|malá galerie Jiří Rambousek: Descend Ladder Backwards|
Public signs and signboards from the U.S.
In the preface to their pioneering book, Comparative stylistics of French and English (Benjamin, Amsterdam 1995; first published in French in 1958), Vinay and Darbelnet state that the idea of the book first occurred to them when they were traveling from the Anglophone to the Francophone part of Canada and noticed the difference in how the signs along the roads were formulated. Indeed, public signs and notices do reflect differences not only between languages, but between entire cultures.
I took the present photographs in the United States in 1999. I did not concentrate on the paradoxical, erroneous or otherwise humorous signs, as is usual in many popular collections. I documented nearly all the signs I came across, gathering material for a future comparison of English and Czech, and possibly other languages.
Two years later, I learned that a similar idea occurred to my colleague, docent Aleš Klégr in the English Department of Charles University. We are now considering two joint publications on the topic: a dictionary planned to help Czech people who are designing signs in English, and a book presenting our views of the language of signs as a representative segment of language usage.
Some features of these English signs are obvious: the absence of punctuation (often replaced by typography or layout), the citations of exact sources of authority (e.g., sections of law), and the tendency toward incomplete clauses (whose interpretation depends on situational context). Other differences are less striking: the lower degree of formality than in Czech (which corresponds to a general tendency in the two languages), lower sensitivity to formal structure (in Czech, such a switch in the function of a structure as in "No lifeguard on duty - No glass in swimming pool" would hardly be possible), and others.
I decided not to supply the pictures with captions, which might suggest what I found interesting in the individual signs, in order to allow the visitors to find their own views. I hope you'll find it interesting to see the signs as you would in the streets and on the roads of America.
I would be happy if, on your journeys abroad or at home, you would photograph for me any sign you may encounter. I would consider that the highest possible form of appreciation.
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