Language, language

I don‘t want to major on the Irish Language Act right now – we’ll save up for it later. But just taking up the point from Henry McDonald’s Observer piece.

“The government won’t bring it in via Westminster because the danger is they would be legally bound to recognise other languages such as Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and so on as being of equal legal status to English. Which would cost millions and millions to implement in a time of depleted public finances “

The government seems to have no such obligation anyway under the European Charter for Regional and Minorities languages which they ratified in March 2001 specifically to apply to NI.
According to the Wikipedia article on the Charter it only applies to languages traditionally used by the nationals of the State Parties (thus excluding languages used by recent immigrants from other states). That would seem to nail the Downing St reply as tendentious. I suppose it depends on what is meant by “recent” immigrants. Many Urdu and Arabic speakers, close relatives of those already settled, arrived here recently although immigration from Arabic-speaking countries and Pakistan dates back to the fifties – and those minorities continues to enjoy extensive language support.
Furthermore this casual briefing line can hardly be regarded as a considered reply. No doubt Mr Adams, who will feel rebuffed by the report, is on the case already.

Even if the government as such doesn’t wish to be “legally bound to recognise foreign languages as being of equal legal status to English,” whatever that entails anyway, lots of other public bodies in England especially councils “recognise” them in droves. The merest acquaintance with foreign language policy in England shows what a tiddler the NI language issue is by comparison – divesting it for a moment of its political resonance.
Browse in the National Centre for Languages website and you’ll be knocked sideways, unless you’re familiar with the facts already. 300 languages are spoken in London. Councils provide translation services for many of them and specialised English teaching for all. Of course Irish as an – I’ll use the word – optional – language is conceptually a different issue. But if you think rights and you think diversity and you think yes, costs; if you cool down the politics and play up cultural goodwill , you’ll grope your way towards a solution.

  • ggn

    Nos* is out!

    “increase cross-community love for the Irish language?”

    Increasing love for the Irish language is simply not what the ILA is about frankly.

    “a giant job-creation scheme exclusively for Irish speakers”

    Nope, that is not it either. No more than a handful of jobs would be created even under a quite strong ILA. Dont accept what politican say without questioning their motives!

  • I don’t see how courts, hospitals, benefit offices, and any other state services can carry out business in Irish on demand (as some seem to be advocating) without quite a large number of translators. Unless you believe that a customer-facing person’s GCSE (or O level) in Irish taken however many years ago actually implies the ability to do business in spoken Irish. Even assuming that the putative Anglophobic punters’ level of Irish exceeds that of present and past members of the Sinn Feinn executive.

    Sure, publications could be issued in Irish or Ulster Scots (or, if you want to increase teh number who can read them, in Urdu or Chinese) for a relatively modest sum. The education minister’s apology for a policy on academic selection is half way there, for goodness sake (or maybe 25% there, realistically). But that’s not “doing business” in the language, is it?

  • Interesting Mag, with a good range of stuff – makes a change from tales of epic raids and songs about missing the auld sod.

    But if any ILA increases resentment against Irish in one section of the population, it will be surely be counterproductive to what I presume is the real point – promoting the language. Unless it really is about ethnic point scoring (which I hope it isn’t).

  • Danny

    Just one remark.

    I’ve never met anyone who spoke Irish because they didn’t want to “sully their ears with English.”

    On the other hand, I’ve met quite a few people who speak Irish either because:

    – it’s their first language
    – they have an affection for Irish and believe it totally reasonable for Irish people to speak the Irish language in Ireland. Crazy thought, eh?

  • Danny,
    Indeed – both perfectly reasonable reasons to speak Irish. Not the least bit crazy!

    Neither of them reasons for an English speaker to insist that the taxpayer fund an array of translators to allow him NOT to speak English in each area of public life.

  • Danny

    What’s your alternative? Keeping in mind that the Irish language is an official language of the State and as such, deserves recognition and official usage of some kind.

  • barnshee

    “would you be happy if we payed for our own

    Absolutely If only all the “orish and usterscotch” would fuck off and fund their own hobbies, maybe we cound divert a few quid to pensioners sitting in shock at big oil/gas/electricity bills.

    Don`t stop there make the lot (Orange Order, Concerned citizens of fuck who cares and all the other burdens on the poor bloody tax payer) pay for their hobbies and their associated costs to society as whole.

  • BfB

    Forget your provincial bickering..

    There’s BIGGER plans for eeyou….

    The new rules come in a report by the EU’s women’s rights committee.
    Swedish MEP Eva-Britt Svensson urged Britain and other members to use existing equality, sexism and discrimination laws to control advertising.
    She wants regulatory bodies set up to monitor ads and introduce a “zero-tolerance” policy against “sexist insults or degrading images”.
    Ms Svensson said: “Gender stereotyping in advertising straitjackets women, men, girls and boys by restricting individuals to predetermined and artificial roles that are often degrading, humiliating and dumbed down for both sexes.”
    She added: “Gender stereotyping in advertising is one of several factors that have a big influence in efforts to make society more gender equal.

