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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 08:47 GMT
Should minority languages be protected?
The Scottish Parliament is holding its first bi-lingual Gaelic/English debate to discuss the teaching of Gaelic in the classroom.
Less than 70,000 Scots speak the language and nearly all MSPs will rely on headphones to listen to a translation of proceedings. Is it time for a revival?
What do you think? Is preserving minority languages the best way to keep a nation in touch with its heritage? Or do you think there's no point spending money on promoting old languages in modern society? Send us your views and experiences. Each of the ex-USSR's 120 languages was (and still is in most places) official in its respective districts even if its native speakers largely forgot it or were tiny part of the population. It did not hurt - at least no one complains about it. And there is no violence or arguments such as over the "Serbo-Croat" language in the former Yugoslavia.
In Wales, children from welsh speaking families are fluent in two languages by the time they start school. Surely this makes their brains develop in a more flexible way than the mono-linguists? Many European children are also bilingual from year zero. It is widely accepted that most European countries have a higher level of academic achievement than the UK - could this be part of the reason? I think the actual languages are unimportant - it is bilingualism and the added mental agility that is the key.
Emyr James, Wales
If we are to have a multiethnic society let the native people of Britain have an equal opportunity to maintain their culture and language!
RJ Kerr, Scotland
Wales and Scotland should concentrate more on using taxpayers money to rebuild their struggling economies, rather then trying to retain their languages with bilingual road signs, and having it compulsory in schools and to get jobs.
Welsh is a beautiful language, but the chip on Welsh shoulders is ugly.
Jon Livesey, USA
I live in central Scotland and wish I'd had the opportunity to study Gaelic at school. If I can find a primary school that teaches in Gaelic for my children when they are old enough I will gladly send them there.
Craig Wallace, UK
I cannot believe how we are going to such extraordinary lengths to appease every minority group or special interest that raises its head. Gaelic? Cornish? How much money is this going to cost and for what real end? I hardly think that being able to speak Gaelic is going to make any difference in the real world. Perhaps the money would be better spent by increasing employment in the poorer parts of Scotland and the rest of the UK. That way in 25 years time, perhaps that way there might be some people left to warrant having a government.
Neil Smith, USA
My sister is a primary school teacher in Wales - the government has spent a fortune training teachers to speak Welsh. My sister's classes are a mix of Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Ethiopian and 'Welsh' kids. The Welsh kids are the ones that never pick it up as they don't have the linguistic capabilities of the other children with mixed ethnic backgrounds. Being Welsh is a state of mind, it doesn't need a dying language to back it up.
Martyn, London (but Welsh)
As an ex-pat Scot from the central belt of Scotland, it annoys me to see so many comments from Americans and the like about Gaelic being a "beautiful and romantic language". Maybe so, but its not the language of Central Scotland, and never was - it's a highland language. Gaelic is not THE language of Scotland, it is A language of Scotland. I support its use, as I think minority groups should have their interests looked after too.
I am shocked and quite upset by the amount of negative comments directed at speakers of Welsh and Gaelic. There was one comment that Welsh was ugly and another (from someone in England, I hasten to add) that nobody was interested in learning Welsh anymore. Well I beg to differ. I studied at Prifysgol Gogledd Cymru - Bangor university and I am now a keen Welsh learner. I have been studying for 3 years now and the classes I attend (for adult learners) are always full. I have also attended courses in Nant Gwrtheyrn and they are always booked up too. I am sad that there are so many ignorant people out there - that assume we are learning 'minority' languages to the detriment of 'living' languages. I speak fluent German, am an English mother tongue speaker and good standard conversational French and Dutch. It is possible to learn more than one language - after all the 'proper' Europeans often speak many languages and you could argue their English is better than ours!
Did you know that in many Asian or Indian communities in parts of England, some people cannot speak or do not learn English, but they can still get a job and lives their lives normally. Fair enough that does not bother me and I am not a racist! What does bother me is that as an Englishman living in Wales, my children have to learn Welsh and for me to a get a decent job here I have to speak Welsh because I am living in their country and should respect their culture! Does this mean that preserving minority languages is hypocritical, or just 'reverse discrimination' against the English?
