Motorway signposts in Europe

Men at work!

Here are just a few thoughts about the way we use language in motorway signs:
Whilst travelling across Europe by car, this summer, I noticed an interesting cultural variation in the way different states justify the fact that the whole of the area seems to have become one big building site. It started in italy when we were simply informed on the Modena/Brennero motorway that there were “lavori in corso” (Work underway). Admittedly, the closer we got to Bolzano this was also provided with the succinct German version “Vorsicht! Bauwerk.” (Be careful! Bulding Work) This is already more than just information as it tells us to “be careful”, stressiing the idea that this work may be dangerous for drivers. When we got to Austria though it was interesting to note that it was not simply a question of giving information or telling us that it might be dangerous:

“Wir bauen fuer Sie!” (We’re building for you)

This stresses the interpersonal aspect of language in use, telling us that this is for our benefit and thereby maybe stops us complaining. Is this because the Austrian public expects to be taken more seriously, treated as thinking human beings with their own contribution to make to their society.

In French speaking Luxembourg and Belgium the message became:

Avec l’intelligence cela avance!
Men at work…

The English added perhaps out of a sense of respect for visitors, in line with the geographical position which means that so many people cross these areas, and rather than the Austrian interpersonal the emphasis here is on human intelligence and creativity. The message seems to be something like: see what we are building together: a newer, better Europe, perhaps.

In fact, when you are driving across the continent it just seems as though everyone has put off basic maintenance work until the summer, but reading the signs helps you to spend the time in the traffic queues as well as providing food for thought.


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