Saturday, 21 November 2009

Faux-utilitarian Prejudices: Part II

The Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure has blogged on the cost of translating documents into Irish, quoting the President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, Bro McFerran, as saying "We're not anti-Irish or anti-Ulster-Scots — just anti-translation at great expense".

Of course, very few people, even the most hardline Unionists, ever admit to being against Irish, since it would be an illogical prejudice. That is why the recent "leprechaun language" slip on a TUV press release caused the party such embarrassment, demonstrating as it did not only extreme negativity but, some have argued, racism. The general attitude (cynically paraphrased) is: "We're not anti-Irish — just anti-doing anything to keep it alive or facilitate those who wish to use it".

In my blog of 4 November, The Lexicon of Ludd, I pointed out that Caitríona Ruane's recent decision to hire two full-time staff officer translators had drastically reduced the cost of translation per word. It is true that total translation costs for the Department of Education rose, but only because hiring the staff officers was part of a plan to increase the use of translation, as is the Minister's prerogative under the current power-sharing set-up.

This brings me to an interesting point. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure recently established a centralised translation service for the NICS Departments. However, rather than following the Department of Education's sensible example by hiring specialists, DCAL instead initiated a tendering process and appointed an external agency, the aptly named Central Translations (NI) Ltd.

One could argue, of course, that hiring in-house translators would leave DCAL open to exploitation from the other Departments, but there is nothing stopping it from charging 80% or 90% of the commercial rate in an internal market, since it would still turn a profit — money that could be reinvested in the Department's other priorities, linguistic or otherwise.

The truth is, of course, that it is not the costs of translation that are the problem but its symbolism, and I suggest that there lies the reluctance on DCAL's part to bring translations in house. It is well known that most of those charged with the formulation and implementation of policy on minoritised languages in the Department are monoglot speakers of Mid-Ulster English, and Heaven forfend it should ever be otherwise.

Another point can be made regarding Ulster Scots. Regardless of the communicative merit of Irish translations, it can be stated with absolute certainty that there is no native user of Ulster Scots who does not understand the English originals better (usually much better) than the Ullans translations (they would no doubt find them easier if they were sourced from Scotland, where the common literary Scots of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is still nurtured, but according to Mr. McCausland that is a separate language). Nor is there any potential for Ulster-Scots translations to contribute to the maintenance of Scots-speaking workplaces, as can be the case with Irish, since Ullans activists, Mr. McCausland included, habitually speak English to each other.

Oh, and then there's the £12 million for the Ulster-Scots Academy …

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