Since this is generating some internet buzz I thought I’d post it: How to learn any language in six months, Chris Lonsdale at TEDxLingnanUniversity. I’m always suspicious about “fast-track” learning. Most are gimmicks and as I know from experience learning a new language when in adulthood is as much about a person’s intuitive abilities as anything else. Some can, some can’t, and most just fall somewhere in the middle. I’m very much in the “can’t” camp.
That perennial red herring, the manner in which the official national language of the nation-state of Ireland is taught in its education system, is raised yet again in the Irish Times newspaper:
“Why, with 13 or 14 years of instruction and learning in Irish, does research show standards continue to fall? A 2006 report by Dr John Harris from Trinity College found a sharp fall in the standard of Irish among sixth-class students between 1985 and 2002. It also found a quarter of Irish primary school teachers believed their own standard of Irish to be “weak”.
Last November, the chief inspector’s report said students’ learning was “less than satisfactory in almost a quarter of Irish lessons in primary schools and almost a third of Irish lessons in post-primary schools”. The report was also concerned about language competence of teachers in a “small but significant number of classrooms”.
At primary level a new integrated language curriculum is due for junior classes this September. It’s not before time. The curriculum in place since 1999 intended to encourage a communicative, task-based approach, but while the document itself is wonderfully child-centred and idealistic, it seems to ignore the fact that for most children, and indeed, teachers, Irish is a second language and needs to be learned rather than absorbed.
The new curriculum, which will be introduced to junior classes (up to second class) in September 2014, will give teachers far more support in terms of what to teach and how to teach it. It will include a step-by-step guide about how to achieve particular curricular objectives. The curriculum will be published online to enable teachers to click through to the material and supports. Making an English-language version of the document would certainly help teachers, but some people involved in teacher-training acknowledge that such a move would be met with hostility from Irish language groups.
Pádraig Ó Duibhir of St Patrick’s College Drumcondra, with his colleague Prof Jim Cummins of the University of Toronto, has conducted a review for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) of strategies proven to work for language learning in the lead up to this upcoming curriculum review.
“Part of the issue is the system of 30 or 40 minutes a day for Irish in primary school,” says Ó Duibhir. “That drip drip approach has not been successful for Welsh in Wales or French in Canada. Schools achieving good results here have children using Irish outside the Irish class. One school, for example has had great success with a Lá na Gaeilge where everyone makes an effort to speak Irish on one day each week. The children have a need to use it. In practising it, they experience success, which further motivates them.”
An approach to language learning that takes the language outside of the language class has been successful. In Cordoba in Spain teachers are encouraged to teach one subject apart from English, through English. “PE and art are easy ways into that sort of approach. Science could work too,” Ó Duibhir says.
“We need to ask ourselves, are we teaching Irish for cultural reasons, or for it to be used?” says Dr Muiris Ó Laoire, a lecturer and researcher on multi-lingualism in IT Tralee. “If we want it to be used, we need to rethink what we’re doing. How are we going to provide meaningful opportunities for use? It can be done but it is a challenge.””
What few are willing to acknowledge is that the historic devaluing of the Irish language through its status as simply another classroom subject has long been a policy of the state itself. Over 90% of all Irish schools and at all levels function through the medium of the English language. This is not just a reflection of society at large but a deliberate mechanism by which the Irish language is rendered alien, “foreign”, in the eyes of faculty and students alike. With schools in majority Irish-speaking regions under pressure to teach through English and Irish-medium schools or gaelscoileanna in majority English-speaking regions “blacklisted” through the hostility of the Department of Education even those parents and children who regard the language as their own are being prevented from using it. The ghettoization of the Irish language in English-medium schools has in fact been the most successful policy of the Irish state since the winning of independence in the 1920s. It has reduced those who speak the language to a despised and hated minority, an under-class of citizenry.
It allows, for instance, bigoted conspiracy theories like these below not just to exist but to flourish:
“JamesTScott: There you go, the unfair advantage. Do you think the gael speakers want anything to change? The less people speaking the language the better for them. Notice how quick the curriculum changed to make it easier to learn. Who do you think writes it.
Why do you think Irish was taught in a way that only a few could learn it? Think about it, we all remember Peig and compare that to your French book, what a difference. For one thing it suited the people that could speak it, notable the people living in the gaeltachs, or people coming from advantaged areas, private schools, afford to send their children to the gaeltach every year. 30 years ago this was a massive advantage/competitive edge.
