Indexicality of street signs

Vivian Cook

Indexicality is the property which links language to a particular time and place. It is crucial to many street signs:

- naming a building or location (locating signs)
‘architecture ... begins with a mind’s motivation to make that mark, with its desire to identify that place’ (Unwin 2009, 32).
Naming may done by the owner; numbering is subject to the local authority. Usually numbers go up from the centre of town, with odd numbers one side, even the other.

Brass Letters House Numbers  gilt roman capital letters half-found the george

- providing information specific to a location, whether goods on sale, opening times, burglar alarms etc. (informing signs). This shows that the goods or information are valid for this place.

Street signs To let  Street sign Open  Street Sign No Smoking

- orientation whether wayfinding or finding the bell (controlling signs). Fingerposts point in the direction of the places they name. Push/pull notices are valid for the door they are on and for one side of the door.

fingerpost street sign direction wayfinding Eldon Square  push bilingual street bsign English Chinese door

- orientation to the reader, so that the sign is only meaningful when read from a particular direction. The pedestrian or road user has to interpret the sign from their physical position in the street.

Traffic street sign No Through |Road

Road street sign Look Left orientation 

The meaning of these indexical signs is then false if they are not in the correct location or orientation. No 18 would be false lying on the ground or attached to house no 20.

- time

street sign traffic green man  Street traffic lights sign UK  street sign clock Leazes Park Road

The meaning of some signs depends on timing, in these examples based on which coloured sign is lit up.

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