Multicultural identity in the context of urban landscape

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The purpose of the article is to identify and describe the structure of urban signs containing code switching, foreign language or pseudo-foreign language information. This topic seems to be relevant, since modern cities with a Russian-speaking population are flooded with inscriptions that mislead about foreign cultural realities and are executed with grammatical and lexical errors. In the course of the study, the names of catering establishments, beauty salons, car service enterprises and law firms, fixed on the signboards of the respective organizations and presented for public viewing were analyzed. The specificity of the designations of service enterprises of various kinds and its compliance/nonconformity with the mission of the organization has been established. Analyzing the signboards as a verbal fragment of the urban landscape, the author of the article comes to the conclusion that it is necessary to introduce a new term - pseudo-multicultural identity. The phenomenon of pseudo-multicultural identity characterizes the communicative space of a large city and can be considered a destructive phenomenon formed in a pseudo-other-cultural environment, where the authors of foreign names neglect both the structure and the meaning of the proposed designations, and the target audience forms inadequate language stereotypes.

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Introduction In recent decades, the interest of philologists in the problems of ethnolinguistics (ethnography of speech and ethnosemantics), which for some time marked the most progressive field of linguistic research (Hymes, 1973; Saville-Troike, 1982), gradually shifted towards a new direction - learning the language in a close connection with the culture - cultural linguistics. It arises at the junction of linguistics and culturology and explores the manifestations of the culture of a society, that are reflected in the language (Maslova, 1997). The cognitive approach to the linguistic object (Krasnykh, 2002) and understanding of the language as an attribute of a personality and language team, goes back to the works of A.A. Potebnya (2000), F. Boas (1997). Within the framework of linguistic and cultural schools (Yu.S. Stepanov, 2007; N.D. Arutyunova, 1999; V.N. Teliya, 1996; V.A. Maslova, 1997), the interpretation of discourse facts is refracted through the concept of a linguistic worldview and communicative space. The interest in the so-called multicultural identity (along with the study of intercultural communication), i.e. the occurrence of the individual in the communicative space of more than one culture and the awareness of oneself belonging to them can be considered as the natural development of this direction. At the same time, city dwellers in some cases find themselves immersed in some foreign language and foreign culture environment, which is formed by the verbal component of the city landscape. Signs that contain the names of institutions providing services of various kinds, in some cases do not comply with the rules of the donor language, do not have the meanings attributed to them, are used in impossible combinations and create a distorted perception of a foreign language and culture in the target audience. The purpose of the article is to describe and interpret the non-regular use of foreign words and misconceptions about foreign cultural realities. Research methods and materials The study was based on the names of organizations in the sphere of public catering and other services placed on signs that form one of the components of the city landscape. The method of recorded observation and semantic analysis were used. Results It has been established that a significant part of the names of social institutions are names in a foreign language a) unjustifiably replacing usual Russian language; b) containing gross grammatical and lexical errors; c) phrases that are not usual for the donor language; d) representing the attempt of the nominee to arbitrarily produce non-existent idioms; e) mistakenly interpret foreign cultural realities. Discussion Ethnic Japanese sculptor N moved to Paris twenty-five years ago, married a French woman, has two sons, teaches at the Academy of Fine Arts. In a conversation, he sometimes says: “we, Japanese, ...” or “we, French, ...” When the interlocutor objects to the alternative use of these phrases, remarks: “But it is really this way!” How can a person at the same time or at least alternatively identify oneself as a Japanese or a French? Here we are confronted with the concept of identity, a multifaceted concept and, it should be noted, quite vague. On the one hand, etymologically, identity is selfdetermination, on the other, there are quite a lot of parameters according to which a person can be “self-defined”. And this is undoubtedly an open set. Entering this or that social group, one or another microsocium, adjusting to its world view, outlook, behavioral models, even changing tastes and preferences, a person “indexes” his/her “I” and becomes not quite what he or she used to be yesterday. And, depending