Do Irish-speaking communities and citizens in Ireland enjoy full equality with their English-speaking peers when it comes to the institutions of the state? I have long argued that they do not and the events of the last three years have provided plenty of evidence of that. We have witnessed law-abiding people being arrested by the Gardaí for answering in Irish to questions put to them in English, the Supreme Court ruling that Irish-speaking defendants have lesser rights when tried before a jury than English-speaking defendants, and even the use of bilingual signs is now being challenged by government ministers on the spurious grounds of “health and safety”. Anything that can be done to diminish the social, legal and economic standing of Irish-speakers has been done by the present Fine Oibre coalition government and its servants, and to hell with the law or the constitution. No opportunity to engage in a vindictive act of discrimination has been bypassed, no chance to make a minority uncomfortably aware of their place in the greater scheme of things has been overlooked.
So to Feidhlim Seoighe, the current Vice President of the Union of Students in Ireland, who recently uploaded a photo to his Twitter account displaying a letter that had been posted to him by Oireachtas na Gaeilge. And guess what? Someone in An Post, the state-owned postal service of Ireland, had dismissively crossed out Seoighe’s Irish language address and replaced it with a hand-written “translation” into English. Like all the other insults and slights that Irish-speakers endure, even down to their very names and surnames, it is the casual and petty nature of the discrimination that always surprises.
Recently a long-time European observer of our island nation, a man raised through two languages, posed some questions to me. He wondered when does the neglect of a people and a culture move from antipathy to outright hatred? And when does “killing through indifference” evolve into a form of state-mandated racism? In the case of both those questions I believe we passed the point of transition long ago.
This is not even neglect or ignorance, someone had to do additional work to accomplish this. And this person apparently has at least limited knowledge of Irish – otherwise he would not be able to translate the address. Bizzare.
Interesting that all the stuff in red at the top, including “postage paid” is 100% Irish, not even bilingual as it would have to be in Wales for example. A few years ago when I lived in the West of Cornwall, I was able to use my whole address (street name, village name, Kernow) in its Cornish version, which then had no official status. The letters all arrived afaik and I don’t ever remember the address being translated as in the picture here. There was certainly no reason to cross out the original. E.g. when the PO rewrite addressed in Arabic etc. they don’t afaik deface the original. Only in Ireland of the Free …
I’ve always been ambivalent about translating names because in Scotland it’s common practise to use the Gàidhlig form in a G. language context, and the English equivalent in an English environment. Every name has a conventional equivalent in the other language, even though some are a bit forced. E.g. I doubt if there’s any real connection between ‘Hector’ and ‘Eachainn’, and ‘Tormod’ is the Norse name ‘Þormóðr’ but it’s always Englished as ‘Norman’, and so on. Which reminds me … while idly looking around the net for films to watch I came across a ‘best vikings movies’ list. Several were made in Iceland, some even in Icelandic, but what really got me were the credits at the end. Most of the cast and crew were Icelanders so you got long lists of ‘weird’ and truly wonderful Icelandic names complete with eths and thorns and accents and patromymics, and the women were all somebody’s ‘-dóttir’ of course. Seems they’re proud of their identity, even though they probably all speak good English. So no cringe there then. Made me wonder really what’s wrong with us Gàidheil, in particular why the Irish didn’t simply adopt Irish language names full time once they got their independence. Any other country would do so simply as a ‘given’. Isn’t it time you all ‘came out’ maybe? If it became the norm it wouldn’t look odd or pretentious the way it can appear now.
Why would Icelanders give their kids English names? What’s the point of that?
The point is really why they haven’t adopted ‘normal’ European/Western naming practices like other Scandinavians, especially since they used to be ruled by Denmark. Why indeed they’re not using Danish as their written language with Icelandic treated as a quaint local speech suitable only for funny songs about escaped livestock etc. Ah, you will say, Icelandic has a extensive literature studied at universities throughout the world, just like … mmm … Irish? 😉
Or if you like … “Why would Irish parents give their kids English (or anglicised) names? What is the point of that?
I’m proud of my Irish name and surname. I just wish half the people I tell it to didn’t make a face like they just smelled something unpleasant when I do so. And its ONLY Irish people who make that face. Never had a bad reaction – or any type of reaction – from a non-Irish person in years of business meet-and-greets. And that must be 150+ people from 20+ countries.
