German Trail Signs Cause Controversy

The Italian province of South Tyrol has always been a land apart. Originally part of Austria-Hungary, the province only became part of Italy in 1919, after World War I ended.

Since then, the inhabitants, most of whom speak a dialect of German, have often been made to feel that they don’t “fit in” in their own country. For example, when the Fascists ruled Italy, the government made a concerted effort to ban public use of the German language in the region, and to encourage Italian speakers to immigrate and “crowd out” South Tyrol’s original inhabitants. Things got better after the end of World War II, when strong protections for German language speakers were made law and the province was granted a large degree of autonomy.

Still, in this bilingual region, tensions over language have long simmered below the surface, and according to the Telegraph’s Nick Squires, those tensions are once again becoming evident in a struggle over trail signs in the Dolomite Mountains.

The signs in question were once bilingual, but as they’ve worn out over the years, the Alpenverein, the organization responsible for replacing them, has been putting up German-only signs in their place. So far, 1,500 signs have been erected in German.

Giuseppe Broggi, the regional president of the Italian Alpine Club, told the Telegraph that Italian hikers are being made to “feel like foreigners in our own country.” German-speaking South Tyrol citizens could perhaps identify with that feeling, but it seems that signs giving directions to travelers in what is a beautiful but forbidding region might not be the best place to make a stand against bilingualism.   According to the Telegraph:

“Mountain rescue services say that the showdown is about more than injured national pride – an Italian walker could get seriously lost if he has a map with Italian place names but only finds sign posts in German.”