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5. Analysis of Some Language Situations

Recent Change in Language Communities Of Nepal - B. K. Rana
bk_rana(at)yahoo.com
Introduction The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is one of the linguistically diverse countries in South Asia and is a home for different peoples who speak different languages, adhere to different religions, practice different cultures and live in harmony forming distinct identities among themselves from the ages. Spoken as lingua franca by nearly 20 million people, Nepali is the first language of 48.61% of total population of 22,736,934 [2001] and also the national language of Nepal. Except for Burushaski, a language isolate which is still spoken north of Gilgit in Hunja, a remote part of northern Pakistan at the border of China, Nepal's languages all belong to the world’s major language families: Indo-European, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan and Austro-Asiatic. There are at least three native speakers left of Kusunda which is a unique language once spoken in the central hills of Nepal some 30 years ago.

Nepali falls within the Indo-European family. It has much closer affinity with Hindi and Sanskrit. Hindi is spoken almost by half a billion people as their mother tongue in India only. Millions others speak either Hindi or Urdu both in India and Pakistan. These two major South Asian languages are spoken among the Indian population across South and East Africa. People in Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius and Fiji also speak Hindi.

Some people who have migrated to USA, Canada and United Kingdom also speak either Hindi or Urdu. The Hindi-Urdu community comprises one of the largest speech communities in the world. Scholars and language activists of India are prescribing Hindi in a broader national context as well as global perspective, and affirm Hindi's status as a world language.

Likewise, a significant number in Hong Kong, Burma and England speak Nepali also. It is spoken by a larger mass of population in different provinces of India. Therefore, the government of India has recognized Nepali as one of its 18 state languages, which is used in schools and in office materials also. The recognition of Nepali as an official language in 1988 by the government of India was a major event for Nepalese linguistic communities to assert their linguistic rights. In this paper I will attempt to offer some insights into recent linguistic dynamism in Nepal from a South Asian perspective, where language communities are asserting their linguistic and cultural rights for development. The language issue has been a vital one for a couple of decades in Nepal.

Growth of Nepali as the National Language amongst Linguistic Diversity Along with the rise of the Gorkha Kingdom in 1768, the state had to promote Hindu culture and Nepali language to unify the country with a policy of one language and one culture. National policy as such could ease the process of unification of scattered small principalities into a greater sovereign nation. Nepal has always remained an independent nation in South Asia. Since the founding of the Gorkha Kingdom, Nepali has become the national language of Nepal and general identity of Nepalese people. There is a vast literary treasure in Nepali: government papers, educational materials, newspapers etc. are all published in it.

There has been no linguistic survey of Nepal to this day (despite some light discussion in academic circles a couple of years ago); so nothing firm can be said on how many languages are spoken in Nepal. Language data tend to differ as between entities and authors. As many as 48 different languages have been enumerated in the population census report of 1991. The National Language Policy Advisory Commission [1993] in its report mentions that there are 70 different languages in Nepal, 20 of them endangered. The report also cites Kusunda as dead. Nonetheless, 87 Kusundas [37 males, 50 females] have been reported speaking Kusunda as their first language in the recent national population census report. According to the population census report [2001] there are 99 different caste, ethnic and two other unidentified groups of peoples who speak 93 different languages as their mother tongues in Nepal. Ethnologue [2000] reports that there are 128 different languages in Nepal.

In Nepal the larger number of different languages falls in Sino-Tibetan language family. The speakers of Sino-Tibetan languages are mostly indigenous in origin. They are remote, less numerous, poorer, socio-politically weaker and unrepresented or under-represented to the national life. The situation as such has led to intense language endangerment in Nepal. As a result of the restoration of democracy in 1990, and also the concern of the United Nations for indigenous peoples in the world, different language communities in Nepal have begun to foster their languages. They have even begun to develop their own scripts, vocabulary, dictionary, grammar and literature etc.

