Linguistic Landscape Hong Kong _ Muhammad Naveed


Hong Kong’s colonial past has shaped the norms that the population adheres to. One can see that cars are driven on the left side of the road and even tailored clothes worn by people are of Western style, as opposed to Eastern. However, when it comes to the use of English, one would find that people who hail from a specific economic status and those who belong to a specific profession mostly speak it, over Cantonese. So, despite English being the second official language of Hong Kong, its use is limited to certain districts. To bolster my argument, I will utilize store signs and the normal dialogue conducted between people to compare how the use of English differs between both districts.

Upon exploring Central, I found that the use of English is rooted in commercial reasons, given how the district is a commercial hub, which is a home to many high-end western outlets. Companies such as Omega have an established image due to their prominence worldwide and are more likely to be recognized by their brand names, even by those who are not fluent. Since these companies cater to foreigners as well, having their names in Chinese might not make their stores immediately recognizable to tourists and other foreign visitors. So, it is commercially viable for these companies to have their names in English, as opposed to Chinese.

In addition, the use of English by high-end brands also implies that being fluent in the language is a sign of affluence. Apart from foreigners, most of the local residents visiting these stores can be heard conversing in English with each other and with the sales people. While the residents of Hong Kong generally speak in Cantonese with one another, it is a common sight to see them speaking in English in these stores. This is noteworthy since these brands target people of a certain economic standing, as opposed to the general public. So, having employees who are fluent might also be a way to reinforce this notion.

On the other hand, there are Western firms in Central that utilize both English and Cantonese to seem more approachable to the general public. For instance, banks like Citibank have their signs in both English and Chinese. Citibank also has representatives outside its branch who hand out pamphlets in both languages. The reason for doing so can be explained by by whom the Citibank’s consumer base is. Since these banks want to have as wide of a client base as possible, it is in their best interest to seem approachable to people of different economic backgrounds.

While the use of English in Central is attributed to its nature as a commercial hub, the prominence of Cantonese in shop signs and dialogue in the Eastern district is attributed to its nature as an Industrial area. Areas such as Quarry Bay are home to many Manufacturing plants, so it is not area most foreigners would prefer to live near or even conduct business. Despite many hotels present in this area, residents of the city mostly inhabit the area. So, the area consists of establishments whose signs and menus are exclusively in Cantonese. They cater to locals as opposed to foreigners and thus do not have an incentive to invest in making their restaurants more approachable by foreigners.

Side by side, the nature of these stores also explains the lack of verbal English in the area. The employees are not fluent in English and will normally resort to utilizing hand gestures and images to convey what they are trying to say. What is interesting is that most of these stores are smaller than the ones found in Central, which indicate that they are likely to be family owned businesses. Furthermore, these people can be seen working multiple jobs at a time. An instance of this was when I saw waiter working as a construction worker a few days after I had visited his restaurant. So, apart from having to target a limited consumer base, the people of the area are also not fluent in English due to their less affluent backgrounds.

So, in conclusion, it can be stated that the use of English in Hong Kong is contingent upon economic and social factors, as opposed to being based on the city’s colonial roots.



Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified language in Chinatown: A contextualized approach to linguistic landscape.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 13.3. (2009).

Linguistics Landscape: Singapore

All throughout my life, I have been accustomed to the constant exposure to different cultures, ethnicities, and languages. I live just outside of New York City, I attend a private university in Atlanta, GA, thus bringing in students from all over the world, and I am an experienced traveller, always looking for new opportunities to immerse myself in different cultures. Living in Singapore, I have come to find that this susceptibility for various cultures has only been intensified. Singapore is known for its incredible diversity, from English expatriates and Chinese and Malay immigrants, to Korean tourists and Australian workers, there is something quite unifying about the multitude of different cultures and languages in Singapore.

