Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 9, No 1 (2015)

Signs in cities: the discursive production and commodification of urban spaces

Uta Papen
Issued Date: 11 Jun 2015


The analysis of signs in cities is known as research into ‘linguistic landscapes’. Following Jaworski and Thurlow (2010), this paper focuses on ‘semiotic’ not linguistic landscapes. I argue that visual images and visual aspects of writing such as font or colour are essential for the meanings conveyed on signs. As an example, I examine the semiotic landscape of parts of Prenzlauer Berg, a neighbourhood of the former East Berlin. Neglected in the 1980s, after reunification, this originally working class area became middle class and trendy, popular for its shops, cafes and arts culture. Using multimodal and ethnographic methods, my paper reveals the important role commercial signs and street art play in the discursive re-construction of this gentrified neighbourhood. Both contribute to the area’s commercialization and aestheticization. My paper also illustrates how semiotic landscapes contribute to placemaking and the commodification of urban spaces. The combination of multimodal analysis with interviews with sign authors allowed for insights into the reasons specific semiotic choices were made, adding to our understanding of discourse production by revealing intended meanings which were not identifiable based on text analysis alone.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v9i1.21627


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