6th Issue, January 2010

Successful Strategies to Change Public Signage

Making signs, such as street signs, road signs or tourist information signs, bi- or multilingual can meet with opposition. Among others, researchers identified strategies which appear to help in avoiding such opposition.

Researchers investigated how people perceive and behave towards signs in multilingual cities with a significant presence of speakers of different languages, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants and tourist. These cities were Česk Těn (Czech Republic), Bkscsaba (Hungary), Llanelli and Cardiff (United Kingdom) and Pula (Croatia).


Minority language ≠ language of ethnic minority
The main feature of the Welsh language policy is that it is not typically understood as a matter of the relationship between the Welsh and the English but as a matter of civil rights and equality, which improves the acceptance of the language policy in the public. At the other research sites, in contrast, both the governments and local populations understand the support of a minority language as support of a respective ethnic minority. As a result, the ethnic majority in the regions with historical reminiscences of interethnic conflicts tends to oppose minority language support. If language policies manage to separate the issues of minority language from those of ethnic minorities, they are likely to meet with less resistance.


Successful top-down approach
In the Czech Republic, the advocates for bilingual signs in Česk Těn had success with a top-down approach: as the ethnic majority would oppose such signs, the advocates used soft pressure, rather than direct action, to amend laws. As also the local authorities felt to be bound by these laws, they eventually implemented the policy written in the laws.


Using external events
Policy advocates were successful when they justified their claims by developments in the European language policy, most importantly the ECRML and FCNM1. Furthermore, they were successful if they used external financial sources, such as the national budget instead of the municipal.


Economic reasons unchallenged
When public signage was justified with the goal of attracting tourist, it met with no resistance in all research sites. Advocates of the spread of a minority language in the linguistic landscape are therefore very likely to succeed if they manage to attract speakers of their language as visiting customers and consumers of services in order to motivate the minority language use in local majority-language population.


LINEE website: Scope, components and contacts of this project 

1 ECMRL: European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages; FCNM: Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities