We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“All God’s names were slowly deleted from the national memory”

Writing in the Kashmir Monitor, Alia P. Ahmed describes an aspect of Pakistan’s history whose effects still reverberate today:

When “Khuda” became “Allah”

In 1985 a curious thing happened: a prominent Pakistani talk-show host bid her audience farewell with the words Allah Hafiz. It was an awkward substitution. The Urdu word for goodbye was actually Khuda Hafiz (meaning God be with you), using the Persian word for God, Khuda, not the Arabic one, Allah. The new term was pushed on the populace in the midst of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization campaign of the late 1970s and 1980s, the extremes of which Pakistani society had never before witnessed. Zia overhauled large swathes of the Pakistan Penal Code to resemble Saudi-style justice, leaving human rights activists and religious minorities aghast. Even the national language, revered for its poetry, would not be spared. And yet, though bars and cabarets shut down overnight and women were told to cover up, it would take two decades for the stubborn Khuda to decisively die off, and let Allah reign.

She continues,

Today, Pakistan’s crisis of identity is chronic. A legacy of top-down cultural strangulation has left the national psyche utterly bewildered and deeply scarred. It has also given Pakistanis an inferiority complex – because we are South Asians and not Arabs, we are lesser Muslims. We must compensate. We must try our hardest to become Bakistanis.

Author Mohamed Hanif, in his celebrated debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, says it best: “…All God’s names were slowly deleted from the national memory as if a wind had swept the land and blown them away. Innocuous, intimate names: Persian Khuda which had always been handy for ghazal poets as it rhymed with most of the operative verbs; Rab, which poor people invoked in their hour of distress; Maula, which Sufis shouted in their hashish sessions. Allah had given Himself ninety-nine names. His people had improvised many more. But all these names slowly started to disappear: from official stationary, from Friday sermons, from newspaper editorials, from mothers’ prayers, from greeting cards, from official memos, from the lips of television quiz show hosts, from children’s storybooks, from lovers’ songs, from court orders, from habeas corpus applications, from inter-school debating competitions, from road inauguration speeches, from memorial services, from cricket players’ curses; even from beggars’ begging pleas.”

(Emphasis added – NS.)

Armed neutrality in the gender-neutral pronoun wars

There has been much huffing and puffing recently about gender neutral pronouns. In principle, I rather like the idea. The fact that I dislike some of the other people who like the idea ought not to affect that. Not, I hasten to add, that I feel any animus against anyone purely on the grounds that they prefer to be referred to by one sound rather than another, or that their gender is difficult to specify externally, or that they feel that neither “he” nor “she” describes them, or that they advocate for lexical change. While it is true that the set of people currently talking loudest about gender-neutral pronouns would, if displayed on a Venn diagram, have considerable overlap with the set of people who wish to get others arrested for using the wrong word, that is a symptom of the addiction of our society to the use of force rather than persuasion, not a logical necessity.

The cause of the gender-neutral pronoun is ill-served by many of its current advocates. But in itself, it would be handy. That’s “it” as in “having a third person singular pronoun available to use to describe human beings without specifying gender”, not “it” as in “it”. It (as in the situation, not a person) tends to get an itty-bit hairy when one person refers to another (by which I mean another person, not another situation) as “it”. Thus, if I may reiterate, using “it” (as in “‘it'”) as a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to a person would put the user in a bad situation, even if they (here used in the singular) were not a singularly bad person. Wouldn’t it?

OK, I got drunk on words there. Sobering up, I am not seeking perfect “representation” for every one of Facebook’s 71 gender options. They can represent themselves. I just think it would be nice to have one more option, and to settle on one. That way those prone to being easily offended, and the subset of them that resort to bullying, could be kept from unhappiness and the occasion of sin.

I do think that the traditional use of “he” and “man” to include the female is a little, y’know, presumptuous. I am not one to go through old documents cutting out every offending “he-including-she” with a razor, but I would just as soon have some more inclusive style in new documents. It is tedious have to write “he or she” every time.

