The Role of Typography in the Linguistic Landscape of Singapore’s Chinatown

Conference: The Asian Conference on Arts & Humanities (ACAH2022)
Title: The Role of Typography in the Linguistic Landscape of Singapore’s Chinatown
Stream: Language, Linguistics
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Min-Yee Angeline Yam, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Kristina Marie Tom, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Bee Chin Ng, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


The multi-dimensional nature of Linguistic Landscape in recent years has encouraged scholars to explore how signs convey meaning through a variety of modalities in addition to language. This paper reports the correlation of language composition and typographic elements of signs found on traditional shophouses in Singapore’s Chinatown. The research site focuses on Bukit Pasoh, one of four districts that retains the largest number of clans and associations, a legacy of the large Chinese immigrant support network that originated there in the 19th century. In total, signs of 333 enterprises are examined over 20 acres. In general, most enterprises use English (83%). A significant number of enterprises display Chinese characters (30%) and a further 11% features transliteration of local Chinese vernaculars into romanised script. While some of these include the simultaneous use of English, the use of Chinese and in particular romanised vernacular constitutes an important expression of cultural identity. Further typographic analysis reveals that various design principles are employed not just as a tool to indicate the primacy of a particular language on a multilingual sign, but also visually reinforces the cultural identity expressed through choice of language. This has given rise to ‘fauxstalgia’ consumption where ‘hipster’ enterprises capitalize on signs in the area to appeal to a younger demographic, many whom do not speak the Chinese vernaculars. Generally, we argue that the presence of non-English elements is an ‘enregisterment’ of cultural identity signalled by layered interplay of language, script and typography.

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