Public signs and lettering can be divided into different types according to their design, choice and arrangement of languages, official status, or pragmatic organization (inter alia). These different linguistic, graphic, and pragmatic elements contribute to the often complex semiotic constitution of signs and therefore offer a rich potential for analysis, especially regarding the implicit meanings and social positioning that are conveyed with signs.

The following typology of signs is not complete, but it gives you an idea of how diverse and complex simple-looking signs can be. We will add more information little by little. All example photos originate from the Lingscape project. Most of the categories we use are taken from the literature. Where necessary or appropriate, we’ve added our own. If you want to dig into the details of sign typology, you can take these papers/books as a starting point.

(By the way, you can also add these categories during upload in the comment field, if you like.)


Language(s)

Monolingual Multilingual
 Monolingual signs show information in one language only. They are sometimes also called monophonic.   Multilingual signs show information in more than one languages.

Status

Authorized Transgressive Recognized
Authorized signs are put into place by institutional (e.g., municipalities) or private (e.g., shop management) authorities. Transgressive signs are put into place without authorization and therefore may be wiped out or removed by the authorities. Recognized signs are originally transgressive signs that get official recognition afterwards, e.g., as works of art.

 Translation

 Homophonic Polyphonic
Homophonic signs show (exactly or almost) the same information in all visible languages. Polyphonic signs show different wording or meaning in the different visible languages.
Mixed
In mixed signs only parts of the content are available in two or more languages. They are also distinguished by a fragmentary (all information in one language, selected parts in other languages), complementary (different information given in different languages), or overlapping (part of the information is repeated in a second language, but no literal translation) composition.

Directedness

 Top-down
Top-down signs contain official (i.e., institutional) information, often related to regulations, designations, or public announcements.
 Bottom-up
Bottom-ups signs contain all other types of information that is communicated by private, commercial, or subcultural actors.

Layering

Dialogic  Linguistic
Dialogic layering on signs is created from different forms of continuation that lead to public dialogues, e.g., by placing stickers over signs,  adding of comments, or correcting information on signs. Linguistic layering on signs is is created from mixing different codes, languages, or design resources that form (semiotically) complex and (textually) hybrid messages.
 Conflictive
 Conflictive layering on signs is created from alterations that leads to a different (and therefore extended) meaning. E.g., this is achieved by crossing out, wiping out, removing, or covering certain elements of a sign.
 Historic
 Historic layering on signs is created from alterations that document a change of function, form, design, or sociocultural orientation. E.g., this is achieved writing over, altering, or actualizing lettering in a sign.

 Dominance

 
 The explicit (i.e., graphic) and implicit (i.e., social) hierarchization of languages on signs can be expressed by many different means of sign design. E.g., dominant languages tend to be above, left, centered, bigger, and/or more salient in general (e.g., in terms of color or typeface) compared to less dominant languages.

State

Operative Retired
Signs are operative when they fulfill a valid purpose, relate to a topical element of practice, convey current information, and/or serve a specific function. Signs are retired when they have fulfilled their purpose or lost their function, if their relation to practice is raised or their information is outdated
Ghost
Signs are ghost signs if they are retired but preserved (partially or in full, intentionally or by chance) in the landscape over a longer time period, e.g., for nostalgic reasons.

Literature

  • Amos, William (2017): Regional language vitality in the linguistic landscape: hidden hierarchies on street signs in Toulouse. International Journal of Multilingualism 14/2, 93–108.
  • Auer, Peter (2010): „Sprachliche Landschaften. Die Strukturierung des öffentlichen Raums durch die geschriebene Sprache“. In: Deppermann, Arnulf & Angelika Linke (eds.): Sprache intermedial. Stimme und Schrift, Bild und Ton. Berlin/New York, de Gruyter: 271–298. (= Jahrbuch des Instituts für deutsche Sprache 2009).
  • Backhaus, Peter (2007): Linguistic Landscapes. A Comparative Study of Urban Multilingualism in Tokyo. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • Ben-Rafael, Eliezer, Elana Shohamy, Muhammad Hasan Amara & Nira Trumper-Hecht (2006): Linguistic Landscape as Symbolic Construction of the Public Space: The Case of Israel. International Journal of Multilingualism 3/1, 7–30.
  • Blommaert, Jan (2013): Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes: Chronicles of Complexity. Bristol/Buffalo/Toronto, Multilingual matters.
  • Reh, Mechthild 2004. Multilingual writing: A reader-oriented typology – with examples from Lira Municipality (Uganda). International Journal of the Sociology of Language 170, 1–41.
  • Scollon, Ron & Suzie Scollon (2003): Discourses in place: language in the material world. London: Routledge.
  • Schmitz, Ulrich & Evelyn Ziegler (2016): „Sichtbare Dialoge im öffentlichen Raum“. Zeitschrift für germanistische Linguistik 44/3, 469–502.