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Review of  Dimensions of Sociolinguistic Landscapes in Europe

Reviewer: Teresa Wai See Ong
Book Title: Dimensions of Sociolinguistic Landscapes in Europe
Book Author: Mikko Laitinen Anastassia Zabrodskaja
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Cognitive Science
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 27.789

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


‘Dimensions of Sociolinguistic Landscapes in Europe’ is a collection of articles from a workshop which took place in autumn 2010 in Jyväskylä. The workshop is organised by Mikko Laitinen and Anastassia Zabrodskaja and funded by the Academy of Finland (2006-2011). In the sociolinguistic subfield of linguistic landscape research which flourishes from the work by Landry and Bourhis (1997), the editors offer a range of articles which investigate language and signs displayed in public spaces across Europe during the early 21st century. The focus in this volume ranges from aspects of multilingualism to tension and conflicts across borders, to aspects of mobility of languages, to linguistic choices in cities and rural places. Apart from a general introduction by the editors, there are ten chapters under three headings: (i) Mobility, globalization and signs in space, (ii) Semiotic landscapes and signs in virtual space, and (iii) Exploring linguistic landscapes in the former Eastern bloc. This collection adds fresh insights by looking at languages from a range of different methodological perspectives.

In the first chapter of this volume, Hagen Peukert examines the visibility of linguistic diversity on signs in the district of St. Georg, a multicultural and multilingual landscape in Hamburg by combining different methodology from linguistics and urban sociology. This study brings together the concepts of ‘actual utilization of a concrete spatial unit involving social actions and practices independent of the functions of language’ (Peukert, 2015, p. 30). Peukert perceives the city of Hamburg as a macro space, the streets as a meso space and the details of houses, floors and flats at St. Georg as a micro space. His quantitative analysis reveals that two streets which share a common property – shopping areas – have the highest percentage of language diversity. Peukert concludes that the selection of space for data collection/observation is important because the concept of relational space with the actual presence of signs has yet to be explored in a satisfactory manner.

Chapter 2 by Amei Koll-Stobbe examines the hairdressers’ shop names in Lancaster City and the West End of London with additional data from a German city. By studying the shop signs as a genre in advertising discourse, Koll-Stobbe categorises hairdressers’ shop names according to stylistic choices and traditional forms versus stylistic innovations. Her results show that hairdressers’ shop names may serve two indexical functions: codified identifiers (identify the business and its services) and ideofiers (trigger an image for commodity purposes). Koll-Stobbe’s small-scale analysis acts as a starting point for future studies which aim to examine the on-going changes of various types of shops in the writing city.

In two urban districts in Oslo, Karine Stjernholm compares the expression of local social culture in a more affluent district in the west (Majorstua) with a more working-class district in the east (Grünerløkka), both qualitatively and quantitatively. Various languages found on the store names in both districts were counted and the differences were compared. An interesting observation is that a large part of the Oslo population’s language skills are not represented in the linguistic landscape of both districts – this shows the low status of non-western languages, which are invisible and not marketed. On the other hand, the qualitative analysis demonstrates the concept of iconography as an analytic method for interpreting visual art. In Majorstua, international expressions make up the main theme of the district whereas in Grünerløkka, the linguistic landscape tends to express a close relationship to the local environment.

By employing Kachru’s (1985) paradigm of English, Mikko Laitinen looks at the presence and usage of English in the public spaces in Finland and examines its implications for future studies. The data were collected in two bicycle field trips: (i) from Helsinki to Oulu, and (ii) in the winter sports center of Ylläs. Laitinen analyses the types of mobility of the collected English signs by focusing on the space and time of the placement of the signs which could lead to future research on linguistic globalization. He also examines the local elements in English texts. From the analysis, Laitinen concludes that the understanding of English usage in public space requires an ethnographic approach, such as interviews with sign producers and audiences, which could provide different angles on the topic.

In her analysis of semiotic signs in digital space, Mia Halonen examines the uses and functions of a hybrid lexical element, “siisdaa” and its spelling variations employed by Finnish adolescents in various social media spaces. “Siisdaa” is an informal register and originates from spoken languages. It consists of the Finnish particle “siis” which means ‘like’ and “daa” which comes from English ‘duh’. Her results show that “siisdaa” is positioned ambiguously in different activities – the reason is participants are engaged in communicative activities but prefer to distance themselves from sounding serious about their discussions. This might relate to a feeling of insecurity and defensiveness by the participants.

An interesting contribution by Christoph Marx and Marek Nekula which combines the theory of language management (cf. Neustupny and Nekvapil, 2003) with visual semiotics (cf. Scollon and Scollon, 2003), examines the semiotic landscapes of a binational and bilingual German-Czech organisation. Marx and Nekula employ ethnomethodology with the assumption that ‘social structures are negotiated and re-produced in interactions’ (Marx and Nekula, 2015, p. 150). The data consists of photographs of the building and rooms of the organisation, printed texts published by the organisation, public events of the organisation and internal interactions. This chapter demonstrates that the construction of a cross-border space in a bilingual semiotic landscape can be seen as heterotopy (cf. Foucault, 1991).

