There’s a language storm brewing in Northern Ireland. The talk of raising Irish, or Gaeilge, to par with English is also raising a few hackles. Some people think Irish is moribund and should live out its days in the coal shed. Some people think English [read: Orange English] is under threat. Some people need a psychiatrist.
In Canada, my paternal grandmother spoke French when she was little, but her father had a policy: “If someone comes over and speaks English, so do we.” I can see his point; you wouldn’t want your guests to think you were talking about them.
In France today, if I try asking someone for directions in (my terrible) French, there’s a good chance they’ll switch to English – for two reasons:
1) it’s friendly;
2) they’re politely asking me to stop murdering their language.
The point is they switch, and we English speakers hardly ever do that. We expect everyone to speak our language, and if they don’t it’s irritating. Or suspicious. To some, Irish is the language of bombers. They forget plenty of gunmen have spoken the Queen’s.
From a conspiracy theory slash ‘all governments are evil’ standpoint, language is a useful tool to influence and ultimately control people. In the average narcissist, foreign languages cue a subliminal fear. When you don’t understand the lingo, you’re losing control, and that paranoia drives a hater’s opposition to a language tied to Ireland’s soil. (It’s funny how soil and soul look similar.)
I don’t speak a word of Irish, but you’re welcome to speak it in my house and teach me a thing or two. I welcome street signs flavoured with a bit more culture; I’d be happy to receive bilingual emails from my daughter’s integrated school; I’m willing to share hot air space in the interest of peppering Northern Ireland’s blandscape with some indigenous sparkle.
Grandma would’ve been 92 this year. When I knew her she had all but forgotten her French. You might say English killed it. Irish is no threat to English; if you need evidence, visit the Republic – I hear English is making quite the comeback. But seriously, Irish will silence the Lambeg drum about as much as English silenced the bodhrán. If you think Gaeilge parity will result in cultural ruination, do us all a favour and visit a shrink.