Pragmatics 25:4 (December 2015)

SPECIAL ISSUE: Language ideologies and writing systems

Edited by Jennifer A. Dickinson



Introduction: Language ideologies and writing systems




This special issue of Pragmatics brings together a collection of articles by linguistic anthropologists studying the interplay between the production and interpretation of written language on one hand, and the language ideologies that organize that production and interpretation on the other.  This introductory essay offers an overview of the common theoretical foundations upon which the authors in this volume build their analyses of language ideologies and writing systems and underscores the thematic connections across the articles.


Keywords:  Language ideology; Writing systems; Digraphia; Orthography.



Plastic letters: Alphabet mixing and ideologies of print in Ukrainian shop signs




This article examines the complex intersection of language ideologies shaping alphabetic choices in Ukrainian outdoor advertising and shop signs, focusing on alphabet mixing through the insertion of Latin letters into Cyrillic texts and the juxtaposition of parallel or alternating texts using both of these writing systems. Drawing upon ethnographic data from work with graphic designers and consumers as well as analysis of language use in signs, I argue that while alphabet mixing is often characterized as “faddish” or “youth-oriented” these practices also reflect Soviet-era ideological stances towards both Latin typefaces, seen as “plastic” letters associated with Western capitalism, and Cyrillic typefaces, seen as “rigid” forms subject to strong central control by the Soviet state. The increasing availability of personal computers with word-processing and graphic design software in Ukraine has both increased access by individuals to print technology, and promoted a new typographic aesthetic through the dissemination of Cyrillic fonts based on Latin, not Soviet or pre-Soviet Cyrillic, models.


Keywords : Digraphia; Orthography; Advertising; Ukraine.



Lebanese political advertising and the dialogic emergence of signs




This paper evaluates the role of written language in the construction of difference by looking at the emergence of two political advertising campaigns in Lebanon in 2006-2007. I will discuss how ad campaigns mounted by opposing Lebanese political factions were engaged in a battle over representing popular sentiment. Specific choices of typography, juxtaposition of codes, layout and physical placement of ads within the political landscape of urban Beirut all directly contributed to creating unique interdiscursive ideological framings for each party coalition. Due to the inter-sectarian nature of the political coalitions, the use of religious symbols was problematic in the construction of coalition identity. Other differentiating aspects such as class, patterns of consumption, and attitudes towards mourning became elemental in the creation of political distinctions and were indexically configured into this dialogue of signs. 


Keywords:  Political advertising; Language ideology; Lebanon


Patricia G. LANGE

Typing your way to technical identity: Interpreting participatory ideologies online




Informal, online environments facilitate creative self-expression through typographic and orthographic stylistics. Yet, ideologies of writing may be invoked to discourage written forms that are purportedly difficult to read. This paper analyzes how members of an online, text-based, gaming community negotiate appropriate, written communications as expressions of technical identity. These encounters may reify communities of technologists who are associated with using or avoiding forms such as abbreviations, capital letters, and “leet speak.” Amid the technologizing of the word, the paper argues that those who do not conform to assumed norms may be indexed as less technical than those who do. By examining troubled encounters, the paper explores how metapragmatic negotiations affect creativity and technical identity performance online. The paper argues that contrary to discourses that online interactants pay little attention to written stylistics, the present participants closely attended to subtle and small forms. Further, it discusses how ideologies may be idiosyncratically applied to assist in forming asymmetrical, technical identities. Finally, it argues that technical affiliations are just as important to study as other variables such as gender, ethnicity, age, and class that have traditionally received attention in analyses of ideologies of writing and New Literacy Studies.


Keywords: Computer-mediated communication; Language ideology; Technical identities; Literacy; Writing; Conversational trouble; Online participation.


Judith M.S.  PINE

Writing right: Language standardization and entextualization




Literate Lahu, speakers of a Tibeto-Burman language  in the ethnically and linguistically diverse uplands of Southeast Asia and southwest China, inscribe their language in an ecology of literacies  shaped by the imbrication of a number of ideologies.  As members of the larger category of chao khao or mountain people, the Lahu belong to a group which is persistently labeled as Other. (Laungaramsri 2001: 43-4).  Lahu are also a people-without-writing (Pine 1999), despite the fact that at least three writing systems exist for Lahu, with a fourth in somewhat limited use and at least one other system in development.  The ideological diversity of the entextualization of Lahu benefits seeing it within a particular historical and ecological context. This paper historicizes particular literacy practices within the context of the development of a particular form of written Lahu.  It also traces the influence of a phenomenon termed "proprietary orthographies" which permeates the ecology of literacies in mainland Southeast Asia and, I argue, has a significant impact on Lahu language literacy practices.  Focusing on  a subtle issue of the representation of tone, and also drawing on self-reporting of literacy, as well as making use of Keane's concept of "semiotic ideologies", I argue that orthographies enjoy a complex form of indexicality in this region which differs in small, but important, ways from other areas.


Keywords:  Lahu; Entextualization; Language ideology; Writing systems.



Standardizing opinion: Projecting a national Catalan public through letters to the editor




The grounds of authority for the Catalan language have shifted from authenticity to anonymity, as Catalan becomes redefined as a public language. The “model of language” of the Catalan press reflects this shift, with an emphasis on neutral, transparent Catalan.  This article examines original and published letters to the editor in a Catalan-medium newspaper in Barcelona. I argue that standardization of language, page design and signatures in the letters to the editor erases the social indexicality that attaches the original letters to their socially positioned authors. This process of standardization in linguistic and other semiotic modes allows the published letters to index a unified Catalan national “public” rather than their distinct authors.