Singapore’s Balancing Act, from the Perspective of the Linguistic Landscape
- Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 29, Number 2, July 2014
- pp. 438-466
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Messages displayed or exposed in public spaces have begun to receive attention from scholars, as they turn to the study of what has been referred to as the linguistic landscape or as geosemiotics — if we consider how the text interacts with the social and physical world. Like traditional media, these messages are also public communication, in that the designated audience is the general passer-by rather than specific individuals. In multilingual and multicultural areas of the world, the extent to which different languages are represented in these displays is of particular interest. A distinction is made between official signs, in which the specific languages to be used and even their order might be dictated by by-laws, and unofficial signs erected by individuals or private companies, who have a free hand in deciding what goes on a sign. Singapore has struggled to be even-handed with its official languages (English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil), and its linguistic landscape can be seen as evidence of some tension in the balancing act between the official languages. Evidence is drawn from a sampling of data from various key locations in Singapore.