A tale of three global cities: A comparative account of Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong’s multilingual repertoires evidenced in their Covidscapes as part of Covid-19 crisis and public health communication

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

Abstract

Living under the far-reaching ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, effective communication has been the order of the day in recent years. The very nature of the pandemic strikes home the crucial need to communicate multilingually in our increasingly (super)diverse world, in which translation has a big part to play. Constituting a socially shaped and socially shaping discourse, the multilingual communication and translation practices on the ground tell fascinating stories about a city’s demographic profile and multilingual repertoire during a public health crisis. So far, while a limited number of LL studies have been conducted in a few individual cities, there has been a glaring lack of scholarly engagement with Covid-related linguistic landscapes in our world’s global cities from a comparative perspective. To address this gap, framed within the broader context of crisis communication, this sociolinguistic study compares the Covidscapes between Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, three dynamic Asian metropolises and commercial hubs featuring speakers of different languages. The signs in the three cities’ Covid-scapes all share similar themes (e.g. mask wearing and social distancing), represent multimodal and semiotic assemblages, and are realised in the form of top-down and bottom-up signage. However, the Covid-scape in Kuala Lumpur tends to involve mostly Malay and/or English and the Covid-scape in the superdiverse Dubai tends to be predominantly bilingual in Arabic and English only. In comparison, Hong Kong tends to mobilise a wider range of linguistic repertoire where multiple ethnic languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Tagalog and Indonesian are involved (especially top-down officially instituted signs). This is fascinating (and counterintuitive) considering Dubai and Kuala Lumpur are significantly more ethnolinguistically diverse compared with Hong Kong, which features an ethnic Chinese majority. Using authentic real-world examples, the observed features and trends are discussed and analysed. The tentative reasons and implications of the findings are also explored.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage and Health
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2023

Keywords

  • Crisis and public health communication
  • Multilingual and translated Covidscape
  • Multilingual repertoires
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Hong Kong
  • Dubai
  • Linguistic landscape

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