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The Irish Language: A Cereal Troublemaker Hits the Gaeltacht

Language, Localization Culture

The semantics of selfies in Irish

I was reminded of the whole Dara Ó Briain (@daraobriain“Sé-Mé” #selfie uproar (a classic case of urban Irish — or Gaeilge, and not “Gaelic” — usage versus the “official” Irish (where “selfie” is “féinín”) when I visited my son in the Gaeltacht (or primarily Irish-speaking area) in Ireland recently.

Dara Ó Briain discovers "Sé-Mé". And the sky fell.

Dara Ó Briain discovers “Sé-Mé“. And the sky fell.

Flaky terminology

I joined my son (aged 13) for breakfast and asked him if he knew the Irish for “cereal.” Officially, the term would be “gránach bricfeasta” or similar, but he simply said, “calóga” (which basically means “flakes”).

Kellog's Special K in France

Kellog’s Special K on sale in France (Carrefour, Paris). Image by Ultan O’Broin.

But I thought he’d said “Cellógga,” my Dublin urban Irish ear already tuned into expecting to hear brand names and slang as terminology. That’s the Irish language for you today in Ireland: more people than ever (claim to) speak it, but we just can’t understand each other.

That's the Irish language for you today in Ireland: more people than ever (claim to) speak it, but we just can't understand each other. Click To Tweet This issue of an evolving Irish language demographic was covered by Brian Ó Broin (no relation) a few years back in a previous issue of MultiLingual and he has also written about emerging Schism fears for Gaeilgeoirí (or Irish language speakers) elsewhere.

Whereas I could natter along in my pidgin Dublin Irish about “blockchain” or “chatbots” to other Dubliners, when weather announcements are made on Ireland’s official Irish broadcasting network in Irish, I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.

Language wars not worth fighting

I am sure other languages (French, for example) face these kind of issues. But does it really matter as long as people can communicate, and use the context to figure out the differences?

And I don’t think the official Irish versus everyday street version delineation is as clear-cut as many would like to think.

It was remarkable that many people in the Gaeltacht that I met switched between the urban “pidgin” Gaeilge, official Gaeilge, and even interspersed the conversation with English terms, depending on their innate human sense of what the listener would get.

As for that Kelloggs Special K, ironically there is no letter “K” in the Gaeilge alphabet.

If you’ve found yourself in similar situations or come across terminology conflicts in the digital age, then let us know in the comments!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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Localization Unconference: The First 10 Years

Language Industry News and Events

Localization Unconference (#LocUnconf) is 10 years old tomorrow!

The first Localization Unconference was hosted March 14, 2008 in Silicon Valley at Saleforce’s San Mateo location.

The original and first localization unconference logo from 2008

The original and first localization unconference logo from 2008

Unconference Strong

I am delighted to say that the event is still going strong and is now worldwide; organized by and attended by people interested in localization and related areas of our industry who want to meet and make connections by discussing hot topics or things that normally don’t get on the regular conference circuit agenda.

I can see from the Localization Unconference website now, for example, that there are already events planned for Toronto and Berlin in 2018. There have been many other events all over the world since 2008.

And, of course, the event is now part and parcel of the regular Localization World agenda. All thanks to an awesome team of passionate organizers driving it forward.

Guinness: Inspiration for the Unconference

I was inspired initially to reach out to others from a localization-related unconference section of Mashup Camp when it was held in Dublin’s Guinness Brewery in 2007. I blogged about my thoughts on MultiLingual’s blog (or Blogos as it was known then) and put the idea out there. The original blog is still there!

I’m indebted especially to Shawna Wolverton of Salesforce who also saw this opportunity to innovate a little bit in the localization meetup space and drove these sparks of ideas forward into the first event. That was a success but the event also later spread worldwide, mostly organized by locally-based, different volunteers.

Incidentally, I still have the 2007 Apple MacBook Pro 2.2 GHz 15-inch Core 2 Duo that I used at Mashup Camp (and shown in the blog post) and at the first Localization Unconference. Go different badges but they wear them just the same, as Aztec Camera would say.

Apple MacBook Pro from Mashup Camp and Localization Unconference still working!