The multi-ethnic background of Singapore can be seen through its linguistic landscape. In Singapore, English is considered the primary language. However, I’ve come to recognize that although English may be considered the primary language, a majority of people in Singapore know a second, or third language, and use it just as freely as they do English. My internship is located in the Central Business District, and walking to lunch from work, I hear a constant buzz around me, where you can just pick out pieces of Chinese, Korean, English, Spanish, Thai, Tamil, Malay, etc. Chinese, I’ve found, is the dominant language just after English. While interviewing for my internship, my interviewer seemed surprised when I had pointed out that I was unable to speak Chinese. The integration of Chinese as a secondary language is apparent while walking down the street, eating lunch, and touring Singapore. Many of the public street signs show both English and Chinese information and directions. In tourist areas, this emphasis on Singapore’s multi-lingual landscape is further highlighted by street signs displaying information and directions in a number of languages, such as Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin, in addition to English. The amalgamation of English and Chinese is evident in Singapore’s curated language, “Singlish”. Singlish is a mixture of English and Chinese, in which the speaker is conversing in English, but finishes a sentence in Chinese. At first, it is difficult to understand because while English is so familiar, the speaker incorporates a few words of Chinese that make it unique and difficult to understand. Singlish as a language symbolizes the multilingual community Singapore has come to be known for.

Similar to the way New York City is a melting pot of languages and cultures, most visible in particular areas of the island, Singapore has specific neighborhoods that spotlights specific languages and cultures. Most distinguished are neighborhoods such as Little India, Chinatown, and Bugis, which are so traditional you can’t help but feel like you’ve been transported to its respective countries. In Little India, the streets are lined with small shops, eateries, temples, and mosques, with all business signs and street signs displaying Tamil and Hindi. Chinatown showcases a mixture of traditional Chinese architecture and modern day skyscrapers, all bearing signs and emblems in Chinese. Bugis, although not as apparent, is dominated by Malay cultures and Malay language. While signs don’t necessarily differ from those posted by public vs. private enterprises, signs in certain neighborhoods align with the predominant language and culture of the neighborhood. These neighborhoods have come to be famous in Singapore for its ethnic backgrounds, and thus, there is an “overwhelmingly commercial nature of material manifestations of language” (Leeman & Modan). Leeman & Modan give an example in their analysis of linguistic landscapes in cultural hubs such as Washington D.C noting the influx of non-Chinese flocking to neighborhoods such as Chinatown in order to “experience exoticness” and participate in the current trend of themed environments. In Singapore, this case is no exception. The commercialized aspect of language and culture in certain neighborhoods have encouraged the integration of modern customs and English language, with traditional practices and native languages. In areas such as Chinatown, Bugis, and Little India, it is almost difficult to discern which is the predominant language of Singapore, however, in just a few MRT stations, downtown areas such as Orchard, Raffles Place, and Marina Bay prove Singapore is an amalgamation of English speakers with traditional, and individual backgrounds


Linguistic Landscape – Singapore

Prior to coming to Singapore for my internship, I did some research on the language of the region. I was surprised to learn that Singapore had a not one, but four official languages; English, Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin. I was shocked and interested to experience firsthand how a small country with such a diverse group of languages and cultures could exist together and efficiently communicate between the different cultural groups. After arriving in Singapore, I have since come to the conclusion that Singapore operates using English as a universal language, understood by all major ethnic groups and used when communicating interculturally. In contrast, when speaking to a member of the same ethnic group, the shared native language is preferred over English. This theory is also applicable to signage and documents, with all official road signs being written in English usually with subtitles in Mandarin, the language of the largest ethnic group in Singapore. In neighborhoods dedicated to a specific ethnicity (Little India, Arab Street, etc.), the heritage language replaces Mandarin as a subtitle.

As previously stated, all verbal communication between ethnicities is in English. I would attribute this to Singapore’s education system, which officially teaches only in English. As such, nearly all individuals have been taught, or at least exposed to, English throughout the majority of their lives. Nearly all of my interactions with native Singaporeans have been in English, with comprehension on both sides of the dialogue. The exception is when I encounter older people, who I assume were not raised with the Singaporean education system due to the country’s young age (only 53). However these individuals only constitute a minority of the population. I found this surprising, as there is a large number of migrants who came from other East Asian countries who were not taught English, but it appears they gain enough everyday exposure to the language that they quickly pick it up. It is notable to say that Singaporeans speak a slight variation of English called “Singlish”, but the differences are minute enough that I can easily understand without any confusion.