  • ggn
  • ggn

    Tá feachtas nua ar bun ag na Gaeil Óga chomh maith.

    Glac páirt!

    Nice posters.

  • Doctor Who

    by Concubhar O Liathain

    “It’s a great pity that the leadership of the Unionist political parties has decided to sectarianise Irish – much like it has sectarianised homosexuality with its born again bigotry against Irish speakers and gays.

    This has to be the most comical post in the history of the world wide web. Well done.

  • Doctor Who’s intervention in the debate is welcome. After all the Time Traveller must have a busy schedule flitting back and forth from 1690 to the present day.

    It’s obvious that his attempt to deride as ‘comical’ the observation that the leadership of the unionist political parties has exposed itself to ridicule throughout the world for its neanderthal views on homosexuality is little more than an apologia for same – Iris Robinson anyone?. The fact that political unionism also has a blinkered attitude towards the Irish language is also obvious and is also a reason for shame for unionists who elect these neanderthals as their leaders.

    Dr. Who would be better off fighting the Tardis than inteverening with such obvious ignorance in this debate….

  • Doctor Who

    Concubhar, I will seriously consider lending you my Tardis if only to rescue you from the past.

    I am somenoe who does not opose the use of Gaelic on a day to day basis, my oldest child is fluent in the language. My problem with an ILA is that it is not needed, the promotion of the language can come from within it´s speakers. Why is it needed to be imposed on the Health Service, Courts etc? We see the world over, English being used as a common utility for communication, why do we have to complicate things in our own little corner of the world.

    In my own adopted country of Spain language is being used as devisive. The more narrow minded of the Catalans refuse to speak Castillian even when outside Catalonia. In the Valencian region ALL community schools are obligated to teach Valenciano as the first language. The effects of this are already being felt with that language being used to highlight a cultural difference from the rest of Spain. It is the ambition of the minority Valencian speakers to make their language the language of the people. Why?

    In it´s basis form language is an utility, it can also be used for greatness in oratory, poetry and literature and other cultural forms of communication. However negative to this are those who wish to use language to divide by imposing it on others, I go into my local grocers and talk to him in fluent and clear Spanish, he replies to me in a language I have no desire nor need to learn, yet he thinks I should feel shame. How many of these so called free thinking promoters of Gaelic think the same as my Valenciano amigo.

    Unionists in NI are not deluded, nor are Unionists denying the right of anyone to speak Gaelic. However the huge costs to the public purse to make Gaelic as commonly used as English should be resisted. The use of Gaelic in the courts for instance is a shocking waste of money.

    BTW I still find it laughable that you can compare opposition to a ILA with the meanderings of a crazy old homophobe.

  • There are valid points in your argument with which I agree. I don’t believe, for instance, that we need to replicate an English language bureaucracy in Irish as this I would consider a waste of resources. I do think that the state has to support the use of Irish by Irish speakers – ending the ban on the use of Irish in the courts would be a start.

    I never ever said I wanted to impose Irish on anyone – but the state has to support it. For instance in terms of compelling the BBC to produce and broadcast more Irish language programmes – to be on a par with the Welsh language in Wales or Scots Gaelic in Scotland.

    If for instance I would like a bill posted to me from NIE in Irish – why not? How much would it cost to translate such a document? Very little? And the template could be stored on a computer and distributed that way.

    Bilingualism – and Irish/English competence counts in this regard – is something which is a boon for education and which enhances the learning capacity of people in other languages, not just Irish or English, especially if it begins at a very young age.

    So I don’t see why the State shouldn’t support that actively through funding better teaching methods and resources.

    As for comparing opposition to a ILA with the meanderings of a crazy old homophobe, i make no apology. The language used by senior DUP politicians/Orange Order personalities in deriding the Irish language has been comparable in vitriol to that used by Iris Robinson in her attacks on homoaexuality. It is laughable that they would entertain such neanderthal attitudes but then again we are talking about the DUP and the Orange Order here….

  • Doctor Who

    Concubhar O Liathain

    “I don’t believe, for instance, that we need to replicate an English language bureaucracy in Irish as this I would consider a waste of resources.”

    But this is exactly what you argue for. You wish to receive your utility bills in Gaelic, you demand the use of the language in the Courts. The later being very symbolic, as I´m sure we are going to see a few more “language martyrs” not recognising a court conducted in English. Where does it stop, the right to make a complaint in Gaelic to the PSNI, the right to be consulted by a Gaelic speaking NHS doctor or the right to have an industrial tribunial conducted in Gaelic.

    This is counter productive, why not promote the Gaelic language in a more positive light through it´s literature for instance.

    As for the BBC making more Gaelic programmes, is there the demand? How many license fee payers in NI want to see more Gaelic programmes, and remember it is not as if the BBC have ignored the issue either.

