Word cities and language objects
‘Love’ sculptures and signs as shifters
The focus of this paper is on language objects in contemporary ‘word cities’, or urban landscapes, shaped by art and consumer culture. I define ‘language objects’ as two- or three-dimensional pieces of writing (e.g. needlework samplers, fridge magnets, wooden or metal sculptures, etc.) that do not serve any apparent informational or utilitarian purpose, i.e. they are not ‘attached’ to or displayed on any objects with identifiable practical functions, e.g. buildings, t-shirts, mugs, paper weights, and so on. Two specific language objects considered here are Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture and a Marks & Spencer ‘love letters decoration’. It is suggested that such language objects perform largely Jakobson’s (1960) poetic function with its key focus on form. Yet, they are also instances of linguistic performances with complex trajectories of appropriation and recontextualization of prior cultural and linguistic material (Bauman, 2001; Bauman & Briggs, 1990), while their appropriation for specific ‘personal’ uses is best explained by treating them as ‘shifters’ — referential indexes, or signs constituted by the combination of their symbolic value and the communicative act itself (or ‘rules of use’) (Jakobson, 1971; Silverstein, 1976).
Keywords: language objects, word cities, consumer culture, commodification of language, text-based art, Robert Indiana, ‘love’, shifters
Published online: 19 June 2015
Cited by 18 other publications
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