My 2007 Apple MacBook Pro from Mashup Camp and Localization Unconference is still working! Those laptop stickers are upgraded regularly!

I also still have the original lunch voucher from the Salesforce-hosted event. I guess I didn’t eat at the event (I brought donuts from Chuck’s in Belmont, San Mateo if I recall correctly) with all the excitement.

Original Localization Unconference Lunch Voucher from Salesforce

Original Localization Unconference lunch voucher from Salesforce

I wonder is that voucher is still good for one lunch?

Whatever. The Localization Unconference is good for a lot more than one!

The next 10 years

So, here’s to more Localization Unconferences. And here’s to the power of the localization community, its volunteers, participants and the idea of self-enablement.

Stay tuned to the Localization Unconference website for more information and to MultiLingual Insights for reports on happenings, past and present.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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The Only Irish Language Act in Town

Language in the News

Ireland’s Got Language Talent

The Irish Language (Gaeilge) is making news again. This time with US performer RuPaul (@rupaul) tweeting about the Irish in Gaeilge.

Ireland’s gone gaga over it.

RuPaul tweets in Irish. A mighty and deadly Irish language act in a good way!

RuPaul tweets in Irish. A mighty and deadly Irish language act in a good way! Here’s the English translation of the tweet.

The Sashayáil My Father Never Wore

If you’ve been reading Thomas Gilmartin’s great piece on MultiLingual Insights about the deadly seriousness of the status of the Irish language in Northern Irish politics, or been amazed by the kind of mighty passions that can arise over the Irish for “selfie” (“sé-mé” versus “féinphic“), then you might consider that RuPaul is exactly the kind of language act we need to see more of on the island of Ireland.

Maightí and deadlaí indeed!

 

 

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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Northern Ireland’s current language crisis

Language in the News

Northern Ireland language crisis

13 months of talks over power-sharing in Northern Ireland has come to a standstill over language.

The current cultural conflict in Northern Ireland, and, in particular, the argument over the status of its languages, is at the core of a political crisis regarding restoring the power-sharing assembly. The prospect of direct British rule from Westminster is returning after a decade.

13 months of talks over power-sharing in Northern Ireland has come to a standstill over language. Click To Tweet

Northern Ireland’s devolved government collapsed a year ago when the then Deputy First Minister, the late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin, resigned in protest at the suspected abuse of a renewable energy scheme and massive devolved government overpayments to certain beneficiaries, with the apparent connivance of the Democratic Unionist (DUP) party.

Sinn Féin is an Irish political party that fundamentally believes the Irish should rule themselves as a united, socialist Republic independent of British rule. In short, it supports Irish nationalism. The DUP, on the other hand, was founded in 1971 by the controversial Free Presbyterian minister and politician Ian Paisley. It supports British influence and Ulster Protestant culture and fights against Irish nationalism. The two parties are by far the largest in the Northern Ireland Assembly, a power-sharing legislative body in Belfast.

The political landscape became more problematic when the DUP became kingmakers at Westminster following British Prime Minister Theresa May’s botched general election campaign, using their leverage to extract financial support. The ongoing uncertainty over what Brexit (the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union) will look like, particularly in terms of whether there will be a “hard” border across the island of Ireland, adds to the mix. The DUP supports Brexit, but the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and in the Republic of Ireland, oppose it.

Attempts to revive the power-sharing executive between nationalists and unionists have failed repeatedly, with the latest talks collapsing last Wednesday, February 14. Though all of the mentioned issues play a role, as does the controversy over same-sex marriage (opposed by the DUP, supported by Sinn Féin, and legal across the United Kingdom and Ireland except for Northern Ireland), the number one sticking point is, as usual, about cultural identity — specifically the status of the Irish language.

Irish language and politics

Irish is a Gaelic language that has been spoken in Ireland since Neolithic times, and pre-dates the emergence of English, and England, by a millennium. Even though the language is spoken by very few as a first language in Northern Ireland, it is considered an important hallmark of Irish identity by Sinn Féin. One march in Belfast in support of Irish language legislation drew a crowd of 5,000 last year.

