, 121
107, 122 Metzner, Valéria  174, 198
King, Charles  199, 201–2, 204, 229 Miraglia, Lorenzo  266, 268, 280
Kirilina, Alla  266, 281 Moore, Kate  106, 123
Kitajgorodskaja, Margarita  265, 268, Moore, Robert  180, 198
272–3, 275, 281 Mpendukana, Sibonile  128, 147
Author Index 289

Mrva, Marianna  185, 198 S

Muth, Sebastian  6, 20–1, 53, 74, Schlick, Maria  57, 64, 75, 107, 123
199–231, 284 Scollon, Ron  11, 16, 24, 53, 75,
Muysken, Pieter  69, 74 108–9, 113, 124, 132, 151, 155, 159,
166, 187, 198, 207, 230, 239–41,
N 251, 260
Nicolescu, Alexandra  278, 281 Scollon, Suzie Wong  11, 16, 24,
53, 75, 108–9, 113, 124, 132, 151,
O 155, 159, 166, 187, 198, 207, 230,
Ogienko, Ivan  276, 281 239–41, 251, 260
Ondrejovič, Slavomír  176, 178, 198 Sebba, Mark  17, 24, 129, 146–7, 201,
224, 230, 234, 254, 260
Shanskij, Nikolaj  275, 278, 282
P Shejkina, Galina  267, 282
Pahta, Päivi  106, 114, 123–4 Shmeleva, Tat’jana  275–6, 282
Papen, Uta  56–7, 64, 75 Shohamy, Elana  12, 14–17, 22–4,
Pavlenko, Aneta  18, 24, 33, 50, 30, 33, 47, 50, 54, 72–5, 77, 81, 89,
201, 203–5, 216, 218, 225–6, 102–8, 121–4, 127, 144, 146–7,
228–31, 234–9, 241, 245, 251, 196–8, 206, 225, 227–31, 233–4,
254, 259, 260 243, 260, 280, 282
Pennycook, Alastair  14, 24, Silverstein, Michael  140, 147
31–2, 42–3, 50, 54, 75, 128, Sloboda, Marián  171, 198, 203–4,
142–3, 146 231, 234, 260
Perotto, Monica  6, 21, 263–282, Spolsky, Bernard  29, 50, 53, 62, 75,
284 81–2, 85, 90, 100, 104, 143, 147
Pietikäinen, Sari  107, 123, 247–8, Stroud, Christopher  14, 25, 128, 147
254, 260 Szabómihály, Gizella  171, 179,
Piller, Ingrid  107, 123, 247–8, 254, 188–90, 197
260 Szilvássy, Tímea  185, 198
Poznjakova, Tat’jana  267, 280
Presinszky, Lajos  175, 198
R Taavitsainen, Irma  106, 114, 124
Rampton, Ben  43, 47, 127, 138, Thurlow, Crispin  11, 16, 23–4, 33, 49,
143–4, 146 54, 74, 105, 108–9, 122, 150–1, 165,
Renouf, Antoinette  140, 147 173, 178, 197, 207, 228–30, 234
Roper, Steven  199–202, 204, Trushina, Laris  265, 282
220, 230
Routarinne, Sara  132, 147 V
Rozanova, Nina  281 Vaattovaara, Johanna  110, 124,
Rozina, Raisa  275, 282 139–40, 145, 148
Ruiz, Richard  255, 260 Vadkerty, Katalin  173–4, 198
290 Author Index

Van Leeuwen, Theo  59, 61–2, W

74, 119, 122, 133, 146, 150, 166, Waksman, Shoshi  12, 15, 24, 33, 50,
239–41, 244, 248, 251, 258–9 105–6, 108, 121, 124, 127, 147, 233,
Varantola, Krista  106, 123 243, 260
Vedovelli, Massimo  266–9, Woolard, Kathryn  244–5, 261
280, 282
Vendina, Olga  263, 282 Z
Vertovec, Steven  29, 51, 127, 148 Zemskaja, Elena  282
Subject Index

