Making sense of handwritten signs in public spaces

Hua Zhu, LI Wei

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article is an ethnography of an investigation of an under-explored sociolinguistic phenomenon, namely handwritten signs in public spaces, against a context of urban regeneration and socio-cultural transformation. These signs are a subset of urban communicates that involve handwriting, lettering or the painting of letters and text using different materials and serving different functions. We focus primarily on handwritten signs on paper or cards. The data were collected in Stratford, a ward in the ethnically and linguistically diverse London Borough of Newham and home of the 2012 Olympics. Our analytical focus is on the indexicalities of the handwritten signs. We engaged ordinary residents in Stratford, customers and visitors of the two main shopping centres, precinct management, and local council staff who interacted with such signs as part of their everyday work and life, as well as non-participant commentators in interpreting and analysing the meanings of the signs. We also analyse the disappearance of the signs vis-à-vis urban development policies, and the emergence of refashioned painted signs with handwritten style lettering in the global-facing commercial spaces. The study highlights the significance of handwritten signs and invite the reader to engage in making sense of their meaning potentials and symbolic values.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalSocial Semiotics
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2020


    • Handwritten signs
    • London
    • linguistic landscape
    • public space
    • urban communicates

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Cultural Studies
    • Language and Linguistics
    • Communication
    • Linguistics and Language


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