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Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Thursday, 12 November 2009
Minority languages under debate

Languages within the British Isles

The British Irish Council was set up after the Good Friday Agreement to promote 'mutually beneficial development' in the British Isles.

It covers a range of subjects from health and environment to the knowledge economy and in the most recent Council, held in Jersey - minority languages.

Although English is the most widely spoken language in the British Isles, there are a number of regional tongues.

These include Irish, Jerriais, Guernésiais, Manx, Gaelic and Welsh.

There is a Minority Languages Group within the British Irish Council, led by the Welsh contingent that is looking at the usage of native minority languages within the British Isles.

Comhairle na Breataine-na hÉireann
Conseil Britannique-Irlàndais
Conseil Britannique-Irlandais
Coonceil Ghoaldagh-Yernagh
Scottish Gaelic:
Comhairle Bhreatainn-Èirinn
Britisch-Airisch Cooncil
Cyngor Prydain-Iwerddon

The amount the native languages are used varies from place to place with Welsh being the most widely used with over 750,000 speakers.

The Welsh language is compulsory in schools, and there are cash points, road signs and shops in the Welsh language.

All of which means about a 5th of the population can speak some Welsh.

Schools in Ireland also have to teach Irish Gaelic and now about 40% of the population say they can get by in their native language.

And in Cornwall, school lessons and road signs show Cornish is enjoying a similar revival and is now recognised by a European charter in minority regional languages.

The number of Scottish Gaelic speakers is thought to be about 1.2% of the Scottish population with most living in the Highlands.

But work is underway to increase the number of native speakers with a new dedicated BBC TV Channel, BBC Alba and the language is also taught in schools in Scotland.

A programme of revival in the last few years has seen a number of regional languages come back from the brink of extinction.

Learning Jerriais

Manx was listed as extinct as a first language in the 1970s but thanks to a programme of academic revival there are now 1,600 people with some knowledge of the language and over 100 fluent speakers.

The first native speakers of Manx, those bilingual in both English and Manx were born to Manx speaking parents in the last few years.

And since 2003 there has been a Manx speaking primary school for four to 11 year olds in the island.

The theme of the 13th summit is indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages and looking at how administrations promote those languages.

Tony Scott-Warren, the Jerriais Language Officer said they would be sharing best practice and talking about education.

"There are four different discussion areas and we have been chosen, as we have some expertise in adult education to talk about that.

"The working party has been going on for a number of years and has been looking at all different aspects of minority, indigenous and lesser used languages throughout the British Isles and Ireland.

"Really it is a forum whereby we can get together and discuss all different aspects of keeping our languages as vibrant as it is possible to do so," said Tony.

The Isle of Man has been a template for Jersey's Jerriais leaders in how to bring a language back from the brink of extinction and revive it.

"They've been teaching at a much higher level than we have done, the Isle of Man is one of our examples, they've been a pattern for us all the way through.

Language is the main topic of the 13th British Irish Council

"The reason we got Jerriais lessons started was after discovering what was happening in the Isle of Man.

"They had a language that has to all intents and purposes died and they lost their last native speaker in the 1970s.

"They have over 1,000 children who are learning, they've got it to GCSE level and to A Level as well.

"They've taken great strides and we've taken a lot of information from them on how they've done that," said Tony.

But for Tony Scott-Warren, although there is more being done all the time to promote the language in Jersey and increase its usage, for it to grow more work is needed.

"I'd like it to be much more visible, that's the best way to describe it. Jerriais, especially for young people needs to be as real as possible.

"The fact is that we are surrounded by Jerriais all the time, our road names, our family names but it isn't obvious.

"What we'd like to see is a lot more bilingual signage everywhere, but certainly within States departments," said Tony.

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