Thursday, 27 March 2014

Scotland and its language

North of the border for a few days. I observe with each subsequent visit to Scotland an increase in bilingual signage (some examples below) since the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act of 2005 was passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Falkirk High station: Braighe na h-Eaglaise Brice. Aye, right.

All signs in the Scottish Parliament are bilingual - except the important ones ('Caution automatic door', 'No smoking' or 'In case of fire, do not use lifts'). A triumph of symbolism over common sense.

Reile na h-Alba. Get used to it. Or not, as the case may be.

"Stitch this, Jimmy" = "Beuwth seo, Seumas
According to the 2011, the number of speakers of Scottish Gaelic was 58,000 (1.2% of the population) mainly in the Highlands, which compares to 19% of the population of Wales that can speak Welsh. I can see the sense of spending public money on painting Arafwch Nawr or Yr Heddlu on roads and buildings in North Wales (where people can be heard speaking Welsh in shops, pubs and bus stops). But in Glasgow or Edinburgh it makes as much sense as translating street signs in London into Anglo-Saxon.

Anyway, Scottish Gaelic is but one language spoken by Scots in Scotland - there's also the Scots Language (think Robbie Burns) and Scottish English - a dialect. Now the Scots Language, spoken in the Lowlands, has more than double the number of native speakers that Scottish Gaelic has. In my mind, it has a greater claim when it comes to official status. Scottish Gaelic as a language was proscribed by the Scottish government in 1616, nearly a century before the Act of Union.

Yesterday I was speaking at the Cross Party Group on Poland at the Scottish Parliament. Before me, there was a councillor from Fife talking about the need to improve bilingual education for the children of Polish migrants in his constituency. "But then again," he said "I can only speak two languages - Scots and Fife!" There was much laughter. Scots indeed - but not Gaelic.

Insisting on translating signs into another language that few know results in waste of money, as this painfully hilarious story from Wales shows. Road signs in Wales being bilingual, Swansea Council e-mailed its in-house translation unit asking for the Welsh version of: "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only". The reply was: "Nid wyf yn y swyddfa an hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i'w gyfieithu". This was duly painted on a big three-foot by five-foot road sign, until a Welsh speaker pointed out that it actually means "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated." Cwymp parti stowt. Interestingly, Welsh and Irish Gaelic can both be translated using Google Translate, but Scottish Gaelic cannot.

Re-creating an almost-forgotten language can work (Hebrew in Israel post-1948), sometimes it semi-works (Irish Gaelic in the Irish Free State / Irish Republic post-1920). But in Scotland... I strongly suspect this is 'jobs-for-the-boysism', creating an artificial need for hundreds of translating teams to be appended to local authorities, law courts and Scottish government offices up and down the land. Bear in mind that the last monolingual speaker of Scottish Gaelic, unable to function in English, died in the 1970s on some remote island, far away from the bustle of Sraid na Banrighinn.

This time last year:
Death, our sister

This time two years ago:
First bike ride to work of the year

This time three years ago:
Poland's trains ran faster before the war

This time four years ago:
Winter in spring: surely this must be the last snow?

This time five years ago:
Surely THIS must be the last snow?

1 comment:

AndrzejK said...

There is a far stronger argument to have broad Scouse as the second language of Liverpool (a higher percentage speak this strange version of English).