Go to a hotel in Ireland, give an Irish language name for your booking and watch the awkward, embarrassed or dismissive reaction of the staff in reception. Go to a hotel in Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Portugal, Greece, Italy and not even a flicker.
I wonder would an Irish hotel receptionist ask a French or Spanish guest what’s that in English?
Did foreign receptionists really pronounce your name and surname right?
Because non-Latvians mispronounce my name and surname all the time.
Jānis, of course they get my name wrong in foreign hotels. That is to be expected and I would never be so churlish as to object to a mispronunciation. However they don’t make faces about it, or look award or embarrassed, and they certainly don’t ask me what is that in English. I leave that to Irish receptionists. Though, caveat, there are few enough Irish receptionists in Irish hotels these days anyway I suppose.
Maybe that’s because you remind them of all the Irish lessons they had to take at school and which they hated.
Just by my name? Ah c’mon. I’m not saying it is common but it has happened enough times for it to be noticeable. And I didn’t teach them or anyone else in a school. It’s not as if I’m going through the hotel lobby with a sign saying “Militant Gael”. I write a blog – by definition I’m an introvert! 😉
This business with personal names is I think worthy of looking into. I mentioned the Icelandic films. Those with an Icelandic soundtrack naturally had mostly Icelanders with Icelandic names in the credits, but even an English language film (a take on Beowulf, quite good actually if a bit slow), still had many Icelanders in the cast and crew. Here are a few names I’ve harvested fairly randomly, just to give you the flavour.
Ólafur Egill Ólafsson
Þórdur Helgi Gudjónsson
Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson
Ása Björg Ingimarsdóttir
Elva Ósk Ólafsdóttir
Steinunn Ólina Þorsteinsdóttir
By way of comparison I harvested a few of the ‘odder’ names from a Swedish film :
There were many more that wouldn’t really raise an eyebrow in an English language environment, a few unfamiliar first names, and even the ‘oddities’ mostly amount to the occasional accent (which English speakers just treat as eccentric decorations).
So then I looked at the credits on the Scots Gaelic feature length film Seachd. Despite the film being in Gàidhlig and the titles etc. in the credits being G., only about half or less of the names were in their G. form, although many were anglicised G. names. A sample :
Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir
Aonghas Néill Dòmhnullach
Màiri Nic a’ Ghobhainn
[I put the last in, despite the English 1st name, because NicAmhlaidh = Ólafsdóttir]
The point though is that these names in this form would only be used in the “sheltered environment” of a G. context. Out in the “real world” these people would give their names as Martin McIntyre, Angus McKay … Mary Smith, Amy McAulay, give or take the odd well known 1st name like Calum (rather than Malcolm), Màiri or Catriona (always mispronounced!)
For an Irish sample I had to harvest the credits from several Irish language shorts, as there doesn’t appear to be any recent feature film as Gaelige. Again, although the context was entirely Irish language, only about a third of the Irish names were in Gaelic form, with many more women than men (why?) E.g. :
Cathair Mac an Bheatha
Rónán Ó Cionnaith
Uinseann Mac Thómais
Lorcán Ó Samhraidh
Proinsias Ní Ghráinne
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
Dairíne Ní Dhonnchú
Caoimhe Nic Giolla Bhríde
Áine Nic Eachmharcaigh
Sinéad Ní Dhuibheannaigh
Are these their ‘real names’ that they would use out in the everyday world, or would they anglicise like the Scots? How would Caoimhe Nic Giolla Bhríde get on if she had to make a booking over the phone? Would you rather be stuck in a queue behind her, rather than say Ása Björg Ingimarsdóttir? Do you see my point? I always assumed we anglicised our names because to do otherwise would gum up the works, but when I saw all those really ‘weird’ Icelandic names, which I assume are the only names those people use, I had to re-evaluate. Somehow it works for them, so why shouldn’t it work for the Irish at least. Ireland has been independent for longer than Iceland IIRC.
My name ‘Jānis’ is the only one that I use – I don’t anglicise it to ‘John’.
Yes . I noticed the date stamp carried Baile atha Cliath and the post office use Eire on the stamps.
This is down to a company which won’t invest in training it’s workforce. It wouldn’t take much..There are only 32 Counties in Ireland. Not too hard to learn the Gaelic for each of those 32 Counties.
