The politics of language

A short report from today’s Politics Show on the issue of the politics of language in Northern Ireland.

, , , ,

  • Dewi

    Great seeing that Chinese lady at the end helping Chinese kids respect their heritage. Just a shame that it isn’t a “normal” thing that Irish kids get taught in Irish – and that people make it a political issue.

  • Short and shallow – just what you expect from the BBC on the issue of the Irish language, given that Corporation is failing abjectly in its public broadcaster duty to the significant section of the population who can speak Irish.

    Imagine if Rosie Billingham went to Scotland to ask whether support and recognition for Scots Gaelic should be reduced because the state isn’t adequately providing for those who are hearing impaired. It wouldn’t happen. The State has a duty to the hearing impaired. It isn’t dependent on reducing its duty to other groups, especially the speakers of a minority language.

    Nelson McCausland’s call for equality is such an old joke. Rosie Billingham had in her hand a copy of the Ulster Scot, a free newspaper about Ulster Scots ‘culture’ but entirely in English and then asked Nelson should there be no money spent on translation, into Irish or Ulster Scots. The Ulster Scots movement has been hijacked by Nelson and his DUP friends and is less interested in securing funding for language support now than it is in securing funds for Orange Order related events and projects.

    There is little or no effort to teach young people Ulster Scots in school. There is no effort to get Ulster Scots on TV. So when Nelson calls for ‘equality’ – he is asking Irish speakers to take several steps back the evolutionary scale so that Irish, with its ancient heritage and modern vibrant community, can be ‘equal with’ Ulster Scots.

    It’s not equality with Ulster Scots that Irish needs- it’s equality of treatment and provision with Welsh and Scots Gaelic.

    This was typically lazy journalism from the BBC, who thinks it can reduce everything to a DUP/Sinn Féin story. It fails to see the bigger picture because it is culturally blind to it.

  • observer

    The will not be an irish language act, but there will be some legislation brought it that will put irish on par with ulster scots, equality for everyone who talks mickey mouse languages in NI, although why the rest of us have to pay for it is beyond me.

  • Ulster McNulty

    observer

    “..irish..ulster scots..equality for everyone who talks mickey mouse languages in NI”

    Mickey Mouse’s language is English in fact, albeit in an irritating high pitched squeek.

  • Dewi

    Such a shame – there are many people (Nevin best example) who cherish their heritage, like buildings and landscape are really cool but so is language – me I can’t quite understand the opposition – I had to blasted study all sorts of stuff in school – would much rather have learnt the languages of these islands….

  • Eireannach Saolta

    I noticed the DUP man kept quiet about gov documents being translated into Ulster Scots. He didn’t seem too impressed with the idea. Does anyone on this site speak it or know any actual speakers of it

  • BonarLaw

    Dewi

    but I thought there were empty desks at Irish medium schools in Londonderry. Evidence of overprovision for your “Irish kids” in that city?

  • Dewi

    Bonar Law – I must admit I’m a bit prescriptive – compulsion equals liberation ! – I know it’s a bit 1984 – but u need to learn when u are young or u never get the nuance.

  • observer

    #

    Bonar Law – I must admit I’m a bit prescriptive – compulsion equals liberation ! – I know it’s a bit 1984 – but u need to learn when u are young or u never get the nuance.
    Posted by Dewi on Jun 08, 2008 @ 09:13 PM

    isnt that indoctrination?

  • Dewi

    No – not really – just very young is the age to learn languages. Wish I got taught languages in primary school to be honest.

  • jonny

    observer
    were you indoctrinated into english? incidently, i notice that the pro-gaelic people are quite happy for provision for a second language (english) to continue. its the anti-gaelic people that oppose the choice of having two languages and demand the imposition of only one.

  • BonarLaw

    Dewi

    would your language stormtroopers force those of us who aren’t Irish to get the “nuance”?

