Friday, 5 June 2015

Larking Around

It is a fact that the Nazis used the German language to promote industrial murder. They idolised the philologists and folktale-collectors Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, tried to ban foreign words and replace them with German ones (such as Blattleiter for the French-derived Redakteur), and included works by eighteenth-century men of letters in the same school textbooks, printed in Fraktur, that taught children they were individually unimportant vessels for their shared Germanic blood. Indeed, in Jena towards the end of the war, staring defeat in the face, they even seriously contemplated blowing up the remains of Goethe and Schiller to prevent them falling into allied hands — as "trophies", obviously.

Small wonder, then, that the German language is universally detested as a symbol of racism and thuggery, with English-speaking politicians routinely calling for it to be banned and decrying its speakers as hereditary terrorists.

Only that's not actually true. British and Irish schoolchildren still learn German, a valuable language for both art and commerce. Indeed, in the form of Yiddish, German is even a growing language among the Orthodox Jews whom the Germans came close to wiping out, some of whom reject the use of Hebrew as an everyday means of communication for theological reasons.

But all this seems to have been lost on one Northern Ireland politician, the professional Ulster-Scot Nelson McCausland, who has yet another diatribe against Irish in the Belfast Telegraph. Bizarrely, the Tele strapline calls McCausland a Minister, something that hasn't actually been true since September 2014, and strangely fitting for the fantasy-football article. Mr. McCausland, it should be remembered, was removed from ministerial office by his own party after being accused of having misled a Stormont Committee. As ever in Northern Ireland, however, such misdemeanours can be overlooked, just as long as one can get the boot into the other side.

One of the revelations collected by Mr. McCausland is that Scoil na Fuiseoige in Twinbrook is named after Bobby Sands, whose family moved there after being put out of Rathcoole — the experience that radicalised him — and who apparently used An Fhuiseog as a pseudonym (though he was better known by his sister's name of "Marcella"). While that of course does little to promote Irish as a language for all, it's hardly the most in-your-face Republican reference either. Indeed, if the Blether Region were being cheeky, it might suggest that naming a school after James Orr would be more obvious.

The article is depressing, not merely because it rehearses the same tired prejudices but because it underlines, yet again, that Nelson McCausland can have no genuine interest whatsoever in secular culture, the field in which he made his administrative, and later political, career.

But that will cause him no difficulty, since Nelson's supporters, like the man himself, clearly have their priorities upside-down. Rather than form their own Loyalist Irish-speaking schools, or even promote a genuine, unweaponised form of Ulster Scots, they simply attack Irish, since in their world-view politics will always come before culture, and the latter is of value only to the extent that it reinforces the former.

The piece ends by latching onto news of the latest decline in Irish in the Gaeltacht, a tidbit no doubt passed on with a rictus grin of Nelsonian Schadenfreude.

Oh dear, the Blether Region just used a German word.

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