Bridge signs don’t get message across

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Bridge signs don’t get message across

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Poorly transliterated traffic signs are hung near the Han River. The government uses “Daegyo,” for a main bridge, but some signs are Romanized as “Gyo” like the picture on the left, which signifies bridges as Seoganggyo and Mapogyo, while Yanghwa Bridge (right) is Romanized as “Yanghwadaegyo.” By Ahn Seong-shik


On a street in Sinchon, western Seoul, a German student was staring at a traffic sign trying to read the name of a bridge transliterated into English but gave up and asked someone on the street what the sign said.

“Well,” the student said. “I know that they are English letters but it doesn’t help me figure out where I’m going.”

The sign said “Seogangdaegyo,” a directly transliterated word from the hangul for “Seogang Bridge.”

“Is that really an English word?” he said. “I can’t believe that the sign is supposed to signify a bridge.”

Traffic signs in the country are generally provided in two languages - Korean and English - to help foreigners living in Korea and international tourists get where they’re going. But the signs can be confusing, especially while driving.

Words are sometimes too long or hard to read and sometimes provide two different names for one direction. In some places, Seogangdaegyo (Seogang Bridge) is written as “Seoganggyo (Br).” “Daegyo” means main bridge, while “gyo” simply means bridge.

For Mapo Bridge, some signs say it is “Mapogyo (Br)” and others say “Mapodaegyo.”

Bridges have some of the most confusing signs. The government currently uses the abbreviation “Stn” for stations and “Rd” for roads, but does not use any abbreviations for “daegyo.”

For Seongsu Subway Station, the government has transliterated it as “Seongsu Stn.”

“I have carefully looked at the signs but it is hard to find ‘Br,’?” a Philippine tourist complained.

There are 27 bridges on the Han River, and the signs are all similar to the Seogang Bridge.

Greg Hamilton, 35, has been teaching English in Korea for two years and complained that he had many frightening experiences while driving.

“It is hard to read the signs so I had to drive my car until I just reached the signs to read them,” he said.

“I almost caused traffic accidents because sometimes I had to change my direction in a hurry.”

Traffic signs around the Han River are managed by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, but the language on the signs is provided by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs.

“We know that there are problems on signs,” Ma Guk-jun, the director of city transportation headquarters, told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“But there are rules that we must follow.”

According to the standard for the English transliteration provided by the Land Ministry in 1983, bridges, mountains and streams must be spelled out phonetically.

“We may consider revising signs if they are not efficient for foreigners,” said Lee Yong-woo, a spokesman from the Land Ministry.

“Traffic signs must have readable language,” said professor Lee Ho-geun, with the Machinery and Automobiles department of Daeduk College. “They must be revised in ways that foreigners can read easily.”

By Yoo Seong-woon [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]
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