  • Dewi, thanks. Heritage is very important, including languages, but most of all I cherish people in all their diversity. The language ‘brigades’, however, are a blot on the cultural landscape; nuance isn’t their strong point.

  • groucho

    Admirable words, Concubhar O Liatháin.
    Did you ever get round to giving that money you earnt from your BBC salary to a suitable charity?

  • observer

    observer
    were you indoctrinated into english?

    hardly, its our national, dare i say, native, language. Irish is nothing more than a badge that republicans force on their children so they can pretend to be like the real irish, in Ireland

  • Dewi

    Nevin – it’s yours. Cherish it.

  • DK

    I wish my hobby was as well funded.

  • fenian bastard

    Expecting the BBC to play fair with the Irish Language is like expecting the BNP to get all equal rightsy about Urdu.

    The BBC is congenitally incapable of understanding the Irish language and it’s position in Irish society. Look at the people who run it.

    This is what the BBC Trustees themselves say:

    The Trust is the sovereign body of the BBC…
    We aim to ensure…..that the BBC contributes to the standing of the United Kingdom in the world, to the economy and to British culture.

    But Irish people in Northern Ireland have to pay for this BRITSHIT through their taxes. Worse, this subsidized propaganda pervades the political and media agenda.

    And we’re supposed to admire their sense of fair play.

    BBC – GET TO FUCK.

  • Damian O’Loan

    I’m very interested in both language and culture, and this debate was void on both fronts. What is language for? Nelson McCausland admitted that Ulster Scots serves no function but petty party politics. The Irish language, through deliberate destruction, has contributed little to global society since long before the troubles. So the cultural question becomes significant.

    Except I don’t believe that culture depends on language.

    English has an excellent tense structure that betrays a Protestant discipline and a subtlety that has grown from the culture of excessive reserve and politeness – hypocrisy, to be seen in the use of its modal verbs.

    French has a sparsity of words that betrays its Enlightenment period, and indeed which has greatly influenced English. German, from my lesser knowledge, betrays a structural rigidity leading to a freedom expressed from Goethe to 21st century Berlin.

    But what is important is not language, it is the content of ideas. It doesn’t matter that English can’t translate joie de vivre, it matters that we don’t live it and base policy on it. It matters that I can’t truly understand Chinese culture because I have such distance from its linguistic heritage, when China will be for me what the USA was to my parents.

    If NI is to be significant, educational resources must be directed carefully into creating conscious, critical and creative young adults. This is not acheived through monolingualism. It is acheived through profiting from the riches of other cultures, and now for us, I think that means Latin and Chinese.

  • Dewi

    “The Irish language, through deliberate destruction, has contributed little to global society since long before the troubles”

    So what? Ourselves alone !!!

  • picador

    Question for Dewi:

    I was down in Kernow today (and jolly nice it was). I was told (by a man in a pub) that the now defunct Cornish tongue is similar to Welsh. Can you confirm whether or not this is true.

  • David Hamilton

    It seems that if we didn’t force all public documents to be translated into Irish then much of the opposition would evaporate. I also agree with this position myself. An interesting statistic was that of last year that an Irish language phone service in Stormont received no phone calls all year. While I don’t want to deny anyone their rights, it would be prudent to defer the translation of all documents until a stronger demand can be proven. One that shows people are not capable of understanding english.

    Irish is in the culture of the island though, and what I would like to see is the translation of all street signs, directions and education in middle schools. I’m not adverse to having the right to a translator in courts either for what its worth.. it’s just translating thousands of pages which NO ONE is likely to read is my problem with it.

    I think we can take the best of both political views and come up with a middle ground that realistically reflects where we are today and where we wish to go in future.

    While I love the Ulster Scots culture too- it is not a language and should not enter this debate- perhaps it deserves a mention in irish history, and I like the street signs where it is still relevant, but that’s it for the “language”.

  • Groucho,

    I think the ad hominem attacks are an indicator that you’ve already lost the argument.

