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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton August 17, 2021

Street name changes as language and identity inscription in the cityscape

Peter K. W. Tan ORCID logo and Christoph Purschke
From the journal Linguistics Vanguard


This article examines the role of language selection in constructing the cityscape of highly multilingual, postcolonial places like Malaysia and Namibia. The relationship between language policy, the construction of a national identity as well as linguistic inscriptions in the cityscape can be seen as part of language planning in relation to what gets represented, by whom, and for what purpose. We focus on street names as a typical target of language policy. In postcolonial societies, these renegotiations of the cityscape can be analysed against the backdrop of different processes, such as the erasure of names commemorating the colonial past, the inscription of important figures of the newly established nations, or the curation of the language regime with respect to the presence and symbolical function of languages. Using contrastive data and methodology, we analyse the renegotiation of postcolonial cityscapes in Kuala Lumpur (historical city centre, map data, large time span) and Windhoek (entire cityscape, newspaper reports, short time span). Our analysis establishes a notion of how the cityscape as a complex sociosymbolic text is being constantly rewritten by its actors. We find different motives attached to such processes of cultural representation, including national identity building and ideological consolidation of the cityscape.

Corresponding author: Christoph Purschke, University of Luxembourg, Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, E-mail:


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Media sources

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Received: 2020-12-11
Accepted: 2021-01-07
Published Online: 2021-08-17

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