Opportunity or Threat? The Role of Minority Toponyms in the Linguistic Landscape
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. In Caithness, Scotland, resistance against the use of Gaelic on signs seems to be due to popular ideas about local history. Meanwhile, in Ireland, the delegitimation of some established English place-names led to concerns for the impact on tourism.