Singular “they” sounds all right when the subject is indefinite (e.g. “If anyone wants more details, give them a brochure”) but sounds wrong if the gender is known. At this point someone usually pipes up to say that Shakespeare used it in their plays. Only they don’t say their plays, they say his plays, unless they (gender unspecified here: no problem) are making some sort of claim that Shakespeare was a collective, a Borg or a woman.

The distinction between singular and plural third person is useful. We feel its lack in the second person. The singular/plural distinction keeps trying to creep back in with “youse” and “y’all”. In some dialects spoken in Northern England, “thou” never went away, merely faded a little into “tha”. If making no difference between singular and plural is sometimes confusing when talking to people, it is a swamp when talking about people. Imagine an action scene in a novel where all the characters including the protagonist were referred to as “they”.

This link takes you to a piece called “The Need for a Gender-neutral Pronoun” which lists some of the leading contenders for a new pronoun. By clicking on the suggested pronoun itself (or the title of the set in the case of the Spivak pronouns named after their creator), you can read an extract from Alice in Wonderland using that set of pronouns. The author also rates the proposed words by ease of pronunciation, distinctiveness, and how truly neutral they are. The author prefers the set of pronouns based on “ne” in the nominative case. If you agree that a gender neutral pronoun would be desirable, which option would you like to take hold in the language? If you object to the whole idea, what would you like to see become dominant – strict use of “he” (or “she”), or “they”, or “s/he” and variants?

The thing is, I will not be the first in my circle of acquaintance to start writing “xe” or “ne” in any other context but science fiction for the same reason that I will not be first in my circle to start taking a daily stroll in the nude.

I would if you would, but I know and you know, neither of us will.

A triumph of world culture

A few years back one of my children introduced me to the glory that was Star War The Third Gathers: The Backstroke of the West.

Now I see that Mark Liberman of Language Log has flagged up this piece by Patrick Shanley for the Hollywood Reporter:

‘Revenge of the Sith’ Dubbed With Bootleg Chinese Dialogue Is a Fan-Made Masterpiece

YouTuber GratefulDeadpool has done the unthinkable: He’s made Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith cool.

Using the original Chinese subtitles, which feature multiple lost-in-translation misinterpretations, GratefulDeadpool redubbed the prequel trilogy’s final installment — with hilarious results.

Entitled Backstroke of the West Highlights Part 1 (Star War: The Third Gathers), the recut features such memorable lines as “I has been hating you,” from the villainous Count Dooku, and “The front is a lemon avenue flying straightly,” spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi while piloting a careening starship.

Dorkly explains the bizarre translations likely “began with a machine translation of the Chinese script to [Revenge of the Sith], which attempted to literally translate from Mandarin to English, despite the multitude of barriers between the two languages.” The end result was great quips, such as “Smelly boy” from General Grievous to Kenobi and “Your dead period arrived, teacher” from a rebellious Anakin Skywalker during his fateful lightsaber duel with his master on Mustafar.

You can view either edited highlights of this semi-accidental masterpiece or the whole thing by following the links in the Hollywood Reporter piece. Back at Language Log, one of the commenters, Jonathan Smith, rightly says that, “This latest editor’s genius was to get voice actors to read it with straight faces.”

However I cannot endorse Mark Liberman’s view when he writes, “I’m skeptical of the machine-translation idea, because I seriously doubt that there has ever been an MT system that rendered “the Jedi Council” as “the Presbyterian Church”.

Doesn’t he know what happens when you say things like that about Star Wars?

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Shocking a language back into life

“WITH THIS SHORT film, director Paul Duane and I are hoping to accomplish the near impossible,” writes Eoin Butler in TheJournal.ie. “That is, to start a conversation about the Irish language that is rational, unswayed by emotion, dogma or any political agenda, and informed by the facts as they are, rather than how we might wish them to be.”

Here’s a link to the article, and click on the video link within to see the film, which is twelve minutes long.

“We spend mind-boggling amounts of public money on the Irish language. Cén fáth?”

The film is well worth a look to libertarians and people interested in revitalising minority languages, and practically compulsory* (OK, not literally compulsory. Libertarian purity police, stand easy!) for anyone like me who is both. It starts off in nostalgic sepia with Butler speaking in subtitled and platitudinous Irish. Thirty seconds in, the colour comes on and he switches to English and says, “Actually everything I just said there is an easily debunked lie.”

