Monday, 14 April 2008

Don't go down this route.

The Irish Independent carries an article by Emer O’Kelly which highlights how the Irish language is misused by ethno-nationalists and how this political misuse actually causes antagonism toward the language. The article focuses on the Republic of Ireland, but it is equally pertinent in Northern Ireland where the language is often considered as inextricably linked with republicanism. Of the nationally minded language zealots O’Kelly alleges,

“Its politically-minded proponents (as opposed to those who just speak Irish fluently and gracefully without using it as a weapon) refuse to accept the irrelevance of the language in most people's lives, and by their antagonism towards that majority view, have gone a long way to institutionalising negativity towards the language.”

O’Kelly highlights how the Republic’s commissioner for the Irish language has attacked appointments to the justice system where he questioned the appointee’s fluency in the Irish language. She argues that such campaigns are nonsensical given that the priority of court proceedings should be that all parties understand what is being said, “they [Irish speakers] can understand perfectly in a court presided over by a Judge with less than perfect Irish. And that is the point of language in a court of law”. This is an argument which is dismissed as unionist bigotry when it is averred in Northern Ireland as an objection to providing Irish translation, forms in Irish etc. to perform the practical purposes required of public bodies.
Investigations by the Irish Language commissioner have also been launched into various health and disabilities leaflets which have been provided only in English. O’Kelly laments the mentality of those who have made the complaints which the commissioner has been obliged to investigate.

“It reminds us that generations of people who didn't speak fluent Irish were actively discriminated against in education and employment as a matter of course and so-called patriotism in this country. That's the time viewed with nostalgic regret by the language police.”

In Northern Ireland this is the route down which we will be embarking should an Irish Language Act be imposed which needlessly enshrines the use of Irish in aspects of public life. It is a route down which we will be going if Irish is made a requirement or an advantage for various types of public employment.

The language zealotry which O’Kelly describes does not spring from an uncomplicated love of the language; rather it is inextricably linked with a prescriptive and ethno-nationalist vision of Irishness. In Northern Ireland it is epitomised in campaigns masterminded by Sinn Féin. As the Republic of Ireland becomes an increasingly modern society, many are lamenting the creation of ethno-nationalist machinery which the state has yet entirely to shed. We must resist being encumbered with equivalent machinery in Northern Ireland which regressive strains of nationalist opinion are intent on introducing.

The Irish language has an important cultural role to play in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Its use should be encouraged and the language should be promoted and funded with the help of public money. Those who wish to use it as a badge of authenticity which denotes true belonging to an ‘Irish Nation’ undermine the cause of the language. Similarly attempting to impose the language on people through the mechanics of the state can only alienate those who do not wish to speak it. In Northern Ireland we must apply these lessons as they have been learnt in the Republic.

O’Kelly eloquently indicts the counter-productive attempts of ethno-nationalists to impose the Irish language,

“they didn't manage to "revive" the language; they came close to destroying it because they made it a badge of narrow, right-wing nationalism, the antithesis of what culture should stand for. They're still trying to do it; they don't love the language, they're merely language xenophobics. And they count their fellow citizens who can't, or merely don't wish to speak Irish as foreigners, certainly as less Irish than they are.
That's why so many people hate Irish; it's been used to bludgeon them for years. And the sooner those who really love the language admit it, and take them on, the better.”


Kloot said...

I agree can agree with a lot of what you have said and what O Kelly has said.

Ive gone through the Irish education system, and spent numerous years learning the language. At the end of it, ive a poor grasp of it for a number of reasons.

Certainly apathy was one, but also there was the fact that my teachers (for the most) insisted on teaching us Irish, well through Irish. So if you didnt understand one word in Irish, you were given another similar meaning word, or your fault was explained through Irish. I had a different experience when learning French, which instead was through English. Imagine how frustrating it is trying to learn verbs and stuff through the medium of Irish

Secondly, the course content was well out of date. Using books containing old Irish, or using content which was hard to relate to your day to day life.

Thirdly, there was an awful lot of learning off by heart. I can remember learning short stories and poetry etc at a very young age and having to regurgitate it word for word in written and oral form and yet not understanding a lot of it.

Fourthly, pronunciation of Irish differs greatly across the island. More often enough your Irish teacher is not a native speaker and has learnt it through the education system, so their pronunciation is based on a little real world practice but quite a lot of it from what the education system has passed down. This is a real pain in the nuts when it comes to aural exams where you are listening to a tape of native speakers from Donegal, and you havent got a clue what they are saying because the words sound so completely different to the way you have been thought.. ie. guessing the pronunciation from the written text.

Another thing which always annoyed me was that I, not being born a native Irish speaker was at a disadvantage come exam time because if I had been born a native speaker, I would have had a good chance at taking my exams in all subjects in Irish and thus earning an extra 15% bonus..

Yes, there most definitely is a sorts of Irish Taliban in operation, and they claim to have the language in their best interests, but in reality most would disagree with them. Irish is still projected as a boring language, formal, horribly spoken and with no fluidness that people speaking in their normal lives expect. Its been long identified that people like Hector O'Heochagain, have done more for the Irish language in the past 5 years then the Irish Taliban have done in 80 and even more years. Why? Well because he made it fun, he used it in a fluid, casual and exciting way. It didnt have the boring droll feel that a lot of public speakers seem to give off. I think Frank Kelly (aka Fr Jack, who I spotted in Dublin last weekend) also has done a lot for the language. The exclusivity that is given to Irish speakers needs to be tackled. This sense of Eliteness is just pathetic. Its damaging the language. Look at how proud the Welch are to speak their language whether they be at home or Dublin or anywhere. Irish needs that. For instance I was driving down the west recently and I was so P*ssed at the fact that some of the "Go Slow" signs on the roads coming up to dangerous bends were written exclusively in Irish... I mean WTF!! These were dangerous bends and people were playing politics with peoples lives. Fcuk that.

My brother is currently raising his child to speak Irish, but he is doing it in a completely different environment. He is making it fun and interesting for her. The way it should be.

Start with the education system, the signs can wait

Kloot said...

One last thing.. stop reading the Irish Indo... its one step up from tabloid... rubbish IMO

Chekov said...

I have read an awful lot of inaccurate stories in both Irish and British Independents as well as their stablemate the Belfast Telegraph. A fascinating first hand account there btw Kloot. Thanks.

Kloot said...

Check out this related short film involving Frank Kelly and a young chinese student

Chekov said...

Cheers Kloot. I've no sound in work, but I'll check it out later.

RG said...

Indeed for many Irish Gaelic is linked to Irish Nationalism but for many more Irish simply is a language, a way of life, a culture, an identity.

Most of the arguments put forward here, and by Emer O'Kelly, are simply inaccurate and outdated. Just look at TG4, Raidió X, to see the new, and more widespread, face of Irish today.

Chekov said...

The point being, of course, that the Irish nationalist strain still colours people's perception of the language in a negative fashion.