Linguistic Landscapes

Report on a Linguistic Landscape: Juxtaposing offline and online artefacts within an educational institution.

Introduction

Coventry University is unquestionably occupied with various artefacts in order to create ‘interaction […] in particular places’ (Jewitt et al 2016: 113). According to Ben-Rafael et al, linguistic landscapes can be considered as society’s attempt to ‘mark the public space’ through the use of language (2006: 10). My initial interest was to find a top-down offline artefact that students tend to overlook and contrast it using a similar online source, as students understandably engage more to social media. Throughout this report, there will be a specific focus on the affordances and constraints of each artefact in reference to the contrasts in discourse, multimodality, and online/social interaction.

The first artefact that appealed to me was a poster located in Coventry University’s library (see Appendix 1). This poster was created for students who are having difficulties concentrating on the library’s quiet floor, in which staff can resolve by being contacted on the provided phone number. My fascination in this offline artefact was the contrast between formality and conversational lexis, in which passing students fail to acknowledge. An online artefact from Coventry University’s twitter account (see Appendix 2) was my second interest due to the effect it has on viewers through the use of emojis, GIFS and hyperlinks.

Analysis

Concept 1: Discourses and sign makers

Distinctly, both Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 can be categorised as top-down discourses, which aim to achieve significantly different purposes. The first artefact, a photographed poster in Coventry University library (see Appendix 1) originates from a regional governmental figure. This is because members of the library staff are feeding down language to the public, which, in this context, are the students of Coventry University. It attempts to encourage those being disturbed in the library to contact an individual from higher up, and can therefore be considered as a regulatory discourse due to its warning façade. When relating to geosemiotics, this particular artefact (see Appendix 1) carries linguistic importance by being placed in the library. Essentially, it ‘indexes a larger discourse’ (Scollon and Scollon 2003: 2). Semantically, the use of the image and word ‘noise’ gives connotations of loudness within a library, suggesting that a relationship is instantly created between the reader and the sign makers (see Appendix 1). However, it can be argued that Appendix 1 can be classified as a commercial discourse, similar to Appendix 2. This is because there is a sense of enthusiasm to motivate students to come to library through the language and presentation of the poster, as the regional governmental figure is willing to help students who are ‘annoyed’. Thus highlighting the benefits of using Coventry University library.

Likewise, Appendix 2 is also a commercial top-down discourse. Its main aim is to inspire students to join Coventry University by revealing their outstanding results online. The sign maker is attracting the type of audience that would attend educational institutes by using social media to promote the University. Although this artefact is meaningful, it can be used in an offline context to achieve the same purpose. For example, a banner photographed outside The Hub (see Appendix 3) displays similar ideas as Appendix 2 but is attracting those who are walking past instead of using Twitter. Therefore the creation of this tweet may be due to students tending to be more engaged and updated with social media, making it easier to promote achievements like this (see Appendix 2). Whereas Appendix 1 is placed on the side of the library’s bookshelves, instead of online as it has more of an effect and ‘meaning from how and where […it is] placed’ (Scollon and Scollon 2003: 2) in comparison to Appendix 2.

Concept 2: Affordances and constraints using Halliday’s metafunctions in relation to multimodality

An association can be portrayed between the positive features (affordances) and restrictions (constraints) in relation to Halliday’s theory of fundamental metafunctions (Crystal: 2011). The ideational metafunction is concerned with the ‘content language of function’ and focuses on how lexis and grammar represents reality (Halliday 2007: 183). Appendix 1 is offering help to those who are being affected by the noise. The fact that a student can remain ‘anonymous’ can be seen as an affordance as there is less hassle and more encouragement in feeling comfortable in ones desired work space. Furthermore, the direct question ‘Annoyed by noise?’ is significant as the sign maker is presupposing that the reader of the poster is annoyed, rather than feeling another emotion like angry or sad. Additionally, this could suggest that this question was created to benefit the library staff, as actions only need to be made when they have been contacted. Appendix 2 is noticeably different to Appendix 1 as it is an online celebratory tweet showing the uprising numbers in student interest at Coventry University. It gives a sense of proudness through the use of capitalization and punctuation in ‘RESULT!’ whereas the offline source (see Appendix 1) is essentially a more formal sign giving guidance to those on Coventry campus.