Communication between members of the same ethnicity, on the other hand, is quite different. In these cases, both individuals prefer to speak their native language over English or Singlish. Knowing that both parties speak English, this is evident of language being used as an sign of culture, with the use of a shared native language highlighting a shared history and cultural background between the two individuals. It is for this reason that a shared second language is prefered in this context over the standard English communication. Again, there exists an exception to this rule; young people. Through my observations, I have noticed that young people (aged 15-30) generally speak English to one another, even when members of the same ethnic group. This is a sign of westernization of culture in Singapore, with younger Singaporeans being increasingly exposed to western media (movies, television, etc.) as well as social media. It would appear that due to globalization, that many younger Singaporeans are opting for the language of “pop culture” over the language of their native culture.

Written language and signage shares a similar system. All official signs, whether it be road signs, subway maps, or official documents, are written in English. This is likely intentional on the part of the Singaporean government, similar to the Leeman and Modan argument of linguistic landscape as  “ideologically charged constructions”. Singapore wants to appear as a hub of business and trade, on par with the western world. They also want to attract western businesses, acting as the business hub of Southeast Asia. For this reason, they use English as a construction to appear more western and accomplish their goals. However, they still must cater to their main Chinese ethnic group, and use Mandarin subtitles on most printed text. In the ethnic neighborhoods, the previously mentioned subtitles are replaced with the language of the respective ethnic group.

Taking into account both verbal and written landscape I would make the argument that Singapore acts as a great case study for the Leeman and Modan paper. In the majority of cases, the use of language is intentionally constructed, meant to convey a specific meaning through its use of language. Unfortunately, I am not proficient in any languages other than English to make a comparison of the other factors Leemand and Modan cited as aspects of linguistic landscape such as “communicative force.” I can only assume that the different languages provide a similar tone and ideational meaning to one another.


Wikipedia contributors. “History of Singapore.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Jun. 2018. Web. 27 Jun. 2018.

Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic landscape.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 332–362., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2009.00409.x.

“The World Factbook: SINGAPORE.” Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 8 June 2018,

Linguistic Landscape of Hong Kong — Alva Jiang

Hong Kong is one of the most important financial centers in the world. Its complicated history, unique way of governance, and high degree of economic freedom altogether contribute to its singularity and affect the use of language in this city. In Hong Kong, its two official languages—Cantonese and English—are most frequently used. No matter where you go, there are always signs written in traditional Chinese and English, denoting its status of being bilingualism. In daily life, people communicate in Cantonese and English interchangeably, depending on different social contexts and environments. Thus, the mixed use of these two languages has shaped a unique linguistic landscape in Hong Kong and serves as a communicative force for Hong Kong community.

In Hong Kong,  traditional Chinese and English are written on every public sign, such as street signs, subway station’s names, airport signs, signs on businesses etc., with Chinese usually appears to be more prominent than English. For example, Figure 1 below shows a typical sign of the subway station—traditional Chinese characters are above the English letters and appear with larger font size. Besides the use in public sectors, bilingual signs are also displayed in some private sectors, such as privately-owned companies, commercial buildings and shopping centers, of which the potential clientele might be English speakers. For example, the directory of the commercial building where I go to work is presented in both Cantonese and English, as shown in Figure 2, which is convenient for English-speaking employees


and clients. Therefore, in Hong Kong, it is easy to tell that both Chinese and English languages have been inscribed in this landscape, and they exist as guidance for both Hong Kong residents and foreign visitors.


