Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 6, No 2 (2012)

Multimodality and audiences: local languaging in the Gambian linguistic landscape

Kasper Juffermans
Issued Date: 29 May 2013


This paper is concerned with the linguistic landscape in urban Gambia. It reviews recent work done on linguistic landscapes and explores the relation between The Gambia’s social and ethnolinguistic diversity and visible linguistic phenomena in the public space from an ethnographic and social semiotic perspective. It is argued that the occasional use of local languages in an otherwise English only environment (as e.g., in the publicity campaigns of the mobile phone operators Gamcel, Africell and Comium) serves a symbolic rather than communicative function and has more to do with corporate creativity than it reflects ethnolinguistic relations. The overall absence of local languages and the salience of images in the Gambian linguistic landscape should be understood in the context of an informal English-only policy for visual communication and the relatively high rate of illiteracy that is typical for a postcolonial Third World country. Drawing on the theoretical notions of audience design and multimodality, it is shown how retailers in a major shopping street Serrekunda (the country’s largest conurbation) use images more than multilingualism as a vernacular strategy to accommodate illiterates in their audiences. The paper concludes with an argument that ‘language’ may not be the most crucial analytic category in a descriptive linguistics of the linguistic landscape, and that ‘local languaging’ may be a more suitable term to capture what is going on linguistically in public spaces.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v6i2.259


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