on how much one is aware of these old and new accessories, a peculiar portrait of oneself is being formed at present. Being initially studied by philosophers (Taylor, 1989), the concept of identity has expanded the boundaries of its word usage to popular editions such as “Know yourself” or self-teaching books of Dale Carnegie style. At the same time, the understanding of the discursive embodiment of identity, i.e., its formation and assertions through the text, has been established in science (Derrida, 1976). Communicative acts are the only thing that reveals the facets of the human self. The essence of a person is embodied in his or her communication (Vačlavik, 2000: 61). This leads to the idea that a speaking person can imitate identity, appear to be someone he/she is not, mislead or copy one’s ideal. Acting as a profession is entirely based on the formation of false identities through the actualization of texts written by others. Imitation of identities forms the phenomenon, which in modern sociolinguistics is called commodified identities (Benwell, 2002: 431), that is commercialized identity, turned into a commodity. In this case, artificially formed identities are shown as a product of advertising. A real man, a real woman, a caring mother, an ideal housewife, etc. - non-existent characters, they are created by the authors of advertising texts. Another type of artificial identity is virtual (Gergen, 1996: 136), i.e. identities created as a result of self-presentation (Belova, 2014: 68) in computer-mediated communication. In general, the concept of self-presentation is related to the concept of identity, they border on each other or even merge together in several communicative contexts. Our sculptor presents himself as Japanese and appears to be Japanese when it comes to his roots and traditions of his country. He also feels like a Frenchman and testifies to this when it comes to his daily life in Paris, family and professional activities. Among all aspects and types of identity as a social phenomenon, cultural identity dominates in the broad sense of the term, thus identifying oneself with a certain cultural or subcultural society. Since “language is intimately connected with culture: it grows into it, develops in it and expresses it” (Maslova, 2001: 9), any text is a conductor of cultural identity. It is important to note that cultural identity is a hierarchically complex, heterogeneous concept. This is not only ethnocultural but also multiple-subcultural identity. Which identity explicates the discourse of an American IT student, an ethnic Korean woman, a member of the rockers’ club? That of title nation, minority, ITprofessionals, rockers, women, youth? On the one hand, it certainly represents a certain conglomerate of cultures, and, on the other, each generated text has a cultural dominant corresponding to the communicative context. It is obvious that the concept of monocultural identity has the right to exist only in terms of ethnocultural identity. But it is not that simple either. In today’s world, which is subject to globalization processes, the expansion of the English language, the splattering of computer terminology and netiquette (and again, it is English) to offline communication, visible multicultural identity may be a chimera. True multicultural identity as a result of primary socialization in the territory of cohabitation of two or more ethnic groups (typical for a number of regions of the Russian Federation, the region of Belarusian-Polish-Lithuanian trilingualism, former colonies, etc.), education in a bilingual family or entering into new cultures (and learning new languages) during life, are described by specialists in cultural linguistics, cognitive linguistics, bilingualism, language interference. The phenomenon of language and culture, which we will call a pseudo-multicultural identity, remains poorly understood. Its most vivid manifestation can be observed in the verbal context of the urban landscape, which confirms the statement of Y.E. Prokhorov saying that “language has begun to operate in a completely different reality” (Prokhorov, 2017: 7). The landscape of each city is multifaceted both structurally and functionally. Its components depend on age, status and history. Cities can be considered in the category of texts that are built in a new way in each era by their residents and guests. Semiotics of the city as a cultural space is an extremely wide and multifaceted sphere, focused on the symbolism of the city and the ideas embodied in the image of the city through the prism of the mentality of the ethnic group and the era. The city as a space endowed with meanings (macrotext) and elements of this space (microtext) in the last decades have attracted attention of scholars who consider it from the standpoint of philosophy, culture and architecture. We see the terms: phenomenology of the city, physics of the city, metaphysics of the city, the mythology of the city. Paying tribute to the concepts of the city-myth, city-idea, city - cultural text, city - media message, we note that they considered the city mainly as an artifact, non-verbal essence. Beyond the limits of scientific interest remains the