Even though both English and traditional Chinese are used in written form, the choice of language in interpersonal communication depends on the social context. For example, in daily life, local Hong Kong people still tend to communicate in Cantonese, no matter to families, to peers or to co-workers. However, in a professional business setting, many people would switch to English speaking mode and use English to give presentations or to write proposals and reports. Besides social context, the frequency of English use is also closely related to the physical location, as English is used more frequently in financially developed areas. For example, in the area where my company is located—Kwun Tang, most conversations that I heard on the way to work are in Cantonese. However, if I travel to Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, the more central and prosperous areas in Hong Kong, I’m usually more exposed to English conversations in the subway or on the street.

In Hong Kong, such linguistic landscape is mainly communicative driven, since bilingualism has both historical and present origins. It emerged in the late twentieth century, the era when Hong Kong became a British colony and was imposed to use English as the sole official language. However, despite of the change of sovereignty and regain of independence in 1997, the establishment of English education and English speaking environment in Hong Kong is still retained. Nowadays, English is being taught in school and used in a professional setting, and it becomes an inseparable part of Hong Kong life. What’s more, with a deluge of financial opportunities, Hong Kong has attracted so many foreign investments to build capital here; and English ended up being an important tool of communication. Given such historical and cosmopolitan reasons, people are gradually adaptive to English and could use it more comfortably, along with Cantonese, for school education, business negotiation and other communicative purposes. The use of English in Hong Kong is to serve ideational consideration more than to “aesthetic” or “symbolic function”, and these terms are defined by Leeman’s article (Leeman and Modan, P336).

All in all, language could be used to serve many different purposes, such as for “commodification” use or “to give a sense of authenticity” (P335). However, in Hong Kong, I feel its linguistic landscape mainly serves as a communicative force; since no matter where you go, English is used as a tool to truly provide convenience to English speakers, instead of being used for superficial purposes, such as a sign of modernism.



Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.”  Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 332-362.

Can Lah, I Love Singapore

From the Starbucks menu to the “No Durian” signs in the metro, Singapore’s rich identity with its diverse population has evidently influenced the sociocultural use of language. Never had I imagined myself referencing a Starbucks menu as a tool for cultural anthropology, but Singapore has exceeded my expectations with its unique offerings, even at the local franchise of such a global corporation. Inspired by the finest Chinese tea flavors, Malay desserts, and Indian spices, the menu successfully mirrors the linguistic landscape of Singapore as a city, which I find too complex to be examined and understood as one whole piece. Singapore’s multifaceted linguistic landscape calls for an array of languages and mediums of communication among its people. Therefore, I have found the use of language in Singapore to be a personal statement of identity, which is adapted depending on the user’s relation and identification with Singapore as well as the discourse in which the language is being used, whether it be for public, commercial, or sociocultural purposes.

The linguistic landscape in Singaporean public spaces differs from that in each of Singapore’s cultural neighborhoods, where “culture is used both to frame public space and to legitimate the appropriation of that space by private and commercial interests.” (Leeman). Within an hour, you can travel from Little India to Chinatown then Arab Street and end at Marina Bay, having experienced completely different linguistic landscapes accompanied by different scents, menus, architectural symbols, and energies. While in publicly owned spaces, like the subway station, all signs are written in English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, on signs for private spaces, you find only Tamil and English in Little India, Mandarin and English in Chinatown, and Arabic and English on Arab Street. In this context, “the symbolic functions of language help to shape geographical spaces into social spaces.” (Leeman) Although I have only been here for a month, it was easy noticing how these neighborhoods tend to be mostly occupied by individuals who identify with the respective culture that the neighborhood almost commercializes, as well as tourists. Not only do signs differ but the advertisements in the station at Little India and that of Chinatown are also different, each catered to the majority of visitors and inhabitants in these areas.

Despite the government’s attempts to reinforce the use of the main four languages spoken in Singapore: Tamil, Mandarin Chinese, Standard English, and Malay, the “globalization of English [impacting] many linguistic landscapes”, has reached Singapore, where the controversial Singlish was born and remains alive today. While Singlish is viewed by some as a unique and unifying form of communication among the locals, others find it unprofessional due to its disregard of many syntax and grammar rules of the standard English. An example of a Singlish term is “can lah” meaning “yes”.

