From France to the States: Multilingualism in Protest Signs

Delin Deng | University of Florida, USA

Multilingual protest signs have attracted a lot of attention in the study of the linguistic landscape. (See, for example, Kasanga, 2014; Rojo, 2014; Shiri, 2015, etc.) Despite the numerous works done on protest signs, much of the focus has been placed on their meaning conveying. Not so much work has concentrated on the structure of the protest signs themselves. Meanwhile, most of the work examined one protest at a time. In contrast, a comparison between protests held by similar communities would provide us with more insights into the presence of multilingualism in protest signs.

In 2016, following the decease of a Chinese merchant Zhang Chaolin in Aubervilliers (93 arrondissement) in Paris in France, the Chinese community launched the protest #securitepourtous requesting the presence of more police force in the area to enforce their security. In 2021, after several hate crimes targeting Asians in the US, the Asian community initiated a mass protest #stopasianhate in America. These two movements are similar in that they both concerned the Asian community and are related to hate crimes. Therefore, it would be interesting to compare the multilingual signs the protestors used in these two movements.

In this article, by adopting the multimodal analytical model proposed by Sebba (2013), we see that the two movements differ significantly in their organization and sign-making due to their difference in their intended addressees. We demonstrate that nothing is randomly placed in protest signs. There is always some extra-linguistic information that the sign makers try to convey. At the same time, the signs can not only tell us about who the sign makers are but also who the addressees of the signs.

For future study, it might be interesting to compare protest signs in a cross-community way to see how communities differ from each other in their sign making.


Kasanga, L. A. (2014). The linguistic landscape: Mobile signs, code choice, symbolic meaning, and territoriality in the discourse of protest. International journal of the sociology of language, 2014(230), 19-44.

Rojo, L. M. (2014). Occupy: The spatial dynamics of discourse in global protest movements. Journal of Language and Politics, 13(4), 583-598.

Sebba, M. (2013). Multilingualism in written discourse: An approach to the analysis of multilingual texts. International Journal of Bilingualism, 17(1), 97-118.

Shiri, S. (2015). Co-constructing dissent in the transient linguistic landscape: Multilingual protest signs of the Tunisian revolution. In Conflict, exclusion and dissent in the linguistic landscape (pp. 239-259). Palgrave Macmillan, London.