Sunday, 7 October 2012

Momma Knows Best

The Blether Region has been corresponding with the Switchover Help Scheme, its immediate motivation being the somewhat cheeky one of allowing as many people as possible to read and comment on the translation discussed in the last three posts — which, as readers may have gathered, provides ample scope for the like.

As it stands, the Ulster-Scots translation (and presumably also the Irish) is provided only on request — and they don't tell anyone that they have them, either. When the Blether Region first wrote to the organisation, the Help Scheme was not even aware that it had already commissioned and paid for Ulster-Scots material, and even offered to source something new. Then, a week later, it found that it had one after all and sent it on.

The reason for the confusion is that only the "main" languages in the United Kingdom can be downloaded from the Help Scheme website. This means that no Celtic language is represented among the 13 languages listed (although for some reason their automated acknowledgment e-mails are bilingual in English and Welsh). As a Census question on Scots (which, according to GRO Scotland, has 1.5 million speakers) was added only in 2011, there is no Scots version of the information on the website either.

This is clearly an unsatisfactory situation. The most unsatisfactory aspect of all is that the Switchover Help Scheme — outsourced, as is only logical, to Carillion Energy Services Limited — is blissfully unaware in its metropolitan bubble that it might be doing something wrong. On 5 October it wrote:

"The languages on the help scheme web page are the most commonly spoken languages in the United Kingdom. However as you are aware we do have documentation available in the top ten languages in a particular TV broadcast area.


As I am sure you will appreciate it would be unpractical to list every language or dialect spoken in the United Kingdom therefore we deal with this on an individual basis."
In response, the Blether Region wrote:
"The fact remains that Northern Ireland is the only region still to switch. There are basic issues of proportionality and utility here that seem to have been obscured by an excessively literal approach. You will no doubt have access to statistics on how many queries you are still getting from other regions, as well as statistics on how often some of the languages are still being downloaded. I wouldn't have thought that there would be large concentrations of Turkish- or Arabic-speakers, for example, outside London, where eligible people have not been able to apply for help since 18 May 2012.

If I were you, I would remove the bottom language [...] and replace it with translations that you have commissioned and paid for but about whose existence you told no one. At the very least, I urge you to say that Ulster Scots (and, no doubt, Irish) is available on request. There is space on the Northern Ireland page to do that."
The Help Scheme responded on 7 October:
"I would like to let you know that a great deal of research was put into and a considerable amount of care taken with the information available to customers in Northern Ireland.

At this time, we will not be adding an Ulster Scots options guide to our website. As you found out (sic!), however, this can be given to customers should they request it.

If you are not happy with any of this, we have a complaints process, which I would happily set in motion, if you would like to discuss this matter further.

I would like to add that perhaps you may like to look into the amount of Turkish or Arabic speaking people outside London. There are very large Turkish and Arabic speaking communities in many other areas of the UK."
There you go, then: try to make a reasonable point, and they brand you a racist — a bit rich when it's the Help Scheme itself that could do with a spot of diversity training. 

Of course, there may be a subtext to all this, since broadcasting is among the powers that will be fought over in any "devo max" settlement if Scotland fails to vote in favour of independence in 2014 (in practice, of course, it would be much more likely to be "devo a wee tait mair", and would probably not include broadcasting or corporation tax). Allowing a dedicated website for Northern Ireland, where the top ten list of languages would look very different from that of England, and where there are issues concerning reception of TG4 specific to Irish-speakers, might encourage the blighters.

And that, it seems, Mother London is not prepared to do.

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