In the west of ireland there are still big advantages for speaking Irish. It’s their private club and they have a lot to gain by keeping the numbers down. It’s not something that is talked about, but it is understood among the speakers.
gav22332: Have to agree with the other comments with regard to nepotism with Irish speakers. Its a small group of people who understand how the system works and only a small percentage of people are wealthy enough to make use of it. And that group will always get their own kids into the Gaeltach every year for private lessons. Teachers. Garda, public service all full of people whose parents were able to play the system. Unfair to every one else.”
Anyone who has experienced the hostility of Anglophone supremacists at first hand will find these allegations wearily familiar. Yet they are not just the opinions of an extremist minority amongst the general public but are held to be true by many in the news media too. As we have seen.
[With thanks to An Lorcánach for the original link]
Here is a story on the Scottish language (Scottish Gaelic) that has been rumbling away for the last couple of weeks in Nova Scotia (Albain Nua) but which has now erupted into a major row that is encompassing academics, language activists and politicians in the easternmost Canadian province. From the Globe and Mail:
“In a controversy pitting some Nova Scotians of Scottish ancestry against each other, the chairman of Cape Breton’s recently renamed Royal Gaelic College has stepped down because of a backlash against the school’s gaining its royal prefix from Queen Elizabeth II.
The name change was intended to mark the college’s 75th anniversary, but instead the move reopened centuries-old wounds.
The uproar started two weeks ago when Alex Morrison, then the chairman of the board of governors, announced that the Queen had honoured the school by allowing it to be called Colaisde Rioghail na Gàidhlig – The Royal Gaelic College.
The office of Allan MacMaster, the Conservative MLA for Inverness and party critic on Gaelic affairs, received scores of e-mails, calls and letters complaining about the college’s new name.
Mr. MacMaster said in an interview that three college instructors no longer wanted to teach there.
The acrimony, Mr. MacMaster said, stems from the fact that historically the British Crown suppressed Scottish culture, pushing many Scots to emigrate to other lands, including Canada.
He said that while he wished “no ill will towards Queen Elizabeth II or the Royal Family,” he had not forgotten that the British historically sought to eradicate Gaelic culture and tradition through the Statutes of Iona of 1609, for example, a legislation that forced clan chiefs to send their eldest child to English-speaking Protestant schools.
Someone who identified himself as one of the college’s governors, Ernie MacAulay, wrote on Facebook that the board had made a mistake and should review its decision and “somehow gracefully withdraw from using the ‘Royal’ name.”
Located northeast of Baddeck, on the Cabot Trail, the college was founded in 1938 by a Presbyterian minister who had immigrated from Scotland’s Isle of Skye. The college promotes itself as the most important school of Gaelic language and culture in North America.”
For anyone who thinks that this a storm in a tea-cup they certainly don’t see it that way in Nova Scotia where by all accounts the anger between the opposing sides is palpable.
Some very good news for the Scottish-speaking community and citizens of Skye who are to see a substantial investment in local education by the government in Edinburgh. From the Scotsman newspaper:
“Highland Council is to receive £3 million over two years to build a new Gaelic school in Portree, on the isle of Skye.
Minister for Scotland’s Languages Alasdair Allan made the announcement during a visit to the site of the new school, where building work will begin in 2015.
An additional £250,000 will also be invested in Gaelic learning for early years, to encourage sustained growth in the number of pupils going through Gaelic medium education (GME) and encourage parents to choose bilingual schooling.”
Congratulations to all involved.
The Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn has launched the Chief Inspector’s Report on quality and standards in primary and post-primary schools for 2010-12 and on the issue of Irish language teaching in the English-medium education system it makes for depressing reading.
“How good is the teaching and learning of Irish in primary schools?
Inspectors’ findings with regard to Irish are significantly less positive than those for English or Mathematics. During the years 2010-2012, inspectors reported that the quality of Irish teaching was problematic in one fifth of the lessons inspected during incidental inspections and the quality of pupils’ learning of the language was problematic in approximately one quarter (24%) of those lessons.
While many inspectors in whole-school evaluations commended the commitment and efforts of teachers to teach Irish, they also found that learning outcomes were disappointing. Inspectors judged that the teaching of Irish was satisfactory or better in 80% of lessons observed during incidental inspections. They also reported that the quality of pupils’ learning outcomes was satisfactory in 76% of the lessons evaluated.
