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.
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