A John, Wales (from England)
I have read all the above comments with interest. Although I was born in England I am very proud of my Irish heritage. When I lived in Ireland when I was young Gaelic was taught in the schools and had I been there I would no doubt have continued to have been taught it. I personally would much rather know a language such as Gaelic which I have some links to than a language such as French which I have no connection to at all. As for Tom from the UK's comments that everyone should talk English as a second language and no other 'archaic' language, this view is typical of English arrogance and the 'we are better than the rest of the world' syndrome which exists in this country and gives it a bad name in Europe.
Justin O' Mahony, England
I think that it is a lovely dialect and most unusual and pleasant to the ear. When spoken, it's the sound of history through the ages. Absolutely fascinating.
Tahir Nawab, NY, USA
The world is fast becoming a global village in which the need for different cultures and communities to be able to communicate is greater than ever. What we all need is a common language that we can all learn with ease, not this mad proliferation of regional languages spoken by a minute fraction of the population. We need a universal language but it does not necessarily have to be English. If we are all going to live in harmony then we should be breaking down barriers not erecting them!
Phil Hall, UK
I am all for Gaelic being preserved in the Western Isles for example where it is spoken regularly, but far too much taxpayers money is being spent promoting it in Central Scotland where it is never spoken and historically never was (by the masses at any rate).
George Docherty, Scotland
Why should we force the English language on to people who thousands of years ago did not speak it but spoke their own language. It was because Scotland was invaded that they now speak English as their first language. It's not right, Scotland's native tongue used to be Gaelic and now its English. Long live the beautiful tongue of the Gael, get Gaelic compulsory in Schools!
Rebecca Lyons-Rothery, North West UK
Protect it by all means but don't teach it and discriminate against those that don't. We're living in a modern society where English is more important. It's the language of the Internet and I'd wager that English is learnt more than any other foreign language in non-English speaking countries. Speaking Welsh, Cornish or Scottish is almost like getting us English people to speak like cavemen - it's part of our heritage but it doesn't mean it's useful to modern life.
Alfred Noakes, UK
As a patriotic Scot having to work in Switzerland for a few years, I believe it is a shame that Gaelic has been 'lost' - but it's too late. In my hometown the supermarkets have signs in Gaelic for the tourists, but no locals know what they mean.
My parents thought they were doing the right thing my sending me to Gaelic lessons when I was a child, but now I am struggling to compete with bi- and tri-lingual people in the workplace who were taught 'living' languages.
The children of today would benefit far more from learning Spanish or even Chinese for their future, not being sent backwards in time to learn a language which only aids in putting up more barriers between nations, rather than removing them.
Caroline, a Scot living in Switzerland
By all means support Welsh and Gaelic - but support also needs to be given to the various dialects around Britain. I am a Lallans (lowland Scots) speaker, despite the efforts of schools to beat it out of me, but although there are plenty of Gaelic resources in the media here, and many hours of television programming, there is no help for Scots.
Geordie friends of mine face the same problem in trying to pass their culture on to future generations. The only way to do that is to take it out of the dusty books and into the mass media - you may have Gaelic and Welsh pages on the BBC website - but where is the Scots page?
L Smith, Scotland
"Never ask for place-names in Wales, Baldric. You'll be washing the spit out of your hair for weeks". Blackadder said it all... Welsh is an ugly, guttural language.. and Gaelic is not much better. Languages don't just die because a more powerful nation says it should be so (ask Estonians)... but because they lack the means and the flexibility to actually express the subtleties of modern-day existence. English is a fantastically subtle language... and the Scots and the Welsh should consider themselves lucky to be exposed to it from an early age.
Howard J. Rogers, Australia
I support the promotion of indigenous minority languages such as Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish. However, I am concerned that some people think it's a way of getting back at the English. The person who thinks the English tried to snuff out Gaelic should read a bit more about Scottish history! It was the lowland Scots (the real "sassenachs") who were involved in this, as I am sure the writer really knows. I say this as someone of highland (McKenzie- Sutherland) and lowland (Todd, Taylor) descent!
Ian Taylor, South Africa
Minority languages are a complete waste of time. Let them be taught an international language such as French, German or Spanish, then it will come in useful in their later lives.
No foreigner is going to bother to learn anything other than English because it's the world language, so they'll be left talking to themselves and unable to effectively communicate in the wider world, in anything but English.
