Place Making with Cantonese in the Linguistic Landscapes of Guangzhou: Beyond Orders and Borders

Author: Yanmei Han (Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China)
Speaker: Yanmei Han
Topic: General Sociolinguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


Cantonese is a dominant language variety in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, in terms of the number of speakers. However, its written form is rarely observed in public signage except in certain places with distinct Cantonese features.

Written Cantonese in linguistic landscapes has attracted little attention from researchers. To bridge the gap, this study documents written Cantonese in four places in Guangzhou, that is, a tourist attraction featuring an ancient port, a local village being demolished in downtown Guangzhou, Cantonese restaurants with Hong Kong features, and local government agencies’ bulletin boards. The study explores how Cantonese contributes to place making and the sense of place.

It has been found that Cantonese, when combined with other semiotic resources in a place, can index multiple symbolic meanings: the cultural heritage language, immobility against mobility, a modern and well-off lifestyle, and solidarity towards citizens. These multiple symbolic meanings are established by crossing different cultural orders and geographical borders. The process of place making with Cantonese is the process of rearranging orders and borders.

The study ultimately argues for the constructive and dynamic nature of semiotic resources in place making and the agency of social actors in linguistic landscape.

Keywords: Linguistic landscape, Cantonese, order, border, place making