After a long break, a severe hand injury and being busy with work and other important projects, the Diaga Language blog is back! Watch this space…
TG4 has been gaining a reputation as one of the best TV stations in Ireland because of it’s programming and documentaries. And while in this bloger’s personal opinion that is well deserved there is a huge elephant in the room.
Subtitles. Yes, notwithstanding fiscal restraints and the need to import cheap programming from abroad, there is a hardened policy of open subtitling (non removable) of all Irish and English language content, and it’s not helping.
Why? Well when there are subtitles people are drawn to them as this synopsis points out. And if they’re in English only then people will tend to read them and process them rather than listen to what is being said. This does not help native speakers but hinders them. Likewise with learners. But it does make Irish language programming more appealing to the vast majority of monoglot English speakers in Ireland.
But hang on a minute, we’re in the digital age, are we not? Well, yes we are and that means that all TV channels are now digital and as such the provision of subtitles in Irish, English or none at all is only really a button away.
So why doesn’t TG4 or BBC Alba for that matter, just give people the option of Gaelic, English or no subtitles. It would really help all learners improve their language skills by watching programming in Irish and it would make a lot of native speakers happy not to have to read the English subtitles. It would also keep the rest of the population happy as they could just use the English subtitles as they are right now.
On a slight tangent though, much has been made of young people in Irish speaking communities having better English than Irish. Well if they’re forced to read subtitles on even Irish language programming from the only TV channel available to them then it’s not surprising that their grasp of English is better than their grasp of written Irish.
So why not make the TV world a better place for native speakers, learners and English monoglots by just introducing a button.
Coiste na bhFocal Nua have launched a new campaign to promote Irish a few days ago. Learn on the Loo is a sticker/poster campaign that does exactly what it says. Stickers are being stuck up in the lavatories of the country that include all sorts of phrases in Irish (new words ostensibly) that would primarily be used by drunken patrons to initiate romantic contact.
The phrases themselves are not old school but modern, direct and dirty and will certainly cause lots of patrons to lol or at least giggle while they piddle.
As we all know, many, many promises are made in the pub and we might see some in the coming weeks along the lines of ‘ I really must learn Irish’ or ‘maybe I should go to a class’. These promises will soon be forgotten after a few more jars along with other such as ‘we must meet up more often’ and ‘sure I’ll see you tomorrow to do xxxx’.
But then again that’s not the real point of the campaign and herein lies the beauty of it. It’s an exercise in prestige building, and a very clever one at that.
For a long time Irish has been saddled with a specific image in the public mindset at large, that of a backward, old, rural ‘useless’ language only spoken by bog-monkeys and cross-roads dancing, shelelegh wielding fanatics. Read any Irish mainstream newspaper and you’ll see the periodic article by the self-loathers foaming at the mouth about what is a modern European language recognised at EU level and spoken by hundreds of thousands of people on a daily basis. But then again these establishment leaches don’t let facts get in the way of their bile, as An Sionnach Fionn brilliantly points out on a regular basis.
So back to the Loo campaign. What it does do is that it plants a seed in the pub-going crowd’s mind that Irish can be funny, dirty, sexy and irreverent, adjectives not generally associated with the language. Of course many people know this already but it’s the complete opposite of what is force-fed us by the gate-keepers of culture in the traditional media.
So people may forget to go to those classes and not meet up the day after but they will have laughed, learned some rude words and seen just how normal Irish is during their foray into the toilets and if that stays with them then the cultural struggle for prestige and normality for an Ghaeilge will be a very important step closer to being won.
Because at the end of the day, people curse, insult, argue, shag and make love in Irish as well, despite what we are constantly told by those who have a gripe with a long dead Island woman whose book they read over 40 years ago.
Having read a great review of Minae Mizumura’s book, The Fall of Language in the Age of English over on the Slate (thanks to the miseCiara blog), I couldn’t help but dedicate a post to what promises to be a fascinating read. The review points to several fascinating points and questions raised in the work on the nature of languages in the global age of English, their positions, the relevancy of literature and the validity of world views in the new global lingual context.
One such issue, as pointed out in the review, is that
…every language creates and nourishes untranslatable truths. Dominant languages infuse their verities into the wider world, crowding out alternative visions from more minor tongues.
Now we must remember that this statement is made in the context of Japanese and other very large languages, and it’s almost a moan that those languages are being crowded out by English. Interestingly, those of us who have studied minorised languages and the processes of language shift and or death have been dealing with this situation for a long time. Indeed that a language contains and conveys a particular world view is an argument itself for language preservation but what is startling is that such powerful languages like Japanese, with well over 120 million speakers, are now undergoing the very same language processes that led to language shift and death around the globe, indeed the very same process that saw Irish begin a huge decline in the 17th century.
On a different note though, the idea that every language intrinsically contains an untranslatable world view, or truths, is one that has been in dispute for centuries if not millennia. For example, in Irish a black man is actually a fear gorm or ‘blue man’. Of course people of African descent are neither black or blue but one can’t help speculate on how these denominations colour (excuse the pun) our perception of people of African descent. Black in English is subconsciously associated with dirty, negativity, danger or evil (look at how the ‘baddies’ are dressed in Hollywood films) for example, and there is an argument that on a subconscious level that calling someone black, from a ‘white’ perspective, may lead to prejudice. Blue on the other hand is certainly more culturally neutral, even if it is just as ridiculous in terms of the real skin-colour of African descended people.
