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Academic Paper


Title: Forms and Functions of English in Multilingual Signage
Author: Kay McCormick
Institution: University of Cape Town
Author: Rama Kant Agnihotri
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: University of Delhi
Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: Research on language contact phenomena (language switching and mixing, borrowing) shows that in a multilingual setting people's choice of language(s) is governed not simply by the need to be understood. Other factors play a role. These include various forms of positioning: the language, dialect, accent a speaker chooses for an interaction consciously or unconsciously displays particular aspects of his or her actual or aspired identity. These aspects cover, for example, being (or not being) educated/religious/from a particular region or social grouping. They position the speaker in relation to the person being spoken to. They may also indicate to the addressee not only how the speaker perceives him or her (for example as someone with particular background or attributes) but also as someone with particular aspirations. In multilingual societies language choice in commercial signage carries out similar positioning in addition to giving information about products or services: being understood is not always the sign producer's only or chief consideration. He or she needs to trigger aspects of identity and aspiration that are likely to create a desire for whatever is being sold. In this paper we focus on how English is used in relation to other languages in signage, mainly commercial signage, in two multilingual cities that are the centres of an ongoing research project on bilingual and multilingual signage: Delhi and Cape Town.

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This article appears IN English Today Vol. 25, Issue 3, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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