Linguistic Landscape or Cityscape?

The Qualitative and Quantitative Approach

Essay 2011 9 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



This term paper is about the qualitative and quantitative approach in studying a cityscape. First, I will show that their should be a difference in meaning and usage between the two terms 'linguistic landscape' and 'cityscape' and then suggest a definition for 'cityscape'. Then I will introduce the field of 'sociolinguistics' and the two approaches, namely 'qualitative' and 'quantitative', which are very helpful in order to study a cityscape. At the End I will summarise the whole topic showing the similarities and differences of the qualitative and quantitative approach.


The term 'linguistic landscape' is seen to be replaceable with the term 'cityscape' (Coulmas 2009: 13), but it is a difficult matter. There are different definitions of the term 'linguistic landscape'. Rodrigue Landry and Richard Y. Bourhis define linguistic landscape as referring to (I') “the visibility and salience of language on public and commercial signs in a given territory or region.” (Landry and Bourhis 1997: 23) They define the linguistic landscape further as:

(I'') “The language of public road signs, advertising billboards, street names, place names, commercial shop signs, and public signs on government buildings combines to form the linguistic landscape of a given territory, region, or urban agglomeration.” (Landry and Bourhis 1997: 25)

This definition gives a frame and methodology; it shows their focus on visual signs.

Ben-Rafael et al (2006: 7) state: (II') “Linguistic landscape (LL) refers to linguistic objects that mark the public space.” They state further:

(II'') “LL1, as defined here, refers to any sign or announcement located outside or inside a public institution or a private business in a given geographical location.” (Ben-Rafael et al 2006: 14)

Their definition has a broader frame of research. They do not focus only on signs “outside a public institution or a private business” (Ben-Rafael et al 2006: 14), but also on signs inside these buildings or places.

Another definition of the term 'linguistic landscape' was made by Itagi and Singh. They define this term as (III) “language use in its written form (visible language) in the public sphere” (Itagi and Singh 2002: ix). Here the term 'linguistic landscape' receives an even broader term than it already has by Ben-Rafael et al. The consequence would be, that all written pieces inside a given region would be study objects of the research of linguistic landscape. That would include newspapers, postcards, books and other print media: virtually any kind of note which is in the public sphere.

All three definitions (I - III) have something in common: their focus on visible signs. The question must be asked, if that focus really helps to gain an insight into the linguistic situation of a given place?

The etymological origin of the word 'language' is 'tongue'. 'Language' implicates that the early language use was in a verbal form, meaning language was spoken rather than written. Today, language is still spoken, but also written. This is the reason why an insight into the linguistic situation of a given territory can only be gained through studying not only the written language displayed in the public sphere, but also through studying the language spoken in the public sphere.

Other questions might asked: what is 'linguistic landscape'? What is 'cityscape'? Coulmas (2009: 14) states that “linguistic land scape is really linguistic city scape” because the linguistic landscape research “is typically focussed on urban environments”. This is feasible. But I suggest to differentiate between the term 'linguistic landscape' and 'cityscape', and to use the term 'cityscape' for the study of a linguistic situation of a given region including the written language displayed in public and the language spoken, whereas 'linguistic landscape' may refer to the definitions given by Landry and Bourhis (definition I) and Ben-Rafael et al (definition II).


The field of science that deals with the usage of language and its relation with society is called 'sociolinguistics'. Spolsky tells us:

“sociolinguistics is the field that studies the relation between language and society, between the uses of language and the social structures in which the users of language live.” (Spolsky 2003: 3)

First, with this definition Spolsky gives information about the origin of sociolinguistics. It is a combination of sociology, which deals with the study of society, and linguistics, which can be roughly defined as the study of language.

Second, with Spolsky's definition sociolinguistics is explained as a field of studies in which the social world of the speaker is discovered through its language use.

On the one hand, language is normally considered as the medium to communicate information or meaning. On the other hand, language “is also used to establish and to maintain social relationships” (Spolsky 2003: 3). Spolsky gives the example of the conversation of two friends. The function of their conversation is not the exchange of information, but the strengthening of their interpersonal relationship1.

The relation between language and society is even deeper. It is shown through the primary task of sociolinguistics which is “to map linguistic variation on to social conditions” (Spolsky 2003: 4) In doing so, patterns are observed. Therefore, language is the medium

“to identify ourselves and others as belonging to certain groups. The social prestige or stigma associated with these variations makes language a source of social and political power.” (Spolsky 2003: 5)

It is these aspects of sociolinguistics which are of high interest in the study of a cityscape. The micro-end of sociolinguistics and its macro-end (also called the sociology of language) help to understand the linguistic situation of a given area, because the micro-end “emphasizes [on]2 the social influences on language, and the sociology of language […] emphasizes [on]2 the role of language in society” (Spolsky 2003: 7).


1 It may be argued that the second function itself is, semiotically spoken, information, a symbolic message by which the message “I consider you as my friend” is sent through an exchange of sentences that do not speak it literally.

2 added


ISBN (eBook)
File size
952 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald – Anglistik/Amerikanistik
LL Linguistic Landscape cityscape qualitative approach quantitative approach ethnolinguistics sociolinguistics




Title: Linguistic Landscape or Cityscape?