Adolescents  15, 19, 127, 131, 133, Caucasian communities  263
137, 138, 141 City cultural studies  265
Advertisements  33, 54, 62, 97, 105, Competence  44, 57, 129, 160, 175,
107, 109, 114, 118, 135, 138, 182, 176, 240, 254, 255
186, 193, 209, 237, 252, 265 Cultural  240, 255
Alphabet  21, 37, 43, 243, 245, 254 Linguistic  160, 175, 240, 254, 255
Cyrillic, see also Cyrillic Contextualization, contextualizing  16,
script  21, 200–202, 211, 212, 22, 55, 69–71, 77, 78, 107, 245
214–216, 220, 222, 223, 225, Culture  11, 21, 30, 42, 46, 53, 57, 58,
237, 243–249, 264, 273, 278 60, 66, 69, 77, 79, 85, 89–91, 98, 110,
Roman, see also Latin charac- 114, 119, 120, 138, 139, 202, 204,
ters  237, 238, 243, 245, 246, 207, 209, 241, 248, 251, 254, 263,
248, 249, 252–254, 264 264, 266–268, 273, 274, 276–279
Anglicisms  268, 278 Pop  274, 277
Architecture  16, 34, 78, 151, 154, 155, Culture-bound words  278
241, 255, 264, 275, 278 Cuisine  97, 98, 266, 272, 273, 275,
Attention-getters  248, 249, 251, 253, 278, 279
254 Design  11, 12, 16, 69, 80, 91, 264,
266, 270, 275, 277–279
B Fashion  62, 67, 92, 93, 131, 189,
Belarus  203, 204, 263 238, 263, 264, 266, 277–279
Bilingualism Ukrainian-Russian  236, Music terminology  276
238 Cultural diversity  29, 30, 41
Bivalency  216, 244, 245, 247, 248 Cyrillic script  200–202, 211, 212, 215,
Naturalistic 245 216, 222, 225, 245, 278
Strategic 245
Bivalent element  245, 247 D
Bolshoi Molokish  208, 218, 219, 225 Discourse  11, 12, 16, 18–20, 44,
Borders  7, 12, 18–20, 149, 150, 54–64, 67–69, 71, 72, 115, 128,
150–157, 162, 164, 165, 171, 172, 129, 139, 143, 150, 171–173, 178,
199, 200, 208, 209, 211, 220, 222 205, 207, 233–237, 241, 242, 244,
Czech-German Border  150, 153, 254–256
155 Discourse and discursive diversity  54,
Business communication strategy  41 59–61
292 Subject Index

