Advertising in North India: Languages, Scripts, and the Politics of Education chaise ladousa with Victoria anibarro


Professor Chaise LaDousa has been visiting Varanasi and Delhi, two cities in North India, for the past two decades in order to explore the relationship between language and schooling in India’s rapidly changing economy. A major sociolinguistic phenomenon in North India is the advertising done in public, often for schools. Advertising can draw words from Hindi and English and can represent those words in Devanagari and Roman script.

Dariya Ganj, New Delhi 2018

LaDousa has photographed hundreds of examples of advertising in the two cities, and published an article in the journal Language in Society about the ways that lexical and script combinations in such advertising renders Varanasi – via language and schooling – a peripheral place vis-à-vis Delhi. During the summer of 2018 LaDousa and Victoria Anibarro (student) returned to India to collect more data.The 2018 trip to India has been a joint effort between LaDousa, Anibarro and the Digital Humanities Initiative at Hamilton College in order to digitize and visualize these findings.

Career Makers, Varanasi 2014


LaDousa's research in Northern India concerning language, script, and signage has been primarily documented through photo observation. These images are intended to show advertising shifts over time in terms of language used (English and Hindi), style of script (Roman and Devanagari), content of advertisements, and geographical locations of advertisements. The 2018 trip goal was to further document changes and shifts in advertising content, target audience, and visual analysis of graphic media components in order to "archive the advertising landscape” of Delhi and Varanasi over time.

Mukherjee Nagar, New Delhi 2018

The image above shows the complexity of the educational advertising landscape in North India. Not only is every image complex in that each capture contains multiple signs, but each sign is also diverse in its content and advertising message. While LaDousa has 1000's of images of signage in India from over two decades of research, this project was specifically designed to more precisely catalog the locations for advertisements. Further, systematic cataloging will assist in taking more precise note of what languages are used in advertisements and in which scripts. Precise documentation will also allow LaDousa and Anibarro, as well as future researchers, to trace innovations in how school advertising draws on multiple combinations of language and script to convey a particular advertising message. By being methodical about such features of advertising, LaDousa and Anibarro will work to establish an archive of advertising and its constitution by language and script the like of which does not currently exist.

Categories of Interaction

The 2018 trip to India resulted in the collection of more than 1000 images. In an effort to systematically organize the data collected, we have framed each individual sign photographed in relation to categories of interaction. What follows is a description of each category and its immediate relevance to the project.

Type of Advertisement

There are numerous signs plastered along walls, homes, posts, and vehicles in North India. As you would expect, each sign is not necessarily educational in nature. We have photographed both educational and non-educational signs so that we might compare language and script usage in advertising messages. With that being said, educational signs can also be divided into numerous sub-categories, which can in turn present diverse interactions between language and script to convey a particular advertising message. These subcategories are: schooling (which can be further divided into higher education, high school, and academy), coaching, exam/test, tutor, and library.

Language & Script

I have simplified this category for convenience, but it should be noted that in the metadata compilation this is actually three separate categories of interaction: language (Hindi/English), script (Devanagari/Roman), and language and script (Hindi in roman script etc). Investigating the relationship between language and script usage in signage is the primary goal of the research, which arguably makes this category of interaction the most significant. Language can be displayed on signs in either Hindi or English. Script can be displayed in Devanagari or Roman. Separately, these two categories are simple. The relationship gets complicated when we view the multiple dimensions in which language and script might interact. There can be the straightforward pairings which would display English in Roman script and Hindi in Devanagari script. Most significantly, there can be more innovative pairings of language and script, such that an advertising message may contain content written in Hindi language but displayed in roman script. The reverse is also possible. An advertiser may choose to display content using English words but written in Devanagari script. Innovation is indicated when there are multiple dimensions of language and script being used in an advertisement.

Display format

This category is useful to trace how signs are being displayed and the materials companies use to advertise, and how the advertisement message display format may change over time. We have organized this category based on the graphic below so that each display format is mutually exclusive for each sign. This chart is significant as we will work to create a module that would allow users to search through all the images collected (across sites) for only signs that advertise by printing their message on a cloth on a wall (wall; cloth; printed).

Geographic Location

The geographic location is inherent in the data. Photographs were collected in primarily New Delhi and Varanasi, though one session was taken in Jaipur. One goal of the geographic data is that it will reveal the reach of the advertising message (if their is one). Based on images of signs taken in specific locations, we hope to detect whether or not the advertisement message extends past the area of the city we were photographing in to the greater region or even to a national level.

Map of New Delhi, Jaipur and Varanasi

Advertising Message: Translation & Transliteration

The actual advertising message is also significant as it allows us to trace linguistic innovations over time. How educational tests, programs, or classes are spoken about in the relevant contexts can tell us a lot about the institution doing the advertising. An example of this could be the inclusion of a website URL on an advertisement. If the company has paper signs that only extend to the specific area of the city but there is a website on that sign, we might reconsider the reach of their message as the company clearly has an online presence. This also shows how technology is included on a simple advertisement, which might prompt further research into the implications of technology in educational spaces in North India. Furthermore, as many of the signs are in multiple languages, it is important to translate the content accurately as well as provide a transliteration, which shows the different dimensions of language and script usage.

Field sites

The 2018 trip images were taken in three separate field sites. Photographs were taken at primarily two sites: New Delhi and Varanasi. As aforementioned, New Delhi is often characterized as a central city as it is more urban, while Varanasi is described as a peripheral city in relation to Delhi. LaDousa has historically only photographed in these two cities; however, on the 2018 trip images were also collected from a third city: Jaipur. Jaipur is a medium sized city between Varanasi and New Delhi. Three separate photography sessions were conducted in both Varanasi and New Delhi, while only one session was conducted in Jaipur. On future research trips images will be taken in all three locations so as to have three categories: urban, urban-rural, and rural.


Created By
Vicky Anibarro


Victoria Anibarro, Chaise LaDousa

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