Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Linguistic Attitudes

The Belfast Telegraph has an interesting article based on the results of a survey of language attitudes — presumably carried out at the same time as its headline "border poll".

The results of the latter question were, of course, controversial, since they seemed to indicate very low levels of support for Irish unity. As no doubt the more cynical would argue in that context too, the language survey may have encouraged some respondents to give the answer that they judge questioners want to hear, with a healthy 35% supporting translation of official languages into Irish and Ulster Scots as well as English, as opposed to 11% for English and Irish only and 7% for English and Ulster Scots only (Irish only seems not to have been offered but might well have attracted one or two percent). In practice, of course, the bilingual preferences constitute a vote for trilingualism just as much as the official figure, and together they give a total of 53% in favour of linguistic diversity. Take out the 21% of "don't knows", and the proportion in favour rises to just over two-thirds.

One option suggested with regard to Irish unity not on offer in the linguistic diversity survey was "in 20 years". Of course, polls are staged by pollsters rather than language planners, but the latter group might well have felt a delay had some merit: for Irish, in that it may not be an absolute priority at present; and for Ulster Scots for quite different reasons.

It is safe to assume that Ulster-Scots translations are never understood more easily than the English originals, even by native speakers. Often they woefully fail to convey the meaning of the English texts, with which they have a parasitic relationship, since the reader has to consult them to glean the original communicative intention. There is no standard to speak of, but a series of incompatible idiolects, many marked by deliberate obscurantism, sometimes inspired by political considerations and sometimes by naïveté. There is no set political terminology for Ulster Scots akin to that contained in Foclóir Parlaiminte, and no guarantee that any two translators will coin the same term or even draw on material from the same period. In addition, the unfamiliar spelling preferences will often mask errors of translation or common-or-garden linguistic errors.

Another huge concern is the lack of co-operation with Scotland, where most of the speakers and most of the linguistic talent are to be found. To set up the requisite bodies will take time, and the political circumstances that have placed the tiny Ulster dialect centre-stage have yet to be replicated in the much larger language community athort the Sheuch.

So, Scots translations, yes please. Just not now.

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