city-text, the city-message in its direct visual verbal representation. It is a city embodied in the words that we read in its streets and that represent the city in a certain key, changeable and subject to fashion. Such words are presented on the billboards, ads, leaflets and flyers and - first of all - on the signboards, representing a message to the target audience, which is essentially a product of the act of self-presentation. A significant part of the messages - the signs accompanying a person on his/her way along the city streets, is designed for a person familiar with other languages (mainly English) and with certain elements of the English-speaking everyday culture. It is assumed that a city dweller, a native Russian speaker, is familiar not only with English words, but also with English definitions of goods and services offered by the authors of the respective names. In the list of services of a beauty salon placed in a show-window Double Job appears. Double - what? The word job has several meanings, some of them are not always convenient to discuss in a decent society. In fact, it refers to the simultaneous performance of manicure and pedicure. You can learn this only by experience, having once visited the salon. Michel Foucault (Foucault, 2002: 27) wrote that identity is shaped by discourse. What kind of identity can be formed by such messages? A single, cosmopolitan culture (regardless of its evaluation aspect - whether it is good or bad) can be formed either on the basis of deep interpenetration of cultures, or on the basis of absorption of one of the cultures, which has repeatedly happened in the history of mankind and has never been perceived as a positive process (Dronenko, 2003: 34). The patchwork “multiculturalism” we observe does not expand the boundaries of cultural competence, and often misleads the audience about unfamiliar and therefore attractive words and concepts. New phraseological units are born, about which native English speakers have no idea, new meanings of words and phrases appear. The mentioned Double Job in the English-speaking environment means nothing more than part-time work. Linguistic vicissitudes of the urban landscape cannot be attributed to the so-called hybrid identity (Hall, 2000: 16; Habermas, 1987: 215), a vivid example of which is the German-other identity of migrants, who have a definite desire to join the society and make successive efforts to adapt to new conditions. The coffee shop sign says La Coffee. The name of the drink in English follows a definite feminine article La, used in the Romance languages - French, Italian, Spanish. English does not have grammatical category of gender, in the Romance coffee is masculine, in Russian, which is spoken by visitors of the shop, it is also masculine or, at worst, neuter, that is not true to any of the listed languages. Is La Coffee a joke, a game or ignorance, the thirst for the “beautiful foreign”, regardless of meaning? As it is sung in the famous song: “Casanova, Casanova, call me so - I like the word”. If this is a joke, it should be designed for people familiar at least remotely, with two or three languages other than native. Or does the management consider decoding the name of the organization as optional for clients? If this is a game, and a game is a target activity, - what is its purpose? The shop of expensive spectacle frames, lenses and sunglasses is called Primaveri. Primavera in Italian and Spanish means spring. Plural is primavere (feminine gender). There is no “primaveri” in Italian, Spanish or any other language. Again, is it the principle of “I like the word”? There is a restaurant called L’angolo Italiano at the corner of two streets. If the owners decided to call it not Итальянский уголок, which would be quite natural in the Russianspeaking environment, but the way it was called, did they count on a full understanding of the meaning of this phrase, or just intended to “sound Italian”? These kinds of questions can be asked endlessly. The restaurant with an open grill is called Wood and Fire. Sounds more mysterious than just Дрова и огонь. Wine and Spirits is more interesting than Вино и крепкие напитки. For ladies who want to look after their nails, there are places called Nail Bar or in Russian spelling Нейл Бар. It is assumed that a native Russian speaker should, firstly, know what the word nail means, and, secondly, understand why in this context it coexists with the word bar, which is more commonly associated with another situation. And there is a Нейл Лаундж, Nail Time and Nail студио. Nail Bar is not the only bar that is supposed to take care of a lady. You can see the Brow Bar (this is about eyebrows) and Вакс бар (waxing studio). If the Nail Bar is a nail salon, the salon for the sale of flowers can be called Flower Bar. But unlike the first “bar”, there is no such combination of words in English-speaking countries. There is a Flower Shop or Florist. Barbershop or Барбершоп invites men to have their hair cut. There is also an option Cut Barbershop - which is meaningless and untranslatable, but, obviously, sounds good in the opinion of owners. Another refinement of this kind is Firm Barbershop. It can be