Monday, 18 January 2010

The Hamely Tongue – Cultúr Ceilte

This Wednesday, 20 January at 9.30 p.m., TG4 shows The Hamely Tongue – Cultúr Ceilte (Hidden Culture).

With a full hour available for the topic, an Irish-language — and thus linguistically aware — perspective, and no noisy Northern Ireland lobbyists to placate, this is a high-quality programme, and one that the BBC perhaps should have made some time ago.

Although it obviously benefits from the absence of extreme claims regarding the local dialect, its fundamental virtue is that its presenter, Séamus Mac Aindreasa, treats his subjects with respect, whether it be the respect due to expertise, age or an experience to which he can relate. By aiming for balance (the programme was part-funded by the Ulster-Scots Agency) he achieves something approaching objectivity.

Ironically, the programme's avoidance of tribal invective may unsettle those on both sides more used to the certainties of their established position.

Difficult issues are, admittedly, sidestepped. One interviewee, minority-language expert Dónall Ó Riagáin, quite reasonably declares that the linguistic status of Ulster Scots as a form of Scots is not in doubt, yet the truth is that progress in disseminating the leid has been subject to considerable delay because of political claims to the contrary.

The role of members of the Orange Order, from the DCAL Minister downwards, in hatching and perpetuating the myth of languageness escapes examination. Neither does the programme analyse the organisation's appropriation of Ulster Scots, both as a casually exploited mitigator of its widely perceived extremism and as a route to public funding, employment or patronage.

It would also have been useful to have a Scottish voice to provide a wider perspective on what is, after all, only a very small part of the Scots language.

Yet these are minor complaints regarding what is a fascinating and timely programme for which the programme-makers deserve our thanks. Those in the North without Sky or NTL can watch it as a live feed here.

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