Friday, 5 October 2012

The last speaker of

the Cromarty dialect, Bobby Hogg, died this week. He was 92.
Most people will never have heard of him. I had not heard of him until his death was mentioned in the media.
For most people his death will be a matter of "another old man has died and yes it is sad for his family but it has nothing to do with us". Yet his death is important because we have lost another way of speaking. That matters.
I believe the Welsh Assembly has just passed a law which puts Welsh on an equal footing with English.  Many people will say this is ridiculous. Why would anyone want to preserve a language full of strange spelling, worse pronunciation and long words that can mean a sentence? Isn't it time that everyone "just spoke English"? No. Welsh matters.
I hope that the Scottish parliamentarians will eventually pass a bill that puts Gaelic on an equal footing with English. Gaelic matters too.
There is a growing awareness of the need to conserve and expand the use of Welsh and Gaelic. It is unlikely they will now be lost although Gaelic was said to be on the brink some years ago. It is now fighting back but there are a myriad of other languages and dialects which matter as well. Some of them have a very small number of speakers. They are in danger of dying out. People keep saying, "What does it matter?"
Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK. Welsh and Gaelic have magnificent poetic traditions, particularly oral poetry traditions. Oh yes, they can be translated - have been translated - but something always gets lost in translation. A translation is not the same thing. It is another set of ideas. A good translation may be close but it will not be exact. There can be words and ideas in one language which simply do not exist in another.
Every time we lose a language we lose a way of thinking. We do not lose "just words". We lose ideas. We lose emotions. We lose a little part of our humanity.
Language matters but languages matter too.


jeanfromcornwall said...

Cornish is another language in the Welsh/Gaelic family. It had died out as a spoken language but there was enough remaining literature for it to be reconstructed by some rather self-conscious late Victorian intellectuals, and now it is on the rise.
It is taught in some schools, and the children will sometimes do performances of the mediaeval mystery plays. There are classes for adults, and there are some pubs where they have a set evening when those who can will talk in Cornish - just for fun.
There are those who regard all this as silly and pointless, but why? We have got it, so we may as well use it.

the fly in the web said...

Thisd struck home.
I have just been reading the reminiscences of a man midway between my father's generation and my own, dealing with his youth in Galloway and it has had me in stitches as the language brought to mind the men who worked my grandfather's farm.
And how right you are that the language encapsulates a way of thinking....a way of seeing the world.