A Minority Complex

It goes without saying that an innumerable array of factors go into the making of a person’s worldview. It was not until relatively recently however, that I fully realised the extent to which language has contributed to the shaping of my own.

A couple of weeks ago I came across an English translation of ‘A Rough Guide’, a poem by Welshman Grahame Davies. Never before had I seen myself so clearly in another person’s depiction of themselves. What’s more, never before had I felt so much like a caricature!

'Rough Guide' by Grahame Davies

‘Rough Guide’ by Grahame Davies

It’s not merely that the poet and I share the same sympathies and affinities. I am, embarrassing though it is to admit, guilty of the exact same perverse approach to guide books as he. Last December I was given a gift of The Rough Guide to Languedoc & Roussillon as I was about to travel to the region in the hopes of improving my French. The first thing I did on receiving the book was to scan the contents, locate ‘Language’, skip past ‘French’ (the language I am currently trying to learn!) and dive head first into the section on Occitan and Catalan! Little did I know I was exhibiting the telltale signs of the clichéd minority language speaker.

While we’re on the topic of minority languages and their speakers, I just posted a video on the Indigenous Language Challenge page on Facebook. For my challenge I decided to read one of my favourite Gearóid Mac Lochlainn poems, ‘Aistriúcháin’ (‘Translations’). The poem deals with the frustrations endured by the poet who writes in a minority language. Specifically, Mac Lochlainn is talking about Ireland and the Irish language but I’m sure others will be able to relate. I said I would post a written translation of the poem here in case anyone from the page wanted to make sense of what I was saying!

'Aistriúcháin' by Gearóid Mac Lochlainn. Translated by Frankie Sewell and Gearóid Mac Lochlainn

‘Aistriúcháin’ by Gearóid Mac Lochlainn. Translated by Frankie Sewell and Gearóid Mac Lochlainn

I would encourage anyone who is a speaker of a minoritised language (be you a native speaker or a new speaker, a fluent speaker or a beginner) to take the time and record a short video and upload it to the Indigenous Language Challenge page. The raison d’être of the group is really beautiful so I hope even more people get behind it: “Let’s use this particular group to share all of the language videos to inspire each other to SPEAK our languages. In the spirit of language revitalization, please post videos of yourselves speaking your beautiful Indigenous languages and encourage others to do the same.”

I would be really interested to hear what people make of the above poems. In particular, if you are a speaker of a minoritised language I would love to know what you think. Can you see yourself in anything touched on by either poet?

Also, if anyone can recommend other websites, projects, Facebook groups, etc. where people are trying to bring together speakers or teachers of minority languages then please do leave some information and some links in the comments section below!