Archive for February, 2006

Tip of the Tongue #2

The second in my series of tips for Irish people who are crap at languages. This is not quite a language-learning tip, more like a language-ignorance tip, but a useful one nonetheless. If you’re in a foreign country, you don’t speak the word of the language, and you rely on the natives to speak to you in English, make sure you show you’re grateful for their efforts. In general, they are doing you a favour by speaking to you in your own language, apart from the ones who are out to mug you or steal your kidneys.

They Could Be Heroes

I’m disappointed that people chose to riot in Dublin in my absence. On the way to the airport on Saturday morning, the taxi driver asked me, on account of my accent, what I thought of the planned parade. I said I didn’t know that much about it, but that I hoped people didn’t go out of their way to get offended. Turns out they did.

Why? I don’t know any of the people who were rioting on Saturday, but I do know quite a few people who have been involved in riots – throwing petrol bombs at the police, hi-jacking JCBs, burning buses and suchlike, and I find it hard to imagine that those involved on Saturday are much different. The ones I knew took quite a lot of E, sniffed glue, drank cheap alcohol, had crap tattoos, chip-pan hair, crap moustaches, and did quite a lot of general ‘hooding about’, as the vernacular had it. In pathetic imitation of paramilitary groupings (who hated them), they had developed their own TLA, which they scrawled on walls over town.

They were bored. Most people hated them, and they knew it. A couple of the ones I knew had been kneecapped. I had a job as a cleaner, and one morning I went into the newly-carpeted computer room to start hoovering. They had smashed computer monitors and drawn dirty pictures on the whiteboards. The room smelled of piss. They had used lighter fuel to write their names on the carpet, then set the carpet alight. One had taken a dump on the floor, and used an A4 sheet to wipe himself. There were a load of print-outs on the floor. They had used one of the computers to print a letter to the IRA, full of big-man threats and desperate spelling. It turned out that they’d got so pissed they had all fallen asleep in another room, only to be found that morning, still asleep, by builders ready to start work, who had then given them a good hiding.

Yet come rioting season, they were heroes, or at least they thought they were. When they were out torching cash machines or lorries or Ulsterbuses, mad drunk and full of giddy rage, they knew that they were in the right, because those marches were like the Ku Klux Klan walking through Harlem. The marchers were bigots who were out to treat them like second-class citizens, so why put up with it? Why let somebody walk all over you like that?

One time a few of them showed up with carry-outs at the flat of a mate of mine one night after a riot. There was one guy who’d been hit in the ass with a plastic bullet. Everyone thought it was hilarious, including him. He was roaring with laughter, beating people over the head with the plastic bullet he had retrieved, and threatening to do all sorts of obscene things with it to all who were there. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Anyway, the point is that when these guys went out to riot, they did so because they really figured that they were in the right this time, as opposed to the rest of the time when everyone treated them like scum, and they really figured they were being trampled on by the marchers and the people who enforced the march. They didn’t give a toss about republicanism or Pearse or any of that shite, but they knew they were in the right. How did they know? It was obvious – that was what everybody was saying about the marches.

Loving Ulstermen

I’m Scandinavia-bound for a week or so. Posting, if any, will be scarce.

I’m mildly sad to be missing the Love Ulster march in Dublin tomorrow, as I’m curious about it. Despite all the publicity surrounding it, I still haven’t been able to fathom what it’s about yet -Victims? Loving Ulster? An End To Dublin Interference?

Some stuff has been said about how the victims groups involved only represent victims on one side, which is fair comment, especially in light of loyalist paramilitary connections.

It needs to be remembered, though, that whatever their standpoint and however muddled the gestures may seem to onlookers, a lot of them are still innocent victims. If they feel the need to say something about themselves on the streets of Dublin, they should be allowed to do so unimpeded. If they are, then I’m sure something good can come of it.

‘il est place pour tous au rendez-vous de la conquête…’

Serrano Ham or Danish Bacon?

Tip of the Tongue

Hot on the heels of a report suggesting Irish people are crap at languages, I figured it my patriotic duty to post a tip on pronunciation.

The dilemma for football commentators the world over is whether to pronounce a footballer’s name in the way it would be pronounced in the footballer’s native language, or to pronounce it the way it reads in their own language. As a general rule, I think the latter is the wiser. An exception would be if the commentator had a command of the other language.

