LINGUIST List 30.4503

Tue Nov 26 2019

Review: Semantics; Sociolinguistics: Schulze (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 08-Aug-2019
From: Katharina Tyran <>
Subject: Bilder - Schilder - Sprache
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Ilona Schulze
TITLE: Bilder - Schilder - Sprache
SUBTITLE: Empirische Studien zur Text-Bild-Semiotik im öffentlichen Raum
PUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Katharina Klara Tyran


The monography “Bilder – Schilder – Sprache” by Ilona Schulze is an empirical study on text-image-semiotics in public space. On around 200 pages, the author presents her findings from a two-year fellowship by Fritz-Thyssen-Stiftung. Her research is conceptualized by an interdisciplinary approach and framed by “Sémiologie de l’espace”, understanding space with Henri Lefebvre as dynamically, socially, culturally and economically determined. The concrete space examined and documented photographically within this study is a pedestrian area and a shopping mall in Munich. The data is analyzed quantitatively as well as qualitatively, showing semiotic processes and techniques of texts and images in their interplay, demonstrating the dynamics of public communications with passers-by. The book is composed in six chapters: the introduction is followed by a section on Linguistic Landscape research generally and a chapter on the interplay of Linguistic Landscapes and multimodality. Chapter Four explains the area of research and methodology; and the following part, actually, is the core analysis and therefore the substantial and most extensive chapter of the monograph. The final section, Chapter Six, recapitulates the findings in the context of the theoretical frame outlined in Chapters Two and Three.

In her introduction, Ilona Schulze explains her research project as an empirical case study focusing on the semiotic systems of images and language in the public space, with the aim of explaining to what extent it may by understood as a semiotic landscape. Therefore, she extends approaches from the Linguistic Landscape research with image linguistics, both relatively recently developed research branches, in order to enable a multimodal and multifunctional view. As Schulze argues, focusing only on the visible written language would delimit explanations on structure and function of public “linguistic space”, whereas a complementation with multimodal approaches and integration of images allows a more encompassing analysis. Schultze’s main hypothesis, therefore, considers the public semiotic space being constituted by a dialogical, communicative interaction of the observer with a sign system in between language, image and medium. As important parameters for her analysis she indicates already in her introduction intentionality, informativity, situatedness, intertextuality, culture, and materiality.

With the approaches of Linguistic Landscape research, yet, being the main starting point for her research study, Schulze dedicates her second chapter to this subfield in sociolinguistics, which strongly came to the forefront starting from Landry’s and Bourhis’ seminal work from 1997. Focusing on visible language on and in various forms, such as public signs and road signs, billboards, topographic names, as well as commercial shop signs, they shifted their interest from spoken to written language in order to examine manifestations of multilingualism and ethnolinguistic vitality. Not surprisingly, these issues emerged in areas with language conflicts, such as Belgium and Canada, focusing on struggles of two or more language communities. Since the late 1990s, this research focus developed strongly and established new research issues, approaches and methodologies, questioning the presentation and representation, and moreover, functions of languages – be it autochthonous or regional minority languages with a long history or new, immigrant languages in mostly urban settings. Furthermore, analyzing also the visual design of written language, such as font, color, size we may not only speak of linguistic, but of semiotic landscapes as a research area. Schulze gives an overview of different sign categories, such as private and public, and their functions. Importantly, she states that signs as such may have an significant impact on the construction of space, as signs enable the recipients to functionally evaluate a given space: they indicate what we must or must not, might or might not do, how we could or should behave. Therefore, we might grasp space as a condition as well as an outcome of social processes, which is expressed by the concept of treating space as discursively formed, as articulated by Jaworski and Thurlow. Schulze interestingly also points out the important social and economic processes leading to current public spaces and the importance of advertisement as one of the mayor areas for the production of private signs in the linguistic landscape, as well as the plotted narrativization of logos and company names expressed by Corporate Identity or Design.

The following section on Linguistic Landscapes and Multimodality connects thereon, including multimodality as a description frame for different dimensions of signs. Here, graphics are included as important elements, besides language, to sustain and support the overall statement of a sign, which marks the concrete form of the language presentation, such as layout, fonts, and colors, as important factors. Schulze draws on typography as a semiotic resource for presenting a particular statement or message, thereby relying on social and cultural connotations or specific attributions evoked. Subsequently, she points out that linguistic landscape research in general neglects the interaction of language with graphics and images, thus she argues for a stronger incorporation of image linguistics approaches, claiming that the interplay of script and image may be crucial for the overall message of a sign. As the author states, though, it is not only important looking at the information content in multimodality, but also on the recipient’s perception.

The fourth chapter is dedicated to the methodological frame of the empirical study. Schulze first gives a detailed description of her research area, two deliberately chosen differing spaces. The pedestrian zone Kaufingerstraße – Neuhauser Straße – Weinstraße – Theatinerstraße in Munich’s city center is one of the most frequented shopping promenades in Germany, with a good transportation infrastructure and therefore quite accessible. In the survey period in spring 2016, there have been almost 340 businesses and companies in place. The author also explains changes during the last centuries, as the investigated pedestrian zone has a strong trade and commerce tradition. The shopping mall Olympia Einkaufszentrum (OEZ), though, is one entity and therefore structurally differs from the pedestrian zone. Established in 1972, the shopping mall was planned not only in the context of the Olympic games in Munich but also as an urban project of its time. The data collected in both examination areas during spring 2016 generated a data base of more than 2.000 pictures and around 170 short video sequences. The collected data has been subdivided into three different units – signs, visible surfaces, and images / pictures of an overall scene – which were described with differing analytical parameters, integrating approaches, annotations, and variables from linguistic landscape research and image linguistics.

