The people of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man are united by one thing above all others: the indigenous languages they share in common. The Gaelic tongues, Irish, Scottish and Manx, are not just national, they are international. And so is the world-view of those who speak or support them. From the Irish Times the words of the new Language Commissioner, Rónán Ó Domhnaill:
“The thousands of Irish speakers who marched in Dublin last month for their rights weren’t looking for any special treatment.
The rights of Irish speakers are recognised in article eight of the Constitution and in the Official Languages Act 2003, while the rights of linguistic minorities are provided for in a number of important international documents including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Unesco’s Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights.
Increasingly, it is accepted that the rights of linguistic minorities are basic human rights.
The provision of language rights helps make the fight for the survival of a vulnerable or endangered language that little bit fairer, as languages often live or die depending on their perceived status and the level of prestige they are accorded.
These demands are being made by parents struggling against the odds to pass a 2,000-year-old language onto their children in order to preserve what is an important part of both our cultural identity and global linguistic diversity.
Is it too much to ask that children in the Gaeltacht should enjoy the right to basic services, such as healthcare, in their first language, which also happens to be the first official language of the State, according to the Constitution?
By indulging in empty rhetoric about the importance of Irish, while failing to grant it anything like the status promised by all the lip service, the Irish State, since its foundation, has sent out mixed messages about the value of the language.
In a review of Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World a number of years ago, the author Jane Stevenson suggested it might be time to adapt the old joke that a language is a dialect with an army, when “the real key to survival is for a language to be a dialect with a civil service”.
Stevenson wrote: “A class of bureaucrats with the power to defend its monopoly can keep a language going for centuries, as can a set of scriptures, while conquerors come and go.”
Irish speakers are asking for the right to conduct their business with the State in Irish because the provision of such services is key to the survival of the language…”
And in the same newspaper, veteran journalist Pól Ó Muirí:
“Many Irish speakers, sooner or later, find themselves heading to Scotland’s Gaeltacht to find out more about their sister language. It is one of the ironies of the language debate that those ignorant of Irish seem to believe that Irish speakers are insular and anti-British. Far from it. The pull of language brings many to the Highlands and Islands and to Wales. (Go to Wales and marvel at the bilingual signage. You will be amazed and a little ashamed.)
Many Irish speakers know more about British culture than their monolingual English compatriots do. However, it is not the Britain of the Home Counties but another Britain, a Britain with voices that predate the political state and speak of an older Europe.
That language arc, fractured but just about functioning, that stretches from Munster to Connacht to Ulster to Scotland and down into Wales…”
“I’m sure it’s easy to dismiss the current argument about adding “Royal” or “Rioghal” to the name of St. Anns’ Colaisde na Gàidhlig, also known as the Gaelic College.
The problem with this, though, it that it dismisses the very real and ultimately quite reasonable aspirations of a community of people important to Nova Scotia’s distinctiveness.
Gaelic was spoken here for centuries. Until the 1930s, it was in decent shape; not great shape like French in Quebec City, but decent shape like Cree in northern Quebec. The decline has been sharp, but as in Scotland, it’s not yet a done deal.
And as in Scotland, that decline has long been led by the tendency of central governments to try to get people to behave in ways that make them easier to manage.
Language has always been a big part of that; it’s easier for governments, easier for business people, easier for state-run education services, if an entire state speaks one, or at the outside, two languages.
Governments generally have to be dragged toward multilingualism; they don’t just accept it because it’s the easiest thing to do. It’s basically never the easiest thing to do.
There is a group of Nova Scotians who have been working for a long time to maintain one of the province’s smaller languages, and trying to get the Canadian state to recognize their right to live some part of their lives through that language.
The activists, educators and civil servants who have devoted themselves to Nova Scotia Gaelic see themselves, quite reasonably, as part of the rich mosaic of this province’s smaller cultures.
Like the African-Nova Scotians, the Acadians, and the Mi’kmaq, Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants form a culture that exists nowhere outside of Atlantic Canada. And like all of those groups, they have a complicated and sometimes (not always, but sometimes) painful relationship with the central government.
There’s a long history, here as in Scotland, of Gaelic being informally or not-so-informally suppressed because monolingualism made things easier for that central government.
Nobody, then, should be at all surprised that words like “Rioghal” or “Royal” make many Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants uneasy. Nobody is surprised to hear that words like “Royal” tend to make Acadians uneasy.
It doesn’t mean that either group is stuck in the 18th century. It means that like African-Nova Scotians or the Mi’kmaq (for whom these words mean something different again), Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants want badly to move forward, and to forge a more current, more complicated and ultimately less dependent relationship with the state.
And that is something we should all take more seriously.”
However those who wish to supplant the indigenous languages of north-western Europe with their own take with far more seriousness that determination to subjugate and ultimately destroy. From the Belfast Telegraph, a tale of gerrymandered democracy – because in the anachronism that is the last stockade of the British colony in Ireland that is how they do things:
“Belfast City Council is facing a High Court challenge over its policy on Irish language street signs, it emerged today.
A resident in the west of the city has been granted leave to seek a judicial review over being denied dual-language name plates on her road.
Lawyers for Eileen Reid claim a method of surveying householders is irrational and unlawful.
Ms Reid was one of those canvassed about having supplementary Irish street signs erected on Ballymurphy Drive.
Under council criteria two-thirds of those questioned need to declare themselves in favour before the new plates can go up.
It is understood that out of 92 eligible residents 52 confirmed they wanted Irish signs, with only one opposed.
However, the remaining 39 did not respond to the survey.
According to Ms Reid’s legal team these non-returned votes were wrongly counted as being opposed to dual signage.
They contend that the two-thirds policy does not comply with a requirement in local government legislation for the views of residents to be taken into consideration.
Belfast City Council is also in breach of its obligation to promote Irish under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, it is claimed.”
So who are the true multiculturalists in western Europe, and beyond?