Solvita Pošeiko


In public space there is the information, that is always designed with a specific purpose. For example, signposts are placed to provide direction guidance and to highlight some of the most important objects. Public signs function as the visiting cards of some institution or enterprise, creating indirectly a definite image of these institutions or some ethnic or social groups, while graffiti is written to create and maintain a public image and to express emotions or attitudes towards some person, a group of people, events or processes. To achieve the expected objective the authors of signs often use the eye-catching texts that differ from linguistic and para-linguistic means, such as artistic expressive means, unusual combinations of words and cultural signs, bright colors, variations of letter fonts, shapes and sizes, different types of images and symbols.

There have been selected three types of signs available in the linguistic landscape database consisting of 7347 public signs obtained in nine Baltic cities: firstly the largest group of signs by its percentage – the signs (ergonyms), which function as visiting cards of the institution or enterprise and which attract potential customers; secondly, these are graffiti texts, that are the least regulated language signs, reflecting free linguistic and semiotic experiments; and thirdly, these are advertisements, which more than any other public texts contain visual information and referral to a reader with rhetorical phrases and metaphors. In some cases, in order to determine the dissemination of any verbal text approach in the public space, posters are also viewed.

The goal is to identify and characterize the most peculiar development means of excerpted public signs (linguistic and para-linguistic), as well as compositional characteristics of open space advertisements of institutions and enterprises. There has been used the semiotic landscape theory, in which the language is viewed in correlation with the visual discourse, culture and a way of thinking, accepting multimodality of signs (Kress, Van Leewen 1996; Scollon & Scollon 2003; Jaworski, Thurlow 2010). There have been applied as well a theory of linguistic creativity and a theory of optical metaphors, which allow to determine and analyze different language and semiotic means, rarely used in public reports, as well as to interpret the transfer of meanings (Zawada 2005; Бутакова 2013; Kessler 2013). Interviews and e-mails to employees of companies and institutions justify a creation process and promotion of definite ergonyms.

The original creation of elements of public reports are viewed in the article according to five language levels proposed by the onomastic J. Butakova: orthographic and graphic, word-formation, lexical, morphological and syntactical level. There was also discussed about the semantic level, highlighting less frequently found thematic groups of ergonyms and metaphorical messages, as well as about the semiotic level, describing compositional characteristics of open space advertisements of definite institutions and enterprises.

Overall, public signs of the Baltic States are characterized by initial capitalization throughout the text, nominal phrases, lack of punctuation marks, a variety of signs and symbols, which directly reflect the scope of activities, functionality and specificity of institution or company, product or service. Only in signs of names it is typical to use nomenclature names and other onyms (antroponyms, toponyms), in advertisements there are large images, rhetorical questions or exclamation sentences, but graffiti is a visual magnification of casual users’ handwriting, stylized signatures or inaccurately written personal names, slangs with a negative connotation.

Orthographic and graphic level depicts the broadest diversity of linguistic and semiotic means, especially in the signs of names and graffiti. The most commonly found differences are the usage of lower and upper case of initial letters, variations of their artistic design, highlighting a particular letter of the sign, changing the size, font, color of a word or a part of a word, as well as ignoring the rules of language. Some graffitis demonstrate the examples of graphic hybridization, combining different pattern systems in a single report.

Word-formation is revealed in the article only in the signs of names, determining the fact, that the formation of diminutives, compound names, abbreviations and foreign formants is relatively rare, wherewith it is considered as a kind of linguistic approach in creation of signs.

Since the public signs selected for the research, are characterized by nominal phrases, mostly substantives and groups of words, then in morphological and syntactical point of view there are interesting examples, which are only the samples of the usage of adjectives, verbs or linking words and which have a full grammatical center (especially in ergonyms and graffiti). The fact that there are almost no punctuation marks in public signs, the usage of quotes and commas in ergonyms, as well as doubling or tripling of exclamation marks or the usage of full stops, ellipses and question marks in graffiti and advertising is considered to be a kind of linguistic technique to attract the attention.

Creative linguistic techniques in a lexical semantic level are considerably rarely used nomenclature words in name signs, symbolic ergonyms in the full names of public institutions, actualization of cultural and historical information in the local environment, time category, mythological and literary characters, human character traits, behavior and properties in ergonyms, romantic dedications and poems in graffiti, and linguistic metaphors in ergonyms, advertisements and graffiti.

Semiotic public signs attract attention if they contain visual images and metaphors are the only information providers and if there is an untraditional layout, unusual shape or interesting combinations of visual elements. Some institutions and companies demonstrate a uniform compositional message in their open space advertisements.

In general, it can be maintained that both linguistic and semiotic means play an essential role in providing and perceiving general message of public signs. There are not so many techniques for creative text presentations in the Baltic States’ public space, but they reflect authors’ perception of their scope (institution or company, products or services, events), near or distant space and values.


semiotic landscape; public sign; linguistic creativity; linguistic and optical metaphors

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