Council of Europe calls for UK minority-language push

The Council of Europe issued its second report on the situation of minority languages in the United Kingdom on 15 March 2007, which says more effort should be made in favour of Irish, Welsh and Scots/Ulster Scots/Scottish Gaelic. 

The Committee of Ministers has called on the UK to create and implement comprehensive education policies for the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages, and to further develop education in Welsh. It also asks the UK Government to: 

  • Develop a comprehensive Irish-language policy;
  • give more support for the printed media in Irish and Scottish Gaelic; 
  • improve services in Welsh in health and social-care facilities 
  • make efforts to improve the position of Scots and Ulster Scots. 

The report was drawn up by a committee of independent experts which monitors the application of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which came into force in the UK in July 2001.

The regional or minority languages protected under the Charter in the UK are Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Scots, Ulster-Scots, Cornish and Manx Gaelic.

The 86-page report states that the main responsibility for the practical implementation of the Charter’s goals of recognising and respecting the value of minority languages rests with devolved authorities, but that central government has the final responsibility to ensure that the Charter is applied.

The monitoring exercise had revealed wide differences in the treatment of minority languages around the country, it said.

Better data would help the prospects for most minority languages, according to the ministers findings: “For some of these languages there are no reliable data as to the number of speakers and their degree of language competence and it would be useful for further language planning to include this issue in future censuses.

“What seems to be symptomatic and recurrent (for minority languages in the UK) is a lack of standardisation or codification needed for the use of the language in many aspects of public life, often a low prestige attached to the language, and finally a lack of an over-arching language strategy and plan. This leads (supporters of minority languages) to perceive the current policies as being merely half-hearted.”

The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers said that the UK authorities should act on them “as a matter of priority”. 


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