Sunday, July 11, 2010

Drivers who can’t read English:

Should people be allowed to take the written driver’s test in foreign languages? You've probably read news reports about cities, or states, battling over this issue. There’s always the “You’re in America, learn American” argument. And then there are slow-but-sure-melting-pot arguments. I’m generally in favor of the latter, but I worry what will happen when these non-English readers have to deal with our signs. The most important signs are iconic, and will make sene to anyone who has taken the time to memorize what the icons mean. But there are plenty of signs that are just words. Some of them are advisory and not very important. Others...well, maybe it's important for every driver to be able to read them.

For a long time, I've wanted to blog about such signs. I would drive past a particularly juicy one, try to make a mental note, and then forget it. But Donald Knuth has come to my rescue.

Knuth is an important person in the development of rigorous Computer Science, and he wrote a wonderful program -- that many people rely on -- for setting all manner of text, that he relies on to publish his own books. Fortunately, he has other interests. One summer, he and his wife Jill collected signs in Ohio and made a Photo Essay of them. I have picked and chosen my way through them, to give you a selection of signs that, well, woe betide the driver who sails past them oblivious. And believe me, this is just a sampling:

Fire Station watch for trucks

Watch for Emergency Vehicles

Hidden Driveway

Elk Xing (American sign writers seem to think that 'Xing' is an internationally recognized symbol

Watch for Snakes and Scorpions

Slippery Wet Pavement ahead

Bridges May be Icy

Caution Channel flooded during storm

Bridge Blocks View

Blasting Zone 1000 feet

Abrupt Edge Right

Prepare to Stop when Flashing

Be Prepared to Stop

Bridge Closed

Whew! Beware of dragons, too.

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