There’s a fascinating discussion going on at Crooked Timber about the proposal that Irish should be an official language of the EU. Maria‘s attitude in her post “What’s the Irish for boondoggle?” is clear from the title alone, and the opening paragraph nails it down further:

It’s not every day that Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and Sinn Fein agree on something. But they all say Irish should be an official language of the EU, and complain that the government (which the PDs are part of) hasn’t done enough to make this happen during the Irish presidency. Our presidency of the EU is at best a partial success because we haven’t managed to force the EU to spend an extra 50 million euro a year to translate speeches and documents into a language that no one actually needs them in. It’s the principle, you see.

I agree with her, despite my fondness for an Gaeilge, but a number of her commenters don’t, and the debate spills over onto Maltese as well while staying remarkably civil. (Via MetaFilter.)


  1. I’m surprised the discussion didn’t bring up Letzebuergish. Anyway, yeah, there are enough other things that actually create practical difficulties in the EU that putting money towards making an Irish riddled with English calques a working language is just not worth doing.

  2. aldiboronti says

    “I’ve no idea what shabby little deal was done with the Maltese to give their language official status, but it is a silly and pointless arrangement that does nothing to boost the efficiency or credibility of the EU.”
    From Maria’s post on Crooked Timber.
    Shabby little deal? Surely the EU is just following its own rules?
    “On 15 April 1958 the Council laid down that the official languages of the Member States should be both the official languages of the Community and the working languages of the Community institution.
    Every Member State’s official language is an official language of the EU.”
    I assume Maltese is the official language of Malta. If Gaelic is also the official lanuage of Eire does it not automatically qualify as an official language of the EU under the above rule?

  3. Michael Farris says

    The best explanation for Maltese is that the Maltese government wanted Maltese to have official status and negotiated that as part of their entry. The Irish didn’t think to do the same for Irish. That said, there’s also a big qualitative difference between the status of the two languages since Maltese seems to be the first and preferred language of virtually the whole population whereas Irish is essentially a minority language maintained by dedicated bilinguals.
    Most of the official or semi-official justifications for languages that are or aren’t recognized by the EU no longer make any sense as a whole, you have to look at individual cases (both countries and languages). I think everyone can agree that the translate everything into every official language policy is seriously whacked and the number of working languages should be reduced (though I don’t prefer a monolingual working language policy either).

  4. Irish is an official language; all the EU treaties are translated into it, as a matter of course. Most of the complaining seems to be that it isn’t a working language, something that would be a splendid waste of the German taxpayer’s Euros.

  5. E. O' Connor says

    It’s name is not Gaelic.
    (1) Gaelic generally refers to the Scottish language of Scots. Gaelic, or (2) officially, the sub-set of Celtic langauges, which is made up of Irish, Scots Gaelic, and Manx (Isle of Man).
    The debate about whether or not to make Irish an official working langauge should not be confused with Scots. Gaelic, Manx, Scots., Ulster Scots or Ullans.
    Wasting German tax-payer’s money? What about CAP? What does that do to German tax-payer’s money?
    Riddled with English? I wouldn’t agree, but isn’t English riddled with Latin, German and French? Are not many of the French technology terms just American words with accents? What’s the German words for e-mail, internet, website?
    E-mail: r-phost, ríomhphost
    Website: Líonláithreáin, Suíomh gréasáin
    Internet: Idirlíon
    * And they ARE in use.

  6. E. O’Connor:
    1. I think most of the money spent on the Common Agricultural Policy is misdirected too, even though it meant I grew up middle class instead of a character out of An Béal Bocht. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t mention this in my first comment, because this blog tends to orient itself more towards language than agriculture.
    2. You don’t seem to have paid attention to the word “calque” in my comment. It’s from a French word for tracing–as in tracing paper–and it describes a usage in one language that, while its consituents may be entirely native, borrows its overall meaning from another. Examples would be the way you’ll occasionally see “sea” in Irish being used as an all-purpose translation of “yes,” which it isn’t; “tabhair suas an súiochán seo” for “give up this seat” as seen on Dublin buses (English phrasal verb constructions working in Irish? Really!), or the usage of “die Scheide” in German to mean “vagina”–German writers were looking for a non-obscene way of saying it, but they didn’t like borrowing words, so they went and looked at the etymology of “vagina” in Latin, and used their word for “sheath” in parallel to it.
    Modern, civil service Irish is riddled with calques from English, and it’s modern, civil service Irish that would (will?) be used in Brussels.
    Languagehat: Excuse the local politics spilling over. 🙁

  7. That’s OK — as long as everyone keeps it civil! And I like “this blog tends to orient itself more towards language than agriculture.” So true, so true.

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  9. annamaria bonnici says

    As a Maltese person, I understand the Gaelic-speaking people’s right and wish to have their language recognised as an official EU language. However this does not give them the right to treat the Maltese language with derision. Malta is a sovereign nation with its own language – it should not be discriminated against because it just happens to have 400,000 inhabitants.

  10. Do calques somehow invalidate a language? They are unavoidable in languages of “colonized” people. Civil service Kazakh, Kirghiz, and Ukrainian are all riddled with Russian calques. And I assume the same is true of Georgian, Azeri, Armenian, etc. I believe modern Hebrew also has a large number of calques from German/Yiddish but it has still managed to become a real living language. If you’re worried about the cost of translating, calques are a godsend because you don’t have to think when translating a bureacratic formula from one tongue to another.

  11. Marie-Louise Byrne says

    I think it is great to finally see the Irish language being brought back to life. Practically everyone in the world states that they are Irish in some way shape or form so why shouldn’t the native language be taught as an everyday subject outside of the country. It is because of the English (no offense guys) that the gaelic language was lost to its people. Since the entire world are someway Irish then the Language belongs to them to.

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