Monday, June 11, 2007

Mind your language

Language popped its head up in a couple of interesting news items recently. On the one hand we had an "Irish Language" march in Belfast calling for legislation to protect it and give it status. On the other, we have Unionist bloke Willie Hay insisting on speaking "Ulster-Scots" in the Assembly.

I have a couple of issues with all this.

First off, it's "Irish Gaelic", "Gaelic" or "Gaelige", not the "Irish Language". I thank you. Thousands of Irish people were speaking Pictish (sometimes called Cruthin), a "P-Gaelic" language akin to Welsh, Breton and Cornish) long before the Gaels invaded Ireland. It was the Gaels' political, military and economic superiority which ensured Irish Gaelic became the dominant grassroots lingua franca before the English got here. But the "Irish language" it's not.

As a Protestant I didn't get the opportunity to learn Irish Gaelic at school, and I regret that because it cuts me off from a large part of the common Irish heritage. I'm working on it.

Secondly, Ulster-Scots is not a language. God bless us. At best it's a dialect of English, at worst it's bad pronunciation. I nearly fell over when the new Waterways Ireland boards went up along the lough shore in Enniskillen sporting their text in English, Irish Gaelic and "Ulster-Scots", to wit:

Waterways Ireland
Uiscebhealaí Éireann
(wait for it ...)
Watterweys Airlann.

That's just some bloke from Ahoghill taking the piss.

In truth Ulster-Scots is, like Flemish or Swiss-German, simply a regional dialect of the language used by a large neighbour. It doesn't compare with Irish Gaelic for uniqueness or cultural richness. It may seem like "language lite" for people who see Irish Gaelic exclusively as a medium for anti-British hatred, but that's changing. It's time we took the politics out of language. It'd sure save space on valuable notice boards.


At 1:17 p.m., Anonymous bemused said...

there's also Scots Gaelic.
surely the Unionists should be using that?

At 4:37 p.m., Anonymous beano said...

I can't understand why they'd be "using" anything but English. Without exception they know and understand it, as does the person they're talking to.

Cultural demonstrations and recreation is one thing, but if the purpose of a sign is to communicate then it only needs to be in English (and, depending where it is, maybe Mandarin or Polish too). Job done.

In England they're starting to realise that printing things in squillions of languages proves a disincntive for migrants to integrate. OK, we're not talking about migrants here but division is division. People are attempting to use both Irish Gaelic and Ulster-Scots are for that same purpose.

It's a simple solution. Government communicates in English (and maybe other languages spoken by large numbers of monoglots) meanwhile private individuals (and businesses) are free to speak in English, Gaelic, or Scots (or Klingon, should they wish) in their own time with friends and family (or customers).

At 3:42 p.m., Blogger RG said...

Good original post except that evidence now seems to suggest that Gaelic people did not 'invade' Ireland but rather relatively small groups influenced the the population's culture. Indeed we cannot be sure what kind of P-Celtic was spoken here before Gaelic as more or less no evidence survives. It is also likely that a language similar to Basque was spoken in Ireland and Britain before Indo-European tongues arrived.

Great to hear also that you intend to learn an Ghaeilge - ádh mór ort/good luck!

Anyway, yes Beano, the purpose of signs is to communicate, but not just to English speakers but Gaelic speakers as well. Thousands of people across the North use Irish as their primary means of communication and in some areas over 20% of the local community speak Irish. Surely these people, many of them children, have the right to signage and services in their native tongue?

Wales and Scotland recognise their indigenous languages, why not here?

At 3:32 p.m., Blogger Colm said...

Interesting post but two points:

1) If we shouldn't call Gaeilge "the Irish language" we shouldn't call Français "the French language" or Deutsch "the German language". After all, all peoples in Europe spoke a non-Indo-European (IE) language before the Indo-Europeans came and drastically changed the lingusitic make-up of the continent which Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and Basque some of the last surviving non-IE languages.

2) Ulster Scots has as much right to be recognised as the next language. Ulster Scots is a dialect of Scots which is a sister language of English, not a daughter. As they say: "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy"! :-)
Anyway, nice blog you have here.

Go n-éirí led' staidéar Gaeilge!

At 2:06 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are all happy chiefs.


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