Establishment of Mahendra Sanskrit University for Revival of Sanskrit language To preserve and promote Sanskrit education in different sectors of Nepalese society and also develop the Kingdom of Nepal into a center for teaching and learning through Sanskrit, the government of Nepal established Mahendra Sanskrit University in December 1986. The university was opened amidst a sharp decline in Sanskrit language in the country. No speaker of Sanskrit has been enumerated in national population census reports. This is an indication that Sanskrit is not spoken as the first language in Nepal. Indeed the great teachings of Rshi-Munis in early centuries, possibly even before the Greeks, are written in Sanskrit. The Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, and the much loved philosophy by Hindus – the Bhagavat Gita etc. are written in Sanskrit. Whether Sanskrit is spoken by its speakers or not it has an immense impact not only on Nepalese social life but upon the much greater mass of population in India also.

The greatness of Sanskrit is unquestionable. However, in recent decades, it has faced sharp criticism in the indigenous language communities of Nepal. These communities have designated Sanskrit as a dead language. They blame the government for wasting wealth on a ‘dead language’ and staying unresponsive to demands of communities to preserve their ‘living languages’. There is a kind of tug-of-war between two groups of intellectuals who favor the promotion of either Sanskrit or indigenous languages. Sometimes Sanskrit is made a compulsory subject in schools and sometimes optional, depending on what type of government is functioning in the country. Althouh Sanskrit is not spoken as a first language by the general public, it is not a dead language. There is an ample opportunity for Sanskrit to become revitalized as native language of certain group of people in the country. It is like English, which is also not spoken as the first language in Nepal.

Indigenous Peoples’ Movement for Linguistic and Cultural Rights The indigenous ethnic peoples are nowadays known as Janajatis of Nepal. Before the restoration of democracy in 1990, there was no right to freedom of speech or expression in the country. Naturally in those days, it was very difficult to found a social organization that could spell out the fundamental rights of the people. However, Padma Ratna Tuladhar had been able to found ‘Nepal Bhasha Manka Khala’ - an organization for the preservation and promotion of Newari language and culture in Kathmandu, and other two activists Suresh Ale and Parshu Ram Tamang had also started underground advocacy for linguistic and cultural rights by forming ‘Nepal Langhali Association’ from among the Magars and ‘Nepal Tamang Ghedung’ - an organization of the Tamangs respectively in the mid-seventies. Parshu Ram Tamang has presented Nepal’s indigenous peoples’ issues before a wider world including forums of the UN.

As soon as democracy was restored in the country, these three indigenous peoples’ advocates together with other five indigenous peoples’ organizations became able in mid 1990 to found an organization, the ‘Nepal Federation of Nationalities’; and Suresh Ale was elected its Secretary-General. This was a landmark achievement in the indigenous peoples’ movement of Nepal. The federation vigorously publicized and lobbied for inclusion of linguistic and cultural rights for indigenous peoples in the Constitution, then being drafted by a commission formed by the government of Nepal. As a result, some recommendations from the indigenous peoples’ sector have been incorporated into the constitution.

After the restoration of democracy and also the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal in November 1990 there was an open atmosphere in the Nepalese academic community. Krishna Bahadur Bhattachan, began critical advocacy louder and clearer than ever before for social reforms in the country. Consulting with some other experts and activists, he classified 61 Janajatis of Nepal and also offered a definition for them. The government recognized only 58 Janajatis by enacting an act some time later. However, Bhattachan’s arguments for social reforms have facts and foundations, the conservative school of Nepal, as anticipated, shows strong displeasure in them. Out of his enumeration, a number of 16 Janajatis are not enumerated in the national population census report of 2001. The government population census report is not widely accepted in Nepal.

Kamal Prakash Malla and Hark Gurung who were indulging themselves in scholarly creations before the restoration of democracy have also published a number of polished works in favor of language communities of Nepal. Gore Bahadur Khapangi has an outstanding record of reaching the outposts and speaking for the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. This tireless advocate for social change in Nepal has made a significant contribution to the preservation and development of endangered language communities in Nepal at a time when many of the world’s precious languages are vanishing day by day.

Constitutional Provisions Since 1990, Nepalese society has undergone many unprecedented changes. The Untied Nations’ concerns about the indigenous peoples’ rights and subsequent declaration of International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People [1995-2004] have been remarkable in the effort of preserving Indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage across the globe. Nepal also received some kind of message from the declaration. Now, the government of Nepal has begun to preserve and promote indigenous as well as other languages and cultures across the country.