I’d like to zoom in to a section near the end of the film. Starting at the ten minute mark, Mr Butler argues that compulsory Irish is a failed policy but a network of vested interests has grown up around it. This network, he says, “does nothing to really promote the language or broaden its appeal. Switching off the life support could shock the language back into life.”

At this point I would imagine that most of those anxious about the future of Irish shrivel a little inside and think, that sounds like a strategy of last resort. To which I would respond, it is. Irish is at the point of last resort. As detailed in the first few minutes of the film, the strategy of compulsory Irish lessons in every state school has failed utterly to stem the decline of Irish as a community language, as have other state measures such as making the Irish rather than the English version into the definitive version of each of Ireland’s laws. Quite soon the legal texts and the schoolbooks may be the only places where Irish lives on. When all else fails, why not try something crazy, like acting as if the Irish language were a good thing that people might choose to have?

And as a matter of fact, Mr Butler does give an example of an aspect of Gaelic culture that turned off the pressure and thrived thereby. He says, “I mean, look at Gaelic games. For seventy years the GAA [Gaelic Athletic Association] had a closed, defensive mentality. Its members were banned not just from playing but even attending rugby and soccer matches Today the ban is long gone […] the GAA, with minimal state subvention and zero compulsion on anyone to participate has never been as popular.”

It is not a perfect analogy. The GAA is a private club, not a state, and I would defend its right to impose whatever rules it wishes on its members who joined it voluntarily. But it is notable that when the GAA changed from a strategy of “push” to one of “pull” its fortunes revived.

A hat tip for the finding of Mr Butler’s film to the Irish Republican site, An Sionnach Fionn (The White Fox) although the writer of that site was not such a fan of the film as I was, describing it as “simply a modern form of “settler racism”, part of the poisonous legacy of several centuries of foreign colonial rule in this country.”

“Green ownership is about having a stake in what matters, because how else are people supposed to care?”

“Green ownership is about having a stake in what matters, because how else are people supposed to care?”

– Caroline Lucas, usually described as Britain’s First but never Britain First’s Green MP, and recently elected along with A Bloke to be Green party co-leader.

You may ask what this means.

“It means democratising the economy, with banks to serve the people not the other way round.

Corporate taxation back under control, and financial structures that answer to you, not to the City of London and its shareholders.

We need an economy of, by and for the people.”

You see now? We need an economy by the people. Because how else are people supposed to matter?

Discussion point: Is the Klingon language copyrightable in US law? Should it be?

As linked to by two different posters at Instapundit and semi-reformed Trekkies everywhere, Paramount Pictures, in the course of a claim against the makers of a film set in the Star Trek universe, are claiming to own the copyright on the Klingon language. Thirty years ago linguist Marc Okrand was hired to take the snatches of made-up Klingon dialogue in the early Star Trek movies and flesh them out into a useable language. This he did. The idea took off and all sorts of people since then have learned Klingon to some degree for fun and intellectual stimulation.

A press release from the Language Creation Society says,

We firmly believe that conlangers should receive credit for their work. Specific works describing a conlang, such as the Klingon Dictionary, Living Language Dothraki, or Ithkuil website are creative works in their own right, entitled to full legal protection. So are works that are in a conlang, such as Klingon Hamlet, Esperanto poetry, Ithkuil music, and Verdurian stories.

However, a constructed language itself is not protected, and should not be. Copyright law is simply too blunt a tool for this.
Allowing copyright claims to a language would create a monopoly on use extending far beyond what is needed to protect the original work or to claim credit for the language’s creation. The potential threat of a lawsuit for merely using a conlang, or creating new works to make it more accessible, has a chilling effect; it makes conlangers, poets, authors, educators, and others less likely to build on and enjoy each others’ work, to the detriment of conlanging in general.

We believe that everyone has the right to use any language — including conlangs — without having to ask anyone’s permission. We hope that our participation in this lawsuit will help to make this belief into legal precedent.