    I worked at the BBC to be sure – but never shortchanged the reader when it came to importing the BBC bias into a story. In fact that’s why I left to be part of the project to publish an Irish language daily newspaper. We succeeded in that – the BBC are still failing to provide a fully objective bias free news and current affairs service.

    And that’s on top of their failure to live up to the ideals of the GFA about actively promoting the Irish language in public life…..

  • curlybap

    Watching the Barry and Nelson over the years I am left wavering between the fine line between local place specific culture that can be life enhancing if promoted properly and on the other hand how they can slide into dull, uncreative parochialism. At the moment the two local cultures are sliding in the latter direction.

  • Dewi

    I was told (by a man in a pub) that the now defunct Cornish tongue is similar to Welsh.

    a) Far from defunct – they have finally agreed a common written language after decades of wrangling.
    b) Yes – begun to diverge linguisitically after we lost battle of Deorham in 577 and got split up. For instance the national party there is called “Mebyon Kernow” in Welsh that would be “Meibion Cernyw” (Sons of Cornwall).

    For real geeks – Dumnomia THe language of Arthur (probably…)

    And :Cumbric revival

  • BonarLaw

    “Irish is in the culture of the island though”

    No, Irish is one culture/ identity on the island.

  • Dewi

    “would your language stormtroopers force those of us who aren’t Irish to get the “nuance”?”

    Stormtroopers? Do you need stormtroopers to make people learn Maths, History, Physics etc etc. I freely admit it’s not exactly the most popular policy (hmmm) but I’d made it compulsory in Primary schools if that’s what you are asking.

  • BonarLaw

    Dewi

    I’m just asking where cumpulsory Irish fits into a society where the greater number don’t consider themselves Irish.

  • Dewi

    Is French compulsory in Secondary Schools ? Do you consider yourself French?

  • Peadar O’Donnell

    ‘cumpulsory Irish ‘

    But is there a proposal for this is NI?
    What Irish language people in NI want, as far as I can tell, is the capacpity to make it a viable everyday language. (The street sign proposal, for example, would allow localities to choose, not be forced.)
    Of course once you sign up for a Gaeilscoil then Irish is compulsory, but: a) this is true of many subjects in other schools – see all the stuff on the BBC last week about nobody liking maths;
    and b) you don’t have to sign up for that sort of school.

  • jonny

    observer

    were you indoctrinated into english? Did you have an option not to learn English. if conpulsory Gaelic is indoctrination why is conpulsory English not? And i’m not sure that compulsory Gaelic is actually what the Gaelic proponents want. as i understand it they want the option to use either Gaelic or English, not just one, as is the current situation

    “hardly, its our national, dare i say, native, language.” if you’re english then i guess it is you native language. the language predates the British state hence its called English not British.

    “Irish is nothing more than a badge that republicans force on their children so they can pretend to be like the real irish, in Ireland”

    well quite! that statement says it all really. incidently, would that be real Irish like Mary McALesse or Seamus Heaney, or dare i say Darron Gibson.

  • picador

    Dewi,

    I loved this quote from the Cumbric revival website:

    When the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain they advanced from east to west. Those Celts who weren’t exterminated or enslaved by the barbarian Wehrmacht sought refuge in the western peninsulas of Britain and France.

  • dewi

    Very good Picador! It was quite an interesting few centuries. Another Arthur and I reckon we’d have had them…

  • observer

    observer

    were you indoctrinated into english? Did you have an option not to learn English. if conpulsory Gaelic is indoctrination why is conpulsory English not?

    Irish is not the language of a nation. Even real Irish, who live in Ireland barely speak it. English is our native language and the language of the world. LIke french, german etc, these are real living languages not cultural clubs brought out to beat people into beliveing that those who speak it are really Oirish

  • Sir Basil Rosemary

    Concubhar,

    I have two problems with the presentation of Irish/Gaelic in Ireland.