In the Article 4 [1] of Constitution of Nepal [1990] it is stated that Nepal is a ‘multiethnic, multilingual, democratic, independent, indivisible, sovereign, Hindu, constitutional-monarchial’ country. The constitution has accepted multiethnic and multilingual essence of the country but it is silent about a number of other religions and cultures of Nepal. Such a provision in the constitution has prompted indigenous people’s activists to demand constitutional amendment guaranteeing their religious rights also. The indigenous peoples in the country realize that they were converted to Hinduism after the rise of the Gorkha Kingdom. Previously, they believe, their ancestors were either Shamanists or Buddhists.

Similarly, in another Article 6[1] of the constitution it is written that Nepali in Devanari script is the ‘nation language’ of Nepal and hence official language of the country. But, in the same article 6[2] it is also stated that languages spoken as mother tongues in different parts of the country are Nepal’s ‘national languages’. This provision is to specify that ‘nation’ and ‘national’ languages have different constitutional status and relevance. Article No. 18 of the constitution gives the right to every linguistic as well as cultural communities to preserve their languages and cultures, to offer primary education in mother tongues. Another Article No. 26 of the constitution offers a wide range of directives for the preservation and promotion of languages and cultures of Nepal. There has been some development in language to accord with the spirit of Constitution in recent years. Understandably, there is much still to be done in the years to come.

Supreme Court Outlaws Use of Local languages in Local Governments As guaranteed by the Constitution, local autonomous bodies known as - local governments - such as the Kathmandu Metropolitan City began using Newari as its additional official language from July 25, 1997. Following the metropolitan city, Dhanusha District Development Committee on November 18, 1997 and Rajbiraj Municipality on November 25, 1997 also respectively began using Maithili as their additional official language. The Supreme Court of Nepal issued an interim order to halt such usage and later on June 3, 2001 passed a verdict that the use of local languages in local governments is unconstitutional and unlawful.

The court has given no ruling to cut the expenses on Sanskrit language, which have not one native speaker in Nepal. The Vedas and other Sanskrit scriptures are very highly revered by the lovers of Sanskrit. But, indigenous language communities do not pay much attention to them. The spirit of the Constitution and the Supreme Court verdict are in conflict. Therefore, to protest the event, language communities of Nepal have staged a ‘Black Day’ program every June 3 in front of the Supreme Court of Nepal in Kathmandu. Meanwhile, consulting with other indigenous peoples’ experts, activists, language communities and lawyers, Parshu Ram Tamang through Nepal Tamang Ghedung, drafted a public bill on Language Policy for the consideration in the Parliament of Nepal. It was registered in the House of Representatives of the Parliament at its 20th Session in mid-2001. Unfortunately, at the climax of political unrest in the country, the house was dissolved prior to table for further discussion on the bill.

Maoist Propaganda and Disadvantaged Communities The beautiful country with pristine natural beauty and diversity is now engulfed in unrelenting conflicts and faces a number of serious challenges in her development. More than 12 thousand Nepalese have been killed and many others are unaccounted for during these years of conflicts. The Maoist insurgency surfaced from a monolingual rural part of western Nepal in 1996. The people of that part of the country cannot speak Nepali and also do not practice Hindu culture. The Maoists have a principal agenda of uprooting the monarchy and establishing radical communist government. They have also made it public that they would offer right to self-determination or regional autonomy on the basis of origin, language and culture of particular group of peoples, primarily of the disadvantaged section of peoples who form almost two-thirds of total population of the country. Questions have been raised whether national sovereignty and unity of the country could be maintained with such an offer.

The start of the Maoist rebellion was declared with the profound support of Kham Magar language community of Thabang in Rolpa, western district of Nepal. The rebellion has spread all over crossing boarders of other language communities in the country. There are many monolingual communities in Nepal. To address to their need for change, language activists, started campaign for linguistic rights of the peoples. They also oppose Sanskrit education in the country - the reason being that Sanskrit is a classical language; its morpheme or rules of word formation, syntax structure, phonology, vocabulary, grammar etc. are very complex. An indigenous learner cannot even utter a single Sanskrit word. Understandably, such a person cannot compete with others to secure a position in the government.