Marc Randazza’s diverting amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Language Creation society is here.

I’m not going to do it. I AM NOT going to do it. I am not going to say “Qapla’!”

Except I just did. You will have deduced that I am sympathetic to one side of the case. But there is another. Property rights matter. Why should a bunch of flakes and dilettantes reap what another sowed? Why shouldn’t they pay a fee, in person or under licence, for the privilege of using Klingon just as they pay, directly or indirectly, to use a computer program? Let’s discuss this like Klingons. Which need not necessarily mean with a bat’leth.

Home truths about why English-speaking students are turning away from foreign languages

Tim Worstall pointed me in the direction of this article by Mark Herbert of the British Council, the 3,934,561st in a series of 79,804,227 about the dire state of foreign language teaching in British schools. Tim Worstall’s post is followed many entertaining comments from people who have learned, taught and forgotten foreign tongues. But I liked my own comment enough to bring it round here, chop it up and add stuffing until it became a post in its own right.

The trouble with Mr Herbert’s article is that, like 95% of articles about the state of foreign language learning in Anglophone countries, it’s saying things that are just not true. He writes, “We need far more of our young people to learn languages in order to boost their own job prospects and to ensure the UK stays competitive on the world stage.”

In real life the job and salary prospects of most native English speaking pupils are almost unaffected by having studied a foreign language. Of course there are exceptions – one of my children is one – but for the vast majority of students a language qualification simply adds to your UCAS points total or local equivalent. A language qualification has some extra value as an unfakeable subject, but no more than a STEM qualification does. As for the objective of ensuring the UK “stays competitive on the world stage”, (a) who gives a damn about UK competitiveness in their personal choices? (b) if bureaucrats do care, that objective is vastly better advanced by getting the brats to study some subject related to an area in which the UK has a comparative advantage. Which, famously, ain’t languages.

A later comment by MyBurningEars describes the major reason for the decline in the study of languages by English speakers succinctly:

“The costs and benefits of learning languages are very asymmetric – it is clearly worthwhile for many Danes to learn English, often to a high level, yet this renders it almost completely futile (from a professional standpoint) for a Brit to learn Danish. London has hundreds of bilingual speakers of every major language, and many minor ones to boot. What would the point be for me to learn Urdu or Mandarin, an exercise which (to reach worthwhile levels at a professional level) would take years of solid study – far higher than GCSE or A level?”

Exactly. The decline that Mr Herbert laments is not happening because Brits and Yanks are becoming more arrogant or more stupid. It is happening because they are consistently making a rational judgement of a changing situation regarding the likely benefits to them, as individuals, of language study. Or as the famously well-travelled Michael Jennings put it in a comment to this post by Brian Micklethwait on the triumph of English,

“What is new, is that lingua francas other than English are in most places dying as lingua francas. In most places on earth, where two people from different cultural groups needs to communicate, they now do this in English.”

Some lingua francas (linguae francae?) other than English are still gaining ground regionally, such as Swahili. But this trend is only likely to continue while East Africa remains relatively isolated from the world economy. Globally, the rise of English has reached and passed a tipping point. English will now be the first world lingua franca, something humanity has never had before. Nothing human lasts forever, but it won’t be easily dislodged from that position, certainly not by a change as minor as China becoming economically dominant. The retooling costs are too great, particularly if Chinese sticks with its current beautiful but impractical writing system. English already gets you the world and there are no more worlds to conquer. What might dislodge it? Worldwide economic collapse, worldwide tyranny, or machine translation (both written and spoken) much better than we have now.

My feelings about the triumph of English are not particularly triumphant. Yes, if there is to be a world language I would prefer it to be mine. That does not mean I rejoice to see the slow strangulation of rival languages. Perhaps I had better pray for translation software – or brain augmentation – to get so good that all this, the rise and fall of “Empires of the Word”, ceases to be a zero-sum game.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the choice of what subject to spend several years of your finite supply of life studying is fairly close to a zero-sum game and the choice between languages even closer to one. It is not entirely a zero-sum game; it is reasonable to suppose that study of all kinds exercises the brain, and learning one foreign language certainly makes learning others easier. But the fact remains: to learn a new language is hard. Most people only do it because they have to. English speakers don’t have to. The monetary return on investment of learning another language is not that great for English speakers. Promises to the contrary are not true. People should stop making them.

