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Discourses in transit: LRDG seminar

Date: 24 November 2009 Time: 1-2 pm

Venue: IAS Building, Meeting Room 1

Discourses in transit Mark Sebba, Lancaster UniversityRecently, a number of frameworks have been put forward which provide approaches to the interpretation of bilingual and multilingual public texts such as street signs. In particular, the notion of 'linguistic landscapes' (Landry and Bourhis 1997, Gorter 2006) provides a way of thinking about multilingual public texts as reflections of the multilingual composition of an urban area, while Scollon and Scollon (2003) analyse signs, including bilingual signage, in terms of the 'semiotics of place', using a framework which includes visual and textual components of signs as well as their geographical location. I will argue that fixed signs may indeed be valuable indicators of such things as multilingual composition of a community, public debates about language, public policy goals, and power relations between languages, but they should not be seen in isolation from other types of public texts which are not fixed in space. 'Unfixed' or 'mobile' public texts, for example in the form of product labels, pamphlets, banknotes, stamps, tickets, handbills, flyers and general 'ephemera', are pervasive in contemporary society. Some of these connect to fixed texts (like street signs and billboards) via logos, colour schemes, layout and content. They are amenable to similar kinds of analysis in terms of their structure, layout and visual imagery. What is more, mobile texts require 'reading' in the same kind of way as fixed texts - for example, authority and authenticity are indexed in the same (or similar) ways. Both fixed and mobile texts may be involved in more than one discourse, for example a bus timetable may tell you about bus times but also about the importance of different places along the route and the kind of people who might be expected to use the bus services; these messages are likely to be reinforced (or occasionally contradicted) in various ways by the fixed signage of bus shelters, road markings etc., and are accessible to readers, although they are not part of the overt message. Thus while fixed signage is undoubtedly of great interest in its own right, it needs to be seen and analysed as a subset or 'special case' of the set of all public texts, which also includes mobile or 'non-fixed' public texts. References Gorter, Durk 2006. Introduction: The Study of the Linguistic Landscape as a New Approach to Multilingualism. International Journal of Multilingualism. Vol. 3, No. 1, 1-6 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, Ron and Suzie Wong Scollon 2003. Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World. London: Routledge.

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Who can attend: Anyone


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Organising departments and research centres: Educational Research, Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, Linguistics and English Language


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
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