    More imaginative steps into broadcasting via public access and the internet maybe the future for Gaelic in this area.
    Don´t forget TG4 is also available to every house hold in Ireland

  • If I wish to receive my utility bill in Irish, I don’t see why that can’t be facilitated especially as such a facility is readily available in Welsh for the Welsh speakers of Wales. If I wish to use Irish in the courts, should I have the misfortune to appear in the courts, then I don’t see why I should be banned from using Irish as is currently the case. There should be no reason why I can’t make a complaint in Irish to the PSNI – they have diversity training so Irish should be a part of that [it isn’t and why not?] – and as I already have access to an Irish speaking NHS doctor, then that’s not a problem. As for industrial tribunals goes, the same rights should be available there as in the courts.

    The Irish language should of course be promoted through its literature also – by more state support for its literature not less.

    As for the BBC and its Irish language service, the public service broadcaster has only recently upped its game but is still FAR BEHIND the pace in terms of comparisons to Scotland, shortly to get its own BBC Alba Gaelic language service, and of course Wales which also has S4C as well as considerable covereage in Welsh, including a Welsh language news website mirroring the BBC NewsOnline website, on BBC Wales.

    It has only upped its game in response to increased pressure from the Irish language lobby.

    A further argument is the mainstreaming of Irish language into BBC NI/Radio Ulster programming: correctly pronouncing Irish language names for a start, including an Irish language/ bilingua item in Talkback once a week.

    The situation where Irish speakers in NI are expected to peer over the garden wall and watch TG4, which is funded almost exclusively by the Irish Exchequer, while paying for a service which is below par in comparison to Wales and Scotland, is unsustainable. Yes the internet can be used as an add-on but not as a replacement.

    None of what I’ve outline above in terms of what I require in Irish language provision amounts an unreasonable demand and its equivalent is already available in Scotland to Scots Gaelic speakers and in Wales to Welsh language speakers.

    It seems to me that in opposing Irish language legislation unionsts politicians want NI to be a lesser part of the UK than either Scotland or Wales. Surely that’s an irony that won’t be lost on more thoughtful unionists….

  • @CO’L: Bills in Irish. I know this one – I’ll take it.

    You are asking private companies to provide a bilingual service for which there is no clear business case. This will cost money – so who should pay?

    The customers – most of who don’t need the service? Just the rich ones? The pensioners too? In a time of rising energy costs?

    Will it be funded by the profits from new customers who will be attracted? – I don’t think so.

    Or will the taxpayer cover it?

    You may think it’s easy and cheap – but it won’t be. Unless their existing billing system is set up to handle multiple languages, which seems unlikely, they’ll need to customise it hugely – probably ripping out several components and rewriting them from scratch, assuming it is not just a huge mess of non-modular code, and that it’s even possible to find bits to change. Quite possibly there are bits of the English language bill text that are used to determine eligibility for discounts like Economy 7 or whatever, so if you replace them by Irish, the discounts will fail. That’s just one example of the sort of thing that could go wrong.

    Of course you could buy a new billing system (or look at one they use in Scotland). But then you’d lose the integration with the rest of the NIE business. Anything from debt follow up to power grid planning. And have you ever tried to price a multi-million pound billing system?

    So it may sound easy, but it won’t be.

    Years ago, when I was young and enthusiastic (slightly less cynical anyway), I used to think at the start of a new project “how hard can it be?” I’ve learned by hard experience the truth of Hofstaeder’s rule: it always takes longer than you think (and thus costs more) – even when you take Hofstaeder’s rule into account!

    And all the other thinks you’re assuming will be easy? They’ll be hard as well. And expensive.

    Disclaimer: I have never even looked at their billing systems – so it’s probably even harder than I just described.

    Ironically, the CAPTCHA I have to type is “likely”.

  • Disclaimer: I have never even looked at their billing systems – so it’s
    probably even harder than I just described.

    It seems to me that your disclaimer sets the opinion you express at nought. After all if you have never looked at their billing systems, how do you know it isn’t much easier than the admittedly difficult process you described?

    On top of that, it’s worth pointing out that there have been very few complaints – if any at all – about the bilingual billing system offered by public utility companies in Wales/Scotland that these have led to higher costs.

    So my question back to you is this: Why shouldn’t the people of NI be entitled to the same level of service from public utility companies that people in Wales and Scotland, ie other parts of the UK on a par with NI, enjoy? Is it because they’re somehow ‘less’ British and thus less entitled to the entitlements of citizens in other parts of the UK?

  • Steve

    As some one who lives in a bi-lingual country I have some expierience. The costs associated with having bi-lingual services are virtually invisible and they do the country no harm what so ever. There are a surprising number of people who learn to read a little french just from their cereal boxes at breakfast.

    As for the added costs for interpretation, surely if the recruitment policies of the various government levels have been fair then Irish speakers are already in place within the government to provide whatever interpretation may be required

    In fact in a nod to the ever growing Hispanic population of the US, and to a lesser Canada, Many things now come tri-lingual english,french and spanish

    Before you put me down as one of those Quebec nutters I am atleast 1,000 miles west of Quebec and was raised in a completely english only house but on the weekends I here people speaking french as their primary language. I know its their first language because they are speaking it to their little children in public.