Nov 18, 2014

‘Google Translate’ Irish: Forgetting 1916

Benn Ó hÓgáin criticises the government's attitude toward the Irish language in light of recent embarrassments

Benn Ó hÓgáin | Comhfreagraí Gaelach

The disappointment was palpable among the Irish language community on Thursday morning, as news broke that Google Translate had been used to translate English to Irish on the 1916 commemorations website. The website, ireland.ie, even featured Google translations of sections of the Proclamation.

The irony was that the department responsible for the 1916 commemorations is the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – the very department with governmental responsibility for the language itself.

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Even non-Irish speakers should be alarmed at such blatant disregard for the language. It shows a lack of respect for the culture and history of the country, a lack of respect for the very aims and goals which the rebels of 1916 sought to achieve.

The Irish Language Commissioner, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, was extremely critical of the Department, noting their “duty to develop bilingual websites”. He stated, “we take it as a given that the Irish language that is used should be accurate and that people should be able to understand it.”

“It is unhelpful and it is worrying and it’s a cause for concern for me when that doesn’t happen, as is clear in this case”, Ó Dhomhnaill added.

Of course, for Irish language groups, the news was hardly surprising. A department for the Gaeltacht headed by two ministers without proficiency in the language doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Disregarding the fact that the government has many capable translators at its disposal in the civil service, and that such a blatant oversight again throws into light the flagrant disregard by so many for our national language, the question arises: why should we care?

The first issue of The University Times this year featured an article entitled We Can All Speak English. In that article, I suggested that the practical uses for Irish were currently minimal, but that it was in our interests to protect the language, and to aim to restore it as a living, working, and social language.

Fantastic work has been done across the country since 1916 to develop Irish, through the Gaelscoil movement, through the development of the summer colleges in Gaeltacht regions. In fact, Irish is seeing something of a revival of interest in Dublin and other urban centres. Yet all this work is for nothing if the Government refuses to recognise it.

The irony was that the department responsible for the 1916 commemorations is the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – the very department with governmental responsibility for the language itself.

Even non-Irish speakers should be alarmed at such blatant disregard for the language. It shows a lack of respect for the culture and history of the country, a lack of respect for the very aims and goals which the rebels of 1916 sought to achieve.

A sense of national identity, the very thing that made us different from our English rulers, struck the match to light the fire which ultimately led to our 1922 independence. The Irish language has always been very much a part of that identity.

In remembering the centenary of 1916, it is regrettable that ‘Google Translate’ Irish was allowed to make its way onto the commemorations website. It shows how disappointing governmental policy has been over the last 92-odd years. Without a national identity, we lose the legitimacy to claim the right to be sovereign. Although Irish is but just one part of that identity, allowing it to wane is to the detriment of our culture. The Department should certainly know better.

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