Then each letter is sent to the sorting office that deals with those counties.
From there it is broken down further..In this case One post office would cover the Dublin 4 region.
Then each postman will only deliver to maybe a dozen or so streets. He/she could either be trained the names for his/her streets in Gaelic. Or he could have a list to refer too, near his/her board to tell him.
So it’s a matter of training which costs money.
One thing about the above letter.
Baile Atha Cliath 4….should have been written on it’s own line and not on the same line as
So it should read.
Baile Atha Cliath 4.
And I agree about crossing it out..That is done for letters returned to sender. or for re directions of letters to a different address I suspect it may be down to force of habit.
Although it does look agressive
I think the point here is that there is no problem with anyone understanding the address as written. Anyone with a proper leaving cert even today is most likely capable of that, especially to addresses in Dublin. After a couple of weeks on the job, I trust even an American non-speaker could probably figure it out. Someone made a deliberate statement by “correcting” the address to English. Hence the strike-out. Always thought it funny to have a “York Road,” btw.
The British name for what is now York was Latinised by the Romans as _Eborācum_ which developed into Welsh _Efrog_, and at some stage between the two must have been borrowed into Irish, hence _Eabhac_ if it was borrowed early enough. What do you call NY in Irish?
Eadhrad / Abhrad Nua(s)? ; ) – Love your posts, btw. Very informative.
I DO know it is An Bóthar Eabhrac, just to be clear.
Is additional training really necessary?
Postmen should know all street names in their areas anyway.
In my entire life I’ve used the Irish address of my home exactly three times while filling out delivery forms as opposed to the more usual anglicisations or makie-uppie English version. On all three occasions the companies concerned posted the items out to me with no issues (one from the UK, two from Germany). On all three occasions An Post failed to deliver the items. Two I was eventually able to track down and collect in person myself from the main sorting office after weeks and weeks of phone calling and form-filling. The other simply disappeared. The German company proved that the item arrived in Ireland to the An Post network but An Post mislaid it somewhere. Each time I was told that An Post could not guarantee items posted to “non-standard” addresses. By which they meant Irish language addresses. To be honest I was treated pretty aggressively by anyone I dealt with in An Post. They acted like I was from another planet or a just a troublemaker. One made a joke about the parcel ticking. I presume it was reference to a bomb or something. It was pretty frustrating and humiliating.
Needless to say I never tried again to use the Irish address of my home. I just gave in.
That is how discrimination works. You just give in and take the line of least resistance.
That remark about a parcel “ticking” is pretty dire. You’d expect that from an English uneducated person. And even at that it might even be sort of funny. But from an Irish person it just reeks of self loathing.
Don’t get me wrong. I am bad at Gaelic..But I respect the people who can write , read it well.
In the same way I can’t programme a computer I can appreciate that people can do it.
I am not steeped in Irish culture. But I definatly find it bizarre that the abuse you get for it.
I am not good at grammar when I did Irish and they tried to teach those declentions I was lost.
Interesting. Some years ago I heard how a Scottish letter with it’s address in Gàidhlig got sent by the British PO to Ireland, from whence it was returned with “try Invernesshire” (or whatever) helpfully added.
So Seamas, what if we all address an envelope to you and we’ll see how many arrive? It would be worth the cost of a few stamps. Think of it as a pilot for a larger study, or if justified the start of a protest. I mean what excuse is there for ignorance when the Irish names of places are on the signs, and many (all? most?) street names are bilingual. Hell, even your postmarks are in Irish. Surely this is bizarre even by Irish standards!
Next time you should ask them why their own site provides this tool:
That allows to convert your English address to an Irish one.
Jānis, when I tried using my Irish addresses An Post barely had an email so maybe things have changed over the last 10 years. Thanks for the link. I put my Irish address into the Search box and it gave the correct address – with an Irish language option. Excellent find.
