Wednesday, March 7

Alotta Fagina

Ronald Plasterk, Dutch politician and current minister for Education, Culture and Science in the government of Harry Potter, sorry I mean Jan Peter Balkenende, has called for a single working language in the European Union.

In an interview with the NRC Handelsblatt, Plasterk says that "there is not a single serious international organisation where a single language isn't spoken, generally English. In science, business, sport, the army, art, in show business, " Ankara your votes please", nowhere else have you a circus in which 25 languages are translated in all different directions. Even at the European Central Bank they speak English; not because England is the boss, in fact there is only one member country where they speak English, and that is Ireland."

Being Dutch, Plasterk touches on a number of controversial subjects. Calling the Eurovision song contest show business is one. Calling for a single language for the EU institutions clearly (his main point and) another. Then there is the question of which language is spoken in Ireland. Ireland's first official language is actually Irish / Gaelic. It is also, presumably much to Plasterk's displeasure, the latest addition to the list of official EU languages.

I'm with Ronald on this one. I was slightly surprised by the Irish government's decision to request the possibility for Irish to be used at EU level. Ireland is an increasingly wealthy, self-confident nation, unphased by the past. It is now richer than its larger neighbour. In sport, it welcomed the old nemesis into the home of Gaelic games only last week and handed it the mother of all thrashings. Hell, an Irishman, Pierce Brosnan, has even played James Bond, the quintessential Englishman.

Despite all of this success, however, use of the the Irish language remains stagnant. It is a sad state of affairs, to be sure, but not one that is likely to be rectified by granting the people of Ireland the opportunity to request a copy of the Regulation to establish a common authorisation procedure for food additives, food enzymes and food flavourings.

Indeed, the European Commission's press release – stop yawning down the back - states that "currently, there are virtually no interpreters available who can work from Irish." Could it be any clearer that the life or death struggle for the language will be fought at home in Ireland? The (eventual) training of five translators to live and work in Brussels is not going to make the difference.

Stop with the symbolic gestures and get down to the real business of saving the language. Otherwise it is only a matter of time before the remnants of Gaelic will only be seen in the many words it has bequeathed to English. A clan, as many people will know, is the Gaelic for tribe. Phoney comes from fáinne, ring. The term apparently originated from Irish immigrants in US referring to fake gold rings illegally marketed there. Smithereens comes from smidiríní meaning little pieces. And not a lot of people know that galore comes from the Gaelic go leor, which means, enough .

The EU has done a lot for Ireland but it is too big an ask for Brussels to rectify a situation in which the English handed out 800 years of oppression and destroyed a language in return for, well, a single James Bond and.....Pussy Galore.

22 comments:

Dafydd said...

Multinational organizations, companies, institutions, etc, don't just USUALLY choose English as the sole language. Today, the now ALWAYS choose English. Obviously, there are individual savings - not that much in the general order of things.

But there are great (economic and cultural) losses. Blair talks - or talked a few years ago - of the UK earning around £12 billion from the English language annually. That money comes from somewhere...

I just find it too simplistic to says 'English only'!

Here's an interesting article on the economic effects:

http://www.sprakforsvaret.se/sf/index.php?id=339


Dafydd

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Perhaps the EU institutions should adopt the language of each Presidency in turn. That would create some jobs. Not to mention total chaos.

Auf wiedersehen. Pet.

Hercé said...

dafydd - interesting link. this is a very touchy subject of course and i would not be as hasty as to suggest English only. Just not entirely sure that we need irish thrown into the mix.

Daphne - picking the language of each Presidency would indeed cause huge chaos, not least in Ireland when its turn came around! and what would happen during the Spanish presidency following the inevitable(?) recognition of basque and catalan?

Little Brother said...

In a bid to further integrate the nations of Europe, perhaps each nation should agree to conduct their EU business in the language of their closest neighbour.

The true genius of this plan would be that while Robert Kilroy-Silk and his English colleagues struggle to object to directives as gaelige, the Irish MEPs would be given a reasonably open path towards domination through their reasonably proficient use of the English language.

Worth considering.

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