Catering to Multiple Audiences: Language Diversity in Singapore’s Chinatown Food Stall Displays

Selim Ben Said, Teresa Ong


The visibility of bilingualism and multilingualism has increased in the urban landscape of major cities, a phenomenon commonly attributed to a globalized world economy, increasingly fluid national boundaries, and the subsequent contact between people, languages, and cultures. This is no truer than in countries such as Singapore, which has a history of cultural multilingualism driven by economic imperatives. Our study employs a mixed methods approach to present the diversity of language variation on signboards in Singapore’s Chinatown having resulted from the area’s culture and history, which dates back to the early 19th century. Following our examination of display practices, we observed that the dominant languages represented were Chinese and English, while the other official language (in this case, Tamil) was represented. Chinese dialects such as Hokkien and Cantonese, which were transliterated, were also widely represented. Reasons and explanations for the chosen languages on the signboards were elicited through consultations with hawkers. As a result, this study found that the exclusivist use of Chinese together with Chinese dialects is associated with an ethnic affiliation and territoriality commonly encountered in ethnically-marked neighborhoods, while the global language of English is used as a commodity catering to foreign and non-Chinese patrons.


Linguistic landscape; Singapore; Chinatown; bilingualism; multilingualism

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Data publikacji: 2019-12-30 00:00:00
Data złożenia artykułu: 2019-07-31 07:41:56


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