    1) Fonts. It is a pity that Irish often seems to be displayed in an oldie-worldie font which does nothing to support its claim to be just another modern european language. I particularly dislike the way in which it is presented on the republic’s roadsigns. The Welsh treatment (same font for both translations) is preferable in my opinion.

    2) Spelling. This seems deliberatly and unjustifiably opaque (a little like the oldie-worldie font). Using a more modern phonetic system (as the Bretons appear to) would not, in my opinion, undermine the language and might make it seem less unwelcoming to the non-speaker.

    Who is respsonsible for this spelling system? Does it descend from the mists of time or is it a tartan-style victorian confection?

    How do you pronounce Concubhar btw? Is it Con-cu-var or does it sound more like Conquer, Concur or Conker? Is it related to more familiar anglicised names? Conor or Christopher perhaps?

  • BonarLaw

    Dewi

    our clash of identities has not featured the surrender monkeys since 1798. Nor has promotion of their language been appropriated as a front in a squalid terrorist campaign against the state I happen to owe my allegiance to.

  • Sir Basil Rosemary

    A third probem.

    Accents.

    To my ear when someone who’s first language is Irish or Gallic initially shifts into English there is a pleasant moment during which they can sound almost Scandinavian and you have a sense of the inter-relatedness of the maritime languages and peoples of Northern Europe.

    Modern Irish seems to be taught without any retuning of accent. Perhaps the thinking is that if this is Ireland’s natural first language it can be spoken authentically in any modern Irish accent.

    If so I’m not sure this thinking works.

  • joeCanuck

    Has no one in the DUP considered the upside of introducing an ILA? It would go a long way towards convincing the “other side” that they are genuine about the state cherishing all of its citizens.

  • cladycowboy

    Bonarlaw

    “Nor has promotion of their language been appropriated as a front in a squalid terrorist campaign against the state I happen to owe my allegiance to.”

    Oh deary me. Really, oh dear. An eejit mór.

    If we follow your ‘intellectual’ train of thought to the letter then no Irishman (The ones who aren’t currently sitting in front of their computer with an chest inflated with solemn pride pledging allegiance to the UK) would speak English today.

    You see, the squalid colonisation and cultural and economic regression that was effected on the Irish people was carried out by people speaking ze Engleze.

    Indeed, no Indian nor Chinaman would bother to speak it or tolerate it as troublemakers in their country spoke it.

    And how exactly do you view the treasonous Americans? They wedged a campaign against the state to which you owe your allegiance. The New world was awash with British blood. How can you bear to hear a whiney Wyoming accent knowing that these people crushed your state in battle? Should they be banned from speaking English?

    Maybe you were just joking then (and it was lost in translation)..

  • David Hamilton

    ““Irish is in the culture of the island though”

    No, Irish is one culture/ identity on the island.”

    Bonarlaw:I think you are looking for problems now- my statement does not contradict yours. Chill.

  • “1) Fonts. It is a pity that Irish often seems to be displayed in an oldie-worldie font which does nothing to support its claim to be just another modern european language.”

    You musn’t know too much about the language. the language is almost always written in Roman font. The Gaelic script you are talking about (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaelic_script) has not been used popularly for decades.
    Everything I have ever read in Irish is the same font as English.

    “2) Spelling. This seems deliberatly and unjustifiably opaque (a little like the oldie-worldie font). Using a more modern phonetic system (as the Bretons appear to) would not, in my opinion, undermine the language and might make it seem less unwelcoming to the non-speaker.”

    In case you didn’t realize English as one the most unphonetic languages that exists. The Irish spelling is not a big issue if you have learnt the language to a reasonable level.

    To be honest learning languages not necessarily supposed to be easy. If that were the case we would all learn Esperanto. At the same time Irish is not particularly difficult. For example I would say that Spanish, Swedish and Dutch are easier but French, German, Polish and Japanese are progressively harder of the languages I have studied.

  • ersehole

    Sir Basil, with Irish and Welsh, what you see is how you say it, with very few exceptions.

    Unlike a certain other language I could mention.

