Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Scholar of Bigotry

Former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott has complained about an Irish-language primary being moved out of portakabins and into a disused building formerly occupied by a controlled secondary school.

His territorially tinged reasoning has been roundly criticised by Chris Donnelly at Slugger O'Toole, who points out that he has failed even to consider that the sustainability criteria might be different for primary and post-primary schools.

The intervention will also hardly go down well with current UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who recently called for Unionists to tone down their attacks on Irish culture.

More worryingly, Elliott's non-arguments have been taken up in an editorial by the ever more stridently Unionist Belfast Telegraph, which headlines its opinion piece with a plea to "hear the reasoning" behind the Education Minister's decision to merge one school and move another into its building.

The odd thing here is that the headline suggests the newspaper may not have bothered trying to find out before going to print.

Not to take into account that one school is a primary is, well, an "elementary" error.

Monday, 7 December 2015

The Irish Do Not Know What Nationalism Is

The Blether Region caught a few snippets of Ireland with Simon Reeve the other week, an experience that led to something of an epiphany. It is clear that the Irish do not know what nationalism is, with a fair chunk of the population believing that rejecting nationalism is rejecting a) political violence (a recessive tactic rather than an ideology) or b) an overweening Catholic Church (although, ironically enough, that ain't what it once was either). Nor was the feeling limited to zany liberal revisionists such as the man who said that Ireland must become "pan-global", since an equally zany person working for a conservative Catholic radio station also opined that rejecting Catholicism meant rejecting one's "identity".

The number of Catholics in the world, by the way, is estimated at 1.2 billion.

The real loser from this mush of confusion is Irish. Indeed, an acquaintance of the Blether Region hailing from the South but living in the North even stated that he supported the promotion of the language, although he did not like nationalism (which in his case was likely to mean violence). This, although promoting Irish is surely an example of — peaceful and constitutional — nationalism, and the person in question presumably did not think that his part of Ireland should be subsumed back into the United Kingdom.

For its part, the Blether Region is inclined to view nationalism as the foundation of representative government, the engine of democratic revolution in 1848 and after, and the basic bond that inclines us to accept the result of a lost election. It is a misconstruction to believe that this necessarily involves ethnic purity; Abraham Lincoln's policies against the supposed right of US states to maintain and expand the immoral system of slavery were also known as "nationalism" in their day. E pluribus unum and all that. Scotland, which, contrary to what many Irish Nationalists would like to believe, has two major and one minor surviving ethnicities, is an Old World example of a national identity built on citizenship. Indeed, it is for just that reason that Scotland is far more likely to become independent than, say, Wales.

Evidence of how the kind of voluptuous self-doubt described above is killing Irish is furnished by the Irish Times in an article entitled "Death knell tolling for Irish as community language", which predicts that, within 10 years, there may be no Irish-speaking communities left. The culprit, in the view of Professor Brian Ó Curnáin, is "an 'ignoriat', reflected in elements of academia, the media, State administration and politics, which ignores a 'series of detailed and high-quality research' showing evidence of the death of the language in the Gaeltacht." In journalism the basic form of such misinformation is articles by click-bait polemicists making one of two false claims: a) that Irish has survived thus far and will thus doubtless do so in future; or b) that it is already too late to save the language.

The message that friends of linguistic diversity, and, dare I say it, of nationalism, need to spread is that nothing, good or bad, is inevitable. In the case of Irish, the future lies in our hands.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Lost an Fund

There was an interesting article in the Guardian last month about whether the Glasgow dialect was being eroded owing to the influence of television and modern life.  As with all such popular expositions of detailed academic research, in this case that of Jane Stuart-Smith, it runs the risk of raising more questions than it answers.

However, one of the key points seems to be that the partial loss of rhoticity in Glaswegian is, far from a new development, a remarkably old — and therefore rather stable — feature of the dialect.  The main contributor is the emergence of a pharyngealised /r/, presumably owing to glottalisation of a preceding /t/, although another, even older feature is assimilation of /r/ in words such as "further". Such assimilation is also recorded in Ulster (Robinson's 1997 grammar lists the form thie for "three"). According to Stuart-Smith, there is even partial loss of rhoticity in a 1916 Wilhelm Doegen recording of a Scots POW

Of course, those familiar with Duncan Macrae reciting "The Wee Cock Sparra" ("tho he wasne his farra") might have been somewhat sceptical of the hypothesis about a sudden erosion of Glaswegian rhoticity in the first place. Why it has not led to a much more thoroughgoing loss is anyone's guess, but it may be to do with the fact that the phenomenon only happens in one of the (linked) registers available to residents of the city.

A much more dramatic erosion, however, is mentioned only obliquely, as if it were understandably of lesser interest.
"You can hear how he uses lots of Scots vocabulary, but if you listen very carefully, you will also hear that he has almost no "r" sounds in some words like "father"."
Clicking the link reveals a recording of the story of the Prodigal Son, read fluently in traditional Scots (the word turns out to be "faither").  A note on the speaker states: "His mother tongue is Scottish, views his learning of English as an 'additional language'." The Blether Region is unsure which version is being read; it is not William Wye Smith. It may be a Bonaparte translation, or the speaker's own.

One wonders how many Glasgow people would be able to reproduce the Doegen recording today. Certainly not all.