The United Languages Of Europe

Fáilte Gu McDonald's, Albain
Fáilte Gu McDonald’s, Albain

Contrast and compare these stories from Scotland on the Scottish (Gaelic) language. First up, from the Courier:

“Ambitious plans to promote Gaelic in Dundee have been significantly scaled back.

Council chiefs have been forced to slash key elements of the proposals after opponents questioned the city’s links with the language and the potential costs involved.

…the city council’s chief executive, David Martin, conceded that proposals to translate street signs into the language were “inappropriate”.

He said: “Some of those commenting felt that any support for Gaelic would not be a good use of money, especially given the small number of people who speak the language in the city and the other demands on the council’s resources.”

The amended draft plan will be considered by councillors on Monday night.”

Now read these two reports from the Stornoway Gazette:

“A study has shown that the 2014 Am Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail (The Royal National Mòd) generated £3,547,661 for the business community in Inverness – over £1 million more than the event target.

The nine day festival, which took place from 10-18 October 2014 in Inverness, entertained over 9,000 unique visitors, 78% of which came from outside the host city. 67% were in Inverness with the sole purpose of attending The Mòd, while 25% lived in the Highland Capital.

Organised by An Comunn Gàidhealach, the event is the most significant of the Gaelic language in Scotland.

The figures are testament to The Mòd’s importance, not only to Scotland’s cultural calendar but to its economy too, as 74% of attendees revealed they would not have taken a trip during that week, had it not been for the festival.

The Mòd is hosted in a different town or city every year and this is to not only engage more people in Gaelic culture, but also to boost the local economy.

Findings from the 2014 festival show there was huge return on Highland Council’s investment in the event, with £19 spent for every £1 invested in their governing area and this rose to £25 for every £1 invested at a local level.”

And:

“Budding filmmakers have submitted a record breaking number of entries to this year’s FilmG, MG ALBA’s national Gaelic short film competition.

An amazing 79 films have been entered for this year’s competition, with 51 submissions in the youth category and 28 adult entries.

All films can now be viewed online voting for your favourite film is now open until the March 20th – the week before the glitzy awards ceremony in Glasgow.”

Every single language movement in the world which has succeeded in reviving its vernacular tongue, from the Baltics to North-America, has done so through one key strategy: the “normalisation” of the language in general society. Strength and growth only occurs when the persecuted speech becomes a familiar and accepted part of the broader culture of any particular nation or region. That is why professionals and academics who study this area focus so much on the creation of a bilingual, multilingual or even monolingual “linguistic environment”. After all if the rest of Europe can succeed in such matters why can’t the Scots? Or the Irish?

A sample list of bilingual and multilingual European nation-states:

  • Austria, one official language, German. Croatian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Romani and Slovenian recognised regional languages.
  • Belgium, three official languages: Dutch, French and German.
  • Czech Republic, one official language, Czech. Polish official regional language.
  • Finland, two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Sami official regional language.
  • Germany, one official language, German. Low Saxon, Frisian, Romany official regional languages.
  • Hungary, one official language, Hungarian. German, Croatian, Romani, Slovak, Romanian, Serbian and Slovene recognised regional languages.
  • Italy, one official language, Italian. German, French, Slovene, Ladin, Sardu, Friuli, Occitan official regional languages.
  • Kosovo, two official languages, Albanian and Serbian. Turkish, Bosnian, Roma official regional languages.
  • Luxembourg, three official languages, Luxembourgish, French and German.
  • Malta, two official languages, Maltese and English.
  • The Netherlands, two official languages, Dutch and Frisian. Low Saxon and Limburgish official regional languages.
  • Poland, one official language, Polish. Armenian, Belarusian, Czech, German, Lithuanian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Karaim, Kashubian, Rusyn and Tartar recognised regional languages.
  • Portugal, one official language, Portuguese. Mirandese official regional language.
  • Romania, one official language, Romanian. Hungarian, Romani, Ukrainian, German, Serbian, Russian, Croatian, Slovak, Bulgarian and Turkish recognised regional languages.
  • Slovenia, one official language, Solvene. Italian and Hungarian official regional languages.
  • Spain, one official language, Spanish. Basque, Galician, Valencian, Catalan and Aranese official regional languages.
  • Sweden, one official language, Swedish. Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani and Sami official regional languages.
  • Switzerland, four official languages, German, French, Italian and Romansh.
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27 comments

    1. Speaking and caring are two completely different things. A survey on peoples attitudes on Gaelic would be need to ascertain the level of ‘caring’. Anything else, including your opinion, is just extrapolated opinion.

