France – Belgium: bilingual road signs

Wablieft in België ? (What’s up in Belgium?)

When you talk to a truckdriver in Belgium (come on, you know it will happen one day), there’s every chance that … he’s actually not Belgian ! Road traffic counts more and more foreign truckers crossing that lovely small piece of a country: 41,3% last year, this is +10% compared to 2000 ! Although, taking the roads in Belgium nearly implies to be trilingual… True story. Read further.


In Eupen, in German and French.

In Belgium, the Brussel region is bilingual French-Dutch. Both languages are compulsory for the whole local road signage. Inversely, road signs are unilingual in Flanders and Wallonia: respectively in Dutch and French. Not to mention the “communes à facilités” (faciliteitengemeenten), these enclaves getting some linguistic liberties in French, Dutch or German. Here is the explanation to the constant switching between citynames: Lille in French, Rijsel in Dutch ; Mons and Bergen ; Braine-le-Comte and ‘s-Gravenbrakel ; Léau and Zoutleeuw ; Grez-Doiceau and Graven… No way that our foreign drivers could easily find their path …


In Brussels: Dutch and French.

In Bruxelles, road signs are written in the two languages, just like the street names or most of the public announcements. Or even more, around international institutions, some stations and the airport.


In Brussel: a quadrilingual board. (Du-Fr-Ge-En)

Though, French-Dutch signs suffer regularly from the wrath of Flemish separatists:


A vandalized sign near Brussels.

What about France’s situation ?

Well, referring to Dr W. Pedia, “bilingual roadsignage is used in certain regions. It is restricted to indications of toponymy, situation or direction”. French can be seen everywhere, and regional language on a case by case basis: town names, street names, place name, rivers, historic places, etc.


In Strasbourg (Alsace) (historic center): “Cat street”.

Breton stands as a key element of the breton identity ; therefore it is used in many situations.


Quimper, in French and Breton.

A traditional language conciliates very well with modernity!


Airport (French-Breton).

In Corsica, French coexists with Corsican language (corse) and Italian. The beautiful island is the victim of separatist claims, sometimes expressed by the „correction“ of roadsigns…


Only the Corsican version remains.

Last example: Basque, to be found in France mainly in Pyrénées-Atlantique. How lucky we are, French is still used, otherwise we would have a hard time to understand anything … http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/top-list-of-the-hardest-languages-to-learn


French-Basque.

This was a (short) overview of the multilingual roadsignage in Belgium and France: in many other cases, regional languages are used and set on an even foot with French. I’m terribly sorry towards our Gascon, Catalan, Occitan, Creole readers: soon it’s your turn! About our Flemish friends, as far as I know, dialects are not used on road signs (in case I’m wrong, please contribute in the comments!).

Finally, let’s not forget the copyrights stuff:
– For Eupen, Brussels, Strasbourg, Corsica and Basque : Wikimedia Foundation
[http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalisation_bilingue]
– For the tagged sign in Brussels: ”Ton tag à toi”
[http://peripherie.lalibreblogs.be/archive/2007/06/13/ton-tag-a-toi.html]
– For Brittany: Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, Geobreizh.com
[http://www.geobreizh.com/breizh/fra/signaletique2.asp?numero_panneauxcat=4]

So what? How to prevent linguistic conflicts ? It seems that Makkinga (1000 inhab.), a little town in Netherlands, solved the solution in an unusual way… 😉

Extra bonus: in the comments, a Youtube compilation bizarre signs: quite off-board, funny nevertheless … Enjoy, Languages Lovers!

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