LINGUIST List 28.3373

Wed Aug 09 2017

Review: Sociolinguistics: Ben Said, Rubdy (2015)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 28-Mar-2017
From: Teresa Ong <>
Subject: Conflict, Exclusion and Dissent in the Linguistic Landscape
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at

EDITOR: Rani Rubdy
EDITOR: Selim Ben Said
TITLE: Conflict, Exclusion and Dissent in the Linguistic Landscape
SERIES TITLE: Language and Globalization
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Teresa Ong, Griffith University



The field of linguistic landscape has developed much over the years. Moving away from the traditional definition of linguistic landscape by Landry and Bourhis (1997), which focusses on the two main functions of linguistic landscape: informational and symbolic, “Conflict, Exclusion and Dissent in the Linguistic Landscape”, edited by Rani Rubdy and Selim Ben Said, aims to expand into new areas of inquiry by bringing together notions of language ideologies, language politics, language policies, language hierarchies, and ethnolinguistic struggles to conceptualise research based on conflicting and contesting linguistic landscape sites. This book is divided into two parts, with part one focussing on the theme of ‘conflict and exclusion’, and part two on ‘dissent and protest’. There are eight chapters in the former section and five chapters in the later section. The articles cover various cities across the globe, hence, it is worth reading to find out how conflict and exclusion can be represented in different linguistic landscape sites. There are also notes on the contributors, an introduction chapter by Rani Rubdy, and a comprehensive index.

Under the theme of ‘conflict and exclusion’, Chapter 1, ‘The Passive Exclusion of Irish in the Linguistic Landscape: A Nexus Analysis’ by Jo Thistlethwaite and Mark Sebba adopts a nexus analysis approach (Scollon and Scollon, 2004) to examine the signage displayed on 220 buildings in four of the busiest streets in Ennis, Ireland. Through categorisation of the signage, the process resulted in the authors conducting interviews with fourteen social actors who displayed their Irish signage on the exterior of their business. The interviews reveal that the initiative to put up Irish signage (seen as the minority in most cases) is actually driven by campaigns to paint a picture that the usage of Irish is individually driven. Thus, this situation shows that the linguistic landscape of Ennis is a contradictory site between language policies and private practice, but not one which opposes language ideologies.

In Chapter 2, ‘Unseen Spanish in Small-Town America: A Minority Language in the Linguistic Landscape’, Robert A. Troyer, Carmen Cáceda, and Patricia Giménez Eguíbar employs a mixed methods approach of a quantitative survey of the linguistic landscape and qualitative semi-structured interviews to examine the role of Spanish in a small town in Oregon, USA. The quantitative results show that only 11% of public signage is in Spanish, limited to convenience stores and Mexican restaurants and businesses. In addition, the qualitative interviews demonstrate that there is a lack of awareness in determining language choices in the linguistic landscape. The widely spoken Spanish in private places is unseen in public. Nevertheless, this study shows that the use of Spanish in the linguistic landscape carries important meanings related to ethnic identity and heritage.

Next, Chapter 3, ‘Language Removal, Commodification and the Negotiation of Cultural Identity in Nagorno-Karabakh’, Sebastian Muth examines the linguistic landscape of Nagorno-Karabakh to demonstrate the reconstruction of cultural and political identities in a post-Soviet sphere after the fall of communism. Muth’s study is based on a two-dimensional methodological framework; the former illustrates the aspects of linguistic practices, while the later states the physical restructuring of the sphere. Viewing the sphere through a wider, semiotic meaning, the results illustrate the reflection of the legacies of Soviet nation building, language policy, and collapse, as well as give insights into the linguistic practices and the role of Russian as a language of prestige and wider communication.

Melissa L. Curtin’s ‘Negotiating Differential Belonging via the Linguistic Landscape of Taipei’ investigates the ways in which the linguistic landscape is used for negotiating ‘boundaries of in-/ex-clusion’ for both the Taiwanese and the island itself. She employs the ethnographic and discourse analysis approach to explore several key ideas of in/exclusion: (i) domains, (ii) scales, (iii) degrees, (iv) motivations, and (v) the relational nature. Her discussion of the diverse linguistic and semiotic practices demonstrates that the linguistic landscape practices are multi-indexical and influenced by issues of social inclusion. Lastly, she suggests that the notion of social inclusion is best understood through specific sociocultural, political, and economic contexts.

The following chapter, ‘Semiotic Landscape, Code Choice and Exclusion’ by Luanga A. Kasanga studies public signs in three geographical spaces, which have different colonial histories – The Democratic Republic of Congo, Bahrain, and Singapore. Nevertheless, the three regions enjoy a high visibility of English signage in their linguistic landscape. Employing a qualitative content analysis together with a textual analysis of signage, Kasanga finds that the choice of code or codes on the signage must not result in the audience having to guess the messages indicated. When the choice of code on signage is only written in a single language, additional information in the form of visuals or iconographic information should be added to send out clear messages to the audiences.

Focussing on Japan, a country that is extremely prone to natural disasters, Mei Shan Tan and Selim Ben Said’s ‘Linguistic Landscape and Exclusion: An Examination of Language Representation in Disaster Signage in Japan’ draws on the framework of geosemiotics (Scollon and Scollon, 2003) to discuss the trends of presenting emergency and disaster signage to non-Japanese speaking audiences. The authors collect posters on bulletin boards and signage related to natural disasters and evacuation locations at Matsushima Kaigan Station, a place in Miyagi Prefecture that was affected during the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The results reveal that most of the information presented is predominantly in Japanese and English, not multilingual, which may cause difficulties in sending out the messages of safety and survival to non-Japanese residents or non-English speaking tourists. Hence, the authors suggest highlighting this issue to the Japanese government to provide such information in foreign languages.

As part of a research project to investigate the academic linguistic landscape from a student’s point of views, Chapter 8 ‘All of Myself Has to Change: A Story of Inclusion and Exclusion in an Unequal Learning Space’ by Ruanni Tupas focusses on the meanings and ideologies held by only one international business student in Singapore whose school’s main building serves as a productive academic space. The interview data with the student demonstrates her struggles in a foreign country when acquiring competency to speak standard English with her peers in an academic context. Tupas’ study, which concentrates on only one individual’s point of view, is an attempt to capture how a student’s life story and ideology intertwined with her daily interactions in textual environments.

The last chapter in the first section of this book, ‘Mobilizing Affect in the Linguistic Cyberlandscape: The R-Word Campaign’ by Lionel Wee, is an interesting case study that examines the R-Word campaign in cyberspace, initiated in 2004 by the Special Olympics International community to eliminate the use of the word ‘retarded’. Wee argues that while the R-word ‘retarded’ itself appeared to be ‘simply hurtful’, there are still people using it to ‘insult and degrade’ others. On the other hand, those opposing the campaign are excluded from any related debates and express their concerns about their freedom of expression. Combining insights from studies of language ideological debates (Blommaert, 1999) and verbal hygiene (Allan and Burridge, 2006; Cameron, 1995), Wee’s study enriches our understanding of how discourse practices in linguistic cyberspace can have an impact on the social circulation of linguistic resources (Stroud and Mpendukana, 2009).

In the second section under the theme of ‘dissent and protest’, Chapter 10, ‘Occupy Baltimore: A Linguistic Landscape Analysis of Participatory Social Contestation in an American City’ by David I. Hanauer examines the public literacy in constructing the multimodal representational genres at the Occupy Baltimore demonstration. Data collection consists of 439 digital photographs, 50 minutes of digital video, and discussions with five members of the Occupy Movement. Hanauer finds that there are many kinds of representational genres used during the demonstration such as handmade signs, handmade banners, signed sidewalks, billboards, signed clothing, leaflets, flags, and tents. These genres function as a very diverse set of messages for propagation and also as an invitation for passers-by to participate in the demonstration. To sum up, Hanauer concludes that these various genres are a representation of the many voices of the people at the Occupy Baltimore site.

The subsequent chapter, Chapter 11, ‘Overcoming Erasure: Reappropriation of Space in the Linguistic Landscape of Mass-Scale Protest’ by Corinne A. Seals, discusses how the visibility of the linguistic landscapes of mass-scale protests can be achieved. Using Bakhtin’s notions of heteroglossia, polyphony, and dialogism (Bakhtin, 1984, 1992), Seals interprets her data from the National Immigration Reform March and Occupy. She states that the messages sent out during the protests catch the attention of the world. This situation significantly increases the level of visibility, changes the conversation, and becomes a mobility of social power.