Nowadays, among the three senior activists who started linguistic and cultural issues, Suresh Ale is under arrest as the government found him becoming a top ranking Maoist leader. Padma Ratna Tuladhar is a believer of communist principles and a human-rights activist. Sometimes he endeavours to restore peace in the country. He was one of the mediators during the two failed dialogues between the government and the Maoist rebels. Parshu Ram Tamang, showing no inclination to any political agenda, currently chairs the Indigenous Peoples’ Permanent Forum [IPPF] at the United Nations.

The Maoist rebels are out to abolish Sanskrit education and discard Hindu culture. They have forced many Sanskrit schools to close down. The government cannot stop them doing so. For quite a number of times Sanskrit examinations were cancelled as the Maoists entered examination halls and indiscriminately looted Sanskrit questions. This kind of opposition has been an on-going affair in the country. Contrarily, the government has been known to pronounce that it would make Sanskrit a compulsory subject in the country.

There are some practical reasons behind the Maoists' violent opposition to Sanskrit education. Firstly, Sanskrit and Hindu culture are always complementary. All Hindu scriptures, rituals etc. are written in Sanskrit language. Also the king is revered as Vishnu, the preserver in the Hindu trinity. He adheres to Hindu religion. Without Hindu culture and tradition, a king cannot rule in Nepal. The Sankaracharya of Kanchhi Kamkothi, India visits Kathmandu occasionally and the King goes to pay him homage. This is how Sanskrit and Hindu King are amazingly intertwined together. Now both of them have become targets of radical Maoists rebels.

But indigenous language activists also disapprove of Sanskrit education because only Brahman-born students are entitled to receive this education free of charge. This caste-based system was introduced by the Rana regime that ruled Nepal for 104 years until its overthrow in 1951 and it continues despite criticisms. This sort of education has also resulted in domination of national resources by Brahman caste groups whose total population is only 12.74% in the country.

Further, English has been made a compulsory subject up to graduate level in the Mahendra Sanskrit University colleges. The language activists do not find any solid reason to teach English in a Sanskrit school.

They charge it as ridiculous education system. But Sanskrit does also deserve preservation as it is one of the ancient languages of the world.

Languages Endangered as the Process of Globalization Accelerates As the process of globalization or Anglicization is in effect all over the world, Nepal cannot withstand it. English has been another language, which seems to be replacing Nepali itself. Essential official papers are prepared in English. It is compulsory from primary to graduate levels of education. Most of the university or college education materials are in English. Language-policy makers in Nepal are fascinated by English literature too. They prescribe English literature even for junior graders, despite the complete absence of the appropriate cultural background in Nepal.

Everyone in urban areas prefers speaking English in Nepal. Nowadays, urbanite people mix up half English and half Nepali when they speak a sentence. The frequency modulation radios [FM Radios] announcers mix up nearly 75% English and 25% Nepali words and phrases while they speak aloud a sentence from radio microphones. Doing this they differentiate themselves from among other general public. Speaking English like this, young people feel they have attained an upper class social status, which is not true. The status of English language in not specified in the Constitution of 1990.

In some reaction to this, the government has recently formulated a policy to replace education materials by publishing them in Nepali.

Thus preserving indigenous languages is a very hard job. Since the past two to three decades Nepal has adopted a policy that education should be provided by private institutions also. As soon as this policy was adopted a wave of English schooling came over and touched remotest areas across the country. Everywhere, one could see signboards hanging that read ‘English Boarding School’.

This may have some brighter aspects also as blocking national wealth from draining out to other countries in the name of better education. It also could produce some kind of manpower that the country needed there. But such education is unreasonably expensive for general public. Therefore Maoist rebels have begun opposing this sort of schooling also. They have closed many English Boarding Schools.

