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i just came across both of these for "road signs."  is there a difference?         

merci d'avance

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Hello,

une balise is a word which is more specific to aviation or nautical context, but you can find it in other fields too:

1 Naut (flotteur) beacon, buoy; (émetteur) radio beacon;

2 Aviat beacon, light;

3 Aut signpost, sign;

4 Rail (de voie ferrée) signal;

5 Sport (de piste de ski) marker;

6 (de sentier) marker;

 panneau de signalisation (routière) is rather used for roads or trains.

the two words have less or more the same meaning but we don't use the two words in the same situations

we say :

"panneau de signalisation" for that : http://fr.images.search.yahoo.com/images/view;_ylt=A0PDoXv_UMFRwnUA...

and "balise" for the  thing or the sign that indicates a special place, often for a dangerous place : the orange traffic cone for instance or a stake with a yellow strip.  In the sea, floats are called "balise" too.

I believe balise also has a very modern meaning -- a tag in HTML.

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