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The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 ensures Welsh remains as an official language in Wales. This means, legally, it cannot be treated less favourably than English in any part of daily life.

With regards to road signs and other publically displayed signage, these were made as a legal requirement in the Welsh Language Act 1993. This is what leads to the variety of bilingual signs in Wales, and to a mix of surprise and confusion for non-native visitors.

However, what was the journey to achieving this legal requirement, and why were they introduced in the first place?

The Battle For Welsh Signs

According to the ONS, the number of Welsh speakers in the UK now sits at 874,700 (just under a third of the Welsh population). While almost all of these speakers are also adept at English, making these speakers feel involved is essential in keeping the Welsh language alive, as well as accommodating people who are native Welsh speakers.

Historically, the battle for bilingual Welsh signs occurred during the 1960s and 1970s following several court cases due to the defacement, destruction and removal of English-only signs in Wales by the Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg).

Following that, a series of peaceful protests and defacement of non-bilingual signs began in Wales. The results were successful as the 1972 Bowen Committee recommended that Welsh should be included on all road signs.

As a natural consequence of bilingual Welsh signs, safety signs and any other signage soon had an expectation to include native speakers thanks to the Welsh Language Act 1993, culminating in the aforementioned landmark measure in 2011.

What About Other Native Languages?

While there are bilingual Irish and Gaelic road signs, they have not seen the same translation into safety signs as their Welsh counterparts.

Whether it’s down to the number of speakers or simply a lack of support, Wales remains the only region in the UK where all signs are expected to be bilingual, no matter which part of the country you’re in.

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