Signage change suggestions ruffle feathers at meeting

Soidhnichean rathaid sa Ghàidhlig. Photograph: Iain Ferguson,

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Tentative councillors agreed changes to bilingual signage at Highland Council’s Gaelic committee last week.

Recognising the strength of public opinion on this issue, Caol and Mallaig councillor Denis Rixon and Raymond Bremner (Wick and East Caithness) both said they felt like ‘chickens in a minefield’ when discussing a report recommending a simple refresh of a bilingual signage policy that was agreed in 2010.

Currently, bilingual signs are presented with the Gaelic form in green type, above the English in white type. This design format applies to both road signs and street signs.

The report proposed following the same process in replacing signs for rivers and other natural features across Highland.

However, on the rare occasions where the Gaelic and English place names are exactly the same, officers suggested still including both translations to maintain design symmetry and clearly show the two forms.

Mr Bremner challenged the idea. ‘If it’s a Gaelic name it should be in Gaelic and that’s it,” he said, adding: ‘That will go down like a lead balloon with some folks.’

Other proposed changes were more readily agreed, such as the requirement that all new signage should come back to the council for proof reading. Mr Rixson said that at least three road signs in his ward were misspelled.

Highlighting the difficulty in untangling Gaelic, Norse and Pictish influences in place names, Mr Rixson added: ‘Academics spend a lot of time grappling with this so we should give ourselves plenty of wriggle room here.’

Other, minor, changes – such as bilingual voiceovers in lifts and bilingual plaques on public buildings – were agreed by members.

The discretion to opt for a monolingual format on street signage will be protected, but the new policy states that communities will be ‘encouraged’ to adopt bilingual signage.

Officers confirmed that the policy changes would not cost more, because signs would simply be replaced as and when needed.