Hebrew, Arabic, English: The politics of multilingual street signs in Israeli cities

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In multilingual societies, not only the names in urban toponymic inscriptions display identity politics and reproduce nationalist discourses but also the languages used. This is clearly the case with multilingual street signs, where specific preferences underlie the choice and placement of languages and scripts, signifying the processes and relationships of political and social power. Applying a historical perspective, this paper explores the politics underlying language preference and script display policies on street signs in British Mandate Palestine between 1922 and 1948 and in Israel after 1948. The paper examines how display and placement of Arabic, English, and Hebrew on street signs has been susceptible to shifting policies drafted and executed by various branches of local and national government. It further analyzes disputes arising from specific policies. The historical perspective sheds light on how political and legal contexts have influenced the promulgation of policies, whereas the semiotic approach directs attention to how the display of languages on street signs encodes political messages and ideological meanings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-479
Number of pages19
JournalSocial and Cultural Geography
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Israel
  • banal nationalism
  • multilingual street signs
  • politics of language preference
  • toponymic inscriptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Cultural Studies


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