    Cough, cough.

    Lough, bough, dough, nought, rough……

  • Sir Basil Rosemary

    Thanks Aidan,

    “You musn’t know too much about the language”

    Quite right but that should not imply antipathy. Just ignorant but well intentioned curiosity.

    “Roman font.”

    I was referring to the slightly falsified use of an italicised (is that what you mean by Roman?) and lower case font on road signage (including street names) which, to my eye at least, gives the language a slightly (and unneccessarily) cod and even archaic character.

    This sort of thing.

    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/243/454536799_860f5751a3.jpg?v=0

    or this

    http://www.cbrd.co.uk/reference/international/ireland/img/01.jpg

    My own preference would be for this treatment which uses a different colour.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Sanas.jpg

    “In case you didn’t realize English is one the most unphonetic languages that exists”

    True.

    I’ve found this though;

    http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Irish/Spelling

    and I shall now attempt to unravel the mysteries of broad and slender vowel.

  • willowfield

    Posted by Peadar O’Donnell on Jun 09, 2008 @
    11:04 AM

    The street sign proposal, for example, would allow localities to choose, not be forced.

    That is already the case. Who’s proposing something that is already the case?

  • The Roman or Latin script is the one we are writing in, it is the same for writing Irish or English. The italicized script you are talking about is the Gaelic script I linked to. This script is not used in normal Irish, it tends to be used only for decoration. I agree with you that it is somewhat pointless and confusing. Tourist seem to like it though 😉
    Your wiki about Irish spelling says nothing aoyt how phonetic the spelling system is. Believe me English is the least phonetic of all the languages I know.
    The spelling of the Irish language is hardly an issue for anybody who speaks it. The language has bigger challenges.

  • Dewi

    From last week’s Belfast Telegraph Very prescient. Bonar Law – I think you’d like the taxi driver!

  • ersehole

    The challenge is to get Unionists back to where they were about 100 years ago as regards to Irish, or Gaelic if they prefer.

    When they were British and Irish, and lived in Ireland.

    Nowadays they are British and live in Britain. Well, Nevin claims to live there, at any rate.

    It ain’t gonna be easy.

  • Ulster McNulty

    Sir Basil Rosemary

    “and I shall now attempt to unravel the mysteries of broad and slender vowel.”

    The broad vowels in Irish are A, O and U, the slender vowels are the other two. There is a parallel which occurs in English – where the “C” at the start of a word is usually pronounced hard if followed by a one of the “broad” vowels, or soft if followed by a “slender” vowel.

    Compare:

    Capture, consume, cuddle

    To

    Circumnavigate, censor, et cetera.

    This happens in French as well, and probably all other European languages including Ulster Scots. Maybe it came originally from Greek (or somewhere in the middle east). It obviously came into Irish from Latin, but the original pioneers or Irish writing decided to run with it, and then take it to the next level.

  • Dewi

    “It obviously came into Irish from Latin” – why is that obvious?

  • Sir Basil Rosemary

    Thank-you Mr McNulty

    “It obviously came into Irish from Latin” – why is that obvious?

    I suppose that if the Irish pronunciations existed before the adoption of the Latin alphabet (which they must have) and the conventions of Latin were used in the initial writing down of Irish using the Latin alphabet, then it follows that “it (the phonetic convention) obviously came into Irish from Latin”

  • Ulster McNulty

    Sir Basil

    You’re welcome. And yes, I used the same reasoning.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Can you begrudgers not be like Iris and love the language and confine your hatred to the speakers? It p*sses me off to hear the daoine mór le rá slabbering about the Provos ‘politicising’ the Irish language. Only for republicans in the past 40 years,it would be dead by now.All the middle class ‘educated’ speakers wanted to do was speak it in the privacy of their own homes.

  • Dewi

    Sorry Ulster and Sir Basil but wouldn’t those scholara just have transcribed from that Ogham alphabet?

