Thursday, 19 November 2015

Ulster Scots, Hay

Having reason to research something in a dusty old file recently, the Blether Region came across a letter from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Anyone receiving mail from the Department (and not just the recently discussed trilingual kind) will know from its letterheads that the "Ulster-Scots" version of its name nowadays is "Männystrie o Fairms an Kintra Fordèrin".

The letter in the file, however, was from the early years of this century, and boasted a quite different version, "Depairtment o Agricultur an Lannart Oncum".

Now, readers will have their own idea of what the best translation is, and the chances are that it will diverge from both the above. It is the case, however, that the more recent and more common version is inferior on three counts: the employment of diacritics not native to Scots and used in a manner wholly foreign to any widely used language; the reductive equation of "fairms" with "agriculture"; and the use of "Männystrie" for "Department" — not in fact a translation at all but obsolete "Old Stormont" terminology retained by certain age cohorts (more controversially, the same translators have been known to refer to "Northern Ireland" as "Ulstèr").

The older translation, which dates from a time when the Internet was not what it is today, can now hardly be found on the web, and turns up only a few hits even when entered in inverted commas.

Further proof, if such were necessary, that not everything improves over time.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

On Demonisation — and Displacement

Yesterday's Belfast Telegraph has a prominent piece on Newry, Mourne and Down Council's Irish-language strategy, which will see up to £150,000 per annum go on Gaeilge. The DUP have branded it a "ludicrous indulgence" in the current financial climate. It's difficult to say whether the choice of the word "indulgence" was intended as a theological pun, but the Blether Region wouldn't put anything past them uns.

Unlike councils in Great Britain, those in Northern Ireland generally speaking raise their own funds, since many functions discharged at local level elsewhere — housing being a good example — are centralised here. Perhaps the DUP would have better grounds to complain were central government grants intended for quite different purposes being diverted to Irish, but there is no doubt in the current case that it is ratepayers' cash; and neither is there any doubt that, in an overwhelmingly Nationalist area, ratepayers will, by and large, support the move.

The DUP, of course, built its reputation in local government on low taxes in areas such as Castlereagh. Many people of a Conservative bent will instinctively support its view on the services that a council may properly provide. Closer consideration, however, reveals the truth: these services are being provided by some councils and not others because there is no Irish language Act in force to give central direction on the issue. The tight fiscal environment that, as the DUP would have it, should preclude such schemes, may also explain why it is councils rather than Stormont that are taking the initiative. Finally, although the new super-councils were always likely to result in a carve-up and a highlighting of communal rather than local identity, one should not forget the demographic march of time.

So what might the effect of the Bel-Tel's anti-Gaelic campaign be? Well, one of them will be to accelerate the trend that it seeks to decry. Unionists can do little to halt the language's progress in local government, but they will feel emboldened in their refusal to reject any language Bill put before the Assembly.

As for the newspaper itself, this may well be evidence of a change of direction under its new editor, Gail Walker, and a shift to a more avowedly Unionist stance. The newspaper market, like the market for Unionist politics, is a declining one, and Ms Walker's intention may be to gobble up the demographic that keeps the News Letter afloat. As such, it can be taken as a parallel to Unionism: despite long-term decline and a generally accepted need to reach out, consolidation based on taking a hard line is the quicker, and therefore the easier, option.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Minding Our Language

Over the past two weekends Blether Region has been watching Tim McGarry's latest Ulster-Scots documentary mini-series, Minding Our Language. Overall he made a pretty fair fist of it, although, as always with such things, one wishes one had been present in the editing suite to comment on one or two matters, the notion that Ulster Scots is legally a language because the non-justiciable European Charter says so (or doesn't say so, as the case may be) being a case in point.

And was the word wheesht really borrowed from Irish, or was it, like crack, already part of the language at the time of the Plantation? Indeed — again, as with crack — a more fundamental question is whether it is a Goidelic word at all. The fact that it appears in Wycliffe's Bible suggests a variant of "hush", a borrowing into, rather than from, Gaelic. Wycliffe was a Yorkshireman by birth, making a Northumbrian origin likely.

One contributor to the programme memorably described the perplexity of a native Scots-speaker when sent trilingual Single Farm Payment literature. The letter can be found here.

The Irish version is bureaucratic, dry, difficult — and correct. Alas, the same cannot be said for the "Ulster Scots". Those able to understand it with any facility must surely be limited to the wee small circle of USLS luminaries who contributed to the translation.
It recks gyely ’at ye dinnae jalouse ’at ye shud pit in fur tha MEA fur ilka fiel. Tha MEA wad be whut we hae wechtit as tha bouns o yer fiels ’at’s shuitin; ye may see is thar onie ither airts ’at’s no shuitin ’at we haenae jubed oan. Gin ye pit in fur thae airts ‘at’s no shuitin, an we fyn thaim whan we’re leukkin roon, yer hansel wull aply be hinnèrt an, lippenin til tha ootcum o oor spierin, yer ownin wull be laiched an ye micht cud be skaithed.
Indeed, there has traditionally been a good deal of "shuitin" in the countryside — mainly at crows.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Time for a Bilingual PSNI

Recent weeks have seen concern expressed that, in the absence of 50/50 recruitment, the PSNI is gradually, like its predecessor the RUC, becoming dangerously unrepresentative of the population (remembering that, in the target recruitment cohort, it is now Catholics rather than Protestants who predominate).

In the Blether Region's view, opposing 50/50 recruitment, as Justice Minister David Ford has done, is a mistake, and one that betrays a doctrinaire emphasis on what Northern Ireland should be rather than what it is or, more negatively, threatens to become. Put bluntly, 50/50 recruitment is important because it keeps people alive, both within and without the police. It keeps Northern Ireland stable and lets people get on with their daily lives and business.

Yet there is an alternative to recruitment quotas, and one that comes at zero cost to the tax-payer. Last month Police Scotland launched a consultation on the incremental adoption of bilingual branding. Some people will have their doubts at whether such a change could really be achieved without public expense, but a much more ambitious re-branding involving place-names was achieved by ScotRail a few years ago at a cost of thousands rather than tens of thousands.

If Scotland, as seems very likely, finds itself with a bilingually branded police force in a few years' time, Northern Ireland will be the only Celtic part of the UK to be English-only, since Wales and Cornwall (yes, Cornwall) have already taken the bilingual route.

A cost-free re-branding in Northern Ireland could help save lives. It would, as we have seen, make Norn Iron not only more like the south but more like Great Britain. And it might also prove a good way for the Alliance Party to redeem itself from its policy errors.