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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Language and the State

OK, nobody has any suggestions, so I'd better start a thread myself.

This week's Word of Mouth saw the welcome return of Michael 

without the parrot but with students at the Mary Ward Settlement and Centre 

and a bunch of characters worrying about state aid to ESOL English to Speakers of Other Languages.

I've always seen ESOL to immigrants as an unqualified blessing, enabling the immigrants to thrive and contribute to the host society, and removing obstacles to social harmony. But was I naive? Are there immigrants who don't need English and don't want to learn more than a minimum? Should we force them to  sacrifice time and effort (and now money) towards learning English? Is there a cost to the State if we don't subsidise ESOL and translation services?

How great a priority should provision like the Mary Ward ESOL courses be? Can we expect the elected politicians who hold the purse strings to persuade the electorate that services for immigrants are a duty? Should retired TEFL teachers like me volunteer to fill the gap Big-Society style? Or would that be scabbing, allowing the State to sack more ESOL teachers?

The programme also mentioned the information expected from the Census. 
Look at these questions in the version prepared partly for the Scottish Government. What is Holyrood to make of our answers?


  1. I got around to filling in my census form today! Not listened to the prog yet but I did wonder about the implicit agenda in the cencus. Already hundreds of thousands have been spent on the introduction of Gaelic signs to the Highlands (and probably islands). They're 'Salmonding' the nation. Good politics - but divisive as there are large swathes with a different linguistic tradition (and not just the lalanders). Will listen again - if that facility hasn't been withdrawn with the cuts!

  2. The programme referred to one question on the Census for England form: What is your main language? Imprecise, they agreed, but an easy concept to grasp.

    The Scottish questions are more precise than that. What intrigues me is the column asking about Scots. Could this lead to raised status as an official language? Or could it provide an excuse for cutting back?

  3. I just tried to Post a rather long-winded comment about Scots and how to save it. The preview called me anonymous, and when I tried to change it, I lost the whole thing. I'll maybe try again later.

  4. Why, oh Gods of the Greataway, can I do this when I can't do that?

  5. Brian, as a rule it works when you are already signed in to your own profile, but there is also the requirement to verify a random sequence of characters to pass security. Mind you, you have three successful posts, so you must know this?

  6. Brian

    This happens to me all the time. Earlier today I lost a pretty long message with complicated formatting though a careless stroke of the mouse. Just now I lost my first version of this posting by doing exactly what I was in the process of telling you not to do.

    See my blue paragraph in the Welcome to Word-of-Mouthers OP. The moral is never to leave a screen with stuff in the POST A COMMENT box — not without first saving the contents of the box.

  7. Brian

    I've just heard last week's programme on endangered languages. As an outsider in Scotland I've formed the impression that Scots is not endangered as a thing. It's as a language that Scots has passed through danger — perhaps surviving, perhaps not.

    I like to think that Scots has reasserted itself as a language, but is this unrealistic? Is Scots a moderately thriving non-language code? Is the sort of intellectualising in Scots by Billy Kay any different from the enthusiasts chatting in resurrected Cornish or Manx? Is Hugh MacDiarmid any closer to real language than Finnegan's Wake?

  8. I just posted a huge response to your latest (4 April), David - having signed in and everything. It got trashed, all same as da rest.

    So, I'll try brevity instead: Para 2, sentence 1: not sure.
    Para 2, sentence 2 yes, but because of its history it's a language too. Sentence three: Billy kay is a prat. Final sentence: not really, but that doesn't diminish his actual achievement.

  9. Brian

    Well, you and I seem to understand each other, but I doubt if this exchange is intelligible to many onlookers — at least, not many onlookers outside Scotland.

    I'll understand if you give up on me. But if you do ever give it another go, make sure that you COPY before attempting to post.. If you can SAVE as well, so much the better.

  10. The root - or one of the roots - of our problem is that generations of teachers dinned into the kids that Scots was just "bad English": within my lifetime (though it never happened to me) kids were still being belted for using Scots words in the classroom.

  11. Hi David

    The above is a bit of me giving it another go - the last paragraph, as it happens. I tried to copy the whole thing, but it wouldn't let me select it all, so the main bit was lost, when it did the ususal "Sorry but etc". Next time, Ill try making this box bigger to see if that helps.

  12. I have to go and start preparations for my wife's birthday dinner now. Will do more trying in due course.

  13. Brian

    From what you've said in the past of your system, I think you can us the Select All command in the Edit pull-down menu.

  14. Well, here goes again.

    I think I was saying that Scots suffers from the absence of a "Received Standard Scots". "Lallans" won't do: synthetic languages never catch on, and are hard to use in a natural way. That MacDiarmid achieved just this in his lyrics is testimony to his genius, not to the tongue. And Grassic Gibbon wisely eschewed it in the Quair, in favour of Anglicised Scots or Scotticised English.

    Maybe we need an "Academie Ecossaise" - but I don't think so: the original doesn't seem to have done much good for French. I don't know how the experiment in Greece has fared, but I doubt if it has impinged much on the andron in the street. Perhaps we should emulate the Italians, who seem to cope well enough with their old dialects and "formal' Italian running in tandem.

  15. One synthetic language that caught on in a spectacular way is Modern Hebrew. The circumstances were drastic: a brand new state and a campaign against the language of the majority — Yidddish.

    When Norway won independence from Denmark, scholars concocted not one but two new national languages. As far as I know, both are still flourishing, alongside more local dialects. The Greek experiment as I understand it was to devise two national languages Δημοτική 'demotic' based on what people actually spoke and Καθαρεύουσα Katherevousa or 'purified' incorporating elements from ancient literature. When I first visited Greece as a schoolboy, there was lots of written Katherevousa about. Every cafe menu listed teion, for example, but you asked for tsai. According to Wikipedia Katherevousa lost its official status in 1976. When I asked some Greek postgraduate students about it a few years ago, they barely knew what i was talking about.

    In an independent Scotland, it would not be impossible to emulate the Balkans with three ethnic state languages (Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian) where one there was one — and plans are afoot for a fourth language: Montenegrian. This is not a prophecy. I don't think Scotland will choose to do this — but it could if it wanted.

    I'm not sure about an Academy. Well, I'm sure I wouldn't like one, but what I mean is that I don't know how effective it could be for good or ill. The Académie Française undoubtedly shaped French, but other forces entirely led to the demise of other dialects and languages in France.

  16. Mal's Allotment said "Already hundreds of thousands have been spent on the introduction of Gaelic signs to the Highlands (and probably islands)."

    i've no complaint about using Gaelic spellings as well as the non-Gaelic ones in the Highlands and Islands, but I draw the line at Them adding a Gaelic translation to the signs at Queen Street station in Glasgow. I've not seen any translations at Central even though its platforms provide the Highlandman's Umbrella.

    Even more ludicrous was a map of the South-West of Scotland which I saw on the internet where the names of the towns had been translated into Gaelic, names which in many cases are derived from the other branch of the Celtic languages.

    When I previewed this, I found it was giving my name from my e-mail address. When I find out how, I shall reset it to "Douglas"

  17. Douglas

    1. Get to the Sign in screen. (If
    all else fails, sign out, then sign in again.)

    2. Click Edit Profile

    3. (If neccessary) under Privacy
    uncheck Show my email address

    4. Under Identity type in Douglas

  18. i've already tried something like that.

    I think I've got it right.

  19. But I hadn't set my picture.