  • Garibaldy

    Pancho,

    So if it weren’t for the Provos, the Gaeltacht would have disappeared? Not sure about that logic in the slightest. As for the North, well there’s as much evidence to suggest that people were turned off the language by attempts to politicise it as vice versa.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    The Gaeltacht has all but disappeared anyway. The Provos are not relevant to that.What I’m referring to is the attitude of working class republicans from the 70s who saw nothing to be ashamed of in using their own language. Pressure from Sinn Féin and non-aligned alike pushed the language to the forefront and it appeared in places where it had never been seen before – like election literature. Where it had once been the property of ‘old Fenians’ and respectable teachers/clergy, it was now heard in pubs and shops. If this is politicising, then crank it up. Forget about the colons, forget about the Holy grail of the freak protestant/unionist speaker. They all know where the language is. Let them seek it out. It was not the activists who harmed the language but those who stood ‘idly by’ and let it be driven to church halls and musty rooms.

  • canadian

    I am from Toronto (Iroquis word for meeting place). In my country, Canadian native children were taken from their families and housed in residential schools where they were beaten whenever they spoke their native language. Joe Canuck probably knows all about this. Worse things then loss of language happened to young children in residential school. But there was a strong effort on the government’s part to extinguish the language of Cree, Objibiway, Iroquis and all other of the Algongkian language groups. As I said before worse things were done to native peoples then only taking their language away. The interested reader might research this further, but the native people in my country are trying to re-claim there culture, up until 1963 native people could be put in jail for practicing there religion–this seems like the penal laws–very similar. In 63 they were allowed to vote too–sound familiar?

    Of course those native people in Ireland who see themselves as Irish wish to re-claim their culture too. Many native languages are near dead and some are dead in Canada. But today there is a strong effort to teach children to speak Cree who have never spoken it before, and other languages as well. Daycares and schools are now beginning to use native languages, the Canadian government should and in some cases does fund such schools in an effort to re-dress wrongs committed in the past. Currently there is an inquiry into what happened in the residential schools of Canada during the modern Anglo conquest of “British North America in the Canadas,” The last residential school was closed in the late 1970’s.

    Surely in the context of the historical injustices of the penal law period people wishing to re-claim their cultural identity including the loss of their language should be allowed to do so with government support. Reclaiming language in an effort to reverse conquest is an honourable goal and government funding is essential and necessary if this goal is to be achieved in my country and yours.

    Thanks for listening,
    Canadian

  • joeCanuck

    I certainly can attest to the truth of what Canadian says.
    It’s been a blot on the “leaders” of Canada for quite a few generations.

  • Democratic

    Personally as a British national born and bred in Northern Ireland as a constituent part of the UK I have no problem with Irish nationals reclaiming their heritage – whether that means being able to talk to someone in a government department in Irish or putting up relevant roadsigns in areas where this would be well recieved, speaking in Irish to the faithful in bars or shops – I simply don’t mind or don’t care if you prefer – If the intention is even intimated down the line to force the Irish language upon the Ulster born British in any format in unneccesary employment legislation or education etc, then quite frankly you will reap a whirlwind – you really should know better given the history of this land…..also the comparison of forcing maths and forcing Irish is laughable – only one of these subjects is essential to everyday living in Britain/Ireland (delete as appropriate) and its not the Irish language…

  • “From last week’s Belfast Telegraph Very prescient. Bonar Law – I think you’d like the taxi driver!”

    This bit is particularly good.

    “The Irish-Language Act being proposed by both nationalist parties and some language lobby groups is a blunt instrument and neither the North nor Irish needs any more blunt instruments. In truth, I doubt that the Irish speakers of west Belfast really need to write in Irish to Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew about their cattle grazing Black Mountain.”

  • Dewi

    Chekov – selective quotation! I admit cattle grazing correpondence not perhaps top of the priority list….but hell enjoy divergence won’t you !!!

    Canadian – brilliant – there was this in today’s Independent:

    I lost my heart at Wonded Knee