Road signs in Flanders cause row over language legislation

Flemish Minister of Mobility and Public Works Lydia Peeters (Open Vld) blows the whistle on her administration over the use of road signs that state ‘Liège’ instead of ‘Luik’, preferring the language of the destination instead of the location language of the signs.

According to Peeters, the practice violates language laws. She wants the road signs in question to be changed by language legislation. “So, it will be Luik and Namen again,” the minister said.

‘Not a mistake’

At the revamped Antwerp-West interchange, part of the Oosterweel link, the new road signs say ‘Liège’ instead of ‘Luik’. This is not a mistake, says Katrien Kiekens of the Flemish Roads and Traffic Agency (AWV), responsible for signposting, in the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.

“According to the guidelines, the language of the destination is used to indicate cities on signposts along highways.” You only don’t see them very often yet on Flemish highways because the introduction is gradual. Destinations like Rijsel/Lille, Gent/Gand (Ghent), or Kortrijk/Courtrai, which we still often see today, complicate the boards without adding significant value, she adds.

It sometimes leads to confusion, although in the Brussels-Capital Region, all place names for which two official translations exist are listed in both languages, usually with a hyphen in between, for example, ‘Gent-Gand’, ‘Namur-Namen’, or ‘Mons-Bergen’, with the local language preceding.

Respect for the language law

However, Minister Lydia Peeters disagrees with the directive and is putting the brakes on her administration. She calls for the signs to be changed back. “The language law is there to be respected. Therefore, I ask that the relevant road signs at the new Antwerp-West interchange be urgently adapted to that legislation. So it will be Luik and Namen again.”

According to Peeters, AWV used an internal guideline from a 2003 vade mecum. “Because they never applied it before, it has surfaced only now, highlighting that the rule does not align with the legislation. Language legislation stands obviously above internal ruling,” Peeters told VRT NWS.

“The language law says that the language on the sign must be the same as the location where the sign is and not that of the destination. A possibility, however, is that the destination’s name appears in brackets on the sign.”

Belgium has four languages: Dutch, French, German, and the bilingual Brussels-Capital area, with Dutch and French.


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