Thursday, 30 May 2013

Coming to Pass

New, highly local Census figures released this week are reviewed in detail over at Belfast Media. The big story, of course, remains the same: the growth in a relatively younger Catholic population and the decline in a relatively older Protestant one — with religious affiliation still acting as a fairly reliable proxy for political orientation.

What might this mean for Irish and Ulster Scots? Well, growth in the Catholic population will almost certainly mean growth in the number of Irish-speakers. Indeed, even a decline in overt religiosity might not dent it much, since precisely those people of Catholic background who have no time for their erstwhile faith may be inclined to send their children to Gaelscoileanna as another way of expressing their Irishness.

The flip-side of this is that Ulster Scots, with its largely Protestant and therefore ageing population, may be likely to suffer a decline. Yet in the medium term any such decline could easily be halted or reversed by encouraging the quarter to a third of speakers who are Catholic to take pride in the way they talk and by promoting the dialect in a way that native users do not find offensive (in which context the spelling consultation that closed last week will be key).

It's probably not going too far to say that the future of Ulster Scots will be decided in this generation.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign

The DUP's Alastair Ross recently asked DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín for a breakdown of the Department's grants and loans to organisations in his East Antrim constituency — which total roughly a quarter of a million pounds each year. With regard to the two halves of An Foras Teanga, the answer reveals marked differences in both levels of funding and types of recipients.

The first difference is perhaps unsurprising, since Ulster Scots was traditionally spoken over a far more limited area than Irish, with the result that a little more largesse in Antrim might be legitimately expected. However, that imbalance becomes more difficult to support when one examines who the siller is actually going to.

Of the 12 recipients of Ulster-Scots Agency grants, none appears to be an organisation focussing exclusively on language. Three are community organisations, while the rest are either Orange groups or bands. The largest beneficiary by some way is Cairncastle LOL 692 Community and Cultural Group, which got £86,000 from the Agency between 2008/09 and 2011/12. The sole grant administered by the Ministerial Advisory Group (optimistically headed "language" in the DCAL answer) does little to rectify that state of affairs, since the £17,000 in question went to the Andrew Jackson Cottage.

That all stands in stark contrast to Foras na Gaeilge's modest grant of £1,000 to Glór Dhál Riada in each of the financial years 2009/10 and 2010/11.

It is clear that when the Ulster-Scots Agency appeared on the scene in 1999, it was far in advance of actual demand on the ground. Nor have the non-linguist political (in practice, often Loyal Order) appointees of its board done much to create that demand in the meantime.

As such, one could be forgiven for considering the Ulster-Scots language movement to be more of a threat than a reality.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

"They Were Werther's Original"

There is a peculiar dishonesty to the way in which Werther's Original toffees are advertised — and one that few people appear to have picked up on. The 1997 television advertisement that introduced them features an RP-speaking grandfather reminiscing about how they were the first sweets he ever tasted. All well and good, one might say, but unless the auld mannie in question came to England as a child refugee from Hitler, it is difficult to see how that might be true. Indeed, until the 1990s "Werthers Echte", as they are known in German, were not on sale internationally.

The advertising campaign repeated a formula that had worked well in the toffees' home market. Transplanted to the Anglophone world, it lent them an important advantage — that of historicity.

Readers might ask what all this has to do with language. Well, the Blether Region couldn't help thinking of the Werther's Original wheeze when it noticed a sign at the entrance to Clonduff estate off the Castlereagh Road in Belfast (it is not for nothing the author of this blog is called "Scots Anorak"). Clonduff comes from the Irish Cluain Daimh, and the new sign at the entrance to the estate, which features an attractive piece of public art, translates this into Ulster Scots. The fact that it does so as one word, however — "Kyefiel" — has the effect of lending a currency to the name that has no actual basis in the historical record.

This is of course not the first time that such strategies have been adopted. A few years back there was a bilingual job advertisement for a worker in the "Auldkirk" (Shankill) area of Belfast. Indeed, in 1999 a street on the same Clonduff estate, Tullyard Way — from the Irish tulach ard, meaning "high hillside" — was rendered as "Heichbrae Airt". As the Irish News of 18 October of that year waspishly reported:
New street signs erected by Castlereagh council have been ripped down by loyalists who thought they were Irish. The DUP-majority council thought it was backing a cultural winner with the street sign campaign but the bonding brainwave fell like a lead balloon in the loyalist Clonduff estate.
The sign was later reinstated and is still there today.

The Blether Region is unaware of anything like this happening in Scotland. There are of course more vernacular versions of Goidelic-origin place-names (Glesca, Embra an so on), and on rare occasions these may even have a certain official currency, but no actual attempts to provide calques.

Presumably this is another example of Scots in Ulster taking routes unimaginable in the leed's homeland, a symptom of its orra sectarian dynamic. However, boundlessly curious as it is, if it gets people thinking about Scots — and Irish — it may not be an entirely bad thing.