Linguistic diversity and inclusion in Abu Dhabi's linguistic landscape during the COVID-19 period

Sarah Hopkyns*, Melanie Van Den Hoven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


In Abu Dhabi, multilingualism amongst its highly diverse population is typical. However, with Arabic as the official language and English as the lingua franca, the population's other languages are subordinate on public signage. Those proficient in English or Arabic have more access to information than those who are not. While effective communication is important in ordinary times, it is especially vital during a crisis. This study looks at COVID-19 signage in two Abu Dhabi live-work contexts: A beachside community and an industrial site. The study takes an ethnographic approach to linguistic landscaping in which a corpus of 326 top-down and bottom-up signs are investigated in terms of languages used, spacing, prominence and location, as well as intended audience and sociolinguistic implications. Key findings revealed that bottom-up handmade COVID-19 signage was mainly monolingual (English only) and municipality-produced warnings were predominately bilingual (Arabic and English). Despite the multilingual composition of both contexts, only one third language (Korean) appeared on COVID-19 signage. The findings shed light on existing inequalities in linguistically diverse contexts, and the need to ensure access to information for all at a street level. The article concludes with practical suggestions for greater linguistic inclusion in the COVID-19 period and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-232
Number of pages32
Issue number2
Early online date5 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Apr 2021


  • COVID-19 signage
  • Crisis communication
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Linguistic landscaping
  • Multilingualism
  • United Arab Emirates


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