Accepted paper:

Constructing identities through linguistic landscape: a comparison between Chinatown and Little India in Kuala Lumpur


Xiaomei Wang (University of Malaya)
Supramani Shoniah (University of Malaya)
Patricia Nora Riget (University of Malaya)

Paper short abstract:

This chapter discusses identity construction of Chinese and Indian communities in Malaysia by taking a linguistic landscape approach.

Paper long abstract:

This chapter discusses identity construction of two minority groups in Malaysia through their language choice in public space. Using the linguistic landscape approach, a survey was conducted and data were collected in the two ethnic areas, Chinatown and Little India, in Kuala Lumpur. In total, 689 photos from these two locations were analyzed using the software FileMaker 10.0. Based on the quantitative analysis of the parameters, the following conclusions are drawn: (1) Malay is most used in trilingual signs in both areas, which symbolizes the national identity. (2) Ethnic languages are frequently used in both areas. However, the frequency of Chinese in Chinatown is much higher than that of Tamil in Little India. (3) English as an international language is extensively used in both locations. However, its occurrence in the Indian community is much higher than that in the Chinese community. These findings indicate that both Malaysians of Chinese and Indian origin tend to present their ethnic identities in public space, which signifies their ethnic vitality. English represents not only a local urban identity but also a global identity. Malay plays the role as the instrument for national unity and ethnic cohesion. The linguistic landscape approach has provided a window to observe identity construction in a multilingual society. The different usage of various languages in public space by the Chinese and the Indians reveals the differences in the orientation of their identities, which deserves further research.

panel P025
The maintenance and consolidation of Malaysian Chinese identities: an anthropological exploration