Coming back to Minae’s book, she argues that in this new age…
A writer writing in English can count on her words reaching people all over the world, whether in translation or the original, but there’s no guarantee English-speaking readers will ever encounter experiences first framed in Japanese.
Thus English extends it’s world view upon others but not vice-versa, making Globalisation a very one-way process, linguistically and culturally.
This universality of English is not complimented by universality of other languages, languages that in theory are equally important in speaker numbers and literary production and thus cultural importance. Again, it occurs to me that this process has already taken place on a smaller level as ‘national’ languages were imposed on what they deemed ‘regional’ languages, making those national languages ubiquitous in the nation-state and as such, confining the other languages to their ever shrinking geographical realm. Spain with Castillian and France with French being two examples from Europe.
Once again we come back to the idea of imposition of intrinsic values, truths and world views and just as Castillian was elevated to occupy a national language role, pushing back other Spanish languages and thus inherently dictating cultural norms, so English is doing the same on a universal level in the 21st century.
I think it would be interesting to tease out the neutrality or validity of these processes, but that is not for me to do here and maybe remind the lamenting author of those other Japanese languages that were marginalised by what we know as ‘Japanese’ nowadays.
In any case, the author does make a case for multilingualism as a defence mechanism to this cultural hegemony because at the end of the day, only a deep knowledge of different languages will allow people to discover the hidden truths in those languages and their own language(s) and as such decipher the inherent prejudices of a language and, importantly, be able to truly use a language to better understand and interpret the world around us.
Here at Diaga Language we’re involved in setting up a new community group in Inis Eoghain, Dún na nGall which will be orientated at promoting the Irish Language in the local community.
The aims are simple but we would really appreciate some feedback and hope to get the opinion of people from all over Ireland and the world about what we’re doing and how to go about it. And considering we had visitors to this blog from places such as Ethiopia, Zambia and Thailand, we hope to get some great worldwide input!
The main aim is to create situations whereby local people can use and improve their Irish language skills outside the classroom context and using new technologies. To that end we’re not going to be offering any classes at all but gathering people together and encouraging them to form activity groups, during which they can communicate in Irish. One such group we will be founding is a walking club. Other activities will depend on what people want to do and in what context they want to use their Irish.
On the technology end we’ll be setting up a Duolingo learning group where all members can see each other’s progress and get together every now and then to see how they are coming along.
One of the key things we’ll be organising are monthly workshops. So far we will definitely have a Irish language technology workshop, a photography workshop and a crafts workshop and we hope to get more of these programmed as we get more people involved.
Apart from all this, the organisation aims to create a youth club for you people to get together, decide what they want to do, and do it as gaeilge. This youth club model has been very successful for some groups around the country such as Gaeilge Locha Riach and elsewhere.
Now this is only a basic outline of some of the things we’re planning and we’d really like to get feedback from interested people all over the country and globe to really kick-start this project and bring Irish out of the classroom and into people’s everyday lives.
So here’s to a great 2015 as gaeilge! Keep and eye out for further updates and analysis of our language promotion strategies!
Here @DiagaLanguage we’re on a Christmas and New Year break, taking advantage of the great weather and fun time with all our family and friends.
Don’t forget to stop by in the new year as there are big things brewing and it looks like Diaga Language will be involved in a very interesting community language project. All updates will be found here on the blog and on twitter @diagalanguage and of course our FB page .
Feedback, suggestions and most importantly, online participation will all be gladly welcomed during this new and exciting project.
So enjoy the festivities and beirigí bua!!
Kashubian is a language spoken by and estimated 100,000 people in the north of modern day Poland and it’s special in this context as it is the only other language with any official status in Poland.
It’s a slavic language and somtimes known as Pomeranian but linguists generally agree that it is more a derivation of Pomeranian than the same language.
It achieved official status in 2005 (here’s the law for those interested) and is now a co-official language in parts of Pomerania (capital Gdankz) where it’s used to provide local public services, on signage and in certain cases, if desired by the parents, in education.
For a long time, as was common all around Europe, it was repressed and not even considered a language. This was par for the course, not only for communist countries, despite early pointers towards tolerance and promotion of minority languages by communist countries, but also for all the major western european countries and their colonies. Language tolerance was few and far between until the last quarter of the 20th century and the point must be made that when there is no tolerance of minority languages there is language repression.
This repression can be overt by banning the language and forcing it’s speakers to learn and speak another language, often by accompanied by violence or punishment. Other more subtle language pressure involves limiting it’s use in most spheres of life and treating it’s speakers with disdain.
Kashubian speakers suffered under these forms of oppression during years under many different empires, especially the Prussian and German empires, but mainly from non-violent forms of oppression. Over the last few decades though they have won recognition for their language and some concessions from the Polish government regarding education cultural expression.
The first documents were published in Kashubian in the 16th century and nowadays there are radio programmes in the language, a language management agency, classes and a moderate digital presence.
The most important part of this mini-revival has been the official recognition as this had bestowed a certain level of prestige upon the language. As a result of this there has been a moderate revival of the Kashubian language and it may well continue being a living language throughout the 21st century if it can be organised effectively and create a place and prestige for the language so that the younger generation continue to use the language.