Language & Domination – Or – One Way to Squash A Culture

By Bernie Bell

I’m continuing to read ‘Orkney Shore’, in which Robert Rendall mentions the muddle which the Latin names for shells had got into due to different people in different places using different spelling, and the “detective work” needed to sort the names, and therefore the ‘families’ out.

This reminded me of about 40 years ago when I worked at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, indexing 18th and 19th Century Marriage Bonds.

The problem was that the people writing down the information mostly weren’t Welsh speakers, and so had written down Welsh names as they heard them, phonetically.  This meant that it took some detective work to work out the family connections – as with the ‘families’ of shells which Robert Rendall writes about.

Funnily enough, I was useful as a non-Welsh speaker because I would read out the name as it looked to me, phonetically.  Then the Welsh speakers in the group working on the project could, by using their ‘ear’ for the sounds, work out what the name was most likely to be.

Why weren’t the clerical workers who wrote things down Welsh speakers? Because at the time, the ‘Welsh Not’,were%20heard%20speaking%20the%20language  was still very much in operation, and those jobs were given to English speakers. Thank goodness that’s now firmly in the past – but resurrecting the Welsh language was a hard fought battle.

And then, we were watching ‘Derry Girls’ – the one where the gang go to Donegal and when they stop to ask the way, the woman answers in Gaelic.  None of them speaks or understands Gaelic, so they carry on and go to the wrong house.

I was thinking that someone had got it wrong, as I know that Irish is taught in schools in the Republic – then I remembered – they’re not from the Republic – they’re from Derry.

And I’m thinking of Scotland, and now Tibet, and Palestine, and the Ukraine.  They can’t dictate the language that people think in. 

Look at the might of Rome – and what happened to Latin?  Which brings us back to Robert Rendall and the Orkney shells.

credit: Google Images and One in a billion Blog

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