In schools where inspectors found teaching and learning in Irish to be effective, there was evidence that teachers had adopted a well-planned, whole-school approach to fostering learning in Irish. They had also created an environment that encouraged regular informal use of Irish throughout the school. The richness of the language inputs provided to pupils was, not surprisingly, an important factor in successful learning. The accuracy and fluency of teachers’ own Irish language competence and hence of the language exemplars presented to pupils were critical factors in supporting effective learning. Clearly, where teachers’ competence and confidence in using Irish were weak, the learning opportunities provided to pupils were less effective.
The successful implementation of a communicative approach to the teaching of the language across the school was a further factor noted where Irish was taught most successfully. This meant that successful lessons in these situations were well structured, they included well-planned listening opportunities, and strategies such as drama, pair work and games that helped to develop pupils’ communicative abilities. The teaching of reading was integrated effectively with writing, oral and listening skills work, and a broad range of reading material in Irish was used in these schools. Teachers had also planned sufficient opportunities to enable their pupils to consolidate their language learning. Finally, teachers used a range of assessment methods such as teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and collections of pupils’ work to assess the main language skills.”
In other words not only are many Irish schoolchildren being denied a proper education in their nation’s indigenous language but in some cases they are being denied an education from teaching staff who are themselves barely fluent in the language they are teaching.
“Irish: Learning from inspections
The inspection data from 2010-2012 illustrate starkly the challenges for considerable numbers of schools and teachers with regard to Irish.
Approaches: It is clear from both incidental inspection findings and WSE reports that a sizeable proportion of primary schools need to change their approach to the teaching of the Irish language. In 22% of the Irish lessons evaluated during incidental inspections from 2010-2012, pupils were not provided with opportunities to learn through talk and discussion, one of the fundamental requirements of language learning. The need for schools to adopt a communicative approach to the teaching of Irish is also one of the recurring themes in the WSE reports on schools in which there were significant weaknesses with regard to Irish teaching and learning. Related to this, both WSE reports and incidental inspections over the three-year period highlight the need for greater opportunities to be provided to pupils to work collaboratively during Irish lessons, and for the language learning to be consolidated.
Preparation: The use of a communicative approach in Irish lessons demands careful preparation. Teachers need to be clear about the intended language learning objective, they need to plan lesson content and the relevant language learning activities carefully, and they need to source suitable learning materials and resources. The findings from incidental inspections suggest that a significant minority (22%) of teachers are not preparing adequately for their teaching of Irish. This means that there are considerable numbers of learners in primary schools that are not being provided with properly planned Irish language experiences or a properly planned, progressive Irish language learning programme.
Teaching resources: Inspectors found, in a considerable proportion (20%) of the Irish lessons evaluated by incidental inspection, that there were shortcomings with regard to the use of resources to support Irish language teaching and learning in classrooms. The Inspectorate, in its 2007 report, Irish in the Primary School, recommended that a graded teaching programme similar to Séideán Sí (currently in use in Gaeltacht and all-Irish schools) be prepared for each class in the primary school to support the systematic implementation of the communicative approach. Such a programme is not yet available at a national level. The 2010-2012 incidental inspection findings underline the real need for such a programme to be developed for and used by English-medium schools in the teaching of Irish. It is hoped that the current work of the NCCA in developing an integrated Irish language curriculum with clear and specific learning outcomes and support materials for teachers as well as the ongoing work of COGG (An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta & Gaelscolaíochta) in supporting Irish in Gaeltacht and all-Irish schools will improve considerably the overall quality of Irish language teaching and learning in our primary schools.
Assessment: The issue of assessment in Irish is one that appears to be particularly challenging for many schools and teachers. Inspectors noted that assessment practices were not satisfactory in more than one third (35%) of the Irish lessons evaluated in the years 2010-2012. This finding points to the need for critical numbers of primary schools to make planned, systematic provision for assessing pupils’ learning of the main language skills in Irish. Schools then need to use the information from this assessment to inform whole-school and individual teachers’ planning of the language learning objectives, content, and activities of Irish lessons and the necessary resources required. There is evidence that teachers need considerable professional development support to enable them to undertake this sort of teaching. The availability, from the Educational Research Centre, of standardised tests in Irish for primary schools is a further support to improve assessment practice. The use of these standardised tests in Irish has been a requirement in Irish medium schools since 2012.”
So in the period from 2010 to 2012 the teaching of Irish in many Anglophone-medium schools was under-resourced, under-planned, under-allocated and missing any national programmes guiding its implementation. Is it a surprise then that the teaching of Irish to one in every three students in English-orientated schools was actually detrimental to their acquirement of the language, let alone achieving any degree of fluency in it?
And this in 21st century Ireland!
