How to do things with signs. The formulation of directives on signs in public spaces
Journal article by Jan Svennevig in Journal of Pragmatics, published online April 2021.
This paper analyzes signs and written messages aimed at regulating people's behavior in public spaces. Based on a collection of more than 700 verbal and pictographic signs, the paper focuses on how the formulation of the directives reflect and construct the authors' deontic authority, how they account for the social legitimacy of the directive and how they seek to evoke the addressee's goodwill and cooperativeness. The analysis shows that the author's entitlement to perform the directive may be grounded in references to institutional authority, or that it may be manifested in the linguistic or pictographic expression itself, such as use of imperative mode, exclamation marks, or threats of sanctions. Entitlement may also be established by providing accounts for the legitimacy of the directive. These take the form of reference to rules and norms or information about benefits of the requested action to the recipients or third parties. Finally, the analysis shows how signs may seek to evoke positive attitudes in the addressee by creating affiliation or by using humor and poetic devices. By comparing with previous research on directives in conversation, the paper identifies request practices that are specific to this form of written communication.