N. Ireland: Language, Language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Sep 1 14:03:10 UTC 2008

Language, language

I don't want to major on the Irish Language Act right now – we'll save
up for it later.  But just taking up the point from Henry McDonald's
Observer piece.

"The government won't bring it in via Westminster because the danger
is they would be legally bound to recognise other languages such as
Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and so on as being of equal legal status to
English. Which would cost millions and millions to implement in a time
of depleted public finances "

The government seems to have no such obligation anyway under the
European Charter for Regional and Minorities languages which they
ratified in March 2001 specifically to apply to NI.
According to the Wikipedia article on the Charter it only applies to
languages traditionally used by the nationals of the State Parties
(thus excluding languages used by recent immigrants from other
states). That would seem to nail the Downing St reply as tendentious.
I suppose it depends on what is meant by "recent" immigrants. Many
Urdu and Arabic speakers, close relatives of those already settled,
arrived here recently although immigration from Arabic-speaking
countries and Pakistan dates back to the fifties - and those
minorities continues to enjoy extensive language support.
Furthermore this casual briefing line can hardly be regarded as a
considered reply. No doubt Mr Adams, who will feel rebuffed by the
report, is on the case already.

Even if the government as such doesn't wish to be "legally bound to
recognise foreign languages as being of equal legal status to
English," whatever that entails anyway, lots of other public bodies in
England especially councils "recognise" them in droves. The merest
acquaintance with foreign language policy in England shows what a
tiddler the NI language issue is by comparison – divesting it for a
moment of its political resonance.


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