Duolingo provides encouragement when Irish faces prejudice
Last week a columnist with one of Ireland's major newspapers wrote a frankly patronising and insulting article advocating the cutting of what little government support exists for Irish speakers because an individual got out of a drink-driving charge on a technicality relating to the Irish language (bizarrely his breath test results weren't given bilingually even though breathalysers are usually programmed to print in both languages). Arguing that you cannot revive a language "by an Act of Parliament", the columnist offered some fuzzy waffle about "our beautiful language" before having this to say:
The guardians of “language rights” as prescribed in the Official Languages Act have gone at the language like the Taliban went at Islam and left nothing except lumpen duty and legal threat.
Sadly in Ireland human rights apparently require scare quotes and people asking to be treated as equal citizens are compared to autocratic regimes. Before this gets you all depressed, you should know that many, many people have responded, calling out the columnist about her nonsense. For example, here, here, here, here and here.
In the last response, by Julian de Spáinn, Ard-Rúnaí of Conradh na Gaeilge, the popularity of Duolingo was specifically mentioned as something that gives hope to Irish language-rights activists:
Phenomenal progress is being made by those learning and relearning Irish, at home and abroad, by the thousands of students who invigorate college life with their participation in third-level Irish societies, the 20,000 students who took part in Conradh na Gaeilge’s #Gaeilge24 campaign last year, the tens of thousands of daily speakers of Irish, the hundreds of thousands who participate in Seachtain na Gaeilge events all over the world each year, the million plus who are learning Irish on DuoLingo as I write.
I thought it might interest some people here to see the hostility Irish often faces in our Anglophone media and to know that by learning the language, here or elsewhere, all of you are countering foolish bullies like our friend above.
I think you should re-read that article if you think that it's an attack on the Irish Language. The article criticises the Official Languages Act (2003), and it's clear after a decade of failure that it is well deserving of criticism.
The particular case that triggered the recent attention involved a Romanian man who challenged a drink driving charge because the output of the "breathalyzer" was only printed in English, instead of in both Irish and English. And while I actually agree that it should be in both languages, on principle, it's ludicrous that a clear breach of the drink driving laws should go unpunished because of this oversight. That the defendant in this case wasn't even Irish just tips it into Myles na gCopaleen territory. (Note that there's no talk of anyone being held accountable for signing off on a breathalyzer system that failed to conform to the Languages Act).
I think it's important that basic communication from the State should be bi-lingual, but legal documents clearly present issues, because of the "angels on a pinhead" approach to language (any language) of lawyers. Even the most inexperienced learners on Duolingo quickly learn that literal translations between Irish and English lead to either bad Irish or bad English. This issue came up before the Gay marriage referendum last year too, where there were questions raised about the Irish version of the proposed amendment.
The Official Languages Act doesn't appear to be doing much to help the survival of the language. And from time to time it manages to bring the very notion of "official" Irish into disrepute.
Where a public body communicates in writing or by electronic mail with the general public or a class of the general public for the purpose of furnishing information to the public or the class, the body shall ensure that the communication is in the Irish language or in the English and Irish languages.
since the First Schedule of the Act includes the Garda Síochána among the public bodies covered by it. However, I don’t believe that the output of a breathalyzer belonging to the Garda Síochána is considered to be written communications regarding §9 (3) of the Act ; if it were included in the Act, then there would have been no need to get the Road Traffic Act 2010 (Section 13) (Prescribed Form and Manner of Statements) Regulations 2015 passed by the Oireachtas, since breathalyzer output would already have been covered by the Official Languages Act 2003. Whatever flaws the Official Languages Act 2003 has, this particular case was not affected by them.
You're not reading it like a lawyer. The Official Languages Act requires official communications to be in Irish Only or in Irish and English. An English Only statement doesn't comply. The Road Traffic Act requires that the statement provided to the accused person must be "in the prescribed form". Unless the "prescribed form" explicitly allows an English only statement, then it is subject to all the other laws on the books, including the Official Languages Act.
The SI was introduced to explicitly provide for an English only or an Irish only statement. (Note that it doesn't allow for a bi-lingual statement, and doesn't give an Irish speaker the right to a statement in the Irish language). The only reason this SI was required was because it was needed to over-ride the Official Languages Act.
Statutory Instruments don't have to be passed by the Oireachteas - legislation allows the relevant Minister to enact rules and regulations to enable the exercise of a power conferred by the statute. SI's are presented to the Oireachteas, but not debated or voted on. (Because of the very strict whip system followed in the Oireachteas, any such vote would only be for show anyway, but sin scéal eile).
Not being a lawyer, my attempts at reading it like a lawyer may well be lacking. If I were a representative for the State, I’d certainly wonder if §9 (3) included output from a breathalyzer test; that particular test certainly wouldn’t be information for the general public, and it would be debatable if that single Romanian man were “a class of the general public”. The text of the Road Traffic Act 2010 defines “prescribed” in the Act as
prescribed by regulations made by the Minister
so the lack of a defined “prescribed form” by ministerial regulation would seem to be a defect of the Road Traffic Act rather than of the Official Languages Act. [There are other “prescribed forms” noted in the Road Traffic Act, e.g. fixed penalty notices for drink driving in §29 (10) and fixed charge notices in §36 (1), so I hope that they would also be defined as needed to avoid analogous future problems.]
Thanks for the clarification on the enabling of statutory instruments.
The lack of a prescribed form is indeed a defect of the Road Traffic Act, but in it's absence, the Official Languages Act applies, and the case was thrown out because the statement didn't meet the requirements of that Act.
It might have been thrown out without the Official Languages Act, but it might not, because there is other language in the Road Traffic Act that addresses the validity of the results of various tests, but the existence of the Official Languages Act was the key point.
The only wonder is that nobody ever noticed that before - it seems that road traffic cases before the courts regularly throw up "creative" interpretations of what seemed like the bleedin' obvious to everyone else.
But the issue is there really aren't a million people learning Irish on Duolingo. One million have signed up for the course (or maybe done the first lesson), but there's really not a million people learning it.
Also, not a lot of those who are learning Irish are using it in their personal, everyday life. Sure, you can say Gaelscoileannaí numbers are increasing, but most of those kids aren't using it outside school. And the Irish they're learning is very different from the Irish spoken in the Gaeltacht.
Now, I don't agree with cutting the funding, but Duolingo isn't really doing all that much, at the moment.
I totally agree that it is misleading to claim that a million people are actually learning Irish on Duolingo. It would be more accurate to say that a million people have had a go at Irish (many Duolingoers like to give several languages a try but have no intention of keeping them up). But that a million people having taken sufficient interest in the language to try at least a lesson or two in it is a huge psychological boost and something unprecedented. You're absolutely right that Duolingo by itself won't "save" Irish but if it helps the people who are working to keep Irish a community language to keep going in the face of apathy or outright hostility then it is doing some good.
Could she have been trying to pander to a stereotypical reader of the Examiner ? (Do its readers have a stereotyped reputation in the same way that readers of certain newspapers in other countries have?)
I don't have a clue; I don't read newspapers. It sounds likely, though.
I wouldn't say that it's a particularly ideological newpaper. It was originally the Cork Examiner, then sometime in the '80s or 90's it was rebranded The Examiner, and then the Irish Examinier, in an attempt to extend it's reach from it's Cork base, but it's the only national daily newspaper that isn't based in Dublin, and it has a smaller circulation than any of the 7 dailies published from Dublin (though some of those are really just "Irish editions" of UK tabloids).
Hint of self loathing, yes, I agree. Criticism of the Irish language and opposition to its use, no.