Monday, 5 December 2011

And to you!

UTV reports on the ructions at Belfast City Hall over an Irish-language sign reading "Nollaig Shona Duit", or "Merry Christmas to You".

In this instance, it is probably difficult to divorce Unionists' extreme reaction from the previous week's heated row over the Lord Mayor's reluctance to present a Duke of Edinburgh award to a teenage Army cadet. The Blether Region would have had no problem with the cadet, but might well have balked at appearing to endorse the unproductive xenophobe in whose honour the award was named.

Be that as it may, statements by one councillor, the UUP's David Browne, merit comment:

"I look at the language in the same way as I look at Ulster Scots. It's a foreign language as such like French, German or whatever and if people want to learn how to speak it or want to practice [sic] it — they should pay for it."

In fact, the sign was donated by the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road and represents zero outlay for city ratepayers. Irish-language campaigners have been assiduous in addressing arguments against public use of Irish — something also seen, for example, in the now-shelved plans to have bilingual road signs only in areas where a majority of people support them. The result has of course been to make those who continue to oppose such initiatives look even more unreasonable.

The councillor's comments on Ulster Scots are interesting. Notwithstanding the fact that many people have a genuine interest in the dialect, as a political tool part of its attraction has been its potential to block progress for Irish. Now, it seems, Scots is a "foreign language" — and those many Unionists in County Antrim and elsewhere who speak it presumably foreigners.

UTV further reports that Councillor Browne also termed Irish "gobbledegook". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word refers to "official, professional, or pretentious verbiage or jargon". Was this a wry comment on the public sector's relationship with Ireland's Celtic tongue? Probably not: it is much more likely that what he meant to say was "gibberish".

The Blether Region has complete understanding for Councillor Browne's wish to concentrate on the lingua franca before attempting Irish or Scots, but need he really enforce that on the rest of us?

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