The interpersonal metafunction focuses upon the relationships created through the ‘function of language’ (Halliday 2007: 184). Appendix 1 explicitly attempts to form a relationship between the library staff and the students within the library as there is a phone number provided for those who want to text about the noise, ‘Just send a text!’ This conversational poster could put students at ease as they feel like they can actually make a change to the standards in the library by contacting this number. Also the use of texting appeals to University students as mobile phones are regularly used in today’s society instead of sending an email or going to a help desk. Kress’ (2006) logic of the image is depicted in Appendix 1 and 2 rather than the linear processing of words. The polysemous image in this Appendix 1 creates an interpersonal relationship with the reader of this poster. Although this image is in black and white, giving connotations of an old picture, it is still eye grabbing as it can be considered as humorous and gives readers a warmer feel. Concurrence is evident between this image and the lexis used (see Appendix 1) as the male is seen singing and playing a guitar whilst the female looks frustrated, representing the noisy individual and the annoyed individual in the library. Arguably, Halliday’s interpersonal metafunction is most evident within the online tweet (see Appendix 2). This is because Twitter permits the use of emojis and GIFs, which is instantly more personal and inclusive to a youthful audience, compared to the formal signs around Coventry University (see Appendix 1). Thus becoming an affordance based on the popularity of social media and easy access to direct, yet appealing information. This therefore enables a relationship to be formed between the reader and sign maker, whilst allowing the intended ideology to be conformed to.

Lastly, Halliday’s textual metafunction concentrates on the organisation of messages in a certain order (Halliday 2007: 184). Personally, the structure of Appendix 1 is cleverly constructed. The use of the large black and white image symbolically catches the audiences’ attention as we are expected to see more saturated images in this century, especially on a University campus. This is then followed by a conversational message, in which the question is already answered for the audience (‘Just send a text!’). This artefact is very straight to the point rather than being text dense and giving detailed instructions. This is further reinforced as the important information is highlighted in bold text, ‘noise’, ‘Just send a text’ and the phone number. Likewise, the use of the GIF in Appendix 2 is instantly eye catching, forcing the viewer to read the tweet. Kress and Van Leeuwen’s dimensions of visual space suggest that Twitter is a ‘given’ because viewers can instantly recognise a tweet based of its layout and structure (2006: 196). Again, the use of capitalisation in ‘RESULT!’ suggests that there is something positive to observe, as it is the first message viewers read. There is emphasis on this particular word as it is singled out, and then followed by an explanation of the result. This is significantly placed at the beginning of the tweet rather than the end, which shows the sign maker’s determination to gain viewers interest. This could perhaps be to persuade students to come to Coventry University or simply reassure current students that this is a high achieving University. 

Concept 3: Affordances and constraints of online and social interaction

Both Appendix 1 and 2 use linguistic features associated with digital media. Appendix 1 focuses on reassuring disrupted students to text their issue, which is considered as an affordance in the sense that it is synchronous and can be dealt with immediately. Nonetheless digital media has restrictions, which is explored in Appendix 2. Some major constraints of twitter involve the limitation of characters; meaning valuable information is not expressed. According to Jones and Hafner, ‘semiotic systems of facial expressions and phonology […] are not simply replications’ (2012: 70). So, the lack of contextualisation forces online viewers to try and interpret the tone of a tweet through interactive features such as emojis and GIFS (see Appendix 2). However, online interactions also suggest that there is less focus on transaction costs and irrelevant responses in comparison to banners or posters as demonstrated in Appendix 3.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there are major similarities and differences within the juxtaposition of offline (see Appendix 1) and online artefacts (see Appendix 2) in relation to educational institutions. Gorter supports the contrast in semiotics which is presented within these artefacts by stating ‘the literal study of the languages and signs are ‘of particular importance because it relates to identity and cultural globalisation’ (2008: 1). Overall, after careful evaluation it is evident that these linguistic landscapes do indeed create meaningful purposes from either their physical positioning or interaction skills.

References

  • Ben-Rafael, E., Shohamy, E,. Mara, M.H. and Trumper-Hecht, N. (2006) ‘Linguistic landscape as symbolic construction of the public space; The case of Israel’, International Journal of Multilingualism 3 (1): 7-30. London: Routledge.
  • Crystal, D. (2011) Internet linguistics: A Student Guide. London: Routledge.
  • Gorter, D. (2008) ‘Introduction: The Study of the Linguistic Landscape as a New Approach to Multilingualism’, International Journal of Multilingualism 3(1): 1. London: Routledge.
  • Hafner, C, A., Jones, R, H. (2012) Understanding Digital Literacies: A Practical Introduction. London: Routledge.
  • Halliday, M. A. K. (2007) Language and Education. London: Continuum.
  • Jewitt, C,. Bezemer, J,. and O’Halloran, K. (2016) Introducing Multimodality. London: Routledge.
  • Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (2006 [1996]) Reading Images The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.
  • Scollon, R. and Scollon, S. (2003) Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World. London: Routledge.

Appendices

Appendix 1: ‘Annoyed by noise’ sign, Coventry University library (source: writer’sphotograph)

 

 

 

Appendix 2: ‘RESULT’ tweet, @covcampus (source: writer’s screenshot). Available from: <https://twitter.com/search

q=coventry+university&ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Esearch> [17 November 2017]

 

Appendix 3: Banner showing the ranking of Coventry University, The Hub (source: writer’s photograph)