Bilingual website, my arse!

The “Irish” version of Fianna Fáil’s website. Most of the text you see is actually English.

The “Irish” version of Fianna Fáil’s website. Most of the text you see is actually English.

What do the Irish Department of Finance, Ireland’s South-Eastern Regional Assembly and the Irish political party Fianna Fáil have in common? They all have bilingual websites which aren’t really bilingual. And they’re not alone, I’ve only chosen these three pretty much randomly as examples. Take a look at the Fianna Fáil website for instance. If you click on the “Gaeilge” (“Irish”) link, you are taken to what claims to be the Irish version of their website. It turns out, though, that only the menus and other boiler-plate texts are in Irish, the rest of the content remains in English.

This is nothing unusual. It is a whole new trend in Ireland now and it allows organizations to claim they have a bilingual website when really they don’t. All they have to do is a one-off translation of the text that never changes, the website’s “furniture”. But the actual content, the text that changes often and for which people may actually want to visit the website, remains in English.

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“Call me if you will change your mind”

This is a sentence I overheard in the shop this morning, spoken with what vaguely seemed like an Eastern-European accent. It sounds weird because it is ungrammatical in English. To make it good, you’d have to change the future tense “when you will change” to the present tense “when you change”. It reminded me of how often non-native speakers get their tenses wrong in English.

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Linguistic relativity: fact or wishful thinking?

One of the most fascinating questions in linguistics is whether and how much language influences thought. Do speakers of different languages think differently? There are some 6,000 languages in the world and they are all different from each other, sometimes in very striking ways. The question is whether these differences in language lead to any differences in thinking.

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Languages always develop towards simplicity – except when they don’t

Somebody suggested to me recently that languages always develop towards simplicity. It is not unusual for people to think that. There is a popular opinion out there that languages start out as very complex but over time the grammar and vocabulary and pronunciation and everything becomes more simple.

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“The passive voice must not be used”

Somebody called Marie Murray has written an opinion piece for the Irish Times in which she berates the passive voice (The passive voice is the penultimate weapon of denial, 31 July 2009). She basically says that the passive voice is bad because it lets people get away with not admitting responsibility for their actions. But while the moral side of her argument is true and laudable, the linguistics she uses to support it is, at best, shaky.

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