Today saw the opening in Edinburgh of Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce, a new Scottish-medium primary school, in yet another sign of the resurgence of Scottish Gaelic as a community language in Scotland’s capital city. From STV:
“Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce has 30 Gaelic speaking staff teaching 213 pupils – 53 of them who started school for the first time this year.
It has been built on the site of the former Bonnington Primary School in Leith and replaces the Gaelic Medium Education Unit at Tollcross Primary School.
The primary school, which is open to anyone who wants to send their children there, has been funded by the Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council.”
However when it comes to the indigenous Celtic languages of north-western Europe where you have hope you often have hate. The hatred of Anglophone bigots and supremacists. From the Scotsman newspaper:
“CHILDREN would progress further in the world by learning Mandarin or German rather than “wasting” money on Gaelic, a Highland politician has claimed.
Inverness councillor Jim Crawford has described the Scottish Government’s plans to invest an additional £4 million to teach school pupils Gaelic as “a waste of resources”.
…Mr Crawford accused the Scottish Government of using Gaelic as a “ploy to boost Yes votes” in next year’s referendum for independence.
He said: “Spending this money is purely Alex Salmond’s way of saying, ‘We want to make you all feel more Scottish and vote that way next September’. This is outrageous.”
He said: “If you want to have a future in Europe then there is no point in having Gaelic. That is only useful if you want a job in the Western Isles.”
In July, Mr Crawford lodged a formal complaint with Scotland’s public standards watchdog after Mr Salmond and his wife Moira held up a Saltire behind Prime Minister David Cameron’s head as tennis player Andy Murray won Wimbledon.”
As in Ireland the lesson is this: those who say that they “hate Gaelic” don’t actually hate the Gaelic languages – they hate those who speak the Gaelic languages.
Some further news on Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce, the new Scottish medium school for Edinburgh, via the website Premier Construction News:
“A new school dedicated to keeping Gaelic education alive is currently being built in Edinburgh.
The £3.5 million scheme is currently being conducted on the site of the old Bonnington Primary School in Leith, and will replace the existing Gaelic medium education (GME) Unit based within Tollcross Primary School. Once work is complete on the City of Edinburgh Council led scheme, the new school – which is to be called Taobh na Pàirce – will continue to preserve the Gaelic language.
Plans for Taobh na Pàirce were given the go ahead in 2011 after public wide consultation. A group involved in the planning of the new school was then set up to steer the course of the project. The group comprises a mix of teachers, officers and parents and they have helped to ensure that the new school sits comfortably within the history of the local area.
The Scottish Government is providing £1.8 million of capital funding for the project, with a further £100,000 being sourced via additional annual revenue funding. City of Edinburgh Council provided the remainder of the funding, with £1.275 million coming from prudential borrowing.
The establishment of a dedicated Gaelic school is line with the priorities and aspirations of the Scottish Government’s National Plan for Gaelic and reaffirms the Council’s commitment to the preservation and development of the Gaelic language. The school will offer greater scope for any further growth beyond what was initially projected for both GME and the English stream at Tollcross Primary School.
Taobh na Pàirce is currently scheduled to open in August 2013.”
- Half of Scots back right to send child to Gaelic school (schoolsimprovement.net)
- Hepburn lends support to Gaelic Hub Consultation (jhepburnmsp.wordpress.com)
- A Brief History of Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand (coveredrachel.wordpress.com)
Big news for the Scottish-speaking community of Glasgow as the establishment of a second school teaching through the medium of the Scottish language is announced. From the BBC:
“A second Gaelic school is to open in Glasgow to meet spiralling demand for bilingual education.
The £800,000 facility, which will house up to 200 pupils, will be located in Pollokshields. It is part of a five-year plan to revitalise the language.
Work will begin in September with completion expected in early 2015.
The city’s first Gaelic School opened in 1999 for primary pupils, then relocated to the site of the former Woodside Secondary School in 2006.
The Scottish government wants to double the number of five-year-olds going into Gaelic classes over the next five years.
Currently 1% of young Scots are learning the Celtic language of their country, compared to 7% in Ireland and 21% in Wales.”
The 21st century revival of the Scottish Gaelic language outside of the 20th century heartland of the Gàidhealtachd (Gaeltacht) is of enormous significance and needs continued support and development.
