Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Surprising Poll on Languages

The Belfast Telegraph did a poll via telephone in Northern Ireland. One of the questions pertained to whether government documents should be in Irish and Ulster-Scots in addition to English. The results on this question of language were surprising.

Over half (53 percent) recommended a language other than English be included and more than a third (35 percent) recommended all three languages. When combined with those with no opinion, almost three quarters (74 percent) desire or would accept the production of government documents in multiple languages.  Or put another way, only a little over a quarter (26 percent) recommended English only production of government documents.

Historically, language has gotten caught up with the cultural and political traditions in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish language is usually associated with the Republican movement and the Ulster-Scots language is usually associated with the Loyalist movement. However, these associations may be more of a cultural coincidence given the low numbers of speakers of either tongue. Evidence indicates around ten percent of the population of Northern Ireland have some knowledge of Irish and only two percent can speak Ulster-Scots.

Given the number of speakers is lower than the support for native languages, the support for the native cultural tongues must be magnanimous support by non-speakers for those who do so speak.  Considering the tax dollars undoubtedly involved in producing documents in multiple languages, and that virtually all speakers of native tongues are equally fluent in English, this support is surprising.

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