Bhòt THA anns an reifreann and annoy Nigel

I once nearly got accused of stalking when I lived in Spain, and to be fair, I was actually following the couple. How weird and creepy is that. But in my defence it’s not because I was stalking them, it’s just that I overheard them in the street talking in a language I’d not heard before, and I wanted to hear enough of it so I could work out what it was so followed them along the street for a minute. I’ll admit to being weird and creepy that way, I love listening to the sounds of other languages.

Anyway, the language was probably Quechua, or maybe Aymara, which are spoken by several million people in Peru and Bolivia, and I hadn’t been so excited since I overheard overheard a couple in a bus station in Utah talking in Paiute. At least I think it was Paiute, it might have been Shoshone. It might not get anyone else going, but for some of us it’s like an auditory form of trainspotting.

This makes me the polar opposite of Nigel Farage, so I can’t be that weird and creepy after all – and that was the best news all week. Nige doesn’t like hearing people speaking furren on the phone on trains. Unless it’s his German wife talking to her relatives. It makes him uncomfortable as he’s convinced that they’re talking about him and saying nasty things. And to be fair, they probably are. Spanish for bawbag is escroto, it’s a word you may very well hear if Nigel is the subject of a Spanish language conversation.

The leader of UKIP objects to people speaking languages other than English in public spaces in the Yookay. He thinks it’s terribly rude. How dare foreigners come to this country and refuse to forget how to speak in their own language to their mammies. But the truth is that UKIP aren’t very good at other languages, even those which have been spoken in the British Isles for a lot longer than English. Other languages force them to wake up to the reality that not everyone is a culturally insular little Kipper and that SHOUTING. AT. PEOPLE. SLOWLY. isn’t the same as talking French.

They have as many problems with Welsh. Last year the Welsh language version of the party’s website announced that it wasn’t the United Kingdom Independence Party at all, it was Plaid Annibyniaeth y Du which translates as “The Black Independence Party”. Nigel hadn’t suddenly come out as a supporter of Malcolm X, although UKIP members making black power salutes might have improved their chances of courting the ethnic minority vote. It was just a typo for the correct Welsh version – Plaid Annibyniaeth y DU. DU is the Welsh abbreviation for Deyrnas Unedig, Welsh for United Kingdom. Without the capitals, it’s du, the Welsh word for black. They didn’t notice the mistake until someone pointed it out to them.

But despite the window dressing of some Welsh language pages on website of the party’s Welsh branch, UKIP isn’t keen on any languages other than English, even those which aren’t remotely ‘foreign’ at all. In 2012, the party’s branch in the English county of Shropshire mounted an objection to the use of bilingual Welsh and English roadsigns in parts of the county close to the Welsh border.

Welsh isn’t a foreign language in these districts, it’s not even just the language of another nation in this greatest union of nations that the universe has ever seen (© Better Together). The administrative border between Wales and England does not coincide exactly with the boundaries of the Welsh language, and there are villages in the Shropshire border districts where people still speak Welsh – especially around the town of Oswestry, or Croesoswallt to give it its Welsh name. But UKIP’s local activists thought that eliminating a part of their own linguistic heritage was something to celebrate.

But we shouldn’t be too surprised. UKIP are a bit confused about the linguistic heritage of the country they claim to be defending from hordes of foreigners with their strange speech and suspicious food. They think Welsh and Cornish are forms of Gaelic – which is exactly like thinking that French or Spanish are forms of Romanian, or that English is a form of the same language Nigel’s wife speaks with her relatives in Germany. Which is maybe why Nigel doesn’t object to that.  According to a policy document on “restoring Britishness” published in 2010, the party swore to “enthusiastically support teaching of the various Gaelic languages and histories within the UK, in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cornwall”.

Not that UKIP are enthusiastically supportive enough to give “Gaelic languages” any resources to allow them to maintain themselves. In 2013, UKIP’s MEPs, including the linguistically sensitive Nigel, voted against the EU giving support to the minority and regional languages of Europe – languages spoken by people who are not immigrants who have willfully failed to learn English. Language like Welsh, Gaelic, Scots and Cornish, all of which have as much claim to be languages of the UK as English does.

