Bilingual Road Signs from New Zealand


New Zealand’s plan to introduce bilingual avenue symptoms and symptoms presenting each English and te reo Maori languages has ignited a heated debate in advance of the country’s widespread election. The initiative, aimed at promoting cultural understanding and preserving Maori heritage, has faced opposition from right-wing parties who argue it may compromise road safety. Supporters view it as a vital step in revitalizing te reo Maori, which suffered suppression during New Zealand’s colonial era. While the Welsh experience of bilingual signs offers a promising example, concerns about design and placement linger. The issue has stirred emotions as the nation grapples with the significance of language and cultural preservation.

A Step Toward Inclusion and Heritage

The plan to include te reo Maori on 94 types of road signs aims to foster cultural know-how and social concord with New Zealand’s Maori community, comprising almost a 5th of the population. Supporters view bilingual signs as a means of preserving Maori heritage and increasing its daily usage. Language revitalization efforts have already shown progress, with the percentage of New Zealanders speaking te reo Maori rising from 24% to 30% over five years.

Safety Concerns and Political Tensions

The proposal has encountered opposition from right-wing parties, who express concerns that bilingual signs might compromise road safety by reducing space for English and causing confusion. Despite assurances from the transport agency citing Wales as a positive example, tensions persist. Critics argue that the focus should be on prioritizing other issues, such as infrastructure improvements.

Parallels with Welsh Revival

The experiences of te reo Maori and Welsh show uncanny similarities. Both languages faced suppression during colonial times, leading to a decline in usage. However, the Welsh language witnessed a resurgence following civil disobedience campaigns in the 1960s. Bilingual road signs played a role in reviving the language and promoting cultural heritage. The parallel offers hope for te reo Maori’s future revitalization.

Design Matters in Road Safety

While some experts downplay concerns about bilingual signs compromising safety, proper design, placement, and differentiation are crucial factors. Studies suggest that road signs with multiple lines can significantly slow drivers’ response time. Greater care is needed to ensure unambiguous, uniform, and legible signage.

Challenges in Reviving Te Reo Maori

Language revitalization efforts in New Zealand are a work in progress. The government aims to preserve te reo Maori as a key part of national identity by 2040. Though progress has been made, some argue that the movement remains more decorative than functional, driven primarily by community initiatives. Utilizing te reo Maori for place names presents a starting point, but more extensive linguistic use remains a challenge.


New Zealand’s plan for bilingual road signs has stirred a divisive and emotionally charged debate, touching on language, culture, and heritage. While safety concerns exist, the Welsh example offers hope for the revitalization of te reo Maori. Proper design and placement are essential to ensure road safety while promoting cultural understanding. As the nation grapples with the significance of language and its preservation, the outcome of this initiative holds significance beyond road signs—it shapes the future of New Zealand’s cultural heritage.