Politics, economics and identity: mapping the linguistic landscape of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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22 Citations (Scopus)


This study explores the linguistic landscape of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Using photographs as a source of data, the study collects samples from both government and private signage from five selected neighbourhoods of the city. In addition to photographs, interviews with business owners have been conducted and used for triangulation purposes. The data suggest that multidimensionality marks the linguistic landscape of the city. The multidimensionality is embedded in the complex sociopolitical, economic and ethnolinguistic facets and trends the linguistic landscape demonstrates. The sociopolitical dimension signifies the officially laid-down monolingual Malay-oriented policies, which accentuate compulsory use of the national language Malay. Non-compliance to the official version of policy results in strict punitive actions. The economic dimension manifests in the prominent use of English for its advertising and symbolic potential. Similarly, the ethnolinguistic dimension denotes vitality and identity expressed by the Chinese and Indian communities in specific localities. The study argues that although the official policy is formulated and implemented with the intent of unifying a multiethnic population, discursive defiance to this policy at the bottom levels can be triggered by many reasons including pragmatism, religion or identity, and such defiance clearly transpires in the linguistic and semiotic representation of the signboards.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-50
JournalInternational Journal of Multilingualism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • linguistic landscape; Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur; Malay; Chinese; Tamil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language

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