Singlish has created a controversy on the internet, especially when in March 2017, grammatical mistakes were made on educational signs in a mall. In response to this, the chairman of the “Speak Good English Movement (SGEM), which is managed by a steering committee comprising key academics and professionals in Singapore […] said the mistakes were the result of ‘ignorance’ and ‘carelessness’.” (YK) On the other hand, Dr. Ng E-Ching, a lecturer at the National University of Singapore’s English department says that “If people are going to be proud of being Singaporean, they’re also going to want to sound Singaporean. The prestige of Singlish will rise or fall with the prestige of being an ordinary Singaporean.” (Sin) While these two arguments each carry their own weight, I have found from my interaction with Singaporean locals at work, in shops, and at markets that the beauty of the Singaporean identity lies in its fluidity, allowing each resident the autonomy to create and live their own definition of their national identity and the articulation of that identity through adaptive linguistic use depending on the discourse in which it takes place, as long as they follow the laws and respect others. 

Image 1: A public sign of the prohibited items inside the subway (MRT) that articulates Malay, English, Tamil, and Mandarin Chinese.

Image 2: A sign on the MRT that is only written in English. An example of how loudly stated laws and fines are in Singapore, which could influence the low crime rate.

Image 3: A sign on the MRT encouraging passengers to be aware of other’s need of room. An example of how government funded and published signs use cartoon figures instead of real humans to generalize the message to all their residents, instead of using racially sensitive figures that could be misinterpreted.



Works Cited

Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic landscape1.” Freshwater Biology, Wiley/Blackwell (10.1111), 5 June 2009,

Sin, Yuen. “Don’t Play, Play – Singlish Is Studied around the Globe.” The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings, 11 Feb. 2017,

YK, Raynold Toh. “What’s Wrong with These Signs?” The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings, 28 Mar. 2017,



Linguistic Landscape: Hong Kong

As an international business hub and home to a multitude of tourist attractions, it is understandable that Hong Kong is a city whose inhabitants form a multilingual community. While Cantonese is the official dialect utilized throughout the city, English is also used regularly as a communication tool for business and legal matters. Although people from mainland China and Hong Kong both speak the same language, the difference in dialects can still cause difficulties to arise. In Hong Kong, all the signs have traditional Chinese characters, which is very different from the simplified writing system that many mainlander Chinese use. It was interesting to see how people of the same ethnicity have a rather divergent linguistic landscape. I noticed that a great majority of signs included both the Chinese traditional characters along with an English translation or counterpart. The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the main source of transportation, and there are English names underneath all the stops. This is most likely intended to aid tourists in moving around the city independently, which shows the level of integration that the English language has acquired since the British rule in Hong Kong. MTR is almost a necessary means of travel in Hong Kong, and having English on every single sign in and around the station is a prime illustration of the prominence of international presence in the city.

Central is one of the most well-known bustling areas of Hong Kong and is often compared to New York City due to its busy and fast-moving nature. The shopping malls and financial centers attract both locals and foreigners with its distinctly urban vibes, and therefore it is a popular place for many cultures to intermingle. I noticed that in areas with popular tourist attractions, English is even more widely used on signs in order to provide useful information to foreigners. While many people travel to Hong Kong to obtain a sense of worldliness or experience the authenticity of an “exotic” place to gain cultural capital, they may find themselves gravitating towards familiar brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Most of the businesses in cosmopolitan areas such as Central target an ethically-diverse customer base, therefore the symbolic meaning of the language on signs would be different based on the reader (Leeman & Modan, 351). For example, Landmark Atrium showcases major fashion brands and restaurants, however a great majority of these are international and most of the products have few cultural similarities with Hong Kong styles. However, the sign at the top of the mall still has Chinese characters beside it, in part to provoke the sense that it is distinctive due to its locale (Leeman & Modan, 354).

