Monday, 26 April 2010

Committee of Experts Slams Languages Strategy

The Committee of Experts responsible for assessing the United Kingdom’s implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages has issued its third monitoring report.

Of the many remarks contained therein, it is the matter of linkage between the fates of Irish and Ulster Scots that stands out:

"In the previous evaluation report (paragraph 32), the Committee of Experts observed that inappropriate claims for parity of treatment between Irish and Ulster Scots in a number of instances led to the result that no measures were taken for either language, since it was not practically possible to apply the measures to Ulster Scots. The Committee of Experts encountered similar issues in the current monitoring round, in particular in the general support of the languages. For instance, the opinion was even presented to the Committee of Experts that before any further steps were taken to promote Irish, the Ulster Scots language should be brought to the same position.

The Charter is based on treating each regional or minority language in accordance with its specific situation. The situation of the two languages is quite different, and language measures specifically directed towards each language are needed. That is the only way that both languages can be protected and promoted according to their specific needs.

[…] the authorities mention in their third periodical report that the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, places a statutory duty on the Northern Ireland Executive to adopt a strategy to enhance and protect the Irish Language. So far no strategy has been adopted. However, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) informed the Committee of Experts during the on-the-spot visit about his intentions to bring forward in the near future a single strategy for Irish and Ulster Scots entitled "A Strategy for Indigenous or Regional Minority Languages". During the time of the on-the-spot visit the draft strategy was out for consultation with Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster Scots Agency. The Committee of Experts was informed, through other sources, that the intention of the strategy would be to strive towards parity between the two languages, including an equal amount of funding. If that is the intention, the Committee of Experts is concerned that such a strategy will not serve the needs of either the Irish-speakers or the Ulster Scots-speakers and is likely to hold back the development of both languages […]"

It appears that, far from rejecting such linkages because of their negative effect, the Minister is intent on retaining them — and on reinforcing the confessional associations that serve to justify them, such as by celebrating the opening of an Ulster-Scots centre in an Orange Hall, despite the fact that up to one third of speakers are Catholics or Nationalists.

Agencies, academies and resource centres — but only with an obligatory side-order of sectarian porn.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness

Owen Polley, alias Chekov, has reiterated a more positive Conservative attitude to the Irish language in his strangely titled blog, Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness.

It provides a further indication of fresh thinking in Tory circles and, perhaps, the beginnings of a more equitable approach to the issue. After all, at a community level Irish has more and stronger support than Scottish Gaelic. The difference in Scotland is that supporters and detractors are randomly distributed throughout the population. The language can claim many Scots Unionist enthusiasts, while it is not difficult to find Nationalists who place their emphasis on social or political issues, or who view Scots as the national and Gaelic as a regional tongue. The only logical conclusion as to why Irish is not similarly protected is the Catholicity of its devotees and the prejudiced application of a Unionist veto.

Chekov also finds time to remind us why so many people dislike the Tories:

"Unionists from both mainstream parties have adopted the questionable cause of 'Ulster Scots' in order to compete for a share of minority language funding. Even the Ulster Scots Agency has admitted, in a leaked document, that this guttural patois is 'wrongly [promoted] as a language distinct from Scots'."

As The Blether Region understands matters, the document in question was a submission to a consultation on the proposed Ulster-Scots Academy and was thus always going to be freely available at some point. Regardless of how it first appeared, the Agency must have known that when Jim Millar wrote it. Nor does the fact that Ulster Scots is a dialect of Scots make any difference when it comes to whether — rather than how — it should be promoted, since it is its relationship with English that is at issue. As for the reference to a "guttural patois", we take it that Mr. Polley is referring to the retention of fricatives in traditional Scots. Fricatives are of course also present, and rather more common, in Irish and Russian, which may explain why he has excised that found in what is more properly spelt "Chekhov".

Odd that even an enlightened Conservative has to introduce a note of class prejudice into a debate on culture.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Irish in Education

It has been revealed that more than half of those pupils in the South who are granted an exemption from studying Irish on disability grounds go on to register for another modern language.

Many will see in the news further evidence of the half-hearted and ineffective way in which successive Governments have promoted the language, which also gave us circular 44/2007.

On a related point, one hopes that, should there ever be a single Education Minister for the island, no such exemptions are ever granted on the basis of confession. Like racism, sectarianism becomes a form of child abuse when it is handed down through the generations. Intergenerational transmission of philistinism and ignorance is no different. Arguably it constitutes a disability in itself.

Irish Nationalist attempts to accommodate elements of Unionism that across the Straits of Moyle are regarded as shameful have already given us the tricolour. Rather than the blue of Lowland Scotland, it is the orange of the bigots that finds its place there. And there are no doubt also Irish Nationalists content to allow Unionist enthusiasts to butcher Ulster Scots. Perhaps they even agree that a dead and independent Ulster Scots is better than a living one shared with Scotland. Allowing an opt-out for learning Irish would be absolutely in the same vein.

Within the next few years it is likely that, rather than introduce bilingual signage across Northern Ireland, a dispensation will be given to majority-Nationalist areas to do so while more Unionist areas stay English-only. That will be a mistake. The Irish language is the common property of all and bears with it no political manifesto — yet opposition and half-measures have conspired to project one.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Gàidhlig ann an Glaschu

The Herald reports that Glasgow City Council is to implement a plan to increase use of Scottish Gaelic.

Labour Councillor Aileen Colleran, who represents Partick, an area where many Highland immigrants made their home, makes the following optimistic comments.

"By 2020, the place of Gaelic will be obvious to all. We'll see it around us — in our buildings, on our streets and in our shops — we'll hear it in conversations, in our schools and in the media. Our young people will be speaking it in Buchanan Street without feeling self-conscious and people will recognise the language as Gaelic."

Admirable sentiments, but the final clause indicates just what a low base the language is coming from, with most Lowland Scots as ignorant of it as Northern Ireland Protestants are of Irish — probably more so. Very often in Scotland, Gaelic is viewed as being of regional rather than national importance. And while it does not attract the sort of vitriol suffered by Irish in Northern Ireland, there are still people willing to debate the very desirability of effective promotion.

One such debate is appended to the Herald article, with a pounds-and-pence Gaelic-bashing contribution from Liz Smith, the Conservatives' schools spokeswoman in the Scottish Parliament. And yet the Tories have consistently said that, while Scots is a group of dialects, Gaelic is the true language of Scotland and the only national speech variety meriting Government intervention. It seems that, even now — to paraphrase Abba Eban — the Conservatives never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity with regard to Scotland.

Needless to say, their position is short-sighted, not only culturally but politically, since cultural nationalism is the only alternative to the pre-eminent political nationalism of the Scots. It is political nationalism — the symbolism of institutions rather than language — that has laid the Tories low in the country, and that may, in the medium term, lead to independence.