UKIP members are typically the kind of people who are blessed with the power to hear people talking even when they’re not in the same building. You know, the traditional complaint that Welsh people in pubs all start speaking Welsh to one another as soon as an English person enters. Which leaves you wondering just how the kippers knew what language the Welsh people were speaking in before the English person entered the pub. Or how the Welsh people knew that the person entering didn’t also speak Welsh, because contrary to some stereotypes, speakers of Celtic languages do not all know each other personally. In fact Welsh people all speak Gaelic to one another in pubs just before an English monoglot Kipper enters and only switch to Welsh to confuse Nigel. Welsh for bawbag is sgrotwm.

UKIP are threatened by linguistic diversity. Not just the languages of migrant communities, but by any language which isn’t English. The future they have in store for Scotland and Wales is one where our languages and cultures are kindly granted the status of hobbies. We’ll be allowed to pursue them in our own time and at our own expense, but don’t expect the state to do anything but preside over their slow extinction. Which is pretty much their view of devolution and Scotland’s distinctive political culture too.

There are European elections on Thursday. They’ve not set the heather alight in Scotland, where we are more preoccupied with another vote later this year. But UKIP are likely to perform strongly in England on Thursday, and their malign influence will have a major impact on the strategies and policies adopted by the main Westminster parties. The UK is gradually drifting away into a fantasy land of Little Englandism where everyone speaks only English and thinks Thatcher was a Great British Hero.

Scotland’s rich and diverse tradition of multilingualism is under threat. UKIP’s attitudes are distressingly widespread enough as it is – the Scottish Government is not providing bilingual Gaelic and English ballot papers for the referendum.

Such narrow minded attitudes don’t need any more encouragement, but if we don’t put a cross next to the Yes box on our English language only ballot papers, that’s exactly what will happen. There’s only one way to protect Scotland’s languages, and only one way to ensure that Scotland’s migrant communities are encouraged and supported in their efforts to maintain community languages. Linguistic diversity enriches us all, it gives us a window on the world that we don’t get if we can only function in English.

Bhòt THA anns an reifreann! Vote AYE in the referendum.

Apologies to anyone whose comment hasn’t appeared.  The site’s spam filter went awry and trapped a lot of comments in the spam filter.  Some may have vanished into the ether. 


0 thoughts on “Bhòt THA anns an reifreann and annoy Nigel

  1. Slightly off topic Paul, but I spend a fair bit of time in Utah in general, and Salt Lake in particular as my girlfriend lives there, and did you know that the early Mormons had their own alphabet? It was called the Deseret Alphabet, as Deseret was what they wanted to call their promised land. It never really caught on though.

    • Believe it or not I would have recognised Navajo, I heard it in Arizona – although to be honest I can’t tell it apart from its close relatives the Apache languages. Speakers of Apache languages and Navajo can understand one another with a wee bit of effort. They all belong to a family called Athabaskan. The family also includes many languages of the Canadian sub-Arctic. The couple definitely weren’t speaking Navajo. Those languages typically contain some very distinctive consonant sounds and I was listening out for them. I bought a grammar and dictionary of Navajo when I was in Arizona, and got some very weird looks from the shop assistant.

      In Utah that pretty much just leaves Utoaztecan languages. Shoshone and Northern Paiute are closely related to Commanche, and more distantly to the Hopi language of the Pueblos in Arizona and the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. They have very different sound patterns from Athabaskan languages. So it was definitely something Utoaztecan that I heard.

      While in Arizona I also heard English speaking Arizonans complaining that the USA shouldn’t give any support to “foreign languages” – like, eh, Navajo. I tried to point out that in America it’s English which is the foreign language, but it did not compute with them. So I used to speak in Spanish to annoy them, and made friends with lots of Mexicans, which was nice.

  2. My Parnter’s son speaks Quechua, one of a very few people in France.

    Even the Peruvian flute bands on the street often don’t don’t know what he saying.

    I think it is an original Inca language.

