Language accessibility of signage in public settings: A case study of a health care service

  • Michal Schuster


Looking at the linguistic landscape (LL) purely as a place where information is put into the public domain, a natural expectation might be that multilingual signage text should convey the same information in each of the languages of the text. Yet this expectation of symmetry is often violated (Kallen & Dhonnacha, 2010). The study of multilingual signs does not usually take into account the extent to which the signs serve minority groups – hence, the signs’ language accessibility (LA). The study suggests a method to assess the LA of public signs using the basic methods of LL studies as well as content measures taken from the field of Translation Studies, to evaluate translation equivalence. The LA concept was tested on the linguistic landscape of Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, Israel, which is visited by more than 50% of non-Hebrew speakers, mainly Arabs. During a four-month period, 251 signs were documented, followed by two supporting interviews with the functionaries in charge of the hospital signage. The analysis suggests parallel trends: a growing awareness of the need for signs that are linguistically accessible but at the same time a lack of attentiveness to the overall meaning of linguistic access. LA analyses allow for greater understanding of concepts and processes related to language practice and management and also permit more complex and nuanced explanations of the LL.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2012, 30(3): 311–324

Author Biography

Michal Schuster
Department of Language Management and Language Practice, University of the Free State, PO Box 339, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614