The language was dominant across the province of Ulster (of which the area now called Northern Ireland forms a part) until the arrival of Protestant Anglo-Scots colonists in the 17th century. It was still spoken as a native language by substantial pockets of the population well into the 19th century, but is today largely spoken by people whose first language is English, the majority of whom are of Irish nationalist or Republican persuasion. Though teaching is available through the medium of Irish in some Northern Irish schools, the teaching of Irish generally is still relatively sparse in schools attended by those from a Catholic or Irish Nationalist background. It should also be added that recent governments in the Irish Republic have come under fire for their lack of support for the Irish language — something not unnoticed by the DUP.

Sinn Féin is campaigning for standalone legislation to protect and promote the use of the Irish language in Northern Ireland — it is the official first language of the Republic of Ireland. Their argument is that there should be a similar arrangement as for other devolved administrations in the UK — Wales has an act for the Welsh language, as does Scotland for the Scottish Gaelic language (a descendant of Irish Gaelic), so why should Irish Gaelic be treated differently?

For the DUP, the proposed Irish language act is perceived as a threat to their own sense of British identity. They argue that any such legislation would give Irish an elevated status, awarding cultural supremacy to (mainly nationalist/Republican) Irish speakers and undermining the “Britishness” of Northern Ireland. The DUP, when in power in 2016, changed the name of a fisheries boat from Irish to English, and withdrew funding for Irish courses for children in the Donegal Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking areas of County Donegal, one of the Ulster counties in the Irish Republic). Seemingly petty acts such as these caused outrage among Irish language speakers.

There had been some hope that a deal had been struck at the political talks, with what seemed to be an agreement reached that three language acts would be introduced — one for Irish, one for Ulster Scots (really a dialect of English which nobody speaks now, but which some Unionists see as a mark of cultural identity), and a third overall piece of legislation designed to make concessions to both parties.

The arrival of Theresa May and Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar in Belfast on February 12, 2018, usually a sign that a deal had been agreed, was not enough to prevent the DUP from pulling out of negotiations. No explanation was given for the withdrawal, but it is likely that a leak of the proposed arrangements led to an angry reaction among some DUP politicians and supporters, causing the leadership to rethink their stance on what they had apparently agreed.

Should direct rule be imposed, the knock-on effects could be problematic for the British government — issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and others could prove to be political dynamite, threatening to bring down Theresa May’s minority Conservative government if the DUP feels compelled to withdraw its support. However, the DUP’s antipathy towards the Republican-sympathetic leadership of the opposition Labour Party might be enough to stop this happening.

The political paralysis, in large part down to the language issue, has once again illustrated the bald fact that the centuries-old cultural war is no less a problem now than it was when Northern Ireland was created in 1920. The central plank of the 1998 peace agreement, which promised “parity of esteem” for both cultural traditions in Northern Ireland, seems to have been left by the wayside. With a return to the hard-won power-sharing arrangement looking as far away as ever, and with the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 once again under strain, this latest political crisis serves to emphasize the way in which the issue of language can be weaponized.

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Thomas Gilmartin is a freelance writer with a degree in history, a master's in international relations and law degree from King's College London. He worked for several years at a high-profile anti-corruption tribunal in Dublin.

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Catch the Pidgin at the BBC: Digital Flight of Fancy?

Language, Localization Culture, Personalization and Design

Delighted to see that the BBC has started a Pidgin Digital service for West African audiences.

BBC introduces Pidgin for Digital Audiences in West Africa (Image source: BBC)

BBC introduces Pidgin for Digital Audiences in West Africa (Image source: BBC)

I’ve long been fascinated by the notion of pidgin (or a pidgin language). For some of course, it’s a betrayal of “pure” language learning and standards. Fundamentally, however, pidgin is a popular and simple way for people to communicate with each other when they don’t share a common language. What’s wrong with that? Pidgin is a lingua franca in its own right. The use case is nothing that Google isn’t trying to do with the Google Pixel Earbuds!Pidgin is a lingua franca in its own right. Click To Tweet

What’s Pidgin?

So what is pidgin, exactly? Well, the BBC describe it, in this context, as “a mix of English and local languages enabling people who do not share a common language to communicate”.

We might think of it as a kind of hybrid oral “gisting”. It’s certainly fascinating to listen to! Languages and how people communicate evolve all the time. Check out the difference between a Pidgin and Creole language for example.