    • It is. Inca was the name of the ruling elite of the Quechua people. Quechua gives lie to the myth that native American languages are spoken only by a tiny number of people and are rapidly headed for extinction. Quechua in its various dialects has as many as 9 million speakers in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and parts of northern Argentina. The Aymara language of Peru and Bolivia has around 3 million speakers – it’s the native language of Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. The Guarani language has about 5 million speakers, and is spoken by a large majority of the population of Paraguay. Guarani is now an official language of Paraguay alongside Spanish.

      • Actually, the most widely accepted theory is that Quechua *wasn’t* the Aztec language, but that it was so widely known among the conquered peoples that it was adopted as the day-to-day language of administration and communication within the empire, leaving the Aztec language the preserve of the elite. And once the Spanish destroyed the elite, so the language was lost.

        • Sorry, I find your post a bit confusing. Nahuatl was the Aztec language, not Quechua. Quechua was the language of the Inca Empire. Neither have been lost – both continue to have a substantial body of speakers. The Quechua dialects (the Northern and Southern dialect groups are so divergent from one another that they really should be considered distinct languages) have as many as 9 million speakers.

          Quechua was certainly widespread in the central Andes before the rise of Inca power, but the Incas also spread Southern Quechua deliberately through a policy of forced migration. Conquered peoples were divided up and settled amongst Quechua speaking groups. Quechua continued to spread after the Spanish conquest as the Spanish found it a convenient instrument of rule and it was widely used by the church as a means of spreading Christianity. In southern Peru and Bolivia there’s a close association between Aymara speakers and Quechua speakers and traditionally bilingualism was commonplace. Many Quechua speakers in these areas descend from Aymara speakers who adopted Quechua in post-Conquista times. However there was also a language in the same area known as Puquina, which was of high status in pre-colonial times and is thought to have been the dominant language around the shores of Lake Titicaca. It apparently died out in the 18th century, its speakers shifted to Quechua or Aymara. Both Quechua and Aymara contain loanwords from Puquina. Puquina survives marginally as a specialised set of vocabulary used in the healing rituals of Aymara traditional curers.

          Nahuatl still has around 1.5 million speakers in Mexico. There’s also a fairly substantial body of post-Conquest literature in Nahuatl, written in the Latin alphabet. This form of the language is known as Classical Nahuatl. Nahuatl is an Utoaztecan language, related to Shoshone and Comanche and certain languages of northern Mexico and the US South West. Its closest relative is the Pipil language of El Salvador and the Pacific Coast of Mexico, which is generally agreed to be an early offshoot of Nahuatl. The Cora and Huichol languages of north-central Mexico are the closest relatives of Nahuatl and Pipil within Utoaztecan. The close relationship of Nahuatl with Cora and Huichol accords with the Aztec legend about the Aztecs arriving in the area of Tenochtitlan (modern Mexico City) from the north. As far as I am aware, there is no evidence that the Aztec elite spoke anything other than Nahuatl.

          The name Aztec comes from the Nahuatl word Aztecatl (plural Aztecah), meaning “a person from Aztlan” the mythological home of the Nahuatl speaking peoples. Mexico (Mēxihcah in Nahuatl, but its further etymology is unclear) was originally the name of the Nahuatl speaking tribe which founded Tenochtitlan. It was the elite of the Mexihcah which became the ruling elite of the Aztec Empire.

  3. I love linguistic train-spotting (LTS), too. My problem with it is that I’m too shy to ask people when I can’t identify their language, so I too often end up being frustrated. If you ever want to do a bit of joint LTS, please do get in touch — too few people think that’s fun.

    That reminds me — I gave a wee talk at my linguistics department of my alma mater last autumn about career prospects for linguists, and they afterwards invited my to their departmental party. The highlight was an LTS disco — they would play music with lyrics in a strange language, and all the people on the dance floor had to identify the language. The prize was second-hand Teach Yourself books. How much better can a party get?

    BTW, wouldn’t BU CHÒIR be more precise than THA, given the question?

    • Probably, but when I was writing the article I couldn’t find the text of the question in Gaelic. And as everyone knows, there is no single word in Gaelic for Yes.

