An Investigation of the Communicative Purposes of Road Signs: How Signs Do Things

Jennifer D. Ewald


This study explores the important communicative roles carried out by road signs both directly and indirectly. The qualitative analysis is based on a corpus of 150 road signs collected from signage on state and local highways and roadways in seven U.S. states. Road signs were identified as either full, grammatical sentences or as block language. They were further analyzed as speech acts and their performativity was briefly explored in three areas: agency, lexis, and emplacement. Road sign ambiguity in regard to punctuation and syntactic ambiguity was also identified. The findings pointed to several areas for future research including drivers’ behavioral reactions, road safety and wayfinding potential.


Road Signs, Speech Act, Performativity, Agency, Lexis, Emplacement, Ambiguity, Linguistic Landscape

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