- Funding Boost For Sabhal Mòr Ostaig And Scottish Language (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The Manx Tongue – In Rude Health (ansionnachfionn.com)
- There’s No Irish In Ireland! (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Indigenous Rights – On The Edge Of Europe (ansionnachfionn.com)
- New Gaelic school planned for Glasgow (scotsman.com)
- Scottish gov’t enhances funding support for Gaelic learning (nzweek.com)
- Study of how Gaelic affects brain (bbc.co.uk)
- Convenience or Culture: Canada’s Bilingual Sign Feud (smartsign.com)
- The Gaelic Revival (iuoverseas.wordpress.com)
After a long wait the first phase of the new online English-Irish dictionary, Foclóir, is now up and running. The current platform contains 30% of the planned content but this matches 80% of expected general English usage (though a number of my searches did draw a blank). As someone who works in the IT industry I have to say that I am seriously impressed so far, despite the limited number of search-terms. Not only does the Foclóir give a full list of free translations for the words searched (with all the usual grammatical forms and variations) it also provides formal and colloquial uses of the words in context as well as related proverbs or sayings. To this is added actual audio examples of the words in the three main regional accents (Connacht, Munster and Ulster). Just try playing the three variations of the pronunciation of the word madra “dog” to see where your Irish accent comes from (thanks to my mother mine seems to be largely Munster which explains again some of the comments I’ve had down through the years on my Irish!).
The web-based platform comes with a suite of widgets and plugins that will be of great use to many of us and there is a full FAQ for all your queries. The site will run alongside and be integrated with the existing Focal.ie, the official Irish-English National Terminology Database, which is used by the state to codify new and existing words in relation to the law, economics, military matters, etc. Unfortunately the final version of the Foclóir will not be finished until the end of of 2014 at least, due to restricted funding, with a print edition to follow. There is also the matter of a probable review in 2015 of Official Standard Irish which may necessitate a significant number of changes to the online dictionary.
Finally, it is nice to be reporting some good news about the Irish language and the Irish state for once.
- Ipsos MRBI 50th Anniversary Survey – The Irish Language (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Two Tech Stories For Gaeilgeoirí (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Angloban Ignorance Posing As Informed Commentary (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Sláintegate – The Irish Independent Newspaper And A Mysterious Report (ansionnachfionn.com)
- 9 Great Free Linux Foreign Language Tools (thelinuxsite.wordpress.com)
Two stories highlighting good news for our fellow Gaels in Scotland as the declining population of Scottish speakers begins to stabilise and we start to see signs of a small resurgence, in part attributable to the official recognition and promotion of Scotland’s native tongue by the SNP government in Edinburgh. From the Scotsman newspaper:
“A MAJOR push to train more teachers in Gaelic has been announced, to try to double the number of pupils speaking the language in Scotland.
Development agency Bòrd na Gàidhlig has produced the second National Gaelic Plan for the Scottish Government, making its headline target to increase the number of pupils speaking the language entering Primary One from 400 to 800 a year.
To meet this aim, officials are prioritising pre-school education alongside community action.
Bòrd na Gàidhlig will play a leading role in rolling out a teacher education strategy.
This includes initial teacher education, support for teachers currently teaching through the medium of English interested in transferring to Gaelic medium education, and support for teachers currently in the Gaelic system.
Dr Alasdair Allan, the minister for learning, science and Scotland’s languages, launched the Scottish Government’s National Gaelic Language Plan 2012-17 on a visit to Stenhouse Primary School in Edinburgh yesterday.
The plan states there is a need to strengthen the infrastructure of Gaelic education and learning generally by supporting the recruitment of a confident, properly trained workforce in order to service the expansion of Gaelic education.
Along with the help of the Scottish Government, local authorities and further education institutions, the Bòrd will support initiatives to increase the range of courses available to those who wish to enter teaching, or to transfer to teaching Gaelic.”
Meanwhile over on ForArgyll an article focusing on the success of BBC Alba, the Scottish language television channel:
“Since its launch on Freeview and on Virgin Media in 2011, BBC ALBA is now serving an audience of around half a million viewers a week.
Today, 29th June, MG ALBA, the Gaelic Media Service, published its Annual Report for the financial year 2011-12., highlighting the following successes:
- four out of five Gaelic speakers are watching BBC ALBA every week
- the average 15+ minute weekly reach for BBC ALBA for the year was 436,000, compared with 180,000 the previous year
- the anytime average weekly reach was 515,000, compared with 220,000 the previous year
- viewing of BBC ALBA programmes on the iPlayer doubled over the course of the year, rising from 1.56 million viewings the previous year to 2.2 million viewings
- in the course of the year, MG ALBA funded 384 hours of content for BBC ALBA, with 72% (target 50%) of the programme expenditure being with eighteen (18) independent production companies
- LearnGaelic.net, an interactive website that provides a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in learning Gaelic, was launched in October 2011. This online resource was created in partnership with the BBC, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the Board of Celtic Studies and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig with help from the Scottish Government
- MG ALBA celebrated the success of its FilmG project that is growing year upon year, with 76 new films submitted to the competition. Over 200 short films made by individuals, schools and communities can be viewed here at the FilmG website.
