Bilingual road signs

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Sep 16 17:24:54 UTC 2008

Bilingual sign

English–Chinese bilingual traffic sign in Hong Kong

A bilingual sign (or, by extension multilingual) is the representation
on a panel (sign, usually traffic sign, safety sign and informational
sign) of texts in more than one language. The use of bilingual signs
is usually reserved for situations where there is a legal
administrative bilingualism (bilingual regions) or situated at
national borders, or where it is a relevant touristic or commercial
movement (airports, rail stations, ports, border checkpoints,
touristic towns, international itineraries, international institutions
headquarters). Bilingual signs are widely used in regions whose native
languages do not use the Latin alphabet; such signs generally include
transliteration of toponyms and optional translation of complementary
texts (often in English). The general tendency involves the
substitution of textual information (presenting problems or
readability) with internationally- standardized symbols and
pictograms. The use of bilingual signage is perhaps the main symbolic
instrument of perception and institutionalisation of the linguistic
status of a territory.


1 Evolution of the Bilingual Sign
2 See also
3 External links
4 Bibliography

Evolution of the Bilingual Sign

Bilingual Welcome sign at Newry in Northern Ireland in Gaelic and English

Bilingual stop sign in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

The use of Bilingual Sign has had over the last years a remarkable
expansion, especially in the western and democratic world, where it
has been bought along combined to the internationalization of movement
of people and also to the conquest of major forms of safeguard towards
ethnic and linguistic minorities, as well as the consciousness of the
non-correspondence between the administrative frontiers and the
ethnic-linguistic divisions.

The first cases of bilingual sign refer itself to absolutely central
and primary situations such as the ones of Brussels in Belgium, where
with the start of the century, the overcoming of the
nineteenth-century model of the culturally united State/Nation further
to the claiming of greater linguistic preservation for the
Flemish/Dutch language (moreover the majority in the country despite
of the greater prestige of French) lead up to a long process of
equalization between the use of the two languages. The second example
has been the one of the southern German-speaking Tyrol (Alto Adige)
which, annexed to Italy during World War I and eventually object of
interest for assimilation policies (the conversion of toponyms in
Italian by Tolomei), in light of the observance of international
treaties had to enforce the measures of safeguard and equalization
between the two languages. It is worth noting that both cases deal
anyway with strategic neighbouring territories with ambit of languages
that are fully official and recognized in other countries, of which
the alternative to the initiatives could have been formed by the more
or less strained annexation of the other State (the German invasion in
the Sudete regions in Czechoslovakia, the repetitive attempts of the
resumption of Alsace) or by the attainment of independence (like, for
example, for Ireland) or still, by the more or less forced annexation
to the national culture (for example what happened with Alsace by
France's influence).

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