The Irish Pidgin Fancier

As an Irish person and speaker of “urban” Irish (or Gaeilge – not “Gaelic”), pidgin resonates strongly with me. There’s also clear evidence of a pidgin emerging with the Irish language. This development was pointed out by Brian Ó Broin (no relation) in this article from the Irish Times, “Schism fears for Gaeilgeoirí“, a few years ago. Brian has also written about the changing demographics of the Irish language for MultiLingual.

Pigeon Man on Dublin's Liffey Boardwalk (Image source: Ultan O'Broin)

Pigeon Man on Dublin’s River Liffey boardwalk (Image source: Ultan O’Broin)

Perhaps, the pidgin approach offers a way for the Irish language to thrive in rural Gaeltacht as well as urban areas and a way for all Irish language lovers to all communicate more (until we agree on emoji). Certainly, as pointed out by Irish President Michael D. Higgins recently, the compulsory approach to teaching the Irish language in Ireland has failed.

A more human-centric way of encouraging people to communicate using Irish is needed. Of course, Duolingo can help address our Irish language learning requirements too! Again, it’s voluntary. (Oh, “Catch the Pigeon“?)A more human-centric way of encouraging people to communicate using Irish is needed. Click To Tweet

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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Unicode Jewels: Ogham Alphabet Made Personal

Language, Personalization and Design

I’ve just had a super new ring made for me by Irish designer Breda Haugh. It’s in sterling silver with a single pink sapphire stone set around Ogham symbols.

Silver Sapphire Ogham ring by Breda Haugh

Silver pink sapphire Ogham ring by Breda Haugh. Breda specializes in design based on historical and cultural themes.

Wikipedia tells us that Ogham is “an Early Medieval alphabet used to write the early Irish language (in the so-called “orthodox” inscriptions, 1st to 6th centuries AD), and later the Old Irish language (so-called scholastic ogham, 6th to 9th centuries)”, and that “according to the High Medieval Bríatharogam, names of various trees can be ascribed to individual letters.”

Here are the Ogham inscriptions on my ring explained in terms of the trees and their personal significance (I was born in September and my son’s name is Fionn by the way):

Ogham meanings on my ring explained

Ogham inscriptions on my ring explained.

And guess what? Thanks to Unicode you can digitally create your own story in Ogham too. Here is the Ogham Unicode block (via Wikipedia):

Ogham Unicode block (via Wikipedia)

Ogham Unicode block (via Wikipedia)

Evertype even offers a Unicode Ogham script font for you to use: Everson Mono Ogham.

I love it when the old meets the new in a different, stylish way that resonates personally, culturally and historically with our roots.

And, if there’s a digital way to make that experience easier for you to create, then all the better!

More information on Ogham

To find out more about the historical origins of Ogham and the relationship with trees, check out these sources:

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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An Cód: Craicing the Code in Irish

Language, Language in the News

It’s often assumed that computing coding lessons are always taught in English because most (though not all) programming languages use English language syntax.

Not so.

Hour of Code is worldwide

Hour of Code is worldwide

Take this great example of learning to code in Irish (Gaeilge), part of the Hour of Code initiative in 2016, thanks to computer science professor Kevin Scannell (@kscanne), from Saint Louis University in Missouri in the United States of America.

The Irish Independent newspaper tells us that Hour of Code‘s focus is on “making coding fun through the use of popular games like Minecraft, as well as films such as Star Wars and Frozen“.

Learning to code as Gaeilge thanks to Hour of Code

Learning to code in Irish thanks to Hour of Code and Professor Kevin Scannell.

2016 was the “third year the (Hour of Code) event has been run in Ireland since it was taken up by digital learning movement, Excited“, co-founded by Irish member of parliament, Fine Gael’s TD Ciarán Cannon (@ciarancannon).

The Indo also says that “Prof Scannell kickstarted the initiative as he loves the language and believes children should be able to access coding lessons in their mother tongue.”

Who could argue with that?

Super initiatives. Kudos, or should I say “Comhghairdeas” to all concerned.

Oh, and about that “Irish” word “craic”.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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