Unfortunately, similar developments are tangible in Wales also, and this may dismay other minorities who’ve hitherto regarded the ‘successful’ model of bilingualism in Wales as a template. Attitudes have hardened noticeably over the last decade towards Welsh; the antipathy of Welsh-speakers is more of an issue rather than the ill-will of monoglot English-speakers, and this is perplexing and worrying. It may have much to do with these depressed times that we live in at the moment, and that ‘pulling-together’ in the face of economic adversity and the threat of global violence means sailing on the cultural mainstream, i.e, speaking English. Cosying-up with neighbours. ‘Strength in numbers’, etc. The ‘Welsh Question’, in terms of language, may seem like an irrelevence to this confused generation. Worse still, I know that many – and I’m still talking about native born Welsh-speakers – regard any investment in, or expenditure on Welsh as a waste of resources.
The above problems are of a scale that can be addressed. It is possible to persuade people, at a local or national level, of a language’s cultural worth. It’s like turning an oil tanker around but we’ve sort of done it before. I believe, however, that we face a far, far greater threat as speakers of age-old minority languages. Globalisation. The e-village. The world-wide web. The Celtic languages are under siege like never before from the influence of the outside world; we have to absorb and adapt, of course, but take Twitter, for example. Half my Twitter ‘followers’, I would guess, are first language Welsh-speakers and yet only about a third regularly Tweet in Welsh, and some never. This is the element of playing to the gallery, i.e, making sure that, “my Tweet reaches as wide an audience as possible,” and the subsequent, voluntary invisibility of the Welsh- language, that does the harm. Intelligent, culturally-aware individuals are equally as guilty of this as are the rugby-playing gym monkeys.
Electronic social media could so easily be a force for good, of course. With the erosion of linguistic heartland communities the likes of Facebook and Twitter provide an ideal platform for keeping the diaspora in touch. Languages have never had this opportunity before. A new mindset has to be adopted and, alien as it may seem to old guffers like me, social media could actually be the saviour of ancient tongues wherbeby far-flung natives all over the globe can keep communicating in their mother language.
The ill-feeling still baffles me though.
Andrew, thanks for that. I know similar things with kids from Irish-speaking regions who speak Irish offline but English online, even to other Irish-speakers. I’ve seen it with adult speakers too, especially on Facebook for some reason.
Cad é an freagair, mar sin.
“A form of state-mandated racism”.
Sorry, but this isn’t true. The incidents cited in the post which happened to
Feidhlim Seoighe and the other Irish speakers are
disgraceful and shouldn’t be allowed to happen. But “state-mandated
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination “.
I know of no serious scholar who has ever claimed Irish speakers are a different race or ethnicity from the rest of the Irish population (As opposed some yobs in the UVF, or Kevin
Myers on a bad day..) And since the Irish speakers and the Irish people in the Gardai, the Supreme Court, etc.,belong to the exact same ethnic group, there’s no way it can be described as “racism”.
I understand how angry Irish speakers are at these indefensible actions, but
calling them “racism” is inaccurate and trivialises the issue of racism in Irish society. if
anything, they seem more like expressions of class hatred (some well-off Dubs associating
Irish speakers with percieved rural backwardness and inferiority).
Not so sure about that, I think there is some ethnic diversity in Ireland among its “white” population. It might be harder to spot than other places, but it does exist. As for the literal interpretation of racism, as long as we share most traits, you are correct. Try walking into a government office in Dublin these days and share a cupla focal gaeilge, however, and you might just label that reaction as racist yourself, albeit technically incorrect. I don’t believe applying the term to show the disparate treatment of Irish speakers trivialises the issue of racism in Irish society whatsoever. It is at least on par with that against some of our immigrants (most of who are “white” as well and the term racism is still “appropriately” applied in the public eye, take the Roma, for example), although their mistreatment tends to fuel more public outrage, on average.
Ar An Sliabh, I was struck by the irony of the Irish Independent “journalist” Carol Hunt in her defence of the anti-Roma protests being the self-same columnists who in previous articles attacked the rights of Irish-speaking citizens and communities.
Strange that the Right in Ireland, however one defines it, is so antipathetic to the nation’s own native language and culture – and to those who identify with both. She protests alleged anti-Semitism while embracing self-hating anti-Irishness. A whole ball of post-colonial neuroses in one journo.
She is a piece of work, agreed. The whole Independent is a piece of work. But considering it is an “English Paper,” nothing in it really surprises me.
