Moving Images: Linguistic Landscape and Buses in the City of Nairobi

Author: Eliza (Zoi Eleni) Panagiotatou (University of Nairobi, Kenya)
Speaker: Eliza (Zoi Eleni) Panagiotatou
Topic: Linguistic Landscapes
The (SCOPUS / ISI) GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


The aim of this paper is to explore an aspect of the linguistic landscape of Nairobi, focusing on buses. While means of public transportation in most European cities are homogenous in colour and design, buses in Nairobi are unique; they all differ in appearance, painted by artists and manifesting different texts both on the outside and in the inside. As buses in Nairobi are not owned by the state but are privately owned businesses who stand in competition with each other, their appearance functions as part of their marketing, trying to draw passengers to their services. The images and texts on them aim at supporting this purpose. Due to their large numbers, these buses inform the linguistic landscape of the city, while constituting signs which move through its streets. In the analysis, the texts written on them will be coded according to themes (i.e. religion, sexuality, pop culture, sports) and language (English, Kiswahili, other languages). The depiction realities and utopias will be analysed through these signs. Nairobi constitutes an interesting research site, as it is a vibrant city, known for its superdiversity, the co-existence of numerous subcultures, as well as its variety of cultural and political centres. In the analysis both the sign and the images that accompany it will be taken into consideration. The approach builds on a dynamic perspective, which sees the semiotic landscape of a city as an arena of contestation and aims at highlighting the construction of identity in public space through the performative forces of these moving signs.

Keywords: linguistic landscape; public transportation; moving signs