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Language debate a sign of the times

The general election is in October, but as we see and hear increasingly more comment from those eager to be in the Beehive after the votes are counted, it can become all too easy to switch off. I don’t blame you.

Come October 1, some of us will be wishing it was all over now, and simply can’t face another two weeks. We will be thoroughly exhausted with seemingly endless debate and policy examination and quite probably some scandal. All that wishful thinking won’t stop the noise. Sorry, but not even some Waka Kotahi earplugs will help. Not that those earplugs will be of much help to those in rural Carterton as they endure middle-of-the-night roadworks for what will likely be a longer period than first announced.

We’ve seen it all before. Supposedly intelligent individuals talk non-stop on issues they have been briefed about but know very little about but want to come across like they know a lot about. Get my drift?

These individuals differ from the ones who talk a lot but say almost nothing worth hearing. It’s a learned skill, it’s certainly not as easy as it looks, but then, most of us wouldn’t be bothered taking that approach to communication anyway.

Queue the loud chatter in the past few days about adding Māori words to our road signs. The verbiage induced a deep inhale and a slow exhale.

Those on one side of the debating chamber – who want nothing more than to be on the other side – moved quicker than a frightened cat across a state highway to point out why doing such a thing would risk lives, no less. I heard National Party leader Chris Luxon on National Radio saying we should take into consideration those road users whose vision might not be up to reading said signs.

So, that would be people on the road whose vision might not be up to driving on our roads, then? Bit of a worry, you’d have to say.

There is no legal requirement for signs in New Zealand to be in any language other than English.

But that could soon change. Transport Minister Michael Wood said he saw the need for change as a “priority”.

Really? When did it become a priority? Was it classified as something before then but has now, somewhat suddenly, become a priority? I must have missed something.

Don’t be drawn into their childish nonsense.

Many countries already have bilingual, or even more incredibly, multilingual road signs that recognise an official language or languages. Astonishing.

In Wales, bilingual signage is a legal requirement. Irish is the first official language of Ireland [English being the second], and signs have been bilingual there for almost a century.

In Finland, the signs are in Finnish and Swedish, while in Belgium, road signs are in Dutch [Flemish] and in French.

Get this … Switzerland has various mixes of French, German, Italian and Romansch on its road signs. No research has concluded that bilingual road signs confuse people and cause accidents.

There are clearly many factors that endanger the safety of road users. That’s a fact … in whichever language you want to say it.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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