Linguistic landscapes of the contemporary Pacific

“Linguistic landscapes of the contemporary Pacific” is a research project led by Fiona Willans, in collaboration with student researchers and research assistants across the region. In most cases, these research assistants are former students from the course LN216 (Language use in the 21st century Pacific), who have worked on the project while completing their own undergraduate programmes.

In this project, we photograph examples of written text that we see around us in the landscape. To begin with, we take a systematic sample of texts from a pre-determined area. For example, in the larger cities such as Honiara and Suva, we identified an area of a few streets within the central commercial district and photographed every single fixed text that includes writing (e.g. shop signs, billboards, parking notices, warning signs, ATM machines) and a sample of temporary signs (e.g. from noticeboards, shop windows, digital advertising screens). In smaller countries like Nauru and Niue, we have taken a similar approach in the most commercial areas. We then analysed this data set to determine which languages are used, for what purposes. Once we have built up a general quantitative picture of the number of languages visible, the more interesting findings come from qualitative analysis, during which we zoom in and think about who is using whose languages (e.g. when we see Fijian used by Indo-Fijian hairdressers and tailors or Chinese-Fijian restaurant owners), which languages tend to be given priority on multilingual signs (e.g. which of the three official languages of Vanuatu – Bislama, English and French – tends to be placed first or in larger letters on trilingual signage?), and why certain languages or scripts or varieties of languages tend NOT to be visible.

The project is not restricted to urban commercial signage, but this is the domain in which we have started. Students looking to do MA or PhD research within the scope of this project are welcome to select other domains in which to work.

Publications arising from the project include:

Willans, F., J. Gure, T. Vaifale & E. Veikune (2022). Digicel! Topap long ples ia! An international telecommunications company making itself at home in the urban landscapes of the Pacific. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 33(2), 210-246.

Willans, F., J. Gure & S. Koro (2020). Signs of multilingualism in the urban linguistic landscapes of Fiji and Vanuatu: Reflections of national identity. Social Identities, 26(4), 475-498.


Research assistants have included, to date:

  • Jim Gure, Vanuatu (Jim has since completed his PG Diploma in Linguistics and is now researching lexical innovation in his own language, Raga, for his MA)
  • Salanieta Koro, Fiji
  • Aleysha Tamakin, Nauru
  • Timothy Rongoau, Solomon Islands
  • Nanise Senikabuta, Marshall Islands (Nanise has now graduated from her Bachelor of Education, and is pursuing a PG Diploma in Applied Linguistics & English Language Teaching)
  • Tereise Vaifale, Samoa
  • ‘Elenoa Veikune, Tonga

Sometimes we compare the same company or type of service across multiple countries:

But we start by photographing the signs of everyday life:

Photo credits

Solrais, Honiara: Tim Rongoau

Digicel: ‘Elenoa Veikune (Tonga), Fiona Willans (Vanuatu), Aleysha Tamakin (Nauru), Tereise Vaifale (Samoa)

Mark Street, Suva: Salanieta Koro

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