Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Ulster Scots: a Great Source of Oaths

The Blether Region has been researching an ongoing Twitter spat between Nicola Sturgeon and Cathy Newman, who incorrectly claimed that the Scots First Minister's opting to make an affirmation rather than swear allegiance to the monarch was a mark of republican sentiment (it is in fact a mark of secularism; there is no "republican" option in the Scottish Parliament). While doing so, it happened across this article in the News Letter, which carries the Ulster-Scots version of the oath sworn by Strangford MP Jim Shannon, who was of course previously among the most prodigious users of the dialect in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
"A sweer bi AAMICHTIE GOD that A wull aye houl a richt leal an faithfu hairt tae HIR MAJESTIE QUEEN ELSBETH, an Hir Line o Heirskip, anent tha Laa. Micht GOD be ma halp an stay."

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Sound Familiar?

"One way in which a language becomes dead is that people simply stop speaking it: some other language spreads over the area where it is spoken, and it dies without issue. This is what happened, it seems, to Sumerian: round about 1500 BC, the Sumerian language disappeared from everyday use (though it continued to be used as a liturgical language for another thousand years). The people who spoke it must have changed over to some other language, presumably Akkadian, and the reason for that change was simply that they were conquered by peoples who spoke Akkadian, which became the general currency of the area. Sumerian may have been spoken for a long time as a minority language, but Sumerian speakers would need to speak Akkadian as well, and literature and official transactions would be in Akkadian. Anybody who wanted to get on in the world would have to speak Akkadian, but no native Akkadian speaker would have any incentive to learn Sumerian. If there were intermarriages, the children would tend to speak Akkadian. In such circumstances, the number of speakers of Sumerian would gradually shrink, until finally the language disappeared."
— Charles Barber, The Flux of Language, 1964.

Changed Times

The new Fermanagh and Omagh District Council is to have bilingual English-Irish signage at all council facilities, save two where signage will be trilingual, reports the Ulster Herald.

The area covered by the council is the size of a county — indeed, larger, since it takes in the entirety of Fermanagh and a fair chunk of Tyrone.

Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph reported on a dispute concerning the use of languages in the new bilingual logo to be adopted by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council — a first, since it concerned not the practice of bilingualism but the order of the languages, a sign of increasing Nationalist cultural confidence or a lack of concern for community relations, depending on one's interpretation.
"SDLP and Sinn Fein are also backing plans to implement the policy throughout Northern Ireland. It could see three new nationalist super councils - Fermanagh and Omagh, Derry and Strabane, and Mid Ulster - adopting the same policy for their logo for corporate stationary and vehicles."
Geographically, the council areas cover approximately half of Northern Ireland — but much less in population terms.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Mean Scribes

The BBC reports that Creative Scotland has launched a new role for a "Scots scriever", a writer in residence expected to produce original work over a two-year period. The use of "scriever" as a direct equivalent of English "writer" of course typifies a tendency in contemporary Scots writing to go for difference over accuracy.  For all the term's similarity to more or less neutral words in other Germanic languages, the DSL confirms that not to be the case in Scots.
I. v. 1. To write, esp. to write easily and copiously (Sh. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XII. 193; Ayr. 1880 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 341; Sh., Abd., Kcd., Ags., Per., Edb. 1969). Vbl.n. scri(e)ving. Agent n. scriever, skriever, a writer, used somewhat contemptuously, a scribbler, “a mean scribe” (Lth. 1825 Jam.). 
This is of course but the beginning of what one hopes will turn out to be an overarching and carefully planned Government policy on the language, showing parity of esteem, though not equality of action, with Scottish Gaelic.

In that regard, it is disappointing to read the following:
"The Scots Scriever will be expected to produce work in all the variants and dialects of Scots [...]"
It would of course be perfectly possible for a speaker of Doric to produce work in Central Scots, which after all is the language of most literature, and if one can produce work in Central Scots, Southern and in particular Ulster Scots surely don't present an insuperable challenge. But would that same writer be capable of producing work in Insular varieties? If so, he or she would be a great linguist.

However, these points are minor. The day is one of celebration and hope.

Larking Around

It is a fact that the Nazis used the German language to promote industrial murder. They idolised the philologists and folktale-collectors Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, tried to ban foreign words and replace them with German ones (such as Blattleiter for the French-derived Redakteur), and included works by eighteenth-century men of letters in the same school textbooks, printed in Fraktur, that taught children they were individually unimportant vessels for their shared Germanic blood. Indeed, in Jena towards the end of the war, staring defeat in the face, they even seriously contemplated blowing up the remains of Goethe and Schiller to prevent them falling into allied hands — as "trophies", obviously.

Small wonder, then, that the German language is universally detested as a symbol of racism and thuggery, with English-speaking politicians routinely calling for it to be banned and decrying its speakers as hereditary terrorists.

Only that's not actually true. British and Irish schoolchildren still learn German, a valuable language for both art and commerce. Indeed, in the form of Yiddish, German is even a growing language among the Orthodox Jews whom the Germans came close to wiping out, some of whom reject the use of Hebrew as an everyday means of communication for theological reasons.

But all this seems to have been lost on one Northern Ireland politician, the professional Ulster-Scot Nelson McCausland, who has yet another diatribe against Irish in the Belfast Telegraph. Bizarrely, the Tele strapline calls McCausland a Minister, something that hasn't actually been true since September 2014, and strangely fitting for the fantasy-football article. Mr. McCausland, it should be remembered, was removed from ministerial office by his own party after being accused of having misled a Stormont Committee. As ever in Northern Ireland, however, such misdemeanours can be overlooked, just as long as one can get the boot into the other side.

One of the revelations collected by Mr. McCausland is that Scoil na Fuiseoige in Twinbrook is named after Bobby Sands, whose family moved there after being put out of Rathcoole — the experience that radicalised him — and who apparently used An Fhuiseog as a pseudonym (though he was better known by his sister's name of "Marcella"). While that of course does little to promote Irish as a language for all, it's hardly the most in-your-face Republican reference either. Indeed, if the Blether Region were being cheeky, it might suggest that naming a school after James Orr would be more obvious.

The article is depressing, not merely because it rehearses the same tired prejudices but because it underlines, yet again, that Nelson McCausland can have no genuine interest whatsoever in secular culture, the field in which he made his administrative, and later political, career.

But that will cause him no difficulty, since Nelson's supporters, like the man himself, clearly have their priorities upside-down. Rather than form their own Loyalist Irish-speaking schools, or even promote a genuine, unweaponised form of Ulster Scots, they simply attack Irish, since in their world-view politics will always come before culture, and the latter is of value only to the extent that it reinforces the former.

The piece ends by latching onto news of the latest decline in Irish in the Gaeltacht, a tidbit no doubt passed on with a rictus grin of Nelsonian Schadenfreude.

Oh dear, the Blether Region just used a German word.