Monday 16 December 2019

Accepting Hiberno-English as the far superior cúpla focal

'While respecting the rightful place of Irish in our nation’s psyche, let’s be realists and acknowledge the English dialect that has served us very well indeed.' Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images
'While respecting the rightful place of Irish in our nation’s psyche, let’s be realists and acknowledge the English dialect that has served us very well indeed.' Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

English is the go-to language for EU institutions - but no state other than the UK has registered it as its primary language. This means that its legal status could be removed when the country finally Brexits, even though English is in everyday use here and in Malta. It will only cease to be used if every member state of the EU votes to abandon it, which is certainly highly improbable.

All the same, shouldn't we finally embrace English as our first official language? Granted, Irish has enjoyed something of a new lease of life due to its popularity in drink-driving cases. But, does it make complete sense to pin our national identity to a language that we don't speak and seldom use?

"We have a regulation... where every EU country has the right to notify one official language," Danuta Hübner, the Polish MEP who heads the European parliament's constitutional affairs committee, told a press conference yesterday. "The Irish have notified Gaelic and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you have only the UK notifying English." French politicians have, unsurprisingly, also led calls since the Brexit vote for an end to the English language's dominance. "English can no longer be the third working language of the European parliament," said Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a French presidential candidate.

Robert Ménard, the mayor of the southern French town of Béziers, said English no longer has "any legitimacy".

Later he addressed criticism of his comments by tweeting: "Irish Gaelic, the first national language. English is a second language [from] the constitutional point of view."

Our Constitution states that Irish is our national language and the first official language. English is recognised as a second official language. However, the number of fluent Irish speakers here is difficult to pin down. It has been argued that it is far closer to 3pc than the aspirational 25pc who ticked the language box on the last census.

Still we have the State's insistence that Irish be maintained as an official language - even though plans to promote it are not working, and generation after generation leaves school with poor fluency levels despite spending years learning it.

English is my first language. It's the only language I speak apart from some mangled Russian. Even after years of learning Irish in school, basic conversation in Irish is beyond most of us. Myles na gCopaleen was writing about our farcical approach to Irish back in 1941. In 'An Béal Bocht', The President of the Grand Feis of Corca Dorcha addresses the crowd: "Gaels! If we're truly Gaelic we must constantly discuss the question of the Gaelic revival and the question of Gaelicism... There is nothing in this life so nice and so Gaelic as truly true Gaelic Gaels who speak in true Gaelic Gaelic about the truly Gaelic language." And that, I'm afraid, just about sums us and our chronic denial about the Irish language up. National identity doesn't derive from dead languages.

Scotland has virtually lost its language - only 2pc of the population speak Scottish Gaelic - but has a confident, assertive culture, a more broadly based nationalism, a willingness to contemplate independence, and a powerful artistic impact in the English language.

While respecting the rightful place of Irish in our nation's psyche, let's be realists and acknowledge the English dialect that has served us very well indeed. It is a truth universally acknowledged, at any rate by the English, that English is the best language in the world. It certainly has almost the largest vocabulary. The only language with a larger one, and which is more flexible and more poetic than English, is Hiberno-English.

I don't mean the 'top o' the mornings' embraced by American film directors. No, I'm talking about Hiberno-English where the words are English (most of the time) but they've been attached to the template of the older language we spoke.

Hiberno-English moves to a unique rhythm. Our sentences sound different. They're longer, more curlicued and beautiful. We've concocted linguistic gems like eejit, yoke, hot press, craic, plámás and smithereen. We've invented the strange grammar of phrases such as "I'm after doing". It has all the regional dialects, accents, inflections, euphemisms, turns of phrase, humour and bitterness, history and landscape that we need.

It's our only first language and the language that should be our official one.

Read more: English language will NOT be banned from EU after Brexit, despite claims

Irish Independent

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