Stop: Toutes Directions
Stop: Toutes Directions is a collaborative research project investigating questions related to the spatial distribution of stop signs in regions of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Our research problems and questions focus on the interaction of written language, linguistic ideologies, and spatial patterning of visual material culture, using methodologies and approaches from linguistic anthropology, archaeology, Canadian studies, and urban geography, among others. This project is the result of research initated at McGill University in the course 'Archaeological Methods' under the direction of Prof. Stephen Chrisomalis, and ongoing to the present. Stop signs are an unorthodox subject for anthropological or archaeological research; in fact, Stop: Toutes Directions is the first such study we know of. Our goal is to combine use methods such as geographic information systems and linear regression to analyze spatial and chronological variability in this aspect of the city's material culture and linguistic practice, while bearing in mind that we are observing a human practice of interaction with language and material culture. As we move forward, we expect to produce a peer-reviewed edited volume that presents this research to a scholarly audience while also engaging with the public at this site.

The province of Quebec is highly unusual in that the language of public signs is highly regulated. Signs placed by the government are mandated to be in French only, while commercial signs may be bilingual but the French text must be more prominent. Montreal, in particular, has been the site of numerous linguistic tensions over the past decades, as it is home to over 500,000 English speakers. One only has to wander downtown for a few minutes to see what appear to be violations of sign laws. One of the most notable features of the 'signscape' of Montreal, however, is that there is considerable variability in stop signs, with STOP, ARRET, and ARRET/STOP all being found in different regions of the city. It seems as if English-only (STOP) and bilingual stop signs (ARRET/STOP) should not exist, and yet there are hundreds of each in our small survey area. This is a direct reflection of competing linguistic ideologies in the city (for instance, attitudes towards bilingualism among anglophones and francophones) as well as changes in attitudes over time. The patterns we see in Montreal's stop signs do not just reflect today's attitudes, but are a palimpsest of the signage practices of different periods and legal frameworks. Moreover, the fact that up to 30% of stop signs in our survey area have been vandalized provides us an opportunity to compare and contrast official and illicit interactions with stop signs (and more broadly with all public signs). Of particular to us are signs that are vandalized in ways that reflect dissatisfaction with or resistance against the current state of the linguistic landscape in Montreal.

Some of the research questions we are investigating include:
  • In what municipalities and boroughs are the three texts, ARRET, STOP, and ARRET/STOP, found?
  • To what degree does spatial variability in sign texts correlate with the geographical distribution of speakers of English and French?
  • When and under what conditions are stop signs repaired or replaced in different municipalities?
  • What differences exist in linguistic practice between public (state-oriented) and private (commercially-controlled) stop signs?
  • To what extent can wear and fading be used as a proxy for age of stop signs?
  • In what areas is vandalism of stop signs widespread or rare?
  • In what ways does stop sign vandalism express dissatisfaction with Quebec's sign laws or prevailing linguistic ideologies?
  • Is it possible to reconstruct the histories of particular stop signs and of particular past systems of signage practices?

Correspondence and Contact Information

Survey Zones

To date we have identified over 40 zones in Montreal, including the entirety of Cote-Saint-Luc, Westmount, Hampstead, and Montreal West, as well as significant portions of the city of Montreal (Outremont, Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Cote-des-Neiges, Ville-Marie, Plateau), as potential survey sites to receive 100% coverage. Throughout March and April 2008, we documented every sign in 31 of those areas, including a total of 2816 signs, and in March 2009, we surveyed eight additional zones totalling 706 more signs (3522 in total). We hope to complete additional survey work at the northern edge of our survey area in April and May 2009 (areas marked in blue). Click on any of the placemarks on the map to see detailed information on specific stop signs of interest to the project. Red placemarks indicate signs with vandalism that anglicizes stop signs or relates to English linguistic tension; conversely, green placemarks relate to French linguistic tension, and blue placemarks are all other signs of interest.

2008 Dataset (Excel spreadsheet; 2816 distinct artifacts)
Full Dataset (Excel spreadsheet; 3522 distinct artifacts)

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Research Reports

Stop, Arret or Arret/Stop: A nuanced approach (using agent-based data collection) to examining the language politics behind material culture in Montreal
Jess Beck

Age and Signage: The Correlation between the Age of a Population and its Material Culture
Sarah Bedard and Andrea Wong

Outside the Octagon: A Study of Damaged Montreal Stop Signs
Emma Chait

When language leads to delinquency: Relationships between social aspects and vandalism on stop signs
Claudine Gravel Miguel

The Decline and Fall of the Arret/Stop Sign: Tracking and Studying a Disappearing Artifact
David Groves

Arret, Age Estimates, and ANOVA: A quantitative assessment of stop sign age and regional language in Montreal
Dario Guiducci

Getting priorities straight: municipal sign replacement strategies
Solomon Klein

Stop in the Name of the Law: Uncovering attitudes about authority in acts of vandalism of Montreal stop signs
Gabriel Kravitz

Arret-stop: panneaux d'arret bilingues et le profil sociopolitique de six divisions administratives de l'ile de Montreal
Han Han Li

Taking a Step Back: Things we don't see, things we don't like
Elizabeth Penttila

Stop Signs and their Location: A Linguistic Analysis
Valeria Rytova

Which Way Should We Arret/Stop?: A Quantitative Analysis of the Effects of Stop Signs on Traffic Flow in Montreal
Julien Shoenfeld

Inside Out: Montreal Language Use Inside the Home and Out on the Streets
Alison Vadnais, Bridget Sandison and Sarah Vannice

Preferential Vandalism of Stop Signs Based on Sign Language
Yujing Wang
Appendix A
Appendix C

An Invasion of English Vandals? A study of the language of vandalism on Montreal stop signs
Sian Wilson

Stop Sign Vandalism: An exploration of the influence of demographics and municipal variability
Lisa Zimanyi

Commercial and Residential Districts: Motives for stop sign replacement based on urban space function
Emma Johnson

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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