Creative ways  54–56, 58, 64, 68, Charter for Regional or

70, 72 Minority Languages in the
Direct versus indirect discursive Slovak Republic  198
keys  58, 59, 61, 63, 64, 65, 70
Discourse genres  63 F
Discourse keys, discursive Fieldwork  141, 171, 174, 178–180
keys  56–59, 61, 63–65, 70 Interviews  86, 90, 95, 108, 121,
Discourse modes  54, 56, 58, 152, 154, 159, 173, 179, 180,
59–61, 64, 69, 71, 72 182, 185
Fragmented discourse  61–63, 68, Finland  105–107, 109–112, 114, 115,
69, 71 117, 118, 120, 137
Informality as cultural value  59, 60
Lexically organized discourse
modes 69
Globalization  7, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19,
Disembedding  19, 78, 81, 90, 93,
54, 78, 81, 91, 93, 105–107, 109,
97, 101
115, 120, 205, 234, 237
Glocalization  81, 93
E Godonyms 275
English  12–14, 16, 17, 19, 21, 44, 46, Graffiti  180, 193, 204, 238
54–58, 60, 64, 66, 69–72, 87, 88, Grammar of color  244
90–93, 95, 96, 99, 101, 105–121,
130, 131, 136, 138, 140, 155, 156,
158, 173, 178, 180–184, 186, 188, H
189, 191, 194, 199, 209, 210, 216, Hamburg  14, 18, 29, 30, 33, 34, 37
222, 223, 237, 238, 245, 248, 249, Hungarian  20, 171, 172–195
251–254, 264, 266–268, 271, Hungarians  20, 171, 173, 174, 179,
273, 278 181, 184, 187, 189, 192, 194, 195
Expanding circle  105, 120 Hybrid lexical elements  128
Global spread of  13, 16, 19, 106,
109, 111, 120 I
Epistemic authorities  135 Iconography  19, 78–80, 90, 95, 101
Ethnography  13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 72, Ideology  11, 20, 84, 88, 108, 109, 140,
85, 86, 90, 109, 112, 121, 129, 131, 143, 151, 171, 173, 176, 177–180,
143, 171, 195, 207 182, 187, 191, 195, 203–207, 217,
European Union  149, 175 226, 227, 233–238, 242, 244, 245,
European Charter for Regional or 250, 251, 253–255, 256, 276
Minority Languages  177 Immigration  29, 84, 88
Application of the Charter in Istituto Italiano di Cultura  267
the Slovak Republic, 2nd Intersemiotic  233, 235, 253
monitoring cycle  196 Complementarity 253
Third Report on the Imple- Realizations 233
mentation of the European Relations 235
Subject Index 293

Italian  21, 87, 88, 173, 186, 189, 191, Language  11, 12, 14–21, 30, 31, 33,
240, 263, 264, 266–279 37–39, 42–47, 53–62, 64, 65, 68–72,
Culture  21, 264, 266, 279 77, 79, 81, 85, 87–93, 95–97, 99, 100,
Italianisms  264, 269, 270 106, 107, 109, 110, 112, 114, 115,
Language  21, 264, 266–268, 275, 128, 129, 131, 138, 140, 143, 149–
276, 279 152, 154–157, 159–165, 171–187,
Pseudo-Italianisms  270, 279 191–193, 195, 200–209, 212–227,
Italiano 2000  268 233–245, 248, 249, 251, 254–256
Act, see also The Language act and
K minority rights in Slovakia  198
Kiel (Germany) 18, 56, 70 And Space  47
As resource  59, 255
L At school  87, 106, 129–131, 135,
Lancaster (England) 18, 56, 65, 65, 67, 138, 141, 174, 175, 239, 266, 267
68, 70 City  264, 275
Landscape  11, 14, 16, 37, 55, 87, 89, Contact  18, 43, 157, 206, 236, 255
113, 127, 128, 131 Creative use of  120, 266, 277
Linguistic  11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, Global market of  268, 278
21, 29, 30, 37, 40, 41, 43, 45–47, Ideologies  20, 171, 173, 178, 179,
53, 55, 61, 63, 64, 77, 89, 105, 182, 195, 236, 251, 254
107, 108, 127, 128, 135, 142, Laws  176–179, 187, 195
143, 171, 172, 179, 181, 199, Legislation  20, 264
202–209, 212, 214, 217–219, Minorities  12, 17, 20, 53, 176,
222, 224–227, 233, 244, 177, 195, 203, 207, 235, 251,
263, 266, 268, 270, 273, 276, 264, 266
277, 279 Mixing  43, 238, 248, 249, 255
Rural  16, 17, 20, 106, 110, 111, Official  176, 183, 195, 202, 210,
113, 115, 119, 179, 189, 205– 212, 214–217, 225, 234–237,
209, 214, 215, 216, 218, 219, 245, 251, 256
222, 225, 226, 227, 239, 265 Planning  150, 255
Semiotic  11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, Policy  15, 17, 18, 54, 55, 184, 203,
105, 110, 115, 120, 127, 149, 234–237, 245, 251, 255, 256,
150–152, 157, 159–162, 164, 165 263, 266, 270, 278
Sociolinguistic  11, 12, 13, 14, 15, State  176, 177, 179, 255
16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 105, Youth 43
108, 110, 115 Language repertoires  55, 69
Urban  14–21, 29–47, 53–58, 63, Bilingual repertoires  69
68, 89, 90, 202, 205, 206, 208, Language variation and change  43,
218, 264–266, 268, 275 53, 85
Virtual environments as  128 Borrowings  43, 44, 66, 190
Virtual landscape  12, 18, 127, 128, Loanwords  223, 268, 271, 274,
142, 158, 160 276, 278
294 Subject Index