Drawing from a collection of 66 articles containing photographs with signage and 39 videos representing demonstrations in Tunisia, Sonia Shiri in Chapter 12, ‘Co-Constructing Dissent in the Transient Linguistic Landscape: Multilingual Protest Signs of the Tunisian Revolution’ looks at the languages, themes, and discourse strategies employed during the demonstrations. Her analysis reveals that there is signage displayed in Arabic, French, and English, which reflects a multilingual linguistic repertoire among the participant pool. Each language demonstrates the different roles it played during the protests. Shiri’s study leads to a call for further expansion of the linguistic landscape studies to include studying the soundscape during the protests.

In Chapter 13, ‘A Linguistic Landscape Analysis of the Sociopolitical Demonstrations of Algiers: A Politicized Landscape’, Hayat Messekher combines qualitative and quantitative analysis to investigate the types of signage used and their functions during three Algerian public demonstrations which took place in 2011 and 2012. The author finds that handheld signs, posters, banners, and flags are used during the demonstrations, and they are designed to communicate the different aims of the groups the demonstrators represented. This study is a reflection of the power struggle between language practices and language policy in Algeria, which is shaped by the changing socio-economic conditions.

The last chapter in this book, ‘A Multimodal Analysis of the Graffiti Commemorating the 26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks: Constructing Self-Understandings of a Senseless Violence’ by Rani Rubdy examines the graffiti painted on the walls of the Bada Kabrastan. Combining Kress and van Leeuwen’s (1996) approach to visual semiotics and Scollon and Scollon’s (2003) geosemiotics framework, the author interprets the photographs of the graffiti according to the languages used and the meanings they conveyed. She concludes that the graffiti on the wall of Bada Kabrastan shows us how a space is reinterpreted and redefined to bring the protest discourse to another level.


Linguistic landscape research is a rather young and narrow subfield in sociolinguistics. Nevertheless, in recent years, it has branched out to include semiotic analysis. Overall, this book has demonstrated an achievement in expanding linguistic landscape research and included many semiotic analyses of resources such as banners, flags, graffiti, cyberspace, and buildings. Many chapters have employed different approaches such as nexus analysis, geosemiotics, and multimodal analysis to study the linguistic landscape in various places across the globe, with a frequent emphasis on places where there were conflicts happening between language practices and language ideologies. However, some basic knowledge of classic linguistic landscape research is needed before attempting to read and understand each chapter. Concepts of language policies, language politics, and the struggles of language and power are also required before reading this book in order to avoid any confusion. A conclusion chapter is preferred to sum up the various chapters and to state how linguistic landscape research has developed as well as the contributions made by the chapters in this book. From a postgraduate student’s point of view, this book is suitable for any postgraduate students who intend to conduct their research on linguistic and semiotic landscapes.


Allan, K. and Burridge, K. (2006). Forbidden Words. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bakhtin, M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’ Poetics. Minneapolis, USA: University of Minnesota Press.

Bakhtin, M. (1992). The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin, USA: University of Austin Press

Blommaert, J. (Ed.). (1999). Language Ideological Debates. Berlin, Germany: Mouton.

Cameron, D. (1995). Verbal Hygiene. London, UK: Routledge.

Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. New York, USA: Routledge.

Landry, R. and Bourhis, R. Y. (1997). Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality: An Empirical Study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 16, 23-49.

Scollon, R. and Scollon, S. (2003). Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World. London, UK: Routledge.

Scollon, R. and Scollon, S. (2004). Nexus Analysis: Discourse and the Emerging Internet. London, UK: Routledge.

Stroud, C. and Mpendukana, S. (2009). Towards a Material Ethnography of Linguistic Landscape: Multilingualism, Mobility and Space in a South African Township. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 13(3), 363-386.


Teresa Ong is a PhD candidate at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. Her research interests include language maintenance and shift, language planning and policy, and linguistic landscape. She is currently researching on language maintenance of the Chinese community in Penang, Malaysia.

Page Updated: 09-Aug-2017