19 April 2011

National unity: Hunwicke's Modest Proposal

Mr Cameron doesn't please everybody when he argues that 'immigrants' into Britain should be able to speak English. I, however, warmly and wholeheartedly agree with him. But I think his views should be ... er ... nuanced just a trifle.

English is not our only historic and native language in the Three Kingdoms. There is Welsh; there is Cornish, the language that Pam and I dip into together during our Cornish holidays as we return to the Catholic culture of medieval Europe by reading the mystery plays and sermons which survive in the old Cornish language. There are the two kinds of Gaelic; and, no, I haven't forgotten Manx. (In the disiecta membra of the old Duchy of Normandy, fragments of Norman French dialects survive.) Each of these is as properly, anciently, British, as is English ... the late Mr Chaucer's dialect ... or, possibly, even more so. But there is also another inherently British tongue: Latin, the language of these islands from the Claudian invasion onwards; the language of S Bede the Venerable and Sir Isaac Newton; the language in which Law and Theology and Mathematics and Logic were taught in our ancient universities ... Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Aberdeen ... in the Middle Ages and thereafter; the language in which the three nations worshipped for a thousand years.

So here is Hunwicke's Modest Proposal ... just the merest adaptation of Mr Cameron's very sensible approach. We should have two levels of citizenship: full citizenship; and associate citizenship. Full citizenship, including the right to vote and to own property and to have social benefits, would be available to all who could speak at least two of the languages on the following list; associate citizenship would have much more restricted rights attached to it, including temporary residence and the right to pay taxes, but would be freely and generously available to lesser mortals who were only able to be fluent in one of these languages.

Latin
English
Cornish
Welsh
Gaelic
Manx.
(In the Channel Isles, Norman French.)

Gosh, the scope for fertile combinations: lessons in Cornish for native speakers of Urdu; Latin word lists for Polish Plumbers and Dentists.

You know it makes sense.

20 comments:

Patricius said...

Personally I think proficiency in the Latin tongue should be a requirement for admission to Universities; and yet I am less qualified at 23 to enrol than some 18 year old who doesn't even know the rudiments of English grammar...

Joshua said...

What about Norman French?

Beware, Fr H: for to Australian ears this satirical proposition has peculiarly unfortunate overtones, given the notorious Dictation Test that was applied to keep out undesirables during the decades of the White Australia Policy, ever since the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 (the first Act passed after Federation) - for that test could be given at whim to an incomer in any European language, and if one failed it (and the test could be administered again and again until, say, one's knowledge of Slovenian proved inadequate), one would be refused admission to the Commonwealth.

Amusingly, the High Court (Kisch's case, 1934) ruled that Scots Gaelic was not a European language within the meaning of the Act!

Patricius said...

I don't know about Scots Gaelic but Ulster Scots is by no means a language of its own right...

Vincent de Paul said...

Also in Caithness and the Orkney & Shetland Islands- Norn was spoken until about the same time as Cornish died out.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Some of the "late Mr Chaucer's dialect" is still spoken in Yorkshire ...

Deacon Nathan Allen said...

Norman French, anyone? It is the language of a good many laws still on the books.

lxoa said...

Ulster Scots is a modern invention. There is no reference to an Ulster Scots language before 1997. It was invented after the Good Friday Agreement as the unionist equivalent of Irish. Growing up at home we always used words like cannae, didnae, aye, shough etc. but we never esteemed them as anything more noble than bad grammar.

Scots/Irish Gaelic and Manx (essentially a creole of old Irish and Norse) are certainly languages in their own right.

Edwin said...

You may remember a former Bishop of Leicester, Richard Rutt, who had the gift of tongues; so that he was able to translate knitting instructions ('Knit your own Mitre') into Cornish and Korean.

Peter said...

Here in Jersey laws were written in Jersey legal French (few are today) which is similar to the French used in France.
Jerri is, like Swiss German, essentially a spoken language although it is now written down. It differs from Guernsey French.
The Duchy of Normandy conquered England in 1066 and then in turn was mostly, but not all, conquered by the French. We are the bit loyal to the Duke.

A few years back I attended Vespers according to the French edition of the Book of Common Prayer. It was Charles II who ensured that his subjects here could pray in the vernacular as opposed to English.

margaret said...

What a nice thing to learn about Richard Rutt! I only learned to knit after seeing him on Blue Peter.

Father Anonymous said...

It might solve a great many of my own nation's internal debates over language if full voting-and-so-forth citizenship depended upon mastering the ancestral language of one's own region. I would, of course, need a crash course in Mohawk, while my Texan wife reviewed her rusty schoolgirl Apache.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

The Channel islands are not part of Great Britain.

Fr William said...

But then neither is the Isle of Man.

Peter said...

Father
You are quite right, the Channel Islands, like the Isle of Man, are not part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Your correspondent Joshua raised the question of whether Norman French should be added to your list.
There is no distinct nationality and the local people are classified as British Citizens by the UK government.
I am sorry if comments from here are unwelcome.
C'est la vie.

RichardT said...

Fr H - indeed, the Channel Islands are not part of Great Britain.

But oddly for these purposes, of determining British citizenship, they are by law said to be part of the United Kingdom.

See British Nationality Act 1981, s50(1).

RichardT said...

Fr William, the Isle of Man is constitutionally more 'British' than the Channel Islands.

The Lord of Mann has been regarded as a vassal of the King of England ever since the execution of the last independent King of Mann under Henry IV.

In contrast the Channel Islands were held by the Crown as vassal of the King of France (I think, under the Treaty of Paris, as Duke of Aquitaine, although they prefer to claim as Duke of Normandy).

Father David said...

Geordie? Scouse? Brummie?

Matthew said...

Hello David Reynish from Hugh Allen.

Bill Chapman said...

I'm surprised to see no mention of Esp[eranto here. Esperanto has been used continually in Britain for well over a century.

Fr William said...

Sed eĉ kiel samideano, oni akceptas ke nia lingvo havas neniun rolon distingan kaj formigan en la historio kaj kulturo de tiuj ĉi insuloj.