Latin characters  264 Mediators  162, 242, 254

Leisure symbols  277 Minority languages  12, 17, 20, 53,
Linguistic  11–21, 29–38, 40, 41, 43, 176, 177, 195, 203, 207, 235, 251,
45–47, 53, 55–61, 63, 64, 69, 70, 72, 264, 266
77, 79, 87–89, 91, 92, 94, 96, 97, 98, Mobility  11, 12, 17, 19, 54, 56, 84,
101, 105–110, 114, 115, 118, 120, 100, 105, 106, 109, 110, 112, 115,
127–130, 135, 138, 139, 142, 143, 149, 179, 206
149–151, 153, 155–157, 160, 162, Mode  54, 56, 58–62, 64, 65, 67,
164, 171, 172, 175, 176, 178, 179, 69–72, 233, 234, 240–242, 244, 247,
181, 190, 195, 199, 200, 202–209, 248, 252–255
212, 214, 217–219, 222, 224–227, Moldova  20, 199–204, 209, 210, 212,
233, 234, 236–250, 253–255, 263, 217, 218, 220, 221, 224–227
265, 266, 268, 270, 273, 276–278, 279 Monolingual  20, 41, 43, 57, 109, 113,
Creativity  21, 248, 253, 254, 270, 158, 161–163, 173, 176, 180–187,
Diversity  18, 29, 30, 33, 37, 45–47, 189, 191, 193, 194, 209, 212, 216,
53, 212 218–221, 223, 224, 245
Landscaping  18, 30–33, 35 Moscow  21, 263, 264–279
Landscape  11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, Multiculturalism 45
21, 29, 30, 37, 40, 41, 43, 45–47, Multilevel analysis  241
53, 55, 61, 63, 64, 77, 89, 105, Multilingual  11, 12, 14, 15, 18, 21,
107, 108, 127, 128, 135, 142, 29, 30, 32, 37, 42–44, 47, 53, 54,
143, 171, 172, 179, 181, 199, 57, 106, 114, 117, 172, 173, 178,
202–209, 212, 214, 217–219, 199, 202, 207, 212, 214, 216, 226,
222, 224–227, 233, 244, 263, 234–237, 245, 256, 263, 266,
266, 268, 270, 273, 276, 277, 279 267, 278
Space  155, 237, 254 Multilingualism  17, 18, 33, 54,
Literacy  54–57, 60, 64, 70, 131 88, 107, 112, 116, 158, 236,
Grassroots literacy  54, 56, 70 255, 265
Heterography 56 As a resource  71
Literacy skills  54, 55, 57 Urban 265
Vernacular literacy  54, 56 Multimodality  21, 71, 240, 253
London (England) 18, 64, 65, 67–70 Multimodal resources  12, 235

Maidan revolution  255 Names  17, 18, 20, 33, 40, 43, 53, 55,
MapGeoLing 268 56–59, 61–72, 80, 81, 86–90, 93–99,
Meaning making  16, 63, 233, 242, 101, 116, 119, 133–136, 139, 149,
254, 255 153–156, 159, 161, 171, 172, 178,
Media  15, 34, 43, 53, 62, 69, 85, 106, 183, 184, 186–191, 204, 208–210,
114, 119, 127–129, 131–135, 139, 212, 218–222, 225, 227, 233, 237,
141–143, 155, 177, 178, 202, 233, 240, 248, 252, 253, 265–268, 270,
235, 237–239 272–276, 278
Subject Index 295

