Language Policy in Public Space. A historical perspective on Asmara’s linguistic landscape.

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This article presents a linguistic landscape analysis of pictures taken
in Eritrea’s capital Asmara between 2001 and 2018, stemming from
the respective periods of Italian, British, Ethiopian and Eritrean rule.
The analysis illustrates how these semiotic signs, fossilized as well as
contemporary, bear witness of the ways in which language and
state ideologies of the country’s respective rulers were
symbolically implemented and enshrined in visible language.
Next to Italian, Amharic, Tigrinya and Arabic, attention is given to
English, the international language that was introduced during
the British Protectorate period and managed to maintain and
strengthen its position in Asmara in recent years in relation to the
inhabitants’ connection to the internet as a means to virtually
escape from the city. Central in the analysis is the notion of
public space as a multilayered socially constructed phenomenon
showing the imprints of societal happenings. Such traces of
history in Asmara contribute to changing concrete places into
spaces and as such help memorizing and handing over the
narratives connected to them as reflections of historical and
contemporary language policies that over the years h
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-296
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2021


  • Asmara
  • Eritrea
  • linguistic landscaping
  • place and space
  • semiotic signs
  • language policy


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