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Do Road Signs in Wales Have to Be in Welsh and English?

Signage in Welsh

Signage in Welsh and English in Bute Park in Cardiff

When talking with people in Wales about the rules and regulations regards signage, there is often confusion about what the rules are from the Welsh Assembly, so in this post I will cover this issue and this post will be updated as and if the rules change further.

Welsh Heritage, Signage and Considerations

Certainly if you walk around a city such as Cardiff, Wales, you will find it hard to not to notice the clutter on many of the signs which make it somewhat difficult to read the signs, if you for example, are driving. Take a look at the road sign below and try to imagine reading the sign whilst driving along Castle Street in the city centre (particularly in an area where there are many pedestrians and the need to be focused).

rhybudd sign

This is a lot to try and read on one sign or to decipher when driving by.

The dilemma Wales faces is trying to protect its language, whilst also trying to attract tourism and visitors to the country and to locations such as Cardiff. Trying to cater to international visitors, push Welsh heritage and still remain a functional city in terms of wayfinding, provides a challenge. A very interesting situation is what happened at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which made the decision to put most of its signage into English only (as an international language), rather than to have multi-lingual signage with the native Dutch and with English used. They decided to stick with one language to de-clutter signage and to use the language which would be most useful to the highest number of people possible. There is certainly good logic in the decision made by Schiphol.

There are talks over making Welsh businesses use the Welsh language on more than just road signage, with various literature, websites and telephone services also under consideration. Cost is a big issue for many Welsh businesses, given the financial burden such changes to the Welsh law would potentially mean.

Heath hospital

Confusing signage with English used first in part of the sign and then Welsh used first on another part of the sign – in the University Hospital of Wales

As the above sign also shows, in addition to the issue of clutter on signage, the signage is made harder also to understand (particularly considering they are designed for drivers), because the decision over which language to use first is mixed up. This is something I see a lot on signage in the the Welsh capital and this is one of the questions which I am often asked – do signs have to be in both languages and if so, is there a rule over which language must be used first? Let me answer those questions next.

What Are the Welsh Signage Rules

Who Makes the Rules

The Welsh Assembly are responsible for setting the standards and then for the Welsh language commissioner to decide which of these rules must then be implemented. As of yet, there are no specific rules on the use of Welsh on signage and many local authorities in Wales are opposed to being forced to include Welsh first on all signage. There are great concerns over the costs implications in particular.

So Must Welsh Be Used First on Road Signs?

Yes. IF both Welsh and English are on a road sign as stated by Rule 119 in the Welsh Government guidelines: ”

“Where a sign contains the Welsh language as well as the English language, the Welsh language text must be positioned so as to be read first.”

This rule should be met for any new signage that is developed. Rule 57 is perhaps also worth noting:

“All reasonable steps must be taken by the organisation to ensure that Welsh text on signs are treated no less favourably than the English text with regards to the accuracy of the information, linguistic accuracy and terminological consistency”

Must Both Languages be Used?

For road signs – There are two answers and these are laid out in the Welsh Language Scheme Documentation from the Welsh government, and explained in section 6.9.

  • Existing signage does not need to be changed.
  • New signage has to be designed with both languages.
  • There are some caveats explained in section 6.9, such as signs which are in narrow lanes and whereby having both languages would in effect make the sign unsafe for use.

BUT this is contradicted by another Welsh Government document, ‘The Implementation Plan: Proposed Welsh Language Standards‘ which does NOT state the need for signage to be in both languages, only that if both do exist then Welsh must be first and given at least as equal favourably treatment. I suspect future documents will make the position a little clearer! (Written in June 2017)

Cardiff Castle

Queen Street signage – even though it is not road signage, many signs in Cardiff nevertheless are in both languages and in line with the Welsh Language Scheme.

Below, an existing sign from the City of Cardiff Council in both languages.

Sign on both English and Welsh

What about Non-Road Signage in Welsh

Many organisations in Wales are making the move to setting their own standards, quite often in line with the Welsh Language Scheme. Cardiff University, for example, have their own language standards and an example of their own standards are explain in section 6.31:

Cardiff University sign rules

Cardiff University signage rules 6.31

Further Information and Resources

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