      Someone asked me about my employment prospects when I studied linguistics at university. I said “I can say, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ in 16 languages, one of which is still actually spoken.”

      • Nice answer to that question! 🙂

        As for the Gaelic question, I looked into it once ( and concluded it was “Am bu chòir do dh’Alba a bhith na dùthaich neo-eisimeilich?” However, a Gaelic speaker later questioned it on Facebook, saying it was too direct at that it would sound better to prefix it with the equivalent of “Do you agree …”. On the other hand, the Electoral Commission has already vetoed that wording in English, and I believe the actual ballot papers will be in English only, so we might not get much closer than that.

    • BU CHÒIR is what is on the badges (I gave one away today), but I think that SEADH would do as well.

  4. Telford isn’t near the Welsh border, it’s closer to Birmingham than Wales. I’m the person who got the Welsh-first signs changed in Telford because they presented a danger being used in a part of England nearly an hour’s drive away from the nearest Welsh town or Welsh speaking community. Far from being “not keen” on languages or confused by them as you suggest, I speak some French, German, Dutch and Spanish and I know some sign language as my father-in-law is deaf. If I won the lottery I’d happily spend the rest of my life learning languages and travelling the world to speak them. I’d even learn Welsh which I tried to do as a child but the absence of the internet made teaching yourself difficult back then.

    I wish you the best of luck in your independence referendum and sincerely hope you get a yes vote. The sooner England and Scotland pay company and the British ruling class are made redundant, the better.

    • Studies done by the Transport Research Laboratory have shown that bilingual road signs pose no dangers to road users. Similar studies have been carried out in Spain and Canada, with similar results.

      The paper was published by the UK Transport Research Laboratory in 2005, which was several years before you pressed your local council not to use bilingual signs on the basis of their supposed danger to road users.

      I’m wondering if you checked for the availability of any relevant research before making the case for the signs’ replacement with English only signs. Unfortunately, whatever your intentions, such actions only play into the hands of those who do want to marginalise and diminish Celtic languages.

      I would assume that road signage in Shropshire is done on a county-wide basis, and therefore it makes sense for the council to provide temporary signage in English and Welsh, since these signs may end up being used in areas of the county where Welsh does have a recent historic presence – or indeed is still spoken today. The same bilingual signs are also used in parts of Wales where the Welsh language hasn’t been spoken for hundreds of years.

      Incidentally – Wrekin is itself a Welsh language name. It’s Din Gwrygon in modern Welsh.

      • No, signage isn’t done on a county-wide basis. There are two unitary authorities in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin is nowhere near Wales. The report you refer to concluded that bilingual signs with 4 lines of text did impact on drivers’ performance. It also only studied monolingual and bilingual people in Wales where dual language signs are prevalent whilst drawing on experiences from other bilingual countries. We don’t usually experience bilingual signs in Telford because we’re so far from Wales so their presence alone would confuse drivers and impact on their ability to process the sign, as would the fact that the signs were in Welsh first. Let me know if you find some research on the impact of unexpected bilingual signs in monolingual countries. When I saw the sign I did a double take and then looked at the other signs to see if they were also in Welsh which took my attention off the road and having spent a lot of time in Wales, I’m pretty fluent in road sign Welsh so familiarity with the bilingual signs impacted on my driving.

  5. Since 2008 my own wee West Lothian workplace has hosted speakers of Hindi, Cantonese, Polish, Mandarin, Galician, Shona, Malayalam, Italian, Persian, Spanish, Irish and Hakka. Naturally, they’ve all moved on to their next home with a rudimentary knowledge of Scots. (I did my best…)

    Long may this continue! A language is a unique way of understanding and describing the world. Every time a language dies we become poorer.

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  7. Bidh mise a’ bhòtadh BU CHÒIR co-dhiù, truaghain mar Nigel Farage ann no as. Artagail inntinneach dha-rìribh agus nach misneachail gum bi feadhainn fhathast ann a bhruidhneas Paiute ‘s Seoiseòini.

