Session 77: Ystafell 5
Sociolinguistics: Welsh, Irish and Breton in law and education

Chair: Eileen Sorcha Áine Coughlan

A linguistic invisibility: Breton in healthcare

Riwanon Gwenn Callac
Skol-veur Breizh Uhel, Roazhon 2 (Rennes)

The Breton language has an literary medical tradition, from Leyde's manuscript to Guy Etienne's Geriadur ar vezekniezh. However this is not evidence that the language is in day-to-day use in care situations.

Nowadays, more than half of Breton speakers are over seventy. This sometimes leads to institutionalization and thus a significant change in the social and linguistic context. For example, in extremis, the denial of the right to speak Breton reveals the sociolinguistic features of common public situations. Prejudices about the minoritised language seen at various times in history arise again. In Wales, by contrast, some training careers take the Welsh language into account, and language policies do exist for healthcare. It is thus beneficial to compare not only the linguistic practices of Wales and Brittany in the healthcare services, but also the sociolinguistic similarities and different language policies. This paper will examine the attitudes towards the language of mother-tongue Breton speakeas, and what this implies in the context of health and care. How do language policies and language prejudices influence people’s images of their languages, and to what extent does this change linguistic and medical practices? The main data sources for this study are observations in retirement homes and hospitals in Brittany, as well as structured interviews with professionals and specialists in both countries.

Language law in contemporary Wales and Ireland: unexpected radicalism?

Robert Douglas Dunbar
Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann (Edinburgh)

A fundamental aspect of most legislative regimes in support of minoritised languages is the focus on the individual speaker, and approaches to legislation in support of minoritised languages is generally conceived of in terms of individual rights which are claimed in relation to services from the state. Typically, these include minority language public services, minority language education, and participation through the minority language in the legal system and in local regional and even national political institutions. One feature of the legislative models developed in Wales and the Republic of Ireland is a relative lack of explicit rights to such services; instead, the mechanism of language schemes, and now language standards, have been used to regulate provision of certain minority language services. The extent to which these mechanisms are weak substitutes for rights regimes will be critically assessed. A fundamental criticism of all dominant approaches to minority language legislation, however, is that their focus on the individual speaker fails to address the social and communal aspects of minority language use, and the impact of a variety of policy areas which are not explicitly language-related on the vitality of language communities. The presentation will conclude with a consideration of recent legislative developments in Wales: the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and the Planning (Wales) Act 2015. These will be considered alongside similar developments in Ireland. It will be argued that these are both highly innovative and have the potential to address the weakness in existing legislative approaches, referred to above.

Language in Celtic legal documents – cultural expression or legal meaning?

Seán Ó Conaill
Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh (Cork)

Among the legal systems of Celtic jurisdictions of the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales there exists constitutional documents (in the English and Celtic languages) which place an emphasis on the role that the language of those respective jurisdictions plays. In Ireland’s case this takes the form of a bilingual Constitution and in the case of Wales and Scotland it comes by way of devolution legislation which is provided in the Celtic languages to varying degrees.

The Irish Constitution while primarily thought of as a legal document is much more than that. Mr Justice Geoghegan of the Irish Courts noted that a constitution is more than a mere legal document but also serves as an expression of the emotions, aspirations and feelings of the people who enacted it. The Irish Constitution contains many elements which are not necessarily there as legal instruments but rather there to express in a collective voice the feelings of the Irish people.

This paper will examine the English language and Irish language texts of the 1922 and 1937 Constitution not as a legal documents but as pieces of literature sending a cultural message. The significance of particular terminology and tone will be assessed with a focus on the religious, nationalistic and gender constructions which are to be found in the text. The paper will discuss how the Constitution was a document of its time but also focus on the enduring legacy of the Constitution with a view to the impact of the language of 1937 in modern Ireland. The comparative perspective of Wales and Scotland will be examined to further investigate the point.

Ultimately this paper will investigate what the cultural and societal factors are which lead to the enacting of provisions in legal documents and whether the populations who enacted them mean for the Celtic language versions to have genuine legal meaning and consequences. It is not intended that this paper will be a blackletter legal academic paper but rather a paper of more general interest with a light legal focus.