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Language acts February 16, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Tom McGurk often gets a hard time on this site for his pronouncements, and in a way that’s understandable. His more pooterirsh thoughts on a range of issues seem to cleave rightwards at a rapid rate of knots, or worse – yes there is worse in this instance, his open belief that the ROI should realign with the ‘mothership’, that last being the UK, due to Brexit seems so at odds with the direction of the history of this island in the 20th century and after that it is difficult to take it entirely seriously. Then there are views on climate change, populism and so forth which in my reading place him firmly enough on the right of centre – though I’m sure he might protest somewhat at that characterisation.

Still, credit where credit is due, he does have a good piece on Arlene Foster’s recent comments on the Irish language and notes a strange paradox.

Just what modern multicultural Britain makes of the marching flute bands and the bowler-hat brigade – other than it being of some Neolithic historical interest – one can’t imagine. Nor is there any explanation in the fact that millions of other British people have no problem whatsoever with their neighbours speaking Gaelic in Scotland or the extensive Welsh language tradition.


These Celtic languages, as represented by their radio and television services, their newspapers and road signage, are actually a part of the wider British experience.
Nobody is threaten, nobody objects. It’s all part of the UK2017.

I think he might slightly overstate the case – official assistance and recognition of these languages has been a long hard road and is far from complete. But I do think the thrust is largely correct that the obsession by unionism on the Irish language as a problem is curious.

And particularly so, as he notes, when in the unionist/loyalist communities, as well in an historical context, interest in Irish has been evident.

That said, after that analysis he’s back into blaming the EU for the reimposition of a border on this island – or rather the visible imposition of a border. Granted he has to acknowledged that ‘There is a growing sense in Dublin that despite British PM Theresa May’s soundbites, Irish concerns are far down her Brexit snag list.’

That said here’s another good point…

For example, did anyone in Merrion Street notice that Northern Secretary James Brokenshire in the Commons joined with eh DUP to vote against the BLP amendment 86, that required that Article 50 did not breach the GFA/BA?

That’s a pretty stunning demonstration of the lack of concern in London.


1. CMK - February 16, 2017

Did I not read somewhere that most ‘Dissenters’, that is Presbyterians, Methodists etc in the North East at the time of the 1798 rebellion were Irish speakers? Also, there are Irish language classes available for years in East Belfast, I think Linda Ervine is part of that initiative. Sheer stupidity from the DUP, but then that’s their trademark.


Joe - February 16, 2017

Don’t know if you read that somewhere CMK but I doubt it was correct. My understanding would be that most of the Dissenters in the north east would have been of lowland Scots descent. So they would have been English and Scots speakers, but not Gaelic speakers.
I know that the last native speaker of Irish in the Glens of Antrim only died in the 1970s. But I think native Irish speakers in the north would have been from the original Irish community there, not from the descendants of planters.
Must be some studies done on language up there though. Couldn’t be bothered at the moment though to try to dig them out.
You’re right about Linda Ervine. Also, some Presbyterian and other Protestant clergy were prominent in the 19th century in the circles that promoted interest in and study of and cherishing of the Irish language in the north especially – sort of antecedents of the Gaelic League.


Bartholomew - February 16, 2017

‘Presbyterians and the Irish Language’ by Roger Blaney (1996).

From the review in History Ireland, referring to the 18th century:

‘Blaney argues that there were a number of congregations where Irish/Gaelic was, by far, the majority language, and that the custom of having Irish preaching every second Sunday in other areas also implies a substantial Irish-speaking congregation. Blaney contends that at least one-eighth of Presbyterians had been recruited from the native Irish-speaking population, that at least one quarter of the incoming Scots were Gaelic-speaking, and that another eighth of congregations used Irish both to speak to their Irish neighbours and to converse with Irish-speaking members of their own congregations. He argues that conservative estimates suggest that at least half of all the early Presbyterians in Ulster were Irish/Gaelic speakers.’



Joe - February 16, 2017

Thanks Bartholomew. But surely Blaney can’t be right, can he? Cos if he is, that means that I am wrong. And that as they say is an appalling vista too scary to contemplate.


CMK - February 16, 2017

Thanks, Joe and Bartholomew, for those responses, which make interesting reading. A further irony is that the Free Presbyterians on the islands of Scotland are a bastion of Gaelic there. Pig ignorance is rarely so demonstrable than when a DUP figure turns his or her attention to the Irish language.


oconnorlysaght - February 16, 2017

There is a tradition (i’m not sure if it is real history) that the apprentice boys who closed the gates of Derry to keep out Seamus a Chaka’s French army were Irish speakers.
By the bye, I would not call the DUP ‘stupid’: ignorant certainly, but as long as appealing to such ignorance gets them support they’ll continue with it.
The differ between populism and democracy which supporters of trump, Brexit et al, maintain does not exist is precisely in the fact that populism is readier to appeal to the ignorance of the moment


2. dublinstreams - February 16, 2017

“Tom McGurk often gets a hard time on this site for his pronouncements” mainly because you keep writing about his columns.wbs


ivorthorne - February 16, 2017

But he does say some stupid things that typify a certain strain of thought amongst right-wingers.


