Monday, 19 January 2015

The Views of a Beginner

Brian Walker has a post over at Slugger O'Toole on the proposed Irish language Bill that must count as one of the most distinctly ill-informed ever published there. Not only are the author's conclusions thoroughly skew-whiff, he appears not to have done some basic research.

Take, for example, this:
"The political cases for the Celtic languages in all four jurisdictions of these islands reached a dead end long ago."
From that the Blether Region infers that Mr. Walker is contending that the promotion of the languages in question has been hobbled by an unnecessary and self-limiting association with political Nationalism. That is a valid view. Yet in the case of Scotland, any association with Nationalism is pretty much non-existent, and Gaelic enjoys cross-party support (as, to a large extent, does Welsh in Wales, which has trousered many victories over the years). Indeed, the Blether Region often wishes that Scottish Gaelic were more "Nationalist", since it would probably be doing rather better.

Even Mr. Walker's arithmetic is out. The Celtic languages in the various "jurisdictions of these islands" would have to include Irish in the Republic, Irish in the North, Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, Welsh in Wales, Cornish in "England", and Manx Gaelic on the Isle of Man. That's six jurisdictions.

And it goes on.
"Is it not obvious that furthering the use of Irish in the courts and official documents can conflict with the Charter’s 'overriding purpose' which is cultural?"
No, Mr. Walker, it ain't. The purpose is of course cultural, but the motto is "use it or lose it", and that means creating rights in various domains in order to encourage folk to speak their language. In that regard, yours are the views of a beginner. It is also not immediately apparent how someone who had actually read the Charter's provisions could postulate such a contradiction.
"I note that in the Republic, while Irish was dropped as a qualification for wider public service decades ago, it remains a university qualification for admission. Despite this according to the 2011 census 94,000 people reported using Irish as a daily language outside of the education system, and 1.3 million reported using it at least occasionally in or out of school – slightly up on the census of 2006."
That is a perversion of the truth, as the following, from the website of the University of Limerick, demonstrates.
"Irish is not part of the minimum requirements. The language requirement is 'Irish or another language and English'. Therefore Irish may be used to satisfy the second language requirement instead of French/German/Spanish etc."
It is clear from the above that there is no special requirement to have Irish; rather, a qualification in Irish is quite rightly recognised on the same terms as one in modern foreign languages of the Germanic and Romance families — which, for English-speakers, are actually a sight less difficult to learn.
"In Scotland where Gaelic has competition as an indigenous language, only 58,000 people identify themselves as Gaelic speakers.  The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act of 2005 established the Gaelic development body, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, (BnG),  to secure 'the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language and to promote the use and understanding of Gaelic.'.
Who really believes these pieties will produce the desired results?"
Well, those who actually pay attention to such things know that the last Census found that the ongoing decline in the numbers of Gaelic-speakers in Scotland had pretty much been stemmed. Barring an outbreak of Ebola on North Uist, we can also be absolutely sure that the next Census, if there is one, will show an increase in speaker numbers because of younger people passing through the rapidly expanding Gaelic-medium education sector. That's not to say that all is rosy and that Gaelic is not still declining as a community language in many areas, but as far as speaker numbers go, which is Mr. Walker's chosen statistic, he is simply wrong.

And what would happen if there were no state promotion of minoritised languages in case it offended Unionists (which in Scotland it doesn't)? Well, some commentators have argued that in Northern Ireland some of those Unionists might eventually re-discover an interest in Irish — at which point they would presumably call for state promotion.
"Just about the worst way to encourage the use of Irish is to try to make it a compulsory choice in official documents."
The Blether Region's mind was thoroughly boggled at the oxymoronic concept of a "compulsory choice", which may say more about Mr. Walker's attitudes than it does about promoting Irish. Depending on the state of play, there may of course be better ways towards the desired end, but it is a fact that translated documents do help minority languages. How could they possibly not?

From Mr. Walker's piece, the Blether Region concludes that a) the author thinks it's acceptable to mouth off about Celtic languages without researching the subject properly because, ah well, it's all political anyway and b) he has not bothered to ask, and may not actually have, a suitably qualified (Nationalist?) friend to read over his dippy pronouncements before publication.


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