The Semiotic Landscape of a Multicultural Illiterate Society of Ethiopia

Rukya Hassen


This study is about the semiotic landscape of a multilingual illiterate society. The semiotic landscape of the monolingual literate, modern and developed societies have extensively been investigated. Writing remains to be the dominant mode of semiotic landscape in the modern world. A typical characteristic of illiterate society is that they do not use writing. They have long been using many other forms of semiotic landscape for generations. The semiotic landscapes are also used as a regular communication signs across different language speakers. Semiotic landscapes used by the multilingual illiterate society of Ethiopia are investigated in this study. Since the majority of the people in Ethiopia are illiterate, there are many semiotic signs used in different displays in the public space. Since written language comes with literacy, it exclude the illiterate part of the society. Although it is inevitably replacing the traditional semiotic landscapes in the urban areas, the long-lived modes of semiotic landscapes still persist in the rural areas and some urban spaces as well. The data collection sites were Kemisie, Dessie, Wogdy, Addis Ababa and Woldia. 5670 pictures were taken from these places. Analysis were done based on the types and functions of each image.  The result of the study shows that there are many semiotic landscapes that have continued to be used by the primitive society of Ethiopia. These signage were used for generations and are still being used along with written languages.  The researcher noticed that many of them are being replaced by written languages. It is worthwhile to document and analyze how illiterate societies represent their public spaces using different semiotic resources.

Keywords: Semiotic landscape, multiculturalism, sign, illiterate

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