The Linguist

The Linguist 55,5

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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24 The Linguist Vol/55 No/5 2016 FEATURES the Welsh-language channel S4C in 1982 was significant: for the first time, international news was presented daily in Welsh, and the profile of the language benefited enormously. Evolution The modern Celtic languages derive from the languages spoken in the British Isles before the Roman invasion. Two families exist: Brythonic and Goidelic. The latter developed in Ireland and was then exported to Scotland and the Isle of Man. A single literary language appears to have existed over the whole Gaelic-speaking area until the 15th century. Brythonic developed into modern Welsh and Cornish; Cornish settlers then introduced the language to Brittany. There is still a degree of mutual intelligibility between Irish and Scottish Gaelic, but not enough to enable free communication; Welsh and Breton have some vocabulary in common but have evolved very differently. With the expansion of the territories ruled by the English Crown, the Insular Celtic languages declined over several centuries. Education for those mother-tongue speakers varied enormously, and was greatly influenced by religious differences. In Ireland, there was considerable pressure from Elizabethan times onwards to promote the use of English. After Irish independence the language became, rather artificially, the primary official state The Celtic languages, at risk for centuries, now face new threats and hopes brought by globalisation and devolution. Chris Bissell investigates O f the Celtic languages, only Welsh, with around 300,000 habitual speakers is not considered to be endangered by Unesco. More than 500,000 people claimed to know the language in the 2011 census. Although nearly two million people are supposed to have some knowledge of Irish, the number of habitual speakers is only 50,000-90,000. Breton, with fewer than 200,000, mostly elderly, speakers (perhaps as few as 30,000 using the language regularly), is under threat, and receives little support – some would say, rather, antagonism – from the French state. Around 60,000 Scots (1% of the population) claimed to speak Gaelic in the 2011 census. Although such estimates exist, the number of speakers is difficult to determine with any accuracy: census statements are notoriously subjective and influenced by personal ideologies. The map (right) gives an indication of the areas in the British Isles and Brittany where the Insular Celtic languages (i.e those originating in Britain and Ireland: Breton, Irish, Cornish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh) are spoken. A branch of the Indo-European languages, they are no longer in habitual use on the Isle of Man or in Cornwall, although in both regions there are active language revival movements of a few thousand members. What is the effect on the Insular Celtic languages of recent changes in the UK Celtic survival Celtic areas, particularly the influence of devolution and modern communications? This is something which should be seen against a wider international background (particularly in the context of a potentially independent Scotland – a proposal defeated in the 2014 referendum). Interestingly, Welsh gained by far the most from devolution, even though the Welsh Assembly has significantly weaker powers than the Scottish Parliament. With around 20% of the population of Wales claiming significant knowledge of Welsh, recent laws on language equality (which enforce bilingualism on many public-facing functions) have radically changed the status of the language. Similar, but less intense, pressures have come to bear in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The latter is a particularly interesting case, since the Irish language there has strong political and ideological connotations (being associated – not always correctly – with the Roman Catholic religion and Republican tendencies). In all the Insular Celtic regions over the last few decades there have been extraordinary pressures to recognise the Celtic languages in schools, regional parliaments and assemblies, and the media. The media are particularly important, since only recently have Celtic language news channels reported on global, rather than local – even parochial – events. The introduction of

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