A bilingual sign (or, by extension, a multilingual sign) is the representation on a panel (sign, usually a traffic sign, a safety sign, an informational sign) of texts in more than one language. The use of bilingual signs is usually reserved for situations where there is legally administered bilingualism (in bilingual regions or at national borders) or where there is a relevant touristic or commercial interest (airports, rail stations, ports, border checkpoints, tourist attractions, international itineraries, international institutions, etc.). However, more informal uses of bilingual signs are often found on businesses in areas where there is a high degree of bilingualism, such as in areas where large concentrations of immigrant settle.
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 into English). Beyond bilingualism, there is a general tendency toward the substitution of internationally-standardized symbols and pictograms for text.
The use of bilingual signs has experienced a remarkable expansion in recent times, especially in the western world. The increase in bilingualism there has been paralleled by increases in international travel and a greater sensitivity to the needs of ethnic and linguistic minorities.
Bilingual signs first arose in places like Belgium where, because of the cohabitation of Dutch-speaking and French-speaking communities (especially in the central part of the country near Brussels), bilingualism signaled a simple willingness to accommodate all citizens equally. As a result, all street signs in the Brussels Capital Region are bilingual in Dutch and French. Another example is the German-speaking South Tyrol, which was annexed to Italy during World War I and eventually became the focus of assimilation policies (the conversion of toponyms into Italian by Ettore Tolomei, for example). In observance of international treaties, Italy was eventually compelled to acknowledge and accommodate its German-speaking citizens through the use of bilingual signs and countless other measures. The situation of the Slovene minority living in the Trieste, Gorizia and Udine provinces is very different as only in recent years are the bilingual signs visible and only in the smaller comune, although those rights are granted by international treaties.
In Spain, bilingual signs in the local language and Spanish appear irregularly in the autonomous communities of Galicia, Basque Country, Navarre, Catalonia, Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands.
Bilingual signs are also used in Ireland, with all roads, towns, important buildings etc. named in both the Irish and English languages. The Irish appears on the top of the sign (usually in Italic text) with the English underneath. The exception to this is in Gaeltacht regions, where only Irish language signage tends to be used.
In Scotland, Scottish Gaelic is increasingly visible on road signs, not only in the north-west and on the islands, but also on main primary routes. Railway station signs and signs on public buildings such as the Scottish Parliament are increasingly bilingual.
In parts of Slovenia, where languages other than Slovene are official (Italian in parts of Slovenian Istria and Hungarian in parts of Prekmurje), the law requires all official signs (including road signs) to be in both official languages. This regulation is not always strictly enforced, but nevertheless all road signs in these areas are bilingual.
Failure to treat a linguistic minority fairly has led to strained relations or even been a pretext for warfare. Examples are the repetitive attempts of Germany to resume control of French (but Alsatian-speaking) Alsace.
European airports have signs that are generally bilingual with the local language and English, although there are significant variations between countries. In multilingual countries such as Belgium and Switzerland, airports generally have signs in three or four languages. Some airports, such as Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, are used primarily by international travellers, and choose to use unilingually English signs, even if they are located in a non-English-speaking country.
Bilingual signs appear on provincial highways in Ontario, Canada, where there is a sizable French population in the area, although signs in Quebec are generally unilingual in French throughout the province. Commercial signs in Quebec can include text in languages other than French as long as French is "markedly predominant" In the Greater Toronto Area, 400 series highways now have bilingual signs posted. In New Brunswick, signs are bilingual in English and French, as both languages share official status there. In Manitoba, bilingual signs are found in designated areas. French-English bilingual signs are also mandated for all federal government buildings, regardless of where in Canada the buildings are located. In Nunavut, an Inuit territory, signs are in Inuktitut and English, including stop signs. Local routes and city own highways have remained unilingually English only. Bilingual signs are also found at Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport as the airport is under federal jurisdiction. Signs at Vancouver International Airport are multilingual - French and English signs are found throughout the airport while usage of Chinese is also growing. Korean, Japanese and Punjabi are electronically scrolled on screens. Most other airports in Canada have bilingual signs in English and French. In Nova Scotia, particularly Cape Breton island, a number of place-name signs are bilingual in English and Scottsh Gaelic.
At places near the U.S.-Mexico border, some signs are bilingual, both in English and Spanish, as well as English and French signs along the U.S.-Canada border, mostly in Quebec. Additionally, large urban centers such as New York City, Chicago and others have bilingual and multilingual signage at major destinations. There are a few English and Russian bilingual signs in western Alaska.
In the People's Republic of China, bilingual signs are mandated by the government in autonomous regions where a minority language share official status with Chinese. In Xinjiang, signs are in Uyghur and Chinese; in Tibet, signs are in Tibetan and Chinese, in Inner Mongolia, signs are in Mongolian (written in the classical alphabet) and Chinese. In Guangxi, the majority of signs are in Chinese, even though the Zhuang language is official in the region. Smaller autonomous areas also have similar policies. Signs in Yanji, which borders North Korea, are in Korean and Chinese. Many areas of Qinghai province mandate bilingual signs in Tibetan and Chinese. In Beijing and Shanghai, due to international exposure of the 2008 Summer Olympics and Expo 2010, almost all city traffic signs are now bilingual with Chinese and English (during the Olympics, signs on Olympic venues were also in French). English use in signs is growing in other major cities as well.
In Hong Kong and Macau, signs must be bilingual with Traditional Chinese and English or Portuguese, respectively. This is because, in addition to Chinese, English and Portuguese are official languages of Hong Kong and Macau respectively. Trilingual road signs in English, Portuguese and traditional Chinese are seen in some newly developed areas of Macau.
In Israel, road signs are often trilingual, in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
Quadrilingual Sign at Brussels-South railway station in French, Dutch, German, and English.
City limit sign in Sorbian areas of Germany.
|This section requires expansion. (July 2012)|
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