The neighborhood of the area we live in emphasizes the differentiation between very urban neighborhoods and very locale-friendly neighborhoods. Many Hong Kong locals are attracted towards local Chinese-oriented businesses, such as the kinds that do not offer an English translation along with their menu. Such businesses and restaurants, for example, the one shown below, post Chinese-language advertisements to attract customers from the neighborhood. This Chinese sign shows that the establishment is closely connected to the interactional order that would take place inside the restaurant (Leeman & Modan, 350). For example, it might suggest how people in the restaurant order food, ask about employment, and more.

The signs also support the multilingual nature of the area, such as the information given on the parking spot. As seen, about half of the words are in Chinese, and the other half is the English translation. The reading mentions that solely employing Chinese writing for its aesthetic value does not help the strengthening of community in public spaces (Leeman & Modan, 357). This sign’s purpose, however, is to provide information for Chinese people, since tourists would not own private cars in Hong Kong and would often take taxis to get around. Therefore, although both Chinese and English speakers can gain the same information from the same sign, the Chinese locals reap the most benefits. Overall, it seems that the linguistic landscape of Hong Kong consists of bilingual signs that express symbolic meaning to both the local people and visitors.

Works Cited:

Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009.

Linguistic Landscape of Singapore – Aniqa Premjee

          Living in Singapore, has provided me with a firsthand vantage point of a confluence of people from different cultures living together peacefully. Singapore is one of the most unique countries in the world because although the main official language is English, there are many other languages that are spoken and widely used as well due to the high diversity of the country. The other three languages include Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Although English is the language that is spoken the most and is used in both school and work, Singapore does a great job incorporating the other 3 languages especially in common things like street signs and instructions on using the MRT, which is Singapore’s public transportation system.

          Although English is not a language of a major ethnic group in Singapore, it was adopted as the main language solely to unify the multicultural community who all speak their own native languages. Therefore, since most Singaporeans speak two languages English, and another language corresponding to their race, most public and even individual signs around Singapore are written in 4 different languages to support the multilingual communities as you can see in this example picture. 





           While walking around the mall or down the streets in Singapore you are constantly hearing a plethora of different languages. Some are speaking in English while others are speaking in Mandarin, which is the largest spoken mother tongue language. In fact, often times when I’m with Singaporeans they will still communicate in Mandarin and often keep switching back and forth from Mandarin to English. Although Singlish is not an official language, it is also widely spoken especially in informal settings by Singaporeans. The best way to describe Singlish is that it is a colloquial form of English that has a distinct accent, most often times ignoring standard English grammar. It’s a mix of vocabulary from both local slang and a combination of expressions from the assortment of languages and dialects spoken in Singapore. However, whenever something is publicly written it is written in proper British English using the correct grammar unlike what Singlish is. 

            Since Singapore is such a diverse country representing many different ethnic groups, multiple cultural neighborhoods exist allowing you to be able to immerse yourself in the full cultural scope of Asia. These ethnic districts represent different places in Asia that comprise the most populated groups of people in Singapore going from Chinatown to Arabtown to even Little India. Each district makes you feel like you’re in a whole new country from the language that is being spoken to the food that is served and lastly the signs that are written in the languages that are specific to the neighborhood like seen in this example of signs that were taken in Chinatown.






           Like Landry and Bourhis stated in their article published in 1997, “the language of public road signs, advertising, billboards, street names, place names, commercial shop signs, and public signs on government buildings combines to form the linguistic landscape of a given territory, region, or urban agglomeration,” (p.333) the multitude of different languages that make up the signs within Singapore are what make Singapore so unique. The 4 different languages that are also displayed on these signs everywhere around the country, or even the signs that are specific to certain ethnic districts carry sociosyomblic importance as it is used as a tool to identify and serve as a symbol of different communities and societies. 

Works Cited:

Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.”  Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 333.


