Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Why Irish and Ulster-Scots don't really do the business...

The British Council says Northern Irealnd is weak when it comes to producing workers with more than one language.

This is leading to a shortfall in the numbers of business people with the requisite linguistic skills to compete on a global scale. Since languages became optional after third year of secondary education, French and German studies have dropped significantly. Spanish and Irish are holding steady.

Of course the real need is for people to know Chinese and other Asian languages, as well as different European tongues. It seems we're moving very slowly in this regard.

So it's good to see that our Assembly and councils can find the money to invest in broadening our linguistic abilities. Just last week at a theatre in Omagh, I was struck by the signage which was multi-lingual. English, French, German and Mandarin? No! Why would we want to bother with those namby pamby dialects when we have really important languages to be upholding. I'm talking of course about Irish and Ulster Scots.

In the Strule Arts Centre, if you were caught short and needed to spend a penny, but you only had Ulster Scots as your lanuage, you'd be relieved to see the sign pointing to "Cludgies". (I kid you not).

If you weren't sure where the Stairs and Lifts were, you'd have been delighted to see an arrow pointing towards the "Staires an' Heft".

And for all those performers, raised only to speak the tongue of the Ulster Scot, a sign pointing to backstage, but calling it "Beck o' Pletform", was all they needed.

I know we get our priorities a bit up the chute sometimes here, but this British Council report, coupled with my experience last week, leads me to conclude that our heads are well and truly up our collective "beck" passage when it comes to education and cultural expression. So intent are some people on clinging to an identity that seems to be based on a fearful siege mentality, they would rather focus time, money and effort on this inward-looking nonsense than promote languages of the world that are actually useful in these global village times.

Speak Ulster Scots all you like. Please. Be my guest. It's great to keep traditions alive, but please don't try to confuse a quaint spoken dialect with an important living language.

The insistence on Ulster Scots being recognised as a separate language simply perpetuates a sense of us being this little timorous, quivering sub-race of put-upon victims.

Let's call a spade a spade and grow up in Northern Ireland. The Irish language is very much a minority tongue and there's no-one alive, as far as I know, who only speaks Irish, not English.

But it is a real language and it speaks so fluently of where we live that it's a great tool for learning about our geography, our history and our culture. Can it just be seen as this and not as the Linguistic Wing of the IRA?

Could we possibly take the political posturing and point-scoring out of our languages and let them be enjoyed for what they are? Maybe then our young people might embrace "foreign" tongues with more confidence.

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