Matthew Illsley, England
I lived in Luxembourg for two years. Contrary to common understanding the national language is not French but Luxembourg. This language is spoken in the home, at Spielschule and in between Luxembourgers. The Luxembourgers are very proud of their language and keen to see it preserved as such.
That said, common sense does prevail. Children are taught to read and write German, French and English before they learn Luxembourgeous and Government is conducted in French and German and most businesses in French and German. In fact the National Newspaper the Luxembourg Wort is printed in German and French but not Luxembourgeous.
So let's be sensible guys. I appreciate the importance of retaining a language but let's do it in a way where it is useful and doesn't cause a mockery of the process. Take a lead from our friends in Luxembourg.
Roy Chapman, UK/Germany
There is absolutely no point preserving these archaic languages. No one wants to speak them or learn them. English is the only language that anyone should learn as a second to their own. Eventually all the World will speak English and a great deal of war and misunderstanding will vanish.
We find our identity through ourselves, not by having some "group identity" or "cultural heritage" foisted upon us. As a so-called "Asian" in London, I know only too well that the media's trendy liberal approach to "multiculturalism" is way off the mark! Our best hope is an integrated society, not a divided one full of "minority communities"!
Brendan Fernandes, England
There is a greater need for Scottish children to speak European languages in order to compete and do business with our EU partners. While children are learning Gaelic they are not learning something useful. It is unlikely that time and money spent teaching children Gaelic will make them more attractive to employers. There simply is no need culturally or economically.
G Mitchell, Scotland
Different languages promote different ways of thinking. For that reason, I believe that all people should be schooled in at least two languages; it helps encourage creative reasoning. Minority languages can fulfil this purpose in addition to serving as a tie to one's cultural heritage.
Edward MacGregor, USA
Different languages represent obstacles to communication. Why should a regional government wish to spend a considerable amount of the public's money trying to promote a language which, given the chance to survive in today's increasingly globalised and inclusive environment, would surely soon die a natural death. I find any reasons for such support, apart from the obvious nationalistic motives, hard to imagine.
There have already been cases of apparent racial discrimination in the UK over job availability for English-but non-local language-speakers being restricted. I am suspicious of attempts to promote archaic languages, the benefits of encouraging them are elusive to me, to say the least
I think preserving and promoting older languages is very important. In this rapidly changing time in history, let us not be so arrogant as to think that we can take these languages away from future generations just to save us some time and effort. We should make the effort!
It has been ancient languages such as Gaelic, Sanskrit and Hebrew that has kept us in touch with our cultural and spiritual heritage. If we remove the words we remove the knowledge. Remember Orwell's 1984?
Geoffrey Wilde, USA
I think that Gaelic is an important part of Scottish History and should not be killed of because English is the official Language, naturally most people who speak Gaelic are bilingual, but that is not the point. In Wales all sign posts and signs are in both English & Welsh, so I think that Gaelic should not be killed off. Long Live the Gaelic Language
David Mingay, UK
Yeah sure, if the Scots want to debate in their native tounge then why not. However, if it turns out that paying for translators etc comes out of my taxes, then I'd be fairly annoyed.
Every language is a human treasury, so we shall spend money on this. At least it's better than to spend money on war.
Ilya Girin, USA
The spectacle of a 'debate' being held in Gaelic, a language spoken by only two people in the Scottish Parliament was a ridiculous one, a symptom of Scottish Nationalism at its most petty.
However, that is not to say that Gaelic should not be preserved. By all means, encourage its learning in schools and do everything possible to ensure its survival, but spare us the farce of watching a debate spoken in a language that the debaters do not understand.
The time to have debates in Gaelic should be when the participants can speak the language, and not before.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)
Of course! How can anyone put a price on the head of a country's heritage? 70,000 is not a small number. This is not "Ebonics" we are talking about here, this is a native language, pre-existing any kind of colonialised government. It should be supported and defended always.
What's wrong with preserving one's language and heritage?? Why should people be forced to lose a language to the allmighty English. Granted English is the modern language spoken throughout the world, but holding onto a heritage is highly powerful and important to one's identity.
Yes, I think that the teaching of traditional languages in Wales and Scotland is a good idea. It'll give them something positive to base their national identities on rather than just a blind irrational hatred of the English.
