Plastic letters: Alphabet mixing and ideologies of print in Ukrainian shop signs

Jennifer A. Dickinson

Abstract

This article examines the complex intersection of language ideologies shaping alphabetic choices in Ukrainian outdoor advertising and shop signs, focusing on alphabet mixing through the insertion of Latin letters into Cyrillic texts and the juxtaposition of parallel or alternating texts using both of these writing systems. Drawing upon ethnographic data from work with graphic designers and consumers as well as analysis of language use in signs, I argue that while alphabet mixing is often characterized as “faddish” or “youth-oriented” these practices also reflect Soviet-era ideological stances towards both Latin typefaces, seen as “plastic” letters associated with Western capitalism, and Cyrillic typefaces, seen as “rigid” forms subject to strong central control by the Soviet state. The increasing availability of personal computers with word-processing and graphic design software in Ukraine has both increased access by individuals to print technology, and promoted a new typographic aesthetic through the dissemination of Cyrillic fonts based on Latin, not Soviet or pre-Soviet Cyrillic, models.

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