The linguistic landscape of Kuwait
: an exploration of multilingualism and the increasing visibility of the English language in the streets of Kuwait

  • Saud Buhamdi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


The use and visibility of the English language is growing in all parts of the world. That growth is being led through globalization in political, economical and cultural influences. These influences are contributing to steady changes in the Middle East, and more so in Kuwait. In this context, English as a global language has produced significant transformation in Kuwait, specifically in the area of its linguistic landscape. The aim of the study is to determine the visual prominence of English, and compare it to Arabic as the main official language and other languages spoken by its relatively vast expatriate population. A large sample of photographs of signs is collected as a form of data from six major shopping areas in each of its governorates. This data is analyzed and presented using a modified version of Backhaus’s (2007) theoretical framework.

The research questions are as follows: What are the languages on the signs? Who are the sign writers? Who are the sign readers? An analysis of the data is presented in eight analytical categories based on these research questions. The visual presence of English is a surprising outcome, appearing in very close numbers to the official Arabic language. Comparisons between govemorates, government vs. private signs, and sign categories illustrate that there are marked differences in language use. Moreover, results indicate favorable use of English as the main language of branding, Arabic as the main language of code preference, and the local borrowing of English expressions. These results indicate that English is highly valued in Kuwait for both its informational and symbolic purposes. However, it is recommended that the official governing bodies of Kuwait take into account the prominence of English, in case we start witnessing the slow eradication of Arabic as the main language of the country.
Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorCaroline Linse (Supervisor) & Andy Biggart (Supervisor)

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