3. An Sionnach Fionn - February 16, 2017

The elephant in the room. From HMG’s “Scotland analysis: Devolution and the implications of Scottish independence” comes these legal and political conclusions on page 73, Part IV “The status of Scotland and the remainder of the UK in international law”:

“26. From 1603, when the Stuart King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne, Scotland and England (and its colony Ireland) shared the same monarch.

36. We note that the incorporation… of Ireland, previously a colony, under the Union with Ireland Act 1801 (GB) and the Act of Union 1800 (Ireland) did not affect state continuity. Despite its similarity to the union of 1707, Scottish and English writers unite in seeing the incorporation of Ireland not as the creation of a new state but as an accretion without any consequences in international law.”

Unlike Scotland and Wales, Ireland’s experience of Anglo-British relations was entirely colonial in nature, and this includes the mechanisms of colonisation. The opposition to Irish, be it language, culture or nationality, by unionist politicians, journalists and some community leaders needs to be framed in that context. It is a legacy of colonialism, however anachronistic.

Of course much the same could be said of the hibernophobic attitudes among politicians and journalists elsewhere in the country.


sonofstan - February 16, 2017

So, if I’m reading that right, Ireland was an English colony until 1707, after which it was British colony?


An Sionnach Fionn - February 16, 2017

Here’s the original document, presented to parliament by the Secretary of State for Scotland. That would be my reading of it, at least up to the so-called Act of Union in 1800-1801. British constitutional law sees the “union” of GB and IRL not as a new state or nation, but simply the incorporation of an overseas colony.


4. ivorthorne - February 16, 2017

Had the GAA been banned in NI, the DUP would still oppose its legalisation (or at least as good chunk of its members would) The DUP exists in opposition to Irishness. They exist because of an existential fear of their own demise. Carson and Craig have much to answer for.


5. sonofstan - February 16, 2017

Gregory Campbell was on Drive Time, being followed on the canvass in Coleraine, and asked if he regretted his ‘curry me yoghurt’ remark: ‘no’ sayd he ‘because Sinn Fein insist on using Irish even when the debate has nothing to do with Irish’ and added ‘people would get annoyed ith me i I spoke in Ulster Scots all the time’ thus revealing that he thinks neither are ‘real’ languages.


6. Starkadder - February 17, 2017

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t Ulster Scots (and Shelta /Gammon) more like dialects, than a full language like Irish?

Also, I suspect I’m not the only person who says “Irish” or ” theIrish language” when talking to a fellow Hibernian, but “Irish Gaelic” when discussing the language with a foreigner (as I did when mentioning it to a Yemeni co-worker).


sonofstan - February 17, 2017

Did someone say a language is a dialect with an army?

Probably not.

Reading something tonight about how language is a continuum where one tongue blends into an adjacent one until, eventually, at a suitable distance, the ends are mutually unintelligible. So, munster irish can speak to ulster, and ulster can speak to argyll, but not west cork to skye. Used to be like that with most languages, but nationhood and schools eventually made ‘French’ out of a whole host of dialects – likewise German, Italian and, a bit earlier, English.


Michael Carley - February 17, 2017

“A language is a dialect with an army and navy”


Italian is odd though: at unification, Florentine was selected as the national language and imposed on the rest of the new country.


CMK - February 17, 2017

Florentine had been the literary language since Dante and was the language of education and high culture in Italy prior to unification. Cavour was reputed to have said at the time ‘We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.’

There are many languages in Italy like Sicilian, Sard which have millions of speakers. Indeed, at the time of Mussolini a minority of Italians spoke Italian and it was only in the early 1960s with intra-Italy migration and the spread of mass media did Italian reach majority status.

I’m half way through Elena Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan’ quartet and the amount of times she refers to some speaking in dialect or Italian is striking.


Michael Carley - February 17, 2017

Sort of. At unification, it is estimated that no more than 10% of `Italians’ understood `Italian’. By the middle of the nineteenth century, there were well established literary traditions in the `dialects’ (Carlo Porta in Milan, Giuseppe Belli in Rome) as well as long-standing recognized literary work in the other areas (Una rosa fresca aulentissima is considered a work of /literary/ Sicilian). Those traditions have been partly revived and partly continued to the present day (Pasolini wrote poetry in Friulano) and there are many twentieth century novels in Italian which use a certain amount of dialect either to add flavour or to make the author’s language readable to Italians generally (Camilleri’s Montalbano books; Gadda; Fenoglio who wrote a very odd mix). Ferrante (I’ve only read the first of the quartet so far) doesn’t often make explicit reference to the distinction, but it is clear on the page.

There is also a tradition of popular music in local languages, for example Pino Daniele and this anarcho-Marxist-anti-fascist-ragamuffin combo from the Neapolitan squat scene:

I am told that when Roseanne (the sitcom) was dubbed into Italian, Roseanne Barr was dubbed into Neapolitan.

Then there’s this:



FergusD - February 17, 2017

In the Montalbano detective stories byAndrea Camilleri and set in Sicily there is police character, Catarella, who speaks Sicilian but gets in a pickle when he tries to speak “Talian”.


7. sonofstan - February 17, 2017

It occurs to me that post brexit, the UK will no longer be a signatory to the european charter on minority languages. Which means the minimum level of protection it is currently obliged to provide in NI will no longer apply. We haven’t signed up either because, under the terms of our constitution, irish cannot be ‘a minority language’


sonofstan - February 17, 2017

Ignore. It was promulgated under the auspices of the Council of Europe not the EU


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