Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Minister's Language Briefing

On Thursday, 1 July 2010, DCAL Minister Nelson McCausland gave his long-awaited language briefing to the Statutory Committee. From the transcript it is clear that the Minister believes that:

  • there should be resource parity between Irish and Ulster Scots;
  • there should be a single language strategy to promote them (and no language Act for Irish);
  • the strategy should "be grounded in the Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme for Government 2008-2011, which gives effect to the cross-cutting theme of a shared and better future for all, equality, fairness, inclusion and the promotion of good relations";
  • action on Ulster Scots such as the introduction of a GCSE should not be dependent on demand;
  • Ulster Scots is a language separate from Scots — and thus developmental work on it should duplicate (or contradict) work done for Scots in Scotland.
Needless to say, the Blether Region believes the Minister to be wrong on all counts:

  • it is possible to learn the Ulster or any other dialect of Scots by reading literature, perhaps for as little as an hour a week, whereas Irish requires lengthy academic study in English-speaking schools; the most cost-efficient way of doing so is immersion in a Gaelscoil environment. Is the Minister suggesting that the differential should be re-invested elsewhere? And is he aware that much more money could be spent on Ulster Scots at no extra cost to the taxpayer if the Ulster-Scots Agency ceased to redirect funds to "culture"?;
  • the best way to depoliticise the Irish language and protect it from politically motivated attacks is to pass a language Act;
  • the promotion of Irish and Ulster Scots should be based on their individual needs, not on their perceived status as the property of one or other faith community;
  • measures such as introducing a GCSE in Ulster Scots in the absence of demand will fail. Cornish GCSEs have not been available since 1996 because of limited uptake. Far better to start by spending money creating interest in Ulster Scots, which is what the Ulster-Scots Agency is supposed to do. And why should the CCEA shoulder the costs of a political decision to introduce a GCSE?;
  • in comparison with the main Central Scots variety, Ulster Scots is the least, or at most second-least, differentiated dialect. It is the only one that can be — and until the twentieth century commonly was — written with the same orthography. Given the precarious state of the Ulster dialect, not to pursue joint development with Scotland will sound its death-knell.
The Minister was unintentionally funny (and unusually perspicacious) in the following passage:

"For me, parity is an important concept, because I believe in equality. However, equality does not mean that B has to get three apples merely because A gets three apples. Since you are availing yourself of a banana, Chairperson, I will use the banana for my example. It might be that somebody gets three apples and somebody else gets two bananas and an orange."

If "two bananas and an orange" doesn’t describe the Ulster-Scots Agency, I don’t know what does.

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