Tim Smith, United Kingdom
The Celtic languages are a beautiful, historic and important part of those countries' identity and make-up, and must be preserved - and nurtured as much as possible
Simon Feegrade, England
I am originally from South Wales, never a real hot bed for the Welsh language, however, I was never given the opportunity to learn Welsh in school. Subsequently as an adult it was something I had to pay to do myself. My younger brother had compulsory lessons in Welsh and this now means that he has the ability to apply for jobs which used to be the exclusive domain of people from North & West Wales.
It is important for minority languages to be retained, taught and kept alive. None doubts the benefit of having children learn two languages from an early age, i.e it makes learning other languages easier, and as we become more integrated with Europe we will become a true multi-lingual society.
Protected yes, forced on others, no.
Bilingualism is not to be considered a threat as many prosperous societies are multilingual such as Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, and others. Preservation of a culture depends partly on keeping one's roots which is achieved through language, customs, food, etc.
Mohammad Rafii, USA
We should be concentrating on uniting people from around the world not dividing them by reinforcing languages that are naturally dying out as people become less regionalised and more globalised.
In Wales public services staff are forced to answer the phone in Welsh, even though they could not continue a conversation in Wales as they are English speakers. It's also nearly impossible to get a Creative Job in Wales as you need to speak Welsh, even though the majority of Welsh people don't speak Welsh.
Yet at the same time Wales is trying to market itself as a growing European city, it's so ironic and backward thinking. To work in the Welsh National Tourist Board you have to speak Welsh - WHY??? Are they marketing to North Wales or the world?
Emma Starling, Wales
Well it's useful to remember that Gaelic is not just a beautiful language - there are cultural elements as well. Lose one and you invariably lose the other.
Simon Redding, England
People should have the option, certainly. To try to remove it entirely will, I'm afraid, contribute to what the English and the Normans tried to do centuries ago i.e. eradicate Celtic culture. As if it wasn't enough that the English transliterated our place names into meaningless sets of letters, now they want to do away with the teaching of our language altogether. I'm afraid not. As I say, people should have the choice - the heritage of the Celts should not be allowed to die, no more than the heritage of the English should be (what if it were proposed to stop teaching Shakespeare just because his language was nonsensical by modern standards?)
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland
Most of the world is bilingual and only Portugal and England (unless you count Cornish) in Europe do not have minority languages.
Why should we sacrifice living languages for an ideal of a monoglot English speaking world? Just as the French want to protect their language and culture against an international onslaught so should the Scots, the Welsh and everyone else.
Too often language is used as a barrier by both opponents and speakers of minority languages (just look at Wales!) - surely a bilingual future where languages can co-exist as equally valid is the future?
Stuart Cane, Wales
They are the vessel that store people's culture and identity and must therefore be preserved. If we let beautiful languages like Welsh or any of the UK's community languages die out we would lose an immeasurable amount of literature and culture which we could not recover.
A lot of people with English as their second language are disadvantaged in their dealings with official bodies in having to deal in English, They should be given facilities to conduct their business in their own mother tongue. People deserve respect for their own culture and should be able to use their mother tongue wherever necessary.
Jason Thomas Williams, UK (Welsh but living in London)
If the direct cost of supporting minority languages were added to indirect costs (duplication, time, translation etc.) throughout Europe - How many hospitals could we provide?
Jim Kavanagh, England
If by this you mean the promotion of minority languages and the related culture then fine. However we should ensure that we do not try to preserve these languages as historical relics (example being the policy of the academie francaise). All languages should be promoted but also allowed to develop and change. If that means that Gaelic and Cornish adopt a little MTV slang then so be it.
My background is of neither Scottish nor Irish heritage, but yet I have studied Gaelic for two years because of its beauty and wonderful oral history, in terms of poetry and narrative. The language should definitely be kept alive!
Michael Deckard, USA
As an American of Scots-Irish ancestry - as well as Native American (Cherokee) - I follow cultural and political developments in Scotland and Ireland. All languages offer us a window to the unique histories and cultures of times, places, and peoples that exist outside our own time. As such, the fact that these languages have survived into the present day, with its deathly impetus towards a mono-culture, attests to human potential and ingenuity.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
As sociocultural indicators, languages offer us sometimes very different eyes through which we can observe, understand, and critique our world and experience.
A big cheer for the people of Scotland, as they begin recovering their own Gaelic culture.
Reverend James C. Lovette-Black, USA
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