As identifiers  61, 68 Signs  19, 106, 107, 181, 191–194,

As ideofiers  18, 61, 67–71 217, 220, 224, 226, 233, 238,
Naming  19, 61, 77, 94, 98, 132, 156, 245, 268, 278, 279
191, 265, 273, 274, 276 Space  14–16, 19, 21, 54, 56, 58, 62,
Nation-building  203, 204, 227, 77, 80, 90, 105, 107, 112, 120,
235, 237 135, 177, 178, 180, 181, 195,
Non-urban areas  19, 107 196, 203, 207, 234, 237, 266,
272, 278
O Sphere  53, 77, 106, 121, 203, 204,
Orthography  56, 188, 244 205, 221, 225, 235
Oslo  18, 77, 78, 82–86, 88, 89, 94–96,
99–101 Q
Qualitative  14, 17, 19, 20, 40–42, 78,
P 87, 90, 101, 111, 150, 173, 178, 180,
Performance  129, 141, 150, 267 182, 195, 199, 233
Place  11, 12, 16, 18, 19, 29, 30, 33, 44, Quantitative  11, 13, 14, 16–20,
56, 77, 78, 80–82, 84, 85, 90, 94, 99, 40, 42, 78, 87, 90, 101, 108, 109,
100, 106, 109, 111, 113–115, 120, 111, 173, 178–182, 195, 206, 225,
127, 132, 138, 142, 151, 152, 154, 233, 234
155, 159, 160, 164, 177, 178, 185,
186, 193, 210, 220, 224, 240, 242, R
244, 270, 277 Re-embedding  19, 78, 81, 90, 93, 97,
Name  172, 183, 184–186, 188, 101
204, 221, 225, 227, 233, 265, Resources  14, 29, 54, 55, 58, 59, 66,
266, 268 69, 70, 71, 91, 93, 106, 107, 117, 120,
Sense of  11, 77, 78, 80, 90, 95, 128, 129, 132, 138, 140, 162, 185,
99–101, 108, 115 233, 239, 240, 241, 242, 244, 248,
P.L.I.D.A. (Progetto Lingua Italiana 254, 255
Dante Alighieri) 267 Linguistic  11, 12, 17, 33, 35, 70,
Polylanguaging 43 92, 106, 109, 118, 128, 130, 233,
Population exchange  173, 174 234, 237, 241, 245, 254, 255
Post-Soviet  12, 18, 21, 33, 53, 203, Multimodal  12, 235
205–207, 213, 225–227, 234, 235, Roma  175, 179, 180
237–239, 254, 266, 272 Romanian  20, 199, 200–202, 208,
PRIA (Programma Rasprostranenija 210–216, 218, 220–222, 225, 227
Ital’janskogo Jazyka) 267 Russian  13, 20, 21, 43, 199–204,
Public  17, 19, 20, 29, 54, 56, 58, 59, 208–216, 218–227, 234–239,
60, 105, 152, 161, 162, 163, 164, 244–249, 251–256, 263–268,
172, 176, 177, 179, 180, 191, 203, 270–273, 275–279
204, 205, 207, 212, 214, 216, 218, (De)-Russification  203, 226,
221, 224, 226, 227, 237, 238, 253, 234, 239
266, 277, 278, 279 Legislation 270
296 Subject Index

