Multimodality and audiences: local languaging in the Gambian linguistic landscape


  • Kasper Juffermans University of Luxembourg



multilingualism, public space, mobile phone, signboards, images, West Africa


This paper is concerned with the linguistic landscape in urban Gambia. It reviews recent work done on linguistic landscapes and explores the relation between The Gambia’s social and ethnolinguistic diversity and visible linguistic phenomena in the public space from an ethnographic and social semiotic perspective. It is argued that the occasional use of local languages in an otherwise English only environment (as e.g., in the publicity campaigns of the mobile phone operators Gamcel, Africell and Comium) serves a symbolic rather than communicative function and has more to do with corporate creativity than it reflects ethnolinguistic relations. The overall absence of local languages and the salience of images in the Gambian linguistic landscape should be understood in the context of an informal English-only policy for visual communication and the relatively high rate of illiteracy that is typical for a postcolonial Third World country. Drawing on the theoretical notions of audience design and multimodality, it is shown how retailers in a major shopping street Serrekunda (the country’s largest conurbation) use images more than multilingualism as a vernacular strategy to accommodate illiterates in their audiences. The paper concludes with an argument that ‘language’ may not be the most crucial analytic category in a descriptive linguistics of the linguistic landscape, and that ‘local languaging’ may be a more suitable term to capture what is going on linguistically in public spaces.

Author Biography

Kasper Juffermans, University of Luxembourg

Kasper Juffermans is an Africanist and sociolinguist affiliated to the Languages, Culture, Media and Identities research unit at the University of Luxembourg. He obtained his PhD from Tilburg University in 2010 with a thesis entitled Local languaging: literacy products and practices in Gambian society and was attached to both the Babylon Center for Studies of the Multicultural Society at Tilburg University and the LiMA Landesexzellenzcluster (Linguistic Diversity Management in Urban Areas) at Hamburg University in 2011–12. His work has appeared in journals such as Language Matters, Sociolinguistic Studies, International Journal of Educational Development and Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education.



How to Cite

Juffermans, K. (2013). Multimodality and audiences: local languaging in the Gambian linguistic landscape. Sociolinguistic Studies, 6(2), 259–284.

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