      1. If you don’t speak a language you can be neutral at best (if you don’t interact with its speakers at all).

        But if you do interact with its speakers, then like or not – you’re harming it with your actions by forcing them to communicate in a foreign language in their own land and reminding them that their language is not a proper means of communication and that everyone must know your language to be able to communicate…

      1. i think that is the mcdonalds in inverness. i’m ashamed to say i’ve actually being in there.

  1. Gaels in Scotland should focus their efforts on increasing the proportion of young habitual speakers, and those who are educated through the medium of Gaelic. I believe the proportion is currently 25% in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as a whole, but with significant variation within the council area. It’s not a surprise that interest in Gaelic in Dundee is very low — it probably hasn’t had a substantial Gaelic-speaking population in nearly a thousand years, unlike most parts of Scotland.

    I think Gaelic is in a considerably weaker position than Irish. In my opinion the base of speakers is too low, sadly. Less than 100,000 claim ANY knowledge or ability in the language, and the number of habitual speakers is under 40,000 now.

    Universal and ‘unidirectional’ bilingualism, a relatively weak Gaelic-medium sector, and low rates of intergenerational language transmission are massive hurdles to overcome. All the challenges Irish face are amplified a hundred fold for Scots Gaelic.

    1. Agree with all of that, Danny, but what is the point of having fluent Scottish-speaking children who are denied the opportunity to use the language as adults? Even worse, they see, read and speak the language in schools but see none of that outside of the schools. In Ireland we ghettoised the Irish language in our education system. Scotland should not do the same.

  2. As to City Council Chief Executive David Martin’s belief that proposals to translate street signs into Scottish were “inappropriate” due to costs, we all know that politicians can come up with funding for any cause they want when it suits their purposes, just as they can nix funding for any plan that doesn’t suit their aims.

    1. CBC, that is true. I wonder how much public money was spent in Dundee in the lead-up to the recent Scottish referendum on independence holding perceived “pro-Union” events, coincidentally of course, such as royal jubilee celebrations, armed forces’ days, erecting new British national flags and bunting in the city?

  3. As soon as I read this post I just knew that Jānis would be the first to comment with his usual cheeriness 🙂

    1. I think that it makes sense to support the language in areas where it’s spoken by a significant percentage of population not waste money in areas where it’s spoken by a less than 1%.

  4. Except that the example given is from Dundee, where there is a vibrant Scots-speaking community. Normalisation should surely focus on the minority languages that are *actually spoken* in the area. Dundee already has 38,302 Scots speakers. Compare with 58,000 Gaelic speakers in the *whole of Scotland*.

    1. Zenbroon, I have no objection to Scots (Scots-English) being included in any language plans and from my experience neither would most Scottish(Gaelic)-speakers. Every language or dialect is a valuable part of our global culture, and Scotland has three native or nativized languages: Scottish (Scottish-Gaelic), Scots (Scots-English) and English. Why not trilingual signage if the demand is there? 🙂

  5. In Cornwall when street signs are due for replacement they are being done bilingually in Cornish and English and Cornwall Council says that it involves no extra cost for the extra words. So what is wrong with Dundee council?

    Incidentally I note that Flemish is not listed in the entry for Belgium, which will annoy Flemish speakers of my acquaintance, who insist that Flemish is a language similar to but not identical with Dutch, and has several distinct dialects. Indeed, I am told that the Brabant dialect is barely understandable by those in Antwerp, let alone in the Netherlands…

  6. “After all if the rest of Europe can succeed in such matters why can’t the Scots?”