S 203, 204, 210, 212–215, 219, 220,

Semiotic  11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 19, 32, 46, 222–224, 226, 227, 237, 238, 264,
54, 55, 58, 63, 77, 97, 108, 112, 113, 265, 271, 276
114, 116, 127, 133, 137, 138, 140, Slavic 248
151, 157, 158, 163, 171, 173, 178, Languages  236, 244, 245
233, 234, 237, 239, 240, 241–244, Population 263
248, 254, 255, 265, 275 Slovakia  171, 172, 175–179, 181, 184,
Device 21 189, 190, 192, 194, 195, 204
Landscapes  11, 13, 18, 19, 20, Social media  15, 127–129, 131–135,
105, 110, 115, 120, 127, 149, 141–143
150–152, 157, 159, 160–162, Società Dante Alighieri  267
164, 165 Sociolinguistic landscapes,
Representation  233, 234 see Landscape  11, 12, 13, 14,
Signs  11, 12, 13–19, 21, 30, 32, 33, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 105,
35, 36, 38, 41, 45–47, 53, 59, 62, 63, 108, 110, 115
65, 77, 78, 80, 82, 85–87, 89–91, Sociolinguistics  18, 30–32, 53, 54,
98–101, 105–113, 115, 118, 120, 108, 109, 264, 265
127, 128, 130, 133, 135, 138, 140, Of globalization  12, 109
142, 143, 150, 157–159, 171–173, Of mobility  54
177, 178, 180–188, 192–195, 203, Space  11–22, 29–34, 37, 39, 41, 42,
204–210, 212, 214, 219, 220–222, 45–47, 59, 62, 64, 69, 77–80, 89,
224, 226, 227, 233–235, 237, 238, 90, 105–115, 121, 127–129, 131,
240–245, 247, 255, 264, 266, 268, 133–135, 142, 149–160, 162, 164,
270, 271, 278 171, 177, 180–182, 195, 199, 202,
Bilingual  183, 185–189, 193 207, 210, 214, 215, 227, 234, 235,
Billboards  182, 206, 209, 210, 233, 240, 252, 254, 266, 272, 278
234, 238, 240, 252, 264, 265, Macro space  37, 39, 41
268–271, 278, 279 Meso space  37, 41
Bottom-up  33, 182 Micro space  39, 41
Commercial  37, 53, 186–188, 190, Public, see also Public
204, 238 sphere  14–16, 19, 21, 53,
Hybrid, see also Hybrid lexical 54, 56, 58, 59, 62, 77, 80, 90,
elements 189 105–107, 112, 120, 121, 135,
Private  193, 212, 238 177, 180, 181, 195, 203–205,
Public  53, 105, 106, 107, 181, 207, 221, 225, 234, 235, 237,
192–194, 217, 220, 226, 233, 266, 272, 278
238, 268, 278, 279 Relational space  37, 47
Religious 191 Semiotization of  108
Top-down  33, 182 Spatialization 12
Signage  17–21, 53–57, 61–65, 71, Stance  130–132, 136, 140
77, 86, 92, 100, 105, 111, 112, Stereotypes  81, 97, 98, 117, 139, 140,
173, 177–179, 185, 187, 195, 247, 264, 266, 276, 277, 279
Subject Index 297

Style  19, 56, 60, 63, 68, 71, 81, 84, 86, 233, 235–239, 242, 244–249,
91, 94, 95, 117, 138–142, 178, 209, 251, 253–256, 263
243, 249, 253, 265, 272, 276 Ukrainian-Russian
Superdiversity  17, 29 bilingualism 236
Urban sociology  14, 18,
T 29–31, 42
Toponyms  153, 162, 265, 266, 275 Usage structure  30, 33–35, 37–39, 41,
Tourism  18, 109–112, 116–118 42, 45–47
Global 117
Transnistria  20, 21, 199–202, 204, V
205, 207–218, 220, 221, 224–227 Venice Commission  176

Ukraine  21, 199, 200, 203, 220, 224, Writing systems  151
225, 234–238, 245, 254–256
Surzhyk 236 Z
Ukrainian  20, 21, 200–202, 208, Zaporizhzhya  21, 234, 235, 238,
210, 211, 214–216, 220, 225, 239, 247