Using Linguistic Landscape Frameworks for Comparative Analysis of Typography in Singapore’s Malay-Arab and Chinese Ethnic Enclaves for Nostalgia Design Approach


This paper demonstrates how designers can use the interdisciplinary nature of Linguistic Landscape studies to make typography observations charting novel methods of analysing nostalgia design approaches. A comparative analysis of language composition and typography was done on signages of traditional shophouses in two Singapore’s ethnic enclaves – Haji Lane (Malay-Arab) and Bukit Pasoh (Chinese). Both areas have seen a surge of private enterprises offering nostalgia-based experiences for consumers in the last decade, gentrifying what were once modest residential areas for Chinese and Malay immigrants in the 19th century, are now vibrant ‘hipster areas’ of leisure and entertainment. The comparison reveals that signages from both sites displayed English as the prominent language (80%). Both sites however reveal huge differences in their ethnic language. Bukit Pasoh has 30% of signages retaining Chinese characters in simultaneous use with English. There is however less than 2% of Malay words and Arabic script on Haji Lane’s signages. Further typographic analysis of both areas has led us to observe that despite the salience of English language, enterprises in the two enclaves have developed distinctive approaches to ‘nostalgia aesthetics’. Bukit Pasoh signages pay homage to its Chinese origins, while Haji Lane’s is mostly stripped of it’s Arab-Malay identity evolving into a haphazard re-enactment of nostalgic visuals with little context to the area’s origin. Singapore’s approach to nostalgia-based design can thus be revealed through the treatment of typography that is informed by the absence/presence of ethnic language, contextual placement of the written form, and the area’s historical narratives.


Min Yee Angeline Yam
Senior Lecturer, Visual Communication, Nanyang Technological University, School of Art, Design & Media, Singapore


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2023 Special Focus—New Agendas for Design: Principles of Scale, Practices of Inclusion



Digital Media


Using Linguistic Landscape Frameworks For Comparative Analysis Of Typography In Singapore’s Malay Arab And Chinese Ethnic Enclaves For Nostalgia Design Approach (Embed)