Reading the City: The Linguistic and Semiotic Landscape of Macao’s San Ma Lo (新馬路)
Macao is a city of six hundred thousand inhabitants, but it receives 30 million visitors per year. Together, they constitute the public that interacts with public space. In distinction from bilingual Hong Kong (Chinese and English), the public signage in Macao is at least trilingual: Chinese, Portuguese and English, reflecting the unique historical and cultural makeup of the city as a former Portuguese colony that has recently (1999) been returned to China. This paper explores the linguistic landscape of Macao from the perspective of a case study of the main street of the historic city center.
The study of linguistic landscape can be considered part of what Scollon and Scollon (Discourses in place: language in the material world. Routledge/Taylor and Francis, London, 2003) term “geosemiotics”, referring to the analysis of meanings that are materially situated in the space of urban agglomerations. Adapting a phenomenological approach to data collection, the researcher photographed every aspect of Macao’s main street, including public signage in its linguistic aspect, as well as architectural spatial semiotics and the visual semiotics of advertising and shop fronts. The data were classified into three broad categories of spatial, visual and linguistic semiotics, as well as sixteen detailed subcategories. The author’s analysis of the data is informed by Chmielewska’s (Semiosis takes place or radical uses of quaint theories. In Jaworski A, Thurlow C (eds), Semiotic landscapes: language, image, space. Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, London/New York, pp. 274–291, 2010) insight into the subjectivity of the process of semiotic interpretation. The semiotic analysis of situated meanings reveals the linguistic and socioeconomic challenges Macao faces as a tourist hub, gaming (gambling) centre and Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
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