Alasdair Morrison, Chairman of MG ALBA, says: ‘Not only has BBC ALBA made an important contribution to broadcasting in Scotland over the past year, but it has also strengthened the profile and use of the Gaelic language.”
The Belfast Telegraph has got into the polling gimmick in a big way recently (blame it’s “sister” paper, the Oirish Independent, which positively thrives on them). The results have been mixed to say the least, and there is a lot of criticism both of the methodologies and the interpretations made of the results derived from them. Scepticism seems to be the overwhelming view but here, for what it’s worth, is the latest survey examining opinions on the Irish and English languages in the North of Ireland. Oh, and of course the “Ulster-Scots”, ahem, language:
“The poll shows that there is substantial support for government documents and letters to be issued in Irish and Ulster-Scots as well as English.
…35% of respondents wanted all three languages used with 11% wanting English and Irish (a total of 46% for Irish).
Just 7% wanted English and Ulster-Scots, giving 42% support for Ulster-Scots.
When the 21% who expressed no opinion were taken out of the equation a clear majority of respondents who expressed an opinion want both Irish (58%) and Ulster-Scots (53%) used with only a third of people opting for English alone.
Support was highest in the public sector (66% in favour of Irish and 61% in favour of Ulster-Scots).
According to the 2001 census 167,487 people (10.4% of the population) here claimed “some knowledge” of Irish.
Ulster-Scots wasn’t covered in the census so the most recent estimate was in the 1999 Life and Times survey which found that 2% of respondents claimed to speak the language (about 30,000).”
Interesting, though to be honest I find some of the figures debatable. However the recent survey by the northern Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure titled “Public Attitudes towards the Irish Language in Northern Ireland” which I examined here gave the following figures:
“56% thought that Irish should be offered as an option on documents, leaflets, notices etc. where other languages are offered.
Three-quarters of Catholics (75%) and just over two-fifths of Protestants (41%) said they would like to see Irish offered as a language option in documents, leaflets, notices etc. where other languages are offered.”
As for the Ulster-Scots issue. Well, what can I say that hasn’t already been said by many, many others? In fact I touched upon this thorny subject last year. I examined the origins of “Ulster-Scots” in the local dialect of the English language in the north-east of Ireland which was reinvented as a “national language” in the 1970s by a few crank academics from the British minority in the north-east of the country to give their community a greater sense of “national ethnicity”. They even gave it a brand new name: “Ullans” (which was quickly dropped from “official” use since most people knew just how ridiculous it sounded). Indeed many of these self-same gentlemen also believed in the “secret history of the Ulsterfolk”, a bizarre tangle of 19th century occultism, Protestant religious fundamentalism and Anglophone racial supremacy which preached that the British ethnic community in Ireland were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
As the journalist and cogent observer of northern affairs Jason Walsh wrote in 2009:
“‘Some years ago I was employed in a production capacity by an Irish Unionist newspaper and it was here that I first came head-to-head with the bizarre twilight world of Ulster Scots.
… a good friend of mine in the newsroom was responsible for laying-out ‘the Ulster Scot’, a free supplement all about this make-believe lingo.
At the time I thought it was nothing short of hilarious: clearly Unionists were chafing at the sight of the Irish language undergoing a genuine (though frequently overstated) renaissance…
What was the best thing to do about this, pondered Unionist politicians, until one had the astonishingly grandiose idea of actually inventing their own language. Of course, synthetic languages like Loglan and Esperanto are difficult to learn and it’s even harder to persuade people to actually learn the damn things, so in order to facilitate rapid growth the new language of Ulster Scots would be simply the dialect of English spoken in North Antrim with a kind of dyslexic phonetic spelling system and a few inscrutable phrases pilfered from Lowland Scots dialect of English. If Ulster Scots is a language then so are the dialects used in Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’ or James Kelman’s ‘How Late it Was, How Late.’ When BBC Radio Ulster announced, sadly incorrectly, that the Ulster Scots term for mentally disabled children was “wee daftie weans” I almost fell over, so hard was I laughing at the antics of these clowns.”