Recent Change and Development Following the reasonable demands of language communities, the government radio airs news in 18 different languages from different parts of the country. The national population census also reports that a number of 5473 peoples communicate in Nepali sign language. The state TV airs news for the Nepali sign language community also. These are the remarkable changes in recent times in Nepal. Primary education is offered at least in 11 different mother tongues: Limbu, Tamang, Newari, Tharu, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Bantawa Rai, Magar, Gurung and Sherpa. The ministry of education has, one month ago, published five different mother tongues in one primer book for grade one students to reduce cost. This is also another remarkable achievement. Some mother tongue communities have begun to publish booklets, calendar, newspapers and pamphlets in their mother tongues. They have even started to offer language classes in recent times.

Also there has been a noticeable change in the king’s language too. The king has his own special form of language. Royal family members are addressed by the people with some specific words like: ‘maushuph’[he/him or she/her] ‘gari+baksyo’ [did], gari+baksanechha [will do], sukala [sleep], bhuja [lunch or meal] jyunar [eat food], darshan+bhet [seeing, meeting] etc. These terms are only used if one has to address members of the royal family. Before 1990, the general public, except for King’s relatives, were not entitled to use the King’s Nepali. Nowadays, general people in urban areas copy King’s Nepali and speak in it a kind of fashion. But there is a restriction on the general public formally or publicly speaking this language for themselves. Instead, political leaders as well as others do not hesitate to address the king or the royal family members in general terms with media or others like: woha [him], garnu+bhayo [did], bhet [seeing, meeting]. But they must use the King’s Nepali when they are to speak in front of the king or any formal programs.

The capital city of Kathmandu, a hub for Nepalese peoples has undergone some language change in recent times. As the Maoist insurgency has intensified, people have no alternative to migrating to Kathmandu for safety. So, a strange language mix-up is taking place nowadays. For example people of eastern Nepal say ‘niska+nu’ [to enter ] whereas people in the west say niska+nu’ [ to exit]. The latter say ‘pas+nu’ [to enter]. These two words are antonyms. The other noticeable usage is ‘bhyau+nu [to finish or complete a piece of work, affirmative], bhyau +daina’ [can’t complete or finish, negative]. But nowadays, this verb is widely used to mean ‘to become enough or less’.

‘Tyo kam bhya+nu’ [you finish the job/work]. Generally used by general public few years ago. But the Kathmandu people now a days say ‘Timro paisle bhyau +daina’ [your money is not enough to buy it] etc.

Conclusion The unprecedented linguistic dynamism in Nepal in recent times is the outcome of Nepal’s democratization in 1990 and the change that took place in Indian subcontinent also: for example the Gorkha Hill Council Movement in Darjeeling. The UN preference for indigenous peoples’ issues also inspired the language communities of Nepal. But nowadays conflicts have paralyzed the country.

Therefore, on February 1, 2005 the King took over and formed a government under his leadership. As there is no democracy and King’s rule has prevailed in Nepal, the right to expression has also been curtailed drastically. Some people have welcomed the king’s move and some others have protested.

During the king’s rule in the past, Nepal followed the policy of one language and one culture. Then, in a democratic system, peoples asserted their language rights. The Maoists radicals have also exploited language issues of Nepal. In the event of king’s direct rule, it is now widely feared that Rights Movement in Nepal will halt for sometime. The concerned language communities will also experience a setback. But, those communities will continue to strive to preserve their languages and somehow slow down the process of language death in the country.

The Modern Status of Irish, and the Irish Commissioner's Report - Jeff Kallen Trinity College Dublin I've been interested by the comparisons between Hawaiian and Irish, and I thought I'd offer my view from Ireland on one half of the topic. Irish language policy is difficult to categorise in terms of L1 or L2 goals or achievements. The Irish Constitution puts it clearly: 'The Irish language as the national language is the first official language. The English language is recognised as a second official language'.

(Interestingly, though, the Irish-language version of the Constitution doesn't give English 'second' official language status, but states that it may be used 'mar theanga oifigiúil eile', i.e. as 'another official language'.)

The constitutional position may look like simple ideology, but it transfers into reality in many ways, bearing in mind that the designation of Irish as "the national language" (at least within the Republic of Ireland) doesn't imply that it is the "most widespread mother tongue" (which it isn't by any means). The legal designation both reflects and encourages the view that Irish occupies a special place in talking about what it means to have 'our own language', a point which has taken on more relevance as Ireland expands its relations within Europe. (Just recently the Irish government has pushed to upgrade the status of Irish within the European Union, pressurised by public opinion when the new accession states, especially Malta, came in to the EU with working status for their national languages.)

