May 10, 2005

Lost in Translation

In an effort to prop up the use of Irish, the government in the Gaeltacht, the region in which Irish is still in common use, has replaced the previously bilingual road signs with monolingual signs. According to this article in the Vancouver Sun (which you probably can't read unless, like me, you subscribe), this is causing problems for many tourists, who are no longer able to find their way. Many placenames are so different in their written Irish and English forms that people equipped with English-language maps can no longer navigate. The reporters encountered two busloads of lost French tourists who reported that they had passed through a village but had been unable to find out its name.

There is an amusing aspect to this, but it illustrates the difficulty of preserving endangered languages. Taking down English-language road signs reduces the amount of English in the environment and may thereby give a bit of support for Irish. At the same time, they risk discouraging tourism and other activities that may be important for maintaining the local economy, and with it, the infrastructure that supports the language.

Posted by Bill Poser at May 10, 2005 01:57 AM