Both Joshua Fishman and David Crystal have proposed schemes or factors to revitalise minority languages that are in different states of neglect, from moribund languages with only a few older speakers to struggling languages that have problems with language transmission and loss of heartland, such is the case of Irish.
Fishman developed his scheme in his 1991 book, Reversing Language Shift: Theory and Practise of Assistance to Threatened Languages. In this seminal work he develops an 8 point plan, that seeks to consolidate the language in lower realms (informal) as well as concentrating in getting adults to learn the language, but always concentrating on speaking ability until there is a healthy level of consolidation.
Almost a decade later on (2000), David Crystal in his Language Death, postulated 6 factors in revitalising struggling languages. He concentrates on increasing the language’s prestige and power within the community but crucially, his final point is the use of electronic technology in the minority language.
Considering that this was written almost 15 years ago, when it was hard to imagine the all-pervasive roll of technology in modern life, he was something of a visionary. Technology is used by all generations, at all workplaces and is fast becoming the dominant medium of leisure as well, thus making it fundamental to modern life, but crucially also to any sort of language management planing.
I’ve investigated a lot of language planning going on in Ireland and while a lot of good work is being done there still seems to be a dearth of both technology in Irish as well as a lack of focus on modern technology in Irish. Modern children in the Gaeltachtaí, though still speaking Irish in the home and school, invariably must switch to English to use almost all technology.
There has been no focus from language planners, at the top and at the bottom, on the creation of technological tools in Irish and this in a country that prides itself as the ‘Silicon Isle’.
The Republic of Ireland is a very important hub for some of the biggest technology companies in the world, hosting the likes Facebook, Google, Twitter, Hewlett Packard, etc.
The presence of these tech giants in Ireland has led to a disproportionate presence of Irish, relative to speaker numbers, in modern technology. Facebook, Twitter and Google all have versions in Irish, though far from perfect.
Now, considering this beneficial situation, a smart language planner at the top end of the department, or even an intelligent minister, could build the political will to add one small precondition to the scandalous corporation tax rates these companies generally don’t even pay. What if we we’re to add a clause saying that Irish must be included within the first 5 languages of any new products, and it must be properly functioning and done. At the end of the day, the costs for Google to develop a proper, high standard translator for Irish would be minimal compared to what they earn for being located in Ireland in the first place.
So, imagine that Facebook, Twitter, Google, gaming companies and other tech companies had an obligation to make Irish one of the priority languages, after English naturally, but say along with Spanish, French, German, Chinese or something, for translation of any of their products.
The result would be that we would have quality Irish versions of all major technology programmes that we use everyday, on a par with English, French, Spanish and the rest. We would have computer games translated into Irish too as well as other important digital tools. It would not cost a lot at all and as these companies earn billions for just being in Ireland due to our generous tax rates it would really only be a drop in the water for them.
It would also stimulate lots of new jobs for Irish speakers, stimulate the demand for them and hugely increase the prestige of the language, especially among the youth. It’s a win-win situation really and this language planner for one, doesn’t think it would break the camels back and cause the tech giants to run away from Ireland to a new low-tax country.
So cad a shíleann sibh faoi? Shall we get a petition together?