Seminar: "Beyond written signage: oral linguascaping in the linguistic landscapes of rural Northern Cape, South Africa"

Beyond written signage: Oral linguascaping in the linguistic landscapes of rural Northern Cape, South Africa

Dr Lorato Mokwena


Linguistics Department, University of the Western Cape


Landry and Bourhis (1997: 25) describe linguistic landscape (LL) as “[t]he language of public road signs, advertising billboards, street names, place names, commercial shop signs, and public signs”, while Coulmas (2009) describes it as “the study of writing on display” and asserts that “linguistic landscape is really linguistic cityscape, especially in multilingual settings”. These descriptions bring forth two problematic characteristics of current LL studies: Firstly, the assumption of the omnipresence of writing. Secondly, the apparent focus on urban (cityscapes) rather than rural areas (ruralscapes) where oral language predominates in sign-making and consumption. Drawing on Banda and Jimaima (2015) conceptualisation of oral linguascaping and Kress’s (2011) social semiotic approach to multimodality, the paper uses images of signage, interview data and oral narratives of place in a rural Northern Cape site to explore how people ignore inscriptions and provide their own oral linguascaping of place. The implications of this for the understanding of the production and consumption of signage in rural and oral-language dominant contexts are discussed. This paper concludes with discussion on the importance of oral accounts of place and socio-historical knowledge in the production and consumption of signage in the Global South.


Banda, F., & Jimaima, H. (2015). The semiotic ecology of linguistic landscapes in rural Zambia. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 19(5), 643-670.

Coulmas, F. (2009). Linguistic landscaping and the seed of the public sphere. In D. Gorter & Shohamy, E.(Eds.). Linguistic landscape: Expanding the scenery pp. 13-24. New York, London: Routledge.

Kress, G. (2011). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. New York: Routledge.

Landry, R., & Bourhis, R. Y. (1997). Linguistic landscape and ethnolinguistic vitality: An empirical study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 16(1), 23-49

Wednesday, February 13, 2019
10:30am - 11:20am
Department of Linguistics Seminar Room