By employing both quantitative and qualitative approaches, as well as discourse analysis of visual semiotics, Petteri Laihonen investigates the linguistic situation in two villages in South-West Slovakia where the majority of the population are the minority Hungarians. He compares both mono and bilingual signage to highlight the language ideologies and discourses encompassing them. According to the 2011 Census, Reca is bilingual (and shifting to Slovak) whereas Vásárút is predominantly monolingual Hungarian. However, Slovak is dominant in the public space of both villages. According to the study, the regional dominating language is not mirrored in the public space of these villages to avoid tension with officials and offence to state sovereignty.

Chapter 8 reports on research examining the ruralscapes of a self-declared republic, Transnistria – a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sebastian Muth collected his data based on signs from two towns (Rybnitza and Dubossary) and three villages (Erzhovo, Saratei and Bolshoi Molokish): each of the settlements had a distinctive demographic composition but the characteristics of their ruralscapes were similar. He aims to show a connection between the ongoing efforts to construct a unique Transnistrian political and cultural identity. His results reveal that the common categories of ‘derussification’ and ‘de-sovietization’ which were observed in most parts of the former USSR do not occur in Transnistria. In contrast, the use of Russian is widely promoted as a lingua franca and an important part of the post-Soviet identity.

Based on theoretical foundations of multimodal research, Olga Bever analyses the contradictory display of Russian and Ukrainian in Cyrillic script rather than Roman script in Ukrainian’s politically, linguistically and culturally contested spaces. At the main street of Zaporizhzhya where there is a high density of private and governmental signs; Bever looks at the font, sizes, colours, images and text prominence which constitute the multimodal elements of a multilingual sign. This study accounts for the linguistic identity and language choices in modern Ukraine as well as the underlying linguistic tension that is happening between eastern and western Ukraine.

The final chapter by Monica Perotto deals with the vitality and usage of the Italian language in Moscow. The number of Italians in Moscow is rather low but there is high demand for Italian courses – this suggests that the Italian language reflects good values such as prestige, beauty, elegance and creativity. Perotto examines how the Italian language is used in Moscow’s commercial signs. She concludes that the Russian language dominates the public spaces despite the fact that Moscow is multicultural and multilingual. Nevertheless, the presence of Italian words in the Russian language is perceived as cultural and attractive to the country’s industry.


The book offers a great collection of articles where scholars focus on the linguistic landscape of Europe, expanding to the semiotics of space (i.e. visual and social semiotics), mostly employing both qualitative and quantitative approaches. There is also a focus on the former Eastern bloc where the Russian language is used in most parts but where there are traces of other minority languages. As pointed out by Shohamy and Waksman (2009, p. 328), closer and more comprehensive analysis of the visible signs is required to understand the significance and design of public space. The scholars in this book have achieved a deep and complex investigation of the various spaces across Europe which includes integrating language choices and the semiotic system to achieve a holistic understanding of the visual data. The articles discuss the elements fundamental to understanding the meaning of signage in the public spaces of Europe. This is a recommended book for scholars who are interested in the linguistic landscape of Europe, in particular the former Eastern bloc, which offers many opportunities for work on tension and conflict of language policy and language choices.


Kachru, B. (1985). Standards, Codification and Sociolinguistic Realism: The English Language in the Outer Circle. In R. Quirk and H. Widdowson (Eds.). English in the World: Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures (pp. 11-30). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Landry, R. and Bourhis, R. Y. (1997). Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality: An Empirical Study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 16, 23-49. DOI: 10.1177/0261927X970161002.

Marx, C. and Nekula, M. (2015). Constructing a Cross-Border Space through Semiotic Landscapes: A Case Study of a German-Czech Organisation. In M. Laitinen and A. Zabrodskaja (Eds.). Dimensions of Sociolinguistic Landscapes in Europe: Materials and Methodological Solutions (pp. 149-167). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Neustupny, J. V. and Nekvapil, J. (2003). Language Management in the Czech Republic. Current Issues in Language Planning, 4(3 & 4), 181-366. DOI: 1466-4208/03/030181-186.

Peukert, H. (2015). Urban Linguistic Landscaping: Scanning Metropolitan Spaces. In M. Laitinen and A. Zabrodskaja (Eds.). Dimensions of Sociolinguistic Landscapes in Europe: Materials and Methodological Solutions (pp. 29-51). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

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

Shohamy, E. and Waksman, S. (2009). Linguistic Landscape as an Ecological Arena: Modalities, Meanings, Negotiations, Education. In E. Shohamy and D. Gorter (Eds.). Linguistic Landscape: Expanding the Scenery (pp. 313-329). New York and London: Routledge.
Teresa Ong is a PhD student at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. Her research interest includes linguistic landscape, sociolinguistics, language planning and policy, language and culture, multilingualism and social semiotics.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9783631617083
Pages: 297
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