Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Something Missing?




















John Dallat of the SDLP has asked an interesting question of the Assembly Commission, "how many times Ulster-Scots was spoken in Assembly plenary sessions over the last twelve months; and to detail the cost of translation for this period."

The Blether Region may be mistaken, but there seems to be have been very little use of Ulster Scots at all in the Assembly since the departure of the redoubtable Jim Shannon for the Mother of Parliaments in mid-2010. Like the simultaneous translation facility for Irish, that for the Ulster variety of Scots is available only to the Speaker and the Clerk. However, unlike Irish, Ulster Scots has probably never been used in the Assembly to an extent that would justify the service, even when both Mr. Shannon and Ian Adamson were Members. Moreover, long before Mr. Shannon's departure, he had abandoned maximally differentiated New Ulster Scots in favour of thin dialect arguably requiring no translation at all.

The service was originally introduced after Ian Paisley Jr., another MLA who has now opted for Westminster, asked then Speaker Lord Alderdice if it might not be discriminatory to have interpretation for Irish but not for Ulster Scots. As ordinary MLAs never got to hear the Irish translation anyway, the merit of Mr. Paisley's argument may have been somewhat moot. Be that as it may, the uncomfortable truth is that having someone on standby for Ulster-Scots simultaneous translation may actually cost more than providing the real existierender service for Irish, since Ulster-Scots translators are not salaried employees but feed consultants working for a generous daily rate.

MSPs in Scotland are required to give prior notice when they use Gaelic to enable the Parliament to arrange simultaneous translation. If there is no Gaelic, no translator is needed, and there is no cost. That stands in marked contrast to the practice of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which pays for full-time simultaneous translation for two varieties but does not let Members listen to the English version of either.

What would the best system for Stormont be? There is no doubt that knowledge of Irish is proportionately much more widespread than knowledge of Gaelic in Scotland, and it would therefore be sensible to retain simultaneous translation for it, which should of course be extended to ordinary Members.

The case of Ulster Scots is less clear. When Scots is used at Holyrood, simultaneous translation is considered unnecessary, and the original Scots text of the speech is incorporated into the Official Report. How to treat Scots is of course an inherently political question, and there is no reason not to have oral and written translation where there is sufficient political demand. Whether it is a sensible use of public resources to have someone on standby all the time is another matter, however, and one that the Assembly has perhaps waited too long to address.

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