assumed that “branded haircut” with the non-terminological meaning of the word “branded” is meant. There is also a Chop-Chop (among other meanings - the sound made by scissors) Barbershop. On the signboard of the women’s hair salon we read Hair Gloss, i.e. hair shine, type of care fluid, a common term. What is it for in its English version on the signboard - we might want to ask again. There is also a network of salons with the extravagant name Bigudi (hair rollers), executed with two code switchings - БиGOODи. This is clear influence of the computermediated communication, for which this kind of creolization is typical. The auto repair service keeps up with restaurants and beauty salons, with the only difference that English-like words are presented in Russian spelling: Автоаларм (car alarm), Воркшоп (meaning “workshop”), Лост Кей Сервис (obviously “lost key” [ki:]), Майкар (my car), Репаир (approximately “repair”), Профикей (no idea). Lawyers and law firms also give in to temptation of obscure magic for the philistine, but fashionable words. So instead of Н…ов и сыновья, Н…ов и партнеры appear Дефандер (one must think from “defander” - a lawyer, a human rights activist) or Пьюрити (purity) - which, generally speaking, sounds grotesque for a law firm. Another practitioners’ invention is the name Эйзед Консультант (just in this spelling). The authors mean A-Z, the English names of the first and last letters of the Latin alphabet. The idea is Консультирование от А до Я (Consulting from A to Z), but for Russian language speakers, such a name is obviously too simple. The style in this regard is set by popular articles, which are full of analogues of quite familiar Russian words and phrases. Законодатели моды (trend setters) become the trendsetters, полезные советы (helpful tips) - lifehacks with incredible frequency. English dominates on posters announcing musical events: URIAH HEEP: the greatest hits. Живой звук. Lords of Sound: symphony of justice (?!). Christmas voices. Manowar. Final Battle. Прощальный тур. The good old word пекарня obviously went out of style, too. It was replaced by English bakery, written in Cyrillic. Голден Бейкери - the golden bakery, Бейкери дю Солей - the French language successfully invades this name (du soleil - owned by the sun, sunny). Obviously, the callers borrowed this part of the name of the famous Canadian circus. There is also an option in Latin - Bro Bakery. The abundance of foreign language and pseudo-foreign designations in the streets of our cities suggest a certain demand for such names. Such kind of demand can exist in a bilingual zone (which is not true in the case of Italian, French, English and English-like names), its history (the establishment of English or another language as second - the result of colonization) or claims to cosmopolitanism or some kind of internationalism. These names cannot be regarded as a markers of the multicultural community, since the names under discussion do not act as signs of the another culture assimilation. Russia has already seen a period of anglomania (as well as francomania), but it concerned a narrow social stratum and was a real example of entering another language and culture. In contrast to the actual multicultural and hybrid identity, the phenomenon of pseudomulticultural identity should be recognized as a destructive phenomenon of the Russianspeaking communicative space. It is not only detrimental to the Russian language and culture, but also causes false assumptions and unjustified expectations about other languages and cultures. Russian speakers are already accustomed to the false-foreign cultural environment of our cities, free use of foreign words and foreign cultural phenomena, violations of the relationship between sense and meaning, the mission of the institution and its name, language and culture. Neglecting our own culture, we do not attain what belongs to other cultures. The sculptor N managed to combine in his personality everything that Japanese and French cultures offer: collectivism and individualism, freedom and tradition, severity and refinement. And he speaks French without errors. Conclusion The intrusive introduction of unsuccessful imitations of foreign words and foreign cultural realities into the collective consciousness of the target audience leads to the formation of what the author of the article suggests to call pseudo-multicultural identity. The latter arises in a situation where the individual feels immersed in a multicultural communicative space, which in fact it is not the case.

About the authors

Tat’yana V Poplavskaia

Minsk State Linguistic University

Author for correspondence.
21 Zaharova St., Minsk, 220034, Republic of Belarus

Doctor of Philology, Professor, Head of the Department of Speech and Communication Theory, Minsk State Linguistic University, member of the Higher Certification Commission of the Republic of Belarus, head of the research group “Language situation in Belarus: intercultural aspect” (Minsk, Republic of Belarus). Research interests: communication space, communication strategies, organizational communication, intercultural communication


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