Linguistic Landscape of Singapore

For many, arriving in Singapore and realizing the dominance of the English language can be shocking. Singapore is a unique city composed of many different languages and cultures, and very few other cities in Southeast Asia and in the world as a whole are as multicultural and interwoven. Although the linguistic landscape of Singapore is made up of a mixture of various international languages, English is the common language taught, displayed, and spoken in Singapore in many settings.

While the national language of Singapore is Malay, the four official languages are English, Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin, which exemplifies the cultural breadth of the nation. English is taught in every school, thus making it the most common language heard in public settings. On the other hand, walking through the streets on a daily basis, one hears several different languages extremely frequently that are not limited to only Asian dialects. While families and friends from the same nationality may choose to speak their native languages frequently in both private and public settings, most people speak clear English in professional environments and when in a situation with foreigners. A special and unique aspect of Singapore’s linguistic landscape is the practice of Singlish, which is a mixture of English and Malay influences. It is spoken by native Singaporeans nationwide, and it includes numerous slang terms used by young people. Endings are added to English words to convey different emotions, undertones, and contextual feelings, making it a complex concept. While composed structurally of mainly English, Singlish is relatively difficult to understand by non-native speakers, but having a unifying dialect shared by Singaporeans deepens the connected fabric of the nation.

Additionally, locations all around the city support a multilingual environment in a visual manner, as street signs and advertisements are always written—or at least translated—in British English in the main areas, such as Orchard, the Central Business District, and Downtown. Occasionally, signs will also include a translation into Mandarin, Malay, and other various languages, depending on the location and purpose of the information. For example, restaurant signs on the street frequently feature translations of both English and the relevant language. The languages written on signs in certain niche areas tend to stray from English more often, such as in Chinatown, the Arab Quarter, and Little India; even in these environments, English is very prevalent.

The linguistic landscape of Singapore conveys the significant and dominating role expatriates play in the environment, as highlighted in the dynamics of linguistic landscapes discussed by Leeman and Moden. Since nearly everything is written in English, the effects of its British colonial history, the role tourism plays in the country’s economy, the support of a dual-language learning system, and the reality that half the population are temporary residents are clear: Singapore places an extensive emphasis on their population being able to communicate in English and enter a westernized workforce. While several languages bond different communities across the country and are frequently used in many settings, English in the linguistic landscape plays the most critical and functioning role in the sustainment of Singaporean society.


Linguistic Lanscape in Hong Kong – Jina Kim

Hong Kong is known as one of the global cities in Asia, where the official language includes English other than their own language. As many people would assume, I also expected that communication in most places in Hong Kong would be smooth in any situation. However, unlike my initial thoughts, Hong Kong’s culture was composed heavily towards the authentic culture of Chinese except tourist-popular places in terms of language use. Having two official languages didn’t really reflect the modernization of its culture but was rather used as a basic tool for the minimal communication among people.

During my first week in Hong Kong, most places I visited were popular places where most tourists would normally visit first. As shown in the Example 1 below, most restaurants offered English version menus and workers didn’t have much of problems communicating with foreign customers. Along with restaurants, buildings around were very modernized unlike many buildings in Chinatown in English-spoken countries. These scene mostly proved how “English was used to signify modernity or cosmopolitanism” (Leeman and Modan, 335) in Hong Kong. Almost all the buildings in the developed area of Hong Kong or any public ares had most instructions or description in two languages, English and Chinese. As shown in Example 2, both languages were depicted equally prominent.

Example 1
Example 2

However, once you go out of those modernized regions of Hong Kong to local areas, things were much different. Many of local shops or restaurants in places such as Sheung Wan or Wan Chai rather portrayed the first wave of redeveloping Chinatown in somewhat similar way in terms of language use. Apart from having fancy lights to emphasize the name of the shops, which is just an element of emerging technologies in the 21st century, hardly any names of small businesses were specifically focused to tourists but to the local people (Example 3). One or two shops had menus available in English, in which case, I would have to just order food by pointing at the picture I wanted. 