Yet for one who is supposed to be a polyglot (according to my barber), George Hamilton’s pronunciation when covering the Chelsea-Barcelona match last night was rather poor.

To be fair, it was better than ITV’s coverage of the Real-Arsenal match the night before, when, for the first time, I heard Casillas rhyme with grassy-ass. People must just make these pronunciations up in their heads. If you don’t know it, why not just read it the way it’s written down? Otherwise you sound like a fool. I’m sure 99% of people in these parts can’t pronounce Van Nistelrooy the way Dutch people do, so why bother trying?

The reason I pick on George Hamilton is because I have heard him attempt to make idiomatic pronunciations in the past. If he had never bothered with them at all, there would be no cause for criticism. In this instance, ten minutes’ spade work beforehand would have allowed George to pronounce Marquez with the accent on the ‘a’, and not on the ez (the hard zz sound doesn’t exist in Spanish), and we would not have been left with the distinct impression that Del Horno was a rather priapic little devil.

Today’s tip: in Spanish, the ‘h’ is silent at the start of a word.

‘Reality’ Mugs Liberal For Second Time

Francis Fukuyama no longer supports neoconservatism. And judging by the first paragraph of his article, it looks like he’s still waiting for history to end.

Why do dumbass catchphrases (he calls them political symbols) enthrall these guys so much? He’s now calling for a ‘realistic Wilsonianism’ and prattling on about the equally absurd concept of a ‘multi-multilateral world’.

Interestingly though, he admits that ‘war’ (as in ‘war on terror’) is a metaphor.

Sometimes you feel like walloping these people over the head with a giant spade. Or perhaps we ought to call that spade a ‘spade’?

The Poor Tongue

Irish people see no need to bother with learning other languages because they see no economic advantage in doing so. They are probably right.

Ireland should concentrate on speaking English, because that is what it does best. There is little need for Irish people to speak a foreign language. If an Irish company needs a Russian speaker, it will probably soon be able to hire a contractor from a Lithuanian company of translators based in Ireland, paid Lithuanian wages, under this Bolkestein directive thingy.

Who cares if Danish or Dutch or Chinese people need to learn English to win business or get a job? It is clear that English is the language of commerce, and because Irish people already speak it quite well, they should devote their learning time to the acquisition of other skills.

If I were an aspiring captain of industry, I’d learn accountancy of some sort. Learning a language is for fops and A Place In The Sun fans, the sort of thing you do for a couple of months at night class in advance of your purchase of an apartment in Torrevieja, and then you give it up when, on your first stay, you realise that the only pub in the area that serves carvery lunches and Harp lager is owned by a guy who speaks English anyway.

I was never convinced by the argument that a business executive abroad, representing ‘Irish industry’, will be at a competitive advantage if he or she is speaks the host language. Business conversations, if such a thing can be said to exist, are not likely to be particularly nuanced, so it’s not as if you’re missing out on any ironic inflections or subtle allusions. In 99% of the cases, your negotiating partner will speak better English than you speak whatever his or her language is anyway. Besides, the whole ‘we have a very important delegation of Chinese businessmen who want to invest in our bonemeal factory and their decision to do so will hinge on my ability to say “welcome to Laois”’ is so, well, 1980s. Reminiscent of Paul Robinson’s attempts to impress Mr Udugawa in Neighbours.

A little knowledge of a language is probably worse than none at all. Speaking pidgin French, Spanish or Chinese is unlikely endear you to your hosts, especially if they speak perfect English. What your six months of night classes have enabled you to interpret as ‘your Arabic is excellent’ really translates as ‘who is this patronising fool?’ What will endear you to your hosts is if you pay for a decent interpreter, rather than having people wince at your debasement of their national tongue. What might endear you to them even more is to express admiration for their English language skills.

Not speaking the host language, in fact, being totally ignorant of the host language, can be a position of power, especially if you can make it seem as if the interpreter is your slave and you really do speak the language, but you just prefer to devote your brainpower to more pressing concerns.

I think Ireland’s linguistic skills are probably even worse than the survey suggests, and the same applies to the United Kingdom. People in these isles get wind of a few phrases, think they have the foreign language lark cracked, and start bending the ear of the nearest Spaniard or Italian, by whom they expect to be applauded at every rolled ‘r’, as if Spanish or Italian had only become relevant to the world the moment they bought their set of CDs.


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February 2006
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