However there is “cultural racism”: the belief that one culture and language is inherently superior to that of another. That is certainly the case here in Ireland amongst those intolerant Anglophones who dominate our media and politics, and who see a disconnect between the indigenous Irish language and culture and their own. It is also how some Irish-speakers would classify their position in our society: LETS SPEAK THE TRUTH: THOSE WHO HATE IRISH SPEAKERS DO SO BECAUSE THEY ARE RACISTS… and AN ENGLISH IRELAND FEARS AN IRISH IRELAND.
Those are not isolated views even if wider Irish society wishes to dismiss them.
Well – English certainly is better than all the small languages.
Imagine living as a Latvian or Irish monoglot – not being able to access vast amounts of knowledge, being able to communicate only with less than 1% of the world’s population.
Having only elementary school education, working only menial jobs, not being able to travel and so on.
Feels like living with a serious mental disability.
Yes, but the price of learning English (or Russian, or German in the past) wasn’t giving up your native language. For some purposes, things that exist on an international scale, like science and tech and so on, an international language is needed. Right now it happens to be English, once in Europe it was Latin, on day it might be something else. That’s not the problem. The problem is the hangover from colonialism, the Celtic Cringe, which makes people ashamed or shy to identify with their local language and culture. From what you’ve said previously it appears there’s no equivalent ‘Baltic Cringe’ although there are three tiny nations/languages with a similar history of domination by various foreigners.
If you’re a native English speaker who does not speak any of the Celtic languages there’s no Celtic language and culture to identify with in the first place.
Not necessarily so. You are who you are no matter what language you speak first. If you grew up in a country occupied by Russia, and you grew up as a native speaker of Russian, you are still a product of the culture of the people you originate from. This may create conflicts for many folks in that situation, particularly as to their personal identity, and what we see here is one of those conflicts. People also tend to pick sides which are not necessarily congruent with their original culture, making some of these conflicts worse. Anyone who wishes to understand themselves and their origins better should learn the language of the people they originate from, whether or not they fully identify with those people. As for celtic languages, Canada is a great example of a place where many native English speakers are making a tremendous effort in understanding their heritage, way of thinking, methodoly, etc.. better by learning the languages of the cultures that they originated from.
That’s exactly what I’m saying.
You can’t say that you identify with Irish language (or call it your own) and culture if you can’t speak the language fluently.
I fully identify with both my native language and culture, even though I am barely fluent in my native language now. I have lived too far away for way too long. It was involuntary as a child, but by choice when becoming an adult. Like for many others, there was more opportunity overseas. I speak several other languages fluently, but do not identify with the culture associated with any of them (including English). I am slowly getting back on track though. If you live in Ireland now, check in 30+ years how you fare in your native tongue. I doubt though, that you will stop identifying with your language and your heritage or culture, even if your language skill has waned. In short, yes you can, and many who have been displaced through the course of their life, do.
We have the Internet now and I communicate with Latvian speakers daily – so it’s unlikely that my Latvian skills will deteriorate.
(Also there is a large Latvian expat community in Ireland)
My uncle has lived here for more than 10 years and he still hasn’t lost his language.
So If you have lost your native language – that’s your own fault.
And I stand by my statement that you can’t identify with a language unless you make a real effort to learn it.
People like Robert Zemeckis or David Duchovny are no Lithuanians or Ukrainians – they are anglophone Americans with weird surnames.
(No Lithuanian would name his kid “Robert” – he would name him “Robertas”)
To be that unforgiving, that unbending in your opinion on what others can and cannot do, along with your express confidence and self-righteousness, you must be very young. Ten years is no time at all. I did not have the advantage of an Irish speaking community where I lived. Yes the internet is at a point now where it is very helpful in keeping up, it was not that way for most of my time. I have not lost my native language, I just don’t speak it as well as I once did. I know many who can no longer really speak their language, but who are still who they are and where they came from, regardless. As far as Americans, you are very correct. The influence of that culture is particularly devastating to the cultural identity of successive generations. Not that should you have children they would not be more Irish than they are Latvian, but in America the effect is by far more pronounced.
If you have forgotten your native language – you’re not the same person any more – like that or not.
Just like the Irish nation is not the same as it was before the language shift.
My experience in Ireland so far has been like – 100% English speaking environment + some street signs in Irish – don’t see what would be different in the USA or Canada.
And American culture is not devastating – I’ve been exposed to it since the early childhood and English is my first foreign language – they teach it from the 1st grade in Latvia.
