2 June 2010 (Wednesday) - Babel

I stumbled upon something that made me smile this morning – when attempting to translate a direction sign into Welsh, the signwriters thought the automated email response was actually the translation they’d asked for. And so rather than giving the required instructions, the sign they produced read (once translated) "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated". And from that article it didn’t take me long to find a whole load of mis-translated signs in Wales – left and right being mixed up is an easy enough mistake to make (just ask my beloved!). But surely confusing cyclists with cystitis is somewhat more difficult to do? And then some signs have just been rendered into gibberish.

Having one sign done wrong is funny. Having loads of mistakes – that’s a bit more serious. On reflection I can’t help but feel that since the country is billions of pounds in debt, and these translations (demonstrably) are not being done very well, surely translating everything into a redundant language is a waste of time, to say nothing of an unnecessary expense. After all, I’ve been to Wales. The vast majority all speak English as their first language. In my time there I only heard Welsh being used once – and that by an old git who was glaring at me. And the deliberately intimidating effect was spoiled by his grandchildren imploring him not to speak in Welsh because (to quote the child) “nobody understands you”.

I can recall my having a similar rant about the Celtic language a while ago, and being branded a Nazi racist. I’m expecting a similar response from the reactionary fringes for today’s rant, but why? I am posing a serious question. Why do we persist in keeping the Welsh language alive? It’s not needed – it’s not as though anyone actually relies on it rather than using English. And I don’t get the “preserve your heritage” argument. Preserve it in a museum, yes. Preserve it the costly way it’s being preserved – I really can’t see it. After all, there are those with a minority language who don’t cost the tax payer a penny – namely the Klingon-speakers.

But, as usual, on further research I’m in the minority with my opinion. It’s not just the Welsh – the Cornish have apparently revived a language that’s been dead for a century. As have the Manx and various forms of Celts.

As a child I had this naïve idea that I was taught French at school because one day I would go abroad to another country where the language was spoken, and by learning someone else’s language we would break down international barriers. And that was why the French kiddies were taught English. And so with us all speaking each other’s languages the world would become a better place. But then, didn’t I read somewhere that a certain fish caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures?. I naively thought that learning dead languages would only isolate large parts of the community. Perhaps it is God’s will….

“And the Lord said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth” (From the book of Genesis)

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