The sense of native language is important for the many people whose families are now English-speaking, but whose parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents may have been Irish-speakers or fully bilingual. It is also important in so far as Irish English reflects various aspects of the Irish language, whether through borrowing, codeswitching, effects of language contact in earlier generations, or in other ways. It is important, too, in the sense that generations of Irish people share the experience of having learned Irish in school, so that school vocabulary is part of the (unique) shared experience of being Irish.

Thousands of people from English-speaking homes also attend Irish-medium schools at primary and secondary level; these schools are now developing a kind of first-language Irish which is not the same as mother tongue Irish (and is itself therefore a point of controversy). And of course, Irish is easy to see, both in official language usage and in unofficial domains such as sporting organisations, 'Irish weeks' held in schools and colleges, and broadcast media.

If you add all these factors together, you can see that Irish language learning is not L2 learning in the sense that English language learning is for people in Mongolia or even as it is for heritage language learners in the US. Neither is it L1 education as it would be when teaching Spanish to Mexican immigrant children living in Texas. It lies somewhere in between, or rather, I think it suggests that L1 and L2 are not discrete categories and that Irish in Ireland occupies something of a middle ground.

From this position, it follows that judging the success or failure of Irish language movements is problematical. In relation to a romantic goal of restoring Irish to the position of "mother tongue, native language" of the vast majority of the population (and the main language of reading, writing, and electronic media), Irish policy has not succeeded. But, then, government plans rarely do succeed in such absolute terms: goals such as the elimination of poverty, discrimination, and war are aspirations which governments often have (at least on paper) but do not achieve.

On the other hand, the goal of raising the status and respect for Irish relative to what it was in most of the 19th century has been achieved. (The fact that 41.9% of the population in the Republic returned themselves as Irish speakers in the 2002 census does not necessarily mean that this proportion is very good at the language -- but it does mean that they value it enough to include themselves as Irish speakers. That in itself says a lot.) The goal of ensuring that Irish maintains a role in Irish society has also been achieved, and the goal of ensuring that intergenerational continuity for Irish exists at all levels of language use has also been largely successful.

From the point of view of linguistic purism, Irish as a language is in some trouble under the pressures of bilingualism and lack of opportunities to use Irish, and the Gaeltacht regions where Irish is supposed to be the community first language are under pressure as well.

For example, the 1981 census showed 75,000 people in the combined Gaeltacht areas, of whom 77.4% were Irish speakers; the 2002 census shows 86,517 people in the Gaeltacht, but a small decline to 72.6% as Irish speakers. In both sets of figures, the percentage of Irish speakers broken down by age peaks in the school years, but of the post-school adults, the percentage of Irish-speakers in the Gaeltacht has dropped over the last 20 years (e.g. 79.8% of 45-54 year olds were returned as Irish speakers in 1981, but the percentage for this age group had fallen to 70.6% in 2002).

In the 19th century, Irish-usage was more concentrated in deeply Irish-speaking areas; today it is spread much more evenly across the country (in the Republic). These figures point to an L2 role for Irish, in that the spread of Irish into the counties from which it had virtually vanished by 1900 has not displaced English (nor do census figures suggest that those returned as Irish speakers have any great degree of skill in the language), but I still think that the L2 status of Irish is not like that of French or German.

So is Irish language policy a success or not? It really does depend on what you are looking for. My feeling is that when you consider the very real threats posed to Irish in the 19th century, Irish has done very well. And I'm not forgetting the Belfast agreement, the terms of which established a cross-border language authority for Irish (alongside a cross-border authority for Ulster Scots), thus providing international legal support for Irish in Northern Ireland, and, incidentally, bringing the UK to ratify the European Convention on Regional or Minority Languages. (The Irish government has not ratified the Charter for fear of creating a contradiction between the position of Irish as an official language and the view that it might be seen as a minority language. But that's another story.) Of course it also has to be admitted that Irish, like so many languages, is still under pressure from English and that the success of Irish in the long term is still open to question. (Immigration into Ireland in recent years has also changed the linguistic landscape, but that, too, is another story.)

