Street signs that control movement and behaviour

Vivian Cook

Controlling signs ask or require people to behave in particular ways, whether drivers, pedestrians or customers. Often this is guidance where to go or what to do. Sometimes it tries to discourage illegal behaviour.

Street Sign pull  Street sign door push bilingual English Chinese

STreet sign quiet     street sign no smoking 

street sign car oark Street sign thieves

street sign fingerpost directions Newcastle

Street road sign private parking street road sign look left


Control amounts to control of traffic and parking, to warnings against stealing, and to suggestions how to open doors. The responsibility for these varies from traffic signs, licensed and authored by national decree but owned and erected by the local council, to individual property owners warning of wet paint. They are totally indexical in location and orientation. While Locating signs function as separators marking out boundaries, Controlling signs connect things together (Simmel, 1997).

One category is official signs controlling the movement of road-users and pedestrians according to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions  (2002) (encapsulated in The Highway Code (1999)).The reader’s orientation to the message is part of its indexical meaning: <LOOK LEFT> only works from one side of the street and it would be catastrophic if the reader read it upside down from the other side – a classic case of Levinson’s relative direction (Levinson, 1996) as opposed to the absolute direction seen in the Toronto street sign <Pedestrians cross at south side only>. Grammatically these are mostly noun phrases, with the occasional imperative.

A variation is wayfinding signs, whether owned and erected by the local council for pedestrians, as in the finger-post seen in <ELDON SQUARE SHOPPING CENTRE> or national traffic direction schemes administered by the council. Each word has a capital letter, necessarily as these are placenames, and each noun phrase has a line-break. It is necessary for such signs to be aligned to point to the objects they refer, i.e. that the ‘text vector’, in terms of Scollon and Scollon (2003), corresponds to the direction of movement.