[lg policy] Ireland: 20 Year Strategy for Irish Language Launched: It ’s All Politics

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 4 16:08:29 UTC 2011

20 Year Strategy for Irish Language Launched: It’s All Politics
Posted on January 3, 2011 by ultan

Just before Christmas, 2010, the Irish Government launched their 20
year strategy for the Irish language. Ten years in the making, there
was little reaction to announcement from the translation industry,
other than latching on to a media-friendly pitch about tripling the
number of daily Irish speakers from 83,000 to 250,000 by 2030.

Most Irish language enthusiasts —or watchers of the subject—prefaced
their comments along the lines of “Cuirim fáilte roimh stráitéis an
rialtais i dtaca leis an Ghaeilge, ach….”. I am no different. I do
welcome a strategy, but unfortunately, it’s the wrong strategy, for
the wrong language, at the wrong time. What a shame the strategy
wasn’t about creating a multilingual society in Ireland and positioned
Irish within that, along with other languages. But then, there are
politicians in the mix.

Firstly, 1.5 million Euros is a tiny amount of investment to dedicate
to any language. And, the targeted increase in the numbers of speakers
is unrealistic. Furthermore, the strategy offers nothing in the way of
integration of all Irish speakers or reflects what’s really going on
with the language today.

Instead, the message is clear, and it’s a political one. The
strategy’s central thrust is about forcing people to learn Irish a
particular way because Irish law requires it, and Irish is a
recognized language of the European Union. Ironically, it is clear
that Irish people are already well capable of learning and using Irish
today, leveraging more popular culture influences such as TG4 and so
on. Brian Ó Broin  (no relation) of the William Paterson University in
New Jersey has already pointed out that more Irish people than ever
are speaking Irish in some form, though they cannot all understand
each other because of dialectical differences. This trend should be
allowed to continue. A language is a living means of communication,
not something defined by a legalistic interpretation and enforcement
of some concept of Gaeltacht or a mandatory part of  formal education
for children and teenagers.

Next, it is clear that Ireland needs a language policy in general, one
that goes far beyond statutory commitments to an teanga dúchais and
addresses the needs of Ireland’s place in a globalized economy.
Ireland’s already been criticized for its failings in multilingual
skills provision and how this negatively impacts employment for Irish
people (and indeed exports).

Anyone interested in how other countries value multilingual skills
from an economic perspective should read Professor Ingela Bel Habib of
University of Göteborg, Sweden’s paper “The effects of linguistic
skills on the export performance of French, German and Swedish SMEs“,
which demonstrates that  multilingualism and economic competitiveness
are closely linked.  The list of job openings posted by Facebook in
Dublin highlights the importance of language skills.

Finally, I found the strategy lacked any credible references or ideas
about the role of technology in increasing Irish language usage. Sure,
 it makes some vague allusion to machine translation as being
“critical”. But what of more innovative technological approaches? The
strategy might have referred to the use of computer games in learning
Irish (an area being researched by Ireland’s Centre for Next
Generation Localisation, for example) or other ideas. Perhaps the
strategy’s claim that “the Historic Dictionary of the Irish language
being developed by the Royal Irish Academy will be completed by 2037″
perhaps we should not be surprised at lack of insight here.

In all, a rather disappointing strategy document, destined for
abandonment. Clearly, it’s a political document, delivered without
much fanfare by a government that is deeply unpopular and also on the
way out. Not that it will stop Irish people who want to speak Irish
from doing so, thankfully. Besides, most of us now have much higher
priorities now than paying attention to government “strategies”.


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