Just looking at the written language use in Hong Kong, it clearly depicted Hong Kong as multi-lingual community. Yet the spoken language didn’t quite portrayed the community as multi-lingual country. Before coming to Hong Kong, I read in an article that the local people aren’t very favorable to those who speak Mandarin or English. As mentioned in the article, in some very authentic places around my office, workers didn’t really welcome people who spoke English to them and just would answer back in Cantonese in abrupt manner. In such cases, body language or contextual understanding were more helpful in communicating with the local people. 

Although my thoughts only depict one side of what the actual language use is meant to convey, it was very interesting to me how use of English had apparent purpose as a communicating tool. Unlike how “French on the restaurant sign conveys distinction and a sense of authenticity” (Leeman and Modan, 335) as an example or “to demonstrate their cosmopolitan and sophistication” (Leeman and Modan, 354), instructions or signs in Hong Kong were mostly used to deliver messages clearly to foreigners.


Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.”  Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 332-362.

The Linguistic Landscape of Hong Kong: Wendy Cai

Hong Kong’s linguistic landscape, like many other countries’ linguistic landscape, can be greatly understood through understanding its history. Also, it would only be appropriate to mention Hong Kong’s history as locals are getting ready for the upcoming three day weekend to celebrate Hong Kong Independence on Monday! Hong Kong’s linguistic landscape traces back to British Crown rule when they were formerly a colony of Britain. The British influence as a whole is very transparent and salient in Hong Kong, retaining many of the cultural characteristics that reflect its past such as referring to elevators as “lifts” and apartments as “flats”.

Today, English and Cantonese are the two official languages of Hong Kong. You will easily find yourself hearing and seeing both languages as you walk down the street. The government publicly designates English as one of the official languages of Hong Kong, continuing the British influence on its culture and on the very lives of the people. Public enterprises tend to follow in line with the standards set by the government, so they usually do include both English and Chinese, as they are the official languages of Hong Kong.

English remains the professional language used by businesses, government, and other legal sectors, but Cantonese is still the default language of the locals. While in our workplaces, it is quite often to hear conversations in English and host workshops and meetings in English, but outside of work, people tend to resume their lives in Cantonese. However, English is still widely seen in public areas, from the metro station to the streets, and even on menus and shopping malls. Also, in areas that are more populated with tourists, it is quite common to see various languages displayed in menus or signs tailored for tourists and foreigners, which reveals the international attraction and diversity of Hong Kong.

Something that caught my attention was the numerous streets named after symbolic British figures or places, such as Prince Edward Station, Wellington Street, Waterloo Road, Queen Victoria Street, Salisbury Road, and the list continues on. These streets and roads epitomize the representation of landscapes in terms of cultural relevance, highlighting that they are intentionally constructed for the purpose of telling a story about their culture. “The historicized and contextualized approach to the analysis of signs that we advocate enables a holistic understanding of how linguistic landscapes are embedded in larger sociopolitical processes” (341). It is a reminder of Hong Kong’s history for the public, and most importantly, to preserve the British aspect of Hong Kong- a social and political statement that they are proud of their unique culture and background.

Something interesting that I recognized was the popularity with the British Monarch, Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria is one of the most commemorated figures in the world, and it is no less prevailing in Hong Kong. The institutional legacy of Queen Victoria lives on in the very heart of Hong Kong, channeling Victoria Park, Victoria Harbour, Queen’s Pier, Victoria Peak, and many other iconic buildings, landmarks, and roads or streets. Leeman and Modan perfectly sum it up how “‘the language of public road signs, advertising, billboards, street names, place names, commercial shop signs, and public signs on government buildings combines to form the linguistic landscape of a given territory, region, or urban agglomeration” (333). The resonance of British influence in the linguistic landscape of Hong Kong “emphasizes the importance of socio-historical context” which “leads to a greater understanding of the larger sociopolitical meanings of linguistic landscapes” (332).

Works Cited:

Leeman, Jennifer, and Gabriella Modan. “Commodified Language in Chinatown: A Contextualized Approach to Linguistic Landscape.”  Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 13, no. 3, 2009, pp. 332-362.