Jānis, in the 1950s and ’60s linguists and sociologists in Canada and Québec were predicting that the French language would be dead in North America within a generation. This was a common opinion throughout the media, politics, government, etc.
However French-language activists made it a matter of political import in the late 1960s when even some native French-speaking politicians thought it not necessarily a bad thing that the province should become anglophone only. It was taken up by the political establishment and they literally turned an entire society around in the space of two decades. Today 94% of people in Québec speak the language. Only 6% have no fluency in French.
Governments can give leadership and take the people with them. The last major academic study in 2008 found that 40% of Irish citizens wanted Irish restored as the sole native language of Ireland (and just to be clear, the question and options were deliberately unambiguous and with no room for misinterpretation). In contrast 52% favoured Irish and English bilingualism, with both languages on an equal footing. Only 6% wanted Irish to be replaced entirely by English.
Leave your country and your relations and you’re not the same…language is just secondary at that point.
Try living in the U.S, you will see how devastating it is. Luckily I’m a hard-headed Irish peasant.
What’s the difference between Ireland and the USA?
In both of those places the English language is absolutely everywhere. And so is culture from the Anglosphere – music, movies, etc…
Take a trip to “Meirica” and find out. Go all the way to the west coast. Be “culture-shocked.”
“However there is “cultural racism”: the belief that one culture and language is inherently superior to that of another.”
Fair point- but consider this:
“Cultural racism is the individual and institutional expression of the superiority of one group’s
cultural heritage over another group’s (arts, crafts, language, traditional, beliefs
and values ) and its imposition on racial/ethnic minority groups”.
D.W. Sue , quoted in ” Addressing Racism:
Facilitating Cultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings”,
edited by Sue & Madonna G. Constantine.
Again, since there’s no “racial/ethnic” difference between the Irish language speaker and
the stupid Irish government officials being unfair to same Irish language speaker, or Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh and the D4 idiots who were rude to her about her being an Irish speaker, the term
“racism” does not apply.
It’s unfairness, snobbery and philistinism alright, but it is not racism.
Yet the origins of it are racist. The historic anti-Irish racism that lay at the heart of British colonial efforts on this island nation remains as a sort of latent anti-indigenous sentiment in popular culture, a legacy of those times. When multiple Irish people post comments on The Journal, Irish Times, Irish Independent, Politics.ie etc. boasting that their “English” ancestors never spoke Irish and neither do they (nor will their children) then you are dealing with something far more deep-rooted than mere metropolitan snobbery.
People don’t just resent, loathe or hate the Irish language – they resent, loathe and hate those who speak the Irish language. The two cannot be separated. That is a legacy of colonial racism. In a very real sense it is racism.
Don’t see anything racist there – just people telling the truth.
I’ve yet to hear kids speaking Irish around here. I visited Dublin Zoo this summer – there were shitload of kids around – not a single Irish speaker.
Did you hear any kids speaking any other languages apart from English? If you did that would certainly show that Irish is odd.
Yes, there were a couple of Polish kids too (And I think I heard some other languages too).
It’s not that uncommon to hear kids speaking languages other than English in Dublin.
Dubliners are raising a new Anglophone generation – John C. was right – the Irish in Dublin apparently care as much about the Irish language as people in Essex about the Welsh language.
There is a gaelscoil up the road from me. Kids gather in the carpark of the local shops in the mornings and afternoons, and they all speak Irish. And this is in suburban Dublin. Jānis, get out more 😉
Looks like that nowadays more French people are able to speak English than during 60s – that’s all.
The percentage of English-only speakers remains constant at ~70%.
And French is not an indigenous language of Canada – it was brought there by conquest and colonisation – just like English.
The last major academic study in 2008 found that 40% of Irish citizens wanted Irish restored as the sole native language of Ireland
This is bullshit and I don’t believe it.
Where are those 40% and why don’t they lead by example?
As I’ve said many times before – not even 4% are using the language in the private sector – let alone 40%.
Maybe I’m not living in the right part of the city, maybe I’m not working for the right company and maybe everyone is speaking Irish when I’m not looking – I don’t know – but the fact is that I’ve yet to hear a single conversation in Irish. (And I’ve been living here in Dublin for more than ~1.5 years now)
On your last point I agree. I’ve heard Irish spoken in the private sector maybe a dozen times in the last 10 years, and mainly by myself with those I already knew were Irish-speakers or who went out of their way to identify themselves as such to me. Otherwise I’ve never used it or heard it used in the workplace. And that is the problem.
