Sunday, December 14, 2014

Putting the Gael into G-Mail!

Google has been a remarkable friend of the Irish language. From quite early on their search engine has had an Irish language version.

More recently it has provided a sometimes ridiculed translation facility. Among the Irish speaking community the facility offered by Google Translate's facility is sometimes unfairly criticised. The criticism should more properly be directed towards those who use it as a lazy way out,  rather than the remarkable technological achievement it does in fact represent. As somebody who uses it occasionally (not only for it's Irish section but also French, Italian, German and Portuguese) it is best used as a guide and a certain basic knowledge of the language is essential in using the facility. Thus somebody who wishes to say "rest" will know that "an cuid eile" (the other part) is not the same as "suaimhneas" (repose). Rest has at least two meanings in English.

Last week the Google organisation added a wonderful support system for the Irish Language. They launched the Irish version of GMail.

There are several interesting things which came to mind as I switched my own Gmail account to my own language!

Bottom up
First is that this was, like the others, a Google initiative. I understand that a Professor in St Louis approached them last year (2013) and asked if they were interested. They replied in the affirmative and a group of volunteers from Ireland, the US and elswhere, gathered and worked in association with the technical people in Google and in an incredibly short time a useable, accurate and user-friendly mail service was unveiled in less than 24 months.

This article in the business section of The describes how to change the working language of your g-mail account: Want to use Gmail as Gaeilge? Now you can!

Another example of this type of voluntary internet intervention is the availability of the Firefox browser in Irish - again quietly and with little state involvement, or the quiet evolving of facebook. And for more volunteer input just take a look at Vicipéid (Wikipedia as Gaeilge!).

Top down?
The second in this is the absence of any comment good bad indifferent, let alone encouraging, from the establishment on this launch. Indeed with one exception I have seen no comment for any member of the Seanad or the Dáil. One tweet commenting on this silence that because there was little or no Government input they were not willing to praise or give credence to such a initiative.

Compare and contrast with the launch of Microsoft as Gaeilge, which, I understand did have Government involvement and thus an extraordinary circus was organised with Government participation. Maybe you don't remember the hoopla"A country-wide partnership was put in place and it included working closely with Foras na Gaeilge, DCU, NUI Maynooth, eTeams and EGTeo. The Irish speaking community was also invited to contribute to the community glossary, a foundational reference for all technical terms. Commencing in June 2004, the project took over 12 months to complete and involved the translation of over 600,000 terms in Irish, before being made available free to download. The programme was distributed free to all 4,000 primary and secondary schools and in 2006, An Taoiseach announced that due to its success, Irish language versions of Windows Vista and 2007 Office would also be made available." Was the Taoiseach at the launch of Gael Mail? Was the new Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs?

Also contrast the attitude of the Welsh government which supported the G-mail initiative in their own language.

Perhaps it is yet another example of the urge to control and centralise that seems to have been emphasised in Government since the exit of the Celtic Tiger.

Abolition of the democratic input in Údarás na Gaeltachta and it's gradual financial strangulation (finances reduced from around €20m to €6m), the attempted emasculation of the Office of the Comisinéir Teanga, the complete destruction of print media in Irish, the attempted decimation of the voluntary language organisations, the withdrawal of Gaeltacht family grants, the forcing through of a Gaeltacht Act without the consensual agreement of the parties in the Oireachtas for the first time in the history of the State, the appointment of a minister for Gaeltacht Affairs unable to converse in the language, the inexorable retreat on the obligations arising from the 2003 Language Act and every sign that the new Language Act will further weaken the position of the language that State organs claim to love, respect and declare a policy of encouraging. And more recently we learn the Nursery School movement for the naoinraí throghout the country is being disbanded (Gaeilge). All with little or no real public consultation.

Add to that the simple reluctance of many state entities and quangos to recognise  a letter with a diacritic mark. This is considered to be a different letter from its unmarked equivalent, and words that are supposed to have diacritic marks and don’t are considered to be misspelled. Thus they cannot recognise names or surnames with such accents. Ó Riain becomes "î Riain" and Éamon becomes "ƒamon" or Ciarán, "Ciar‡n". It cost nothing to have the software corrected to recognise this but does CIE and others care to do it?  (see Why The Internet Hates My Name (It’s The Accent Marks) for an understanding of why this is so.)

Dearg le Fearg
So what does this show?

More and more people are beginning to realise that the political system is failing the historic Irish nation and its people. In February 7000 to 10000 marched in Dublin. In March upwards of 1000 marched in Conamara, 5000 to 7000 in Belfast and various smaller protests occured elsewhere, and not only in Ireland, demanding action on Irish. No real response.

We have seen this in other demonstrations on other causes all being met more or less with the same incomprehension of the powers-that-be. The message "This is Ireland, we speak Irish, get over it!" has been sadly lost among the 97% of the Government who are unable to serve those of us who speak the national language - the European language in longest continuous use as a vernacular. The Government's message continues to be: "Speak Irish to each other but don't speak it to us!" (cf: The State attitude to the National Language & its speakers!)

Google, Mozilla (Firefox) & facebook are commercial organisations which value our ancient lan and are prepared to use it.

Let us thank them and use what they offer.