Chapter Five, the analysis section, is introduced by a brief description of the research area’s structure, presenting numbers and their historical developments on for instance retail shops, gastronomy, service providers, infrastructure in the pedestrian zone in Munich’s city center and outlining the particular structure of the shopping mall OEZ. The following first part of the analysis focuses on the language presented on signs and visible surfaces such as shop windows. Schulze provides a detailed evaluation of her corpus with tokens subdivided according to actors. When comparing the pedestrian zone and the shopping mall, the author concludes a considerably lower presence of language in the latter which she explains by missing actors and the structure of shopping malls. In the analysis of different languages, the provided data shows a strong dominance of the German language, with English assignable tokens on the second rank, followed by French, Italian, and Spanish. Interestingly, the signs documented are predominantly of rectangular shape with white being the dominant color, which might be explained by its high contrast to any other color. Subsequently, the data is analyzed according to the different sign production actors carved out, namely trade, service providers such as medial or legal practice, gastronomy, church, culture, and infrastructure. Schulze states here, that according to her examination, a linguistic or semiotic space is not so much structured by legal requirements, but the composition of actors and their self-presentation. In a second part of her analyses, the author draws on the interaction, positioning and function of images, signs and language in the construction and interpretation of public space, firstly drawing on various sign types, such as hanging signs or label signs. The most prominent topic, indeed, are visible surfaces generally, and shop windows precisely. Schulze explains various levels of such visible surfaces, namely the background, the middle section and the glass front. She introduces five level linking models for the information structures of text-image-figure and their acquisition or reception. Following from that, she presents visualization models for the shop windows, analyzing the connection and correlation of text, image and figure. The last important unit of analysis is images / pictures, here defined as the most complex sign cluster and an extended perspective on the overall scene of one building complex, arguing that signs in the bigger picture enable recipients to narrow down the choice in the public space, activating frames and sub-frames regarding the function of particular entities and shaping the space and its utilization. In a last step, Schulze describes interaction structures of signs, visible surfaces and the “bigger picture” for the specific actors (trade, service providers, gastronomy, church, culture, and infrastructure) as well as the referring information and triggered frame for recipients.

The last chapter (Chapter Six) provides a summary of Schulze’s results. She states, that both areas of investigation, the pedestrian zone as well as the shopping mall, show stereotype structures as a consequence of economic processes and urban planning, with parallels in semiotic structures and functionality, thereby demonstrating established patterns of communication and infrastructure in public space. Schulze points out that when accessing public space, we firstly refer to greater structures, than examine the semiotic of the space via signs, and only in a third step, language becomes important to identify individual players. Here, the question remains whether the information is actually processed via language or as a graphical unit. Therefore, the structure of a commercial macro frame is not so much linguistically, but visually shaped. In a last statement, Schulze argues that Linguistic Landscapes may be constantly in a process of change, but still stick to recurring topics and themes. It is only the form of presentation, which is specifically adapted to certain target groups, and additionally shaped and affected by wider and stable collective ideas and concepts.


Schulze’s monography presents a very extensive and detailed analysis of two semiotic landscapes in Munich and is especially noteworthy as she combines qualitative and quantitative methods. Her elaborated analysis models and the corresponding illustrations allow substantial statements especially on the interaction structure of signs, images, and language. Schulze’s interdisciplinary approach starts from Linguistic Landscape research, incorporating concepts of linguistics, visual culture and cultural studies, sociology as well as cognitive science. Nevertheless, some of those concepts important for the study may have been elaborated in more detail. Especially image linguistics would have needed a more in-depth demonstration. Schulze’s empirical case study, though, is an important contribution to the mentioned research areas as she includes multimodality as an extension to the Linguistic Landscape research, therefore enhancing this approach and the study of semiotic structures in public space. The monograph may therefore be particularly interesting for researchers familiar with concepts of linguistic landscape and semiotic landscape research as well as image linguistics and visible culture.


Jaworski, Adam & Crispin Thurlow (eds.). 2010. Semiotic Landscapes: Language, Image, Space. London, New York: Continuum.

Landry, Rodrigue & Richard Y. Bourhis. 1997. Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality. An Empirical Study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 16(1). 23-49.


Katharina Tyran is a university assistant (post-doc) of Slavic philology at the Department of Slavonic Studies of the University of Vienna. She gained her PhD at the Humboldt-University of Berlin with a work on language codification processes and identification attitudes in the Burgenland Croatian community, with a cross-border perspective. Her research interests cover sociolinguistic topics with a focus on minority languages, language and identity, border studies, linguistic landscape research, and script linguistics. Currently, she is working on a new research project with a focus on discourses on and visual implications of writing systems in a south Slavic context.

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