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Applied Linguistics Review

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The language of the street

Vivian Cook
Published Online: 2013-03-28 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2013-0003


This paper looks at the language of the street from a perspective that draws on linguistics, writing system research and linguistic landscapes. It describes the totality of signs in two inner city streets in Newcastle upon Tyne, one virtually monolingual, one part of Chinatown, in terms of who controls the sign (licensor, owner, author, writer, reader), of serif and sans serif typefaces, and capital letters versus lowercase, and of which languages are used. It classifies the signs into: (i) locating and attracting, such as brassplates, (ii) informing, such as opening hours, (iii) controlling movement and behaviour, such as traffic signs, (iv) service signs, such as manhole covers. Multilingualism in these streets takes the form either of ‘atmospheric’ multilingualism that does not necessarily expect readers to understand the signs or of ‘community’ multilingualism that serves the needs of the Chinese community. Important aspects include: the necessity for all signs to be licensed and owned; the crucial role of the material that signs are made of; the ubiquity of signs in lowercase throughout; the almost total absence of punctuation marks; and the widespread use of serif forms of letters. The language of the street is therefore not a defective version of written language but a distinctive genre with its own grammar and conventions that needs extensive further investigation.

Keywords: signs; street; landscape; multilingual; writing system; genre; English; bilingualism; serif and sans serif; capital letters and lowercase; typography

About the article

Vivian Cook

Vivian Cook is emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University, where he teaches an annual MA course on the English writing system, and a visiting professor at the University of York. His research interests include second language acquisition, the applied linguistics of language teaching and writing systems. He was the founder of EUROSLA and founding co-editor of the journal Writing Systems Research.

Newcastle University

Published Online: 2013-03-28

Published in Print: 2013-03-29

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 43–81, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2013-0003.

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