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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Opportunity or Threat? The Role of Minority Toponyms in the Linguistic Landscape

Author(s):
G Puzey
University of Edinburgh, Scotland

The promotion of bi- or multi-lingual signs is a popular scheme in efforts to revitalise or legitimise indigenous, regional and minority languages. This paper will consider how the choice to include minority place names on signs can constitute an act of renaming in itself. A relationship will also be shown between toponymy and studies of the linguistic landscape – the ensemble of languages present in textual form in public spaces – suggesting great potential for future investigations.

Cases from across Europe will be examined to illustrate why, and by whom, minority place names on signs have been seen as an opportunity or as a threat. For instance, the use of Sámi place names in Norway is seen by some as essential for the promotion of minority rights, but others have interpreted bilingual signs as a provocation. In northern Italy, the separatist Northern League has controversially campaigned for signs to include dialect place names. In the Italophone Swiss canton Ticino, some streets have monolingual dialect names, but that this is not seen to threaten national integrity means this has not generated the same controversies, seen in northern Italy.

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