More recently Frank McNally recorded his encounter with Ulster-Scots in the pages of the Irish Times:
“Anything that leans one way or another in the North is open to suspicion: including, as I mentioned here before, a notorious punctuation mark in the title of the [Ulster-Scots] language agency, the Boord O Ulstèr Scotch.
At a press event promoting the Boord some years ago, I asked – out of genuine curiosity – what the effect of the accent on the E in Ulster was. Whereupon a spokeswoman admitted it had none: “we just thought it looked good”. And so it does. But I couldn’t help noticing that the accent pointed in the opposite direction from the Irish fada, which was hardly accidental.”
Indeed not. An entirely invented language for a less than invented people whose linguistic origins were actually a mix of the Irish, Scottish and English languages. Even the people tasked with its promotion admit, tacitly, that it is all stuff and nonsense. So where is the genuine need for all these Tolkienesque antics? The historic or “ethnic” languages of the British or Ulster-Scots minority in Ireland were Scottish (Scottish Gaelic) and English. Some Unionists have realised that and latterly embraced their Scottish heritage and in doing so have inevitably found themselves confronted by the shared Gaelic identity of Irish and Scottish speakers in both countries. And that is no bad thing.
But for once and for all let us drop the fairy tale of the Ulster-Scots tongue. If origins for its supposed existence can be claimed in Scots or Scots-English (the now developed dialect of English spoken in Scotland) and 17th century Scottish and northern English colonial settlers in Ireland, that existence passed centuries ago. What meagre local differences in English speech that existed in that pre-industrial age quickly faded into the common English tongue of the British colony in Ireland (if they ever existed in the first place). Those who spoke a Borders variant of English adopted “the Queen’s English” while those that were bilingual Scottish-English speakers simply followed suit (though, perhaps, at a lesser pace since a knowledge of Gaelic was actually advantageous to them in dealing with the Native Irish).
Let’s get down to the real language politics of the North of Ireland. And let’s get the promised civil rights legislation for Irish speaking citizens and communities in place.
That is the greatest need of all.
A new survey of local secondary students by Derry City Council has found a fair degree of both use and support amongst pupils from both communities for the Irish language while providing scant evidence for the existence of the so-called Scots-Ulster language (the dialect of English invented by certain fringe elements from the British ethnic minority in Ireland which has contributed, amongst other things, this gem as the official term for children with intellectual special needs: “wee daftie weans”).
None of the children surveyed from either community could speak Ulster-Scots and only a handful of respondents said anyone in their family could speak it either. 88% stated that they had not heard or were unaware of hearing Ulster-Scots in relation to music, 62% said they hadn’t seen Ulster-Scots on road signs, 57 % said they hadn’t seen Ulster-Scots in place names and 56% said they hadn’t seen Ulster-Scots in use by politicians or in any publications. The majority, 55%, believed that Ulster-Scots should not be treated as a language in the same way Irish or English is.
In relation to the Irish language 72% of those who spoke and read Irish came from Irish-speaking families. Meanwhile 64% of all students believed the language was relevant for Roman Catholics and Protestants, another 64% had encountered the Irish language in classes, 46% said they had heard Irish in conversational use, 50% had seen it in use in publications and 35% had seen it on the internet. 84% of all pupils were aware of the influence of the Irish language on people’s names and place names.
I’m awaiting the details of the raw data from the survey and will publish them here when I can.
In the meantime a new website, Connect 3, has been launched by the city council in Derry based on the results of the poll to provide further resources for students and teachers engaging in language learning and training in the region.
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I’ve discussed the popularity of the Irish language in North America before but it’s not the only Gaelic tongue enjoying a renaissance there. In Canada they take their Gaelic heritage, Irish and Scottish, very seriously and in recent years it is the Scottish language that has seen substantial investment by the regional government in the easternmost province of Nova Scotia.
Halifax Newsnet reports that:
“Nova Scotians interested in improving their understanding and use of the Gaelic language will be able to further their study with a new bursary program funded by the government of Scotland and administered by Gaelic Affairs.
The bursary will support five Nova Scotians attending language training in Scotland with travel, meal and accommodation costs. Individual bursaries will be valued at about $3,100.
“Language learning can occur more quickly through immersion and this new bursary program from the Scottish government will provide this opportunity for Nova Scotians,” said Gaelic Affairs Minister Maureen MacDonald. “The province is pleased to help promote the program through Gaelic Affairs and its community partners.”