Jānis, I just don’t think that you get the social inhibition that there exists in wider Irish society when it comes to speaking Irish in public (in “mixed company” as a friend put it to me). You’d probably deny it exists at all but all I can say to you that it is there, I’ve experienced it and I’ve seen it in others.
On the 40%, well you can debate the research but various studies and polls have been pretty consistent on the 40%+ mark for the last two or three decades now. I suppose you could dismiss it as sentiment but then why didn’t those questioned simply opt for the bilingual choice as their preference?
(Actually I just remembered that I did overhear five employees talking in Irish in Microsoft Sandyford maybe 3 years ago during a vendor visit. Not much better, admittedly!)
What do you mean by “mixed company”?
In my workplace it’s not uncommon to hear groups that consist of, say 2 Polish guys and one Italian guy speaking English among themselves to make sure that everyone understands everything.
Jānis, “mixed company” means people that you know do not speak Irish or that you assume don’t speak Irish. Ask any Irish-speaker, would you casually speak Irish with another Irish-speaking colleague within ear-shot of non-Irish-speaking colleagues and most would say no. The next question is why.
All the foreigners in my office speak their languages when they’re talking among themselves.
And so do I. Other people just couldn’t care less.
Actually in my workplace English is the “sole working language” and other languages are prohibited under HR rules. Polish and Lithuanian employees have been pulled up for speaking with each other in their respective languages after being reported by English-speaking Irish employees. It’s incredibly petty and small-minded. Was furious when it was rolled out though it does not effect my department as such. I made a great point of going around dropping in Irish words and phrases in the weeks following the introduction of the “ban” much to the annoyance of those who favoured the new work code.
Did they report you as well? 😀
Would it be legal in Ireland to make a rule forbidding use of your First Official Language? It’s illegal now in Wales.
I think Séamas was following the Lidl muddle last week in the UK. Just Google “Lidl Polish Welsh”, it’s very interesting to read the news reports, and the comments are quite revealing about people’s attitudes. Basically …
(1) English speakers in the UK (and Ireland?) are not accustomed to hearing other languages spoken around them, and when they do they feel threatened. It brings out their latent xenophobia and paranoia. They’re convinced the ‘foreigners’ are saying rude things about them … hence the urban myth about going into a Welsh pub …
(2) Polish people and others from Europe etc. are accustomed to hearing and often using several languages, see knowing languages as an asset, and consider it perfectly natural to use whatever language both parties know best.
(3) Many Scots Gaelic speakers, probably many native Irish speakers and still some Welsh speakers are reluctant to be heard speaking their language by non-speakers, “in mixed company” as S. puts it. There may still be some older people around who really were thrashed for using their home language at school, or were sacked for using it at work, but the resulting attitude has in any case been passed down for one or two generations. This is part of the Dreaded Cringe. It leads to the exact opposite of the Welsh Pub Myth, i.e. everyone in the room starts speaking English as soon as a stranger enters. Consequently outsiders rarely hear the language, probably think it’s long dead, and will not be motivated to learn it. What’s more, because of (1) English monoglots feel offended if they happen to hear the minority language, which interacts with the Cringe, so that the minority speakers really do believe that to do so is offensive, after all the English Master Race can’t be wrong, can they?
(4) Others react to (3) or at least try to get over the Cringe and behave like (2). This creates tension and they can go to extremes, that is they really do start acting out the Welsh Pub Myth, after all the English as so bloody arrogant they deserve to insulted. Unfortunately this produces the image of the Saor-Ghàidheal, the in-your-face Gaeilgeoir etc. These people bravely push the boundaries, but in the process can alienate the English and the habitual native speaker alike.
So the ‘innocent’ foreigner walks into the middle of all this. Back at the ranch house, or rather a Lidl store in Fife, Scotland, a polish employee is threatened with the sack if she’s heard speaking Polish at work (e.g. with a fellow Pole during their break). The local manager gets out the rule book when challenged and says it’s company policy, English only. This leads to various protests, the case goes up the company hierarchy and the start to rapidly backpeddal. First they say it’s OK between employees during their breaks, but only if no-one else complains apparently (See 1. above). Then the employee says, well it’s to your advantage that we can speak Polish to Polish customers, some of whom have limited English (you wouldn’t make a fuss if a staff member could speak French to a French tourist, you’d probably pay them a bonus …) This too is then conceded, but only if the customer can’t speak any English.
