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Scots, Ulster Scots and Manx react to experts report on European language charter
The UK is a country of great linguistic diversity – a multilingual country. This is the most outstanding truth revealed in the recent Committee of Experts’ Report into the implementation of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML) in the UK. Languages like Scots, Ulster Scots, Manx and
Jacques-Yves Le Touze pour eurolang le 25/04/04 7:36

by Eilidh Bateman

The UK is a country of great linguistic diversity – a multilingual country. This is the most outstanding truth revealed in the recent Committee of Experts’ Report into the implementation of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML) in the UK.

Languages like Scots, Ulster Scots, Manx and Cornish constitute part of this unique linguistic situation and the report commends the UK government on recognising this and agreeing to begin improving legislation, policy and practices to protect and nurture them.

However, the Committee of Experts have identified and criticised a general lack of political will and positive action, as well as a serious diversity in the approach of the various devolved authorities towards the process of language promotion and maintenance.

There is uncertainty about responsibility for implementing the legislation, and inconsistency between and across authorities. Unfortunately, it is here, within the autonomous executives that power to act is diminished and for many language activists a state of indifference has evolved.

The report recommends the urgent need for inter-organisational collaboration and cross-governmental consultation. Activists and language planners for Scots and for Ulster Scots, for example, are called upon to take advantage of their common roots and to garner support from the perspective that they both exist today as living languages with little, or indeed no official or legal status.

This point was picked up and further reiterated by the UK committee of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL) in a letter to the UK Foreign Secretary. John McIntyre, the President of the EBLUL UK committee and former chairman of the Ulster Scots Language Society, wrote on behalf of the representatives. He declared the report as “a damning indictment of the Government and the devolved parliaments and assemblies. The committee believes that co-ordination needs to be improved and calls on Government to develop a strategy that will substantially deliver on Charter obligations over the next two years.”

Although only having observer status on the EBLUL UK committee the Manx representatives join in the enthusiasm to be involved with other minority language groups. The inclusion of Gaelic Manx in the Charter unfortunately came too late for the language to receive proper monitoring in this cycle of reports by the Council of Europe, but the extension of the Charter’s scope to cover the Isle of Man has helped to raise awareness of language issues.

Member of the House of Keys and former Manx Gaelic development officer, Phil Gawne, says – “The report was fairly limited concerning Manx, and we are dismayed that the language is only covered by Part II of the Charter. We are not surprised the Council of Europe was critical of the UK, and we are looking forward to working together on the sticking points with other minority language groups.”

In Scotland the grass-roots campaigners of the Scots language are equally keen to initiate dialogues with the policy makers and language experts both at home and within the other indigenous language speaking areas of the UK.

Michael Hance, manager of the Scots Language Resource Centre (SLRC), is hopeful that these discussions will take place imminently. He told Eurolang that, “I am very pleased that the Committee of Experts has identified ways in which the Scottish government can better support Scots. I hope that the Scottish Executive will announce soon how it intends to meet its obligations under the Charter. I know that the SLRC and the Cross Party Group on Scots will be happy to give the Executive advice about the development of language policy if this is needed."

There has been disappointment in the Scots language community over the failure of the Scottish Executive to consult with them and to begin collaborating on the establishment of language rights in Scotland. This disappointment is echoed in the Council of Europe report: “There is no official policy for Scots and the authorities, whether at local or regional level, have not taken any steps to protect the language. According to the information received, no consultations took place with Scots language organisations.”

However, Scottish Executive Education Minister, Peter Peacock, has responded to the Council of Europe outlining progress made since the report’s publication, especially in the vital development of Scottish Gaelic. In addition he underlined that the Executive is committed to developing a national language strategy.

Work on this strategy will commence this year, and it will focus on all of Scotland’s languages, including Scots. He claims he will shortly be writing to “all those with an interest in the Charter reminding them of the UK’s obligations and what practical steps can be taken to meet them.”

With such commitment being demonstrated at all levels of the political process and across all the indigenous linguistic borders, it is essential that work continues by the UK to meet the Charter’s obligations. The Committee of Experts Report confirms that much more is needed if the linguistic diversity of the UK is to be preserved.

Eurolang? is a specialist niche news agency covering topics related to lesser-used languages, linguistic diversity, stateless nations and national minorities within the European Union. It provides an expanding on-line daily service across Europe, to NGOs, the media, European, State and local government, academia, researchers and the general public. The purpose of Eurolang is to provide, on a daily basis, relevant and current news about Europe's regional, stateless and minority language communities, numbering some 46 million speakers, to the general public and to national and regional media (newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, internet media) in Europe and worldwide.
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