Recipients will enrol in Gaelic-language study at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, a national centre for Gaelic language and culture, in Alba, Scotland. They will choose a Gaelic dialect as a focus for their study and interview a native Gaelic speaker of the dialect to learn more about the language and its related cultural customs, practices, values and beliefs.
“With links between Scotland and Nova Scotia so strong, it made perfect sense to open up Gaelic language training in Scotland to a small number of Nova Scotians,” said Scotland’s Minister of Gaelic Alasdair Allan. “I will be delighted to welcome the successful candidates to our shores later in the year.”
Applicants must be at least 18 years old and permanent residents of Nova Scotia to qualify for the bursary.”
Meanwhile The News carries an article on new funding being made available for Nova Scotia’s popular Gaelic College:
“Students attending classes this summer at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts will see a significant improvement to their accommodations.
With $117,667 in funding provided by the federal government, the Gaelic College Foundation is undertaking a number of improvements to the college site to meet the current and future needs of its students and visitors. These include renovations to the residence, construction of new classrooms, indoor stage improvements and upgrades to the outdoor performance centre.
“Our government is focused on jobs and growth and through key investments to help communities build on their strengths, we are supporting local and regional economic development and jobs for Atlantic Canadians,” said Minister of National Defence and Regional Minister for Nova Scotia Peter MacKay, in a statement Monday. “The Gaelic College has a significant impact on tourism in Cape Breton. That’s why we’re pleased to support the college in its efforts to preserve and promote the language, heritage and culture of Nova Scotia’s Gaels.”
The total cost of these enhancements at the Gaelic College is $309,987.”
And now this from the Cape Breton Post:
“The Nova Scotia government is developing a new interactive website to promote and preserve the Gaelic language and culture.
Minister David Wilson says the site will offer samples of local Gaelic dialects, songs, stories, music, dance and customs.
The site is called “An Drochaid Eadarainn,” which means “the bridge between us.””
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In Ireland a significant number of government departments and other public bodies, along with many public officials, have spent much of the last decade actively opposing the nation’s Official Languages Act of 2003, a piece of legislation introduced eighty years after independence with the objective of ensuring some form of limited equality for Irish-speaking citizens with their English-speaking peers when accessing state services and resources. As the 2011 report by An Coimisinéir Teanga on the workings of the Languages Act has revealed, the institutional discrimination towards Irish-speakers in our culturally English civil service is as virulent as ever.
In Scotland they have their own problems trying to gain equality and respect for their indigenous Gaelic tongue, in the form of the Scottish language, but the willingness of much of the body politic in Scotland to support the Gaelic Language Act of 2005, particularly the governing Scottish Nationalist Party under Alex Salmond, has led to an increase in the social and cultural standing of Scottish-speakers. Though there is still far to go before true equality and equal access to the resources of the state is reached it is a promising start. But just a start.
Along the way there must be more actions like this one, reported by the Stornoway Gazette:
“Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s Gaelic Language Plan, which was recently published, aims to further promote and strengthen Gaelic in every area of the work and operations of the college, which is the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture.
Sabhal Mòr, along with a number of other colleges and universities, was asked by Bòrd na Gàidhlig to prepare a plan under the auspices of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. The Plan was created by the College’s Language Development Officer, Janni Diez, and other college staff who are expert in the field of language development and planning.
It builds on the College’s Language Policy and strengthens Gaelic usage among students and staff at the College. The Plan increases the already-strong status of Gaelic at the college, and will enable Sabhal Mòr to introduce projects and initiatives which will encourage even greater use of Gaelic in a variety of settings and situations.
Bòrd na Gàidhlig Ceannard (CEO), John Angus MacKay, said: “Bòrd na Gàidhlig congratulates Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the publication of its first Gaelic Language Plan. This is another significant milestone in our journey to achieving the aim of the Gaelic Language Act of seeing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of the whole of Scotland, commanding equal respect to the English language.
The plan was submitted to Bòrd na Gàidhlig for approval last year following a public consultation where people could submit opinions on the plan. The plan will last five years before being reviewed.
A copy of the Gaelic Language Plan can be viewed at: website”
Following on from earlier news about the petty discrimination faced by some Scottish speakers this report is particularly welcome.
- Caithness – Its As Gaelic As Gallaibh! (ansionnachfionn.com)
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- Everyone Loves The Scottish Language But The… (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Wales, Scotland And Manifestations Of Greater England (ansionnachfionn.com)
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Just a quick post to note and recommend the wonderful, informative and always entertaining Irish Blog at Transparent Language. Its idiosyncratic nature is its joy. There are more Irish language online resources here and here.
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