At this point the news arrives in Wales. On the face of it this means Welsh employees are barred from ever speaking Welsh at work, even when for example serving their Welsh-speaking next-door neighbour. This is so because all Welsh speakers (aside from very young kids and maybe a tiny number of really old people) are fully bilingual with English. Now such a ban is actually illegal in Wales, where Welsh has official status and you can’t legally restrain anyone from speaking Welsh anywhere they choose. Lidl go into further convulsions trying to explain their policy, saying when we said “English” we didn’t actually mean “English” but “any official British language”. (Presumably the same way they say “England” when they really mean “the UK”). Do they have branches in NI, if so they may have to retreat, sorry, I mean “clarify”, further. So the Welsh are quick off the mark, howls of protest in the press, followed by the usual reaction from the usual suspects and their sock-puppets, and complaints to the Language Commissioner, leading to Lidl getting a stern telling-off from Sgeri Meri, to which they say we’re really sorry and didn’t mean to do it in the first place, honest, Miss.
So, would a company be able to get away with it in Ireland? It seems to me that having legislation and a Commissioner may only work if there are enough militant citizens ready to protest. As I said above, the Welsh were very quick off the mark.
(1) English speakers in the UK (and Ireland?) are not accustomed to hearing other languages spoken around them, and when they do they feel threatened.
That’s funny because there are at least 5 languages with an official status in their own country.
And less than 100 years ago they ruled over a large empire that was home to several hundred languages.
I’ll need to check, but AFAIK there are no official languages in England as a matter of law. In Wales Welsh (and English?) are now legally official and of equal status, but that has only happened in the past few years. Gàidhlig (and English? and Scots??) is official in Scotland, but again only relatively recently. In the past Welsh was banned from official use, leading to a long series of campaigns to give it status. Gàidhlig was never officially banned, it simply fell out of use, although a legal document written in G. would I think still have been valid. NI was working towards an official languages act (law) while under direct rule from London, but once they got their own parliament back the Unionists blocked the legislation (is that right?) Legal documents were of course usually written in Latin in Britain, as throughout Europe, at one time, and following the Norman conquest of England, a sort of bastardised Anglo-Norman French was used in the courts. Both of these have been obsolete for centuries but have left their mark in legal terminology. So what five languages did you have in mind?
Marconatrix, I thought Norman-French and Latin was still in use in the British houses of parliament and courts, albeit in customary titles, documents, etc?
Yes, Unionist leaders have blocked all legislation on Irish language rights to the point of threatening to bring the whole power-sharing government down.
I probably should have said “officially recognised minority languages”.
Nope, no one dared. In fairness the company does produce it’s policies for staff in Polish, as the next commonest employee language after English though all employees must be fluent English-speakers (and before you ask, no there are no policies in Irish; and yes, three of us requested it and were refused).
OK. When I spoke about ‘official’ languages in the UK, I was thinking about languages recognised by legislation, especially where there was some guarantee of having them recognised by official bodies. AFAIK nothing has ever been banned or unbanned in England, they like it that way, their idea of a constitution is “make it up as you go along to suit the governing elite at the time”. At the other extreme is Wales where the language was banned for centuries, then unbanned, and gradually given more and more status until recently it was given statutory parity with English, and they have a commissioner to police the legislation. That’s why the Lidl business set the Welsh off, even though the original case involved Poles in Scotland. Everything is a lot clearer in Wales and the Welsh don’t take these kind of threats lying down, or at least there are enough of them who won’t.
There are also the various commitments the UK government has made regarding various languages from Welsh at one extreme to Ulster Scots at the other (the sublime to the ridiculous ???) under the ECRML to the Council of Europe. I’m not clear whether these can in fact be enforced where there is little or no goodwill (e.g. Irish in the North). They have a Committee of Experts who report every few years. I have some of their reports in my ‘to read’ pile.
OK, here’s their latest should anyone be interested :
Click to access UKECRML4_en.pdf