Thursday, 29 September 2016

Of Ginger Mutts and Nuts

The attacks on Paul Kavanagh, aka Wee Ginger Dug, for having the temerity to produce a Gaelic-language map of Glasgow raise serious questions about Scotland's relationship with linguistic culture. Many of those attacks were founded on specious or "straw man" arguments, such as the claim that Gaelic would somehow be foisted on the unwilling, or that bilingual signage costs substantially more than its monolingual counterpart (it disnae). Above all, they serve to confirm that perhaps Lowland Scots aren't so different from their Loyalist cousins in Northern Ireland: if it suits the interests of (Unionist) politics, it seems, it's acceptable to attack the languages of your ancestors.

As if to prove the utter disregard and ignorance of many Scots for matters linguistic, the Herald today chose to illustrate an article about Lowland Scots with a picture of two children reading Gaelic books.

The key argument of the piece is that, with the world getting smaller owing to the rise of the Internet, many Scots elements retained in colloquial speech may die out. That is of course possible, but on the other hand social media offer just the sort of informal fora in which Scots, or at least renderings of working-class Scots' speech, might thrive; Swiss German has also recently made its way into new domains. Indeed, the point has already been made by many observers that such fora allow alternative political narratives to thrive too (the BBC, particularly around charter renewal time, allows neither).

Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph reports that a national museum of languages is coming to British high streets. When one reads on, however, it transpires that the museum is a "pop-up" centred on the University of Cambridge, with "regional" centres in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Nottingham. If Scots and Gaelic really are to avoid ending in the museum, it seems that we may have some way to go.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Iggy Pap

Newton Emerson is off in a flap about bilingual signs, and, of all places, in the Irish News, which must be bitterly regretting contracting out its column inches to this "liberal Unionist". Indeed, he seems on this occasion to have forgotten to include any jokes, too — unless, of course, they are of the gasp-inducingly unintentional variety. Apart from making a false comparison of bilingual signage with "Welcome to Northern Ireland" placards marking the border, he actually uses the expression "bog-standard" to describe their "ethnic territorial marking". That one's sure to go down well with the Paddies.

But why show any tolerance of diversity when you can retrospectively legitimise criminal acts as giving the two fingers to Republicans? "It is hard to sympathise with Sinn Féin councillors on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council as bilingual signs are defaced in unionist-majority towns and villages," he writes, paying scant attention to the fact that such signs can be vandalised anywhere by roving teams of obsessives. "We can spare ourselves the sophistry that accompanies language 'debates' in Northern Ireland, such as how Irish belongs to everyone (except Gregory Campbell) or how most of our place-names are in Irish already (so why have bilingual signs?)," he continues — apparently oblivious to the fact that he has just made an argument for getting rid of the garbled and meaningless English versions.

This is surely a man whose ignorance knows no bounds, writing as he does that we think of incredibly diverse France as "solidly monolingual" (one suspects that the qualification about what "we" apparently think may have been smuggled in by the sub-editor). Even his attempts at compromise are weird, as he suggests that "The 'national minority' concept may offer a way around this. It is acceptable under the charter to take 'special measures' in favour of a minority, without this counting as discrimination against the majority."

No, Newton, no one is discriminated against by the existence of a bilingual sign. The clue is in the name. They may feel politically aggrieved by being reminded that their closest neighbours are not clones of themselves, but as long as the English remains, they are merely enriched.

As, presumably, is Newton himself, getting paid for this old rope.

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As an aside, the Blether Region noticed yesterday that the bilingual English / Ulster-Scots signs that previously welcomed visitors to the Ards Borough Council area have been replaced by monolingual ones since its merger with North Down. However, as "Fair Fa' Ye" does not mean "welcome", its sadness was held in reasonable bounds.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Closed Books

The Belfast Telegraph has an interesting article on how "British" or "Irish" people are according to a DNA study. Eyebrows will be raised at the way "British" has been defined as "Anglo-Saxon" — both in Wales, home of the actual Britons, and in Scotland, where, owing to the limitations of the method, native Gaels are presumably being classed as "Irish", a conflation last flung at them as a Lowlander's term of abuse in the eighteenth century.

If that is the case, one of the findings must be that Scotland, prior to mass Irish immigration in the nineteenth century, was almost equally Anglic and Gaelic (if the utopian plans voiced in some quarters for a post-Brexit union of Scotland and Ireland are ever to come to pass, those mooting them might be well advised to drop the term "Celtic"). Regrettably, no markers of Pictish or Welsh ancestry seem to have been followed up (in the case of Wales, the derived statistics must therefore be of doubtful value).

No figures are offered regarding the make-up of those in southern Ireland, but it would be unsurprising if the "British" constituent were really quite large. Indeed, some people already quote statistics about how those with British (or Norman) surnames are, ironically enough, more likely to support Fine Gael.

Of course, perhaps the most fruitful conclusion that we can draw from the study is that we're all Jock Tamson's bairns and all a mixtur-maxtur (we kind of knew that anyway). The best way that we can celebrate that hidden diversity is to fight racism and support our languages.