You may be interested in the report which has just been released from the Language Commissioner in Ireland. It is available (in bilingual format) from the Commissioner's website (which is also bilingual),

http://www.coimisineir.ie/

Scots Gaelic Act: Hip Hip Ho-Hum - Murdo MacLeod

Scotland on Sunday 24 April 2005

See the original (in Gaelic too) at:
http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/opinion.cfm?id=436172005

The newest chapter in the history of Gaelic and the Gaels has just begun with the Gaelic Bill having passed through the Scottish parliament. Although the Scottish Executive makes far too much use of the word, this time they were right, this was a historic day. We have the first law in many years which is connected to Gaelic. And differently from other Gaelic-connected laws, this one - at least in theory - is trying to help and protect us rather than wipe us out.

We should be thankful for the small mercies, and they do not come much smaller than this. It would have been more honest for the government to have called this law the Gaelic Board Act, because that is what we have. There is no word of the rights of Gaelic speakers, or where they can use their language, rights which are basic in other countries. We are still unsure whether we are allowed to speak our language in court. There is still not the same kind of safeguards for Gaelic education as there is for English-language schooling.

And we are still in the situation where the Executive thinks that it is perfectly acceptable for government ministers to head for the Western Isles, the Gaelic heartland, and speak to the English-language media while not addressing the Gaelic-speaking locals in their own language. There is no word on broadcasting. There will be some who will say that there could have been no such section because broadcasting is a matter reserved to London with the Scottish parliament having no say on the matter. But that is simply a problem with the Scotland Act which established the Scottish parliament, and Act which was drawn up in 1997 and 1998, and not before the foundations of the earth were laid. The powers of the Scottish parliament to protect our language are restricted precisely because those who are now in power allowed them top be limited.

Am I just too hard and cynical?

This was a bill which was promised to the Gaels in 1997. We had to be patient because the honourable members had to look to more important things, such as building a 440m palace for themselves and debating fox-hunting. And look now at what we have. The Gaelic Board is established in law. A good thing they have a duty to produce a language plan. A good thing. They have the task of increasing the numbers of Gaelic speakers. Another good thing.

And it is also a good thing that they will have a role in education and that they will be able to public authorities and direct them to draw up a Gaelic policy, instead of waiting for a word from the organisations. But wait a minute. These two elements are only there because they were added to the bill after the Gaels went mad with rage at how weak and pathetic the first draft of the bill was.

So that is the criticism. Is there any way that the law can now work? The way the new law is formed, much depends on how energetic the new Gaelic board is and how willing they will be to ask searching questions and refuse to accept excuses. It can work if the board is energetic and refuses to accept any nonsense from public authorities. And they have to start at the heart of the Gaelic-speaking areas. Are they convinced that the Western Isles Council Gaelic policies, and those of the local health board are all they could be? Is enough being done to make sure that the elderly people of the areas get home helps who speak their own languages, for example?

They have to be noisy and pushy, they have to show that they will not accept poor excuses from anyone. And in addition to the public authorities in the islands, they also should be harder on how the Scottish Executive deals with and informs the Gaels. When government minister appear each day on English-language radio and TV programmes, it is an absolute disgrace that they refuse Scotland's Gaelic speakers the same chance to get the information in their own language. Each time an official speaker appears to give information in English it means that Gaels are deprived of the chance to get knowledge from their own rulers.

I am not saying that every member of the Scottish Executive ministerial team must learn the language. But what I am saying is that there should be the brain-power in the Executive to deal with this issue. Is it that they could not care less or that they just think that we should have to listen in in English to get things straight.

I am dubious about whether this new law, and the board, will have the teeth to address these lacks. In contrast to the Welsh situation, the board will not have the final word in laying down to organisations that they must deal with the rights and needs of Gaelic speakers. The final word will be with ministers, and there is no guarantee that they will always show goodwill toward the language.

I for one hope that it will not emerge that we shall need to campaign for a new bill in a couple of years time.

But I have my doubts.

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