    Maybe at least part of the reason is that we have gone down the route of imposing statutory language plans, written in English quango-ese and then translated into mistake-filled non-Gaelic? Yes, I think that could be at least part of the reason!

    1. I’m surprised by the low figures for Dundee, assuming these are correct. As Scotlands third or fourth city you’d expect it to have its fair share of Gaelic speaking ‘immigrants’ just like everywhere else. If not there ought to be some special reason, but I’ve no idea what that could be. Gaelic is not anything like as politicised in Scotland as it is in Ireland. It’s a national language but not *the* national language. It has all-party support and most people are either mildly supportive or indifferent. GME is flourishing but expansion is mainly limited by the supply of suitably qualified teachers from the limited pool of native speakers, or what was until recently a declining language. I suspect the councillor in question is just out for a bit of cheap publicity, it’s happened before and will happen again, but there’s no widespread backlash.

      As for Scots, before it can be considered a language in it’s own right (as opposed to a bunch of dialects/registers) it would need to have a standard grammar, dictionary spelling rules etc., and these would have to be widely taught. Afaik it is only taught passively, i.e. kids read Burns etc. Many people regularly speak their local variety of Scots (although purists would claim that much of this is just ‘Scottish English’) but have no idea how to write it acceptably in the absence of any standards.

      1. Seems like the Welsh are miles ahead of both Scotland and Ireland.
        But then there is also a great dislike between people from North and South Wales As far as I can see. I have worked with people from Wales and they were quick to tell me they were from South Wales.
        Coming from Ireland..I just thought..Gawd don’t go down THAT route…dividing yourselves.
        Wales is also where my ancestors came from many Centuries ago..Somewhere from Pembroke.

        1. North or South Penbroke? There’s a long-standing language divide there going back centuries. The southern bit was settled by Normans and Flemmings etc. Wasn’t it from there that Strongbow set out for Ireland?

        2. You didn’t divide yourselves – you just decided to become a monolingual English speaking nation (instead of something like Belgium or Switzerland) – good job.

          1. I shall let ASF answer you there. Just that under Brit Rule you couldn’t get a job in the civil service unless you spoke English

            1. Under the Soviet rule you could not get ANY job if you didn’t speak Russian, because everyone worked for the state – that was a socialist country after all. And being unemployed or running your own company was a criminal offence.
              So it was basically – speak Russian or go to prison – that’s why my parents and grandparents are fluent Russian speakers.

              But you know what – our family language is NOT Russian and unlike the Irish – after we regained the independence we immediately changed the legislation and removed all Russian language requirements, because that is not our language – it’s the language of the invader.

              1. Approximately what proportion of Latvia’s population had Latvian as their mother tongue when Latvia regained its independence? And what proportion were fluent in the language at that time? (native speakers + fluent secondary bilinguals).

                A big reason Irish never was never revitalised and re-established as the vernacular was because the language had declined too much. It was spoken natively by perhaps 12-14% of the population (the 1911 census data seems more reliable than the data from the 1926 Irish Free State census) but the proportion of younger people with fluent Irish was less than 10%. The strongest Irish-speaking communities were the most marginalised economically and geographically — peninsulas, remote valleys, small islands…

                The mostly middle class, urban revivalists spoke Irish which varied widely in its quality, and the language still had a weak print culture (a problem which persists to this day) and no standard spelling or grammar initially. There were also very few monoglots, even then. So these factors made it very difficult to revitalise the Irish language, and relatively few people were truly committed to the idea anyway, including many native speakers themselves.

              2. In 1989 about 63% of the Latvian population were fluent in Latvian. (52% Ethnic Latvians + 11% others). And about 92% of the population could speak Latvian in 2005.

                ~14% of the Irish population in 1911 (3.14m) was about 440k – that’s more than the number of native Icelandic speakers.
                The situation wasn’t completely hopeless back then.

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