The reduced status of Irish – made visible
Reduced status of Irish made visible.
In the context of the government’s statement on language, following are examples of how the current road sign design effects the reduced status of Irish relative to English…
The relatively larger size of upper case words…
Above: Illustrates the greater space occupied by the same legend set in all upper case.
A consideration in the light of government’s regulation and aspirations for the Irish language is the fact that words in upper case occupy 40% more area (Jury 2002) and are thereby more prominent than lowercase. While this achieves a level of differentiation with the Irish place name, it is at the expense of the relative prominence of the Irish.
It is hard to see how this can be argued to give equal status to Irish. It certainly is not in keeping with the spirit of the regulation…
“the lettering of the text in the Irish language shall not be smaller in size than the lettering of the text in the English language” (Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs 2006)
The relatively lighter ‘weight’ of Irish…
When correctly set for signs, setting words in all uppercase requires more letter spacing than upper & lowercase (to be equally readable). In Ireland’s signs this is rarely observed, however, to the detriment of readability.
Above: Widely spaced lowercase versus tightly spaced uppercase. This has the effect of visually emboldening the uppercase. Upper case actually requires more spacing than upper and lowercase to achieve optimum legibility. This tight setting also has negative effects in situations where halation is likely to occur (halation will be covered further, coming soon).
The current practise is detrimental to readability and thereby, safety. This could be addressed by use of a better typographic solution.
“Letters with open forms are legible for longer than those with closed forms, when they are seen at a distance or from an angle. If they are well spaced, the letters remain distinct, but if they are set close together the words start to blur… lowercase letters are more legible because they give an individual rhythm to the words” Jean Widmer, designer of the French road signs (Held 1999)
The effect of this lack of letter spacing is to render the Irish lighter in appearance than English. Whatever the intention, the outcome is to damage the readability of English and to make Irish secondary in importance.
‘Squeezing’ words to fit the sign
Above: Here the English legend ‘GRANGE CASTLE’ shows signs of being squeezed to fit, both proportionally and in terms of spacing
It is understandable, of course, that space for signs can be limited. This is confirmed by the NRA as a restriction, increasing road margins would be at a greater cost (Reil 2006). However, if the compressing of spacing for the English is a function of the size of the sign (i.e. If the words are being squeezed to fit) – this is another example of poor practise. Kinneir’s view was that…
“The size of the panel was a function of the letter size, which was a function of the design-speed of the road.” (Easterby and Zwaga 1984)
Changing letter spacing, forcibly compressing type, or resizing placenames to fit the sign space runs contrary to this principle.