    • I’ll have to reply in English cos my written Gaelic is appalling. Sadly there are not many speakers of Paiute or Shoshone left. There’s actually two Paiute languages, Northern Paiute and Southern Paiute. Despite the names they’re not especially closely related to one another within the wider family. Northern Paiute was estimated to have around 500 to 1000 native speakers in the 1990s, mostly elderly. (The couple I overheard were very elderly. This was in the early 1980s.) Recently it was estimated that there are around 900 speakers of Southern Paiute.

      Shoshone has an estimated 1000 to 2000 speakers. The name Shoshone was also once used of a related but distinct language spoken in Death Valley in California. Its speakers refer to it as Timbisha. It has only around 20 speakers left. The Comanche were an offshoot of the Shoshone who moved south and east into the Great Plains after some Shoshone bands acquired horses in the early 18th century. It underwent a complex series of phonetic and lexical changes and is no longer mutually intelligible with Shoshone. Comanche has only about 100 remaining speakers.

      It’s thought that only a handful of native North American languages will still be actively spoken by the end of this century. Dozens are down to a handful of very elderly speakers and will be gone within a few years. Even Navajo, which is the largest by far in terms of number of speakers (about 170,000) is no longer being acquired by children in some Navajo communities.

  8. I really cannot understand why Faraj has a problem with languages other than English.

    As you say, his wife is German.

    And he has a Malay name.

  9. I remember a twitter exchange with some loathsome little bigot who thought the term “Scots-English” was racist. It was highly amusing to watch this troll being taken to pieces, in a very polite and patient fashion, as someone explained to said bigot that Scots-English was a term for Doric or Broad Scots. Which was a form of Middle English adopted in the central region of Scotland around the 9th century. It can only be heard now in the north east of Scotland. Middle English was of course derived from old English which was spoken during the Anglo-Saxon period and has its language roots in Old Frisian – which comes from Eastern Europe.

    Wales and Cornwall are the only places were you can hear variants of Brythonic Celts spoken.

    If people like Farage actually understood the History of the UK, he’d embrace this but since he is an utter arse who sees the world through beer goggles, its no surprise that he generalises from extremes, casual racism and brainfarts.

  10. Is it therefore the case that English,God save our gracious etc etc, is in some strange and hitherto largely unknown way related to the,mein gott I can hardly sprach the word,GERMAN???Dumpkoff!!Achtung!!Gott in Himmell!!For you englisher….etc etc etc.Unfortunately for old Nige any attempt to assert a unique lingua quickly falls apart as languages mingle and meld in that old polymorphic manner.Joking aside I do though think that Nigel and his crew bear witness to an important point.Nige feels that english is the king of the castle and all the rest are dirty wee rascals and ought not to be heard in the court of the king.English is the lingua of power and deserves due deference.Those peeps who stubbornly refuse to realise this,and threaten Nigels delusions by doing so,should shut their dirty mouths and leave the court tout de suite!So its all around power and whose voice rules.In this sense farage isnt so daft as I think he is correct in assuming a sizeable portion of his fellow english volk,oops!,share his view.Well,it is a standing joke among my argentinian pals that english sprachers are a very insular lot bu what would they know?After all they persist in calling those islands “malvinas”…………….cant even get the bloody name right!!Ok,where were are we?Argentina…………england……………germany…………..see,start on language and everything gets completely chingar!!

  11. Scots can only be heard in the North-East? Havers! Juist you gaun ti onie Border toun an staun five meenits on the High Street. Gaun speir at a Niddrie hoor, or a Fawkirk Bairn, or a Fifer, or fowk in the muckle Toun o Langholm, an see whit ye get tellt.

  12. (I’m waiting in line behind a woman speaking on her cellphone in another language. Ahead of her is a white man. After the woman hangs up, he speaks up.)

    Man: “I didn’t want to say anything while you were on the phone, but you’re in America now. You need to speak English.”

    Woman: “Excuse me?”

    Man: *very slow* “If you want to speak Mexican, go back to Mexico. In America, we speak English.”

    Woman: “Sir, I was speaking Navajo. If you want to speak English, go back to England.”

    1 Thumbs (6,615 THUMBS UP!)

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