I am vastly more sympathetic to apparently airy-fairy justifications for learning foreign languages, like “you will gain an insight into other ways of thinking”, or “you will enjoy your time abroad”, or “when you meet attractive foreign persons your suit will be more likely to prosper”. These promises are quite likely to be true if you apply yourself. The “you will have proved to yourself and others that you can learn something difficult” factor can also be honestly promised.

The morality of not teaching your child English

Some decisions made for an infant are not easily undone. Circumcision, for instance. Hence the controversy on this blog. Or the decision of what language the child will hear first, and whether and when a second one is taught. This topic seems to generate similar anger for similar reasons.

My long post, a sequel to this one on how those who wish to preserve minority languages are self-destructively fixated on the use of force as the only possible means of doing so, is stalled. A line about how Welsh-speaking parents should be free to delay teaching their children English if they wish grew until it took over the post. I have cut off that part as one cuts off the end of a… worm. Let’s see if it can live independently and wriggle off into some new direction of its own.

We are libertarians, right? We defend fee-paying schools, religious schools, selective schools, single-sex schools, schools where the children do not have to attend lessons, “unschooling” and homeschooling. We do not wimp out from defending all these just because they may not be where we would choose to send our own children. Yes, I meant Islam. Islamic schools must be free to exist on the same grounds that Islamic speech must be free to exist. Compared to many of the controversial types of school above, the average Welsh, Maori, Irish Gaelic or Navajo medium school is beloved by all. I must say, I would prefer that no school were funded by force, i.e. by taxation, but that happy state is at present no more than a dream.

As for schools, so for languages. We defend everyone’s right to his or her own language and culture, this time joined by practically the entire developed world. It was not always so here in the UK, nor in the rest of the English speaking world, and even now there are many countries where minority languages are still suppressed covertly and overtly. In modern rich countries the boot is very slightly on the other foot, but by the standards of world oppression it’s not a big deal.

As for languages, so for passing on your language to your children. The idea that being bilingual confers a cognitive advantage is not utterly universal, but it is very widespread, and, for what it’s worth, intuitively makes sense to me. I have never met a bilingual who wished they were not one; I have met several people who lament that they could have been raised bilingually but were not. Fine for the kids, then… but maybe not so fine for the minority language. Bilingualism does not seem to be stable. “Half the world is bilingual,” say the enthusiasts. Yes, and half the world’s languages are in danger of dying out. Welsh, the minority language I know most about, is comparatively healthy with its half million plus speakers, but its trendline gently noses downwards. Every Welsh speaker also speaks English. That’s the trouble. There is this myth that when an English person comes into a pub all the locals start speaking Welsh. They don’t. On the contrary. I have lost the link for this*, but when I saw it I believed it instantly from personal observation: there is research to show that when a single person who only speaks English joins a Welsh-speaking social group every other person in the network switches to English, out of politeness. And then comes the internet, and pop music, and the TV, and the adverts, and the whole great wave of English… increasingly, Welsh-schooled or not, young people in Wales seem to be jumping in and enjoying the surf. Often they are sad later that they have let their Welsh go, but gone it has. The same pattern of decline applies to young speakers of other languages spoken in proximity to English.

Some might calculate that only way to ensure the survival of these languages is to increase the exit costs.

→ Continue reading: The morality of not teaching your child English

What do the Maori and Welsh languages have in common?

Intrigued by the possibility of some hitherto unknown Polynesian/Celtic linguistic cross-fertilisation, I clicked on this YouTube video clip.

Watching it saddened me. Intrepid sailors though they were, the ancestors of the Maori people never made it to Wales. The Welsh did reach New Zealand, but in steamships rather than coracles. Bidding farewell to a pair of outré alt-hist scenarios was not the reason for my sadness, however. What depressed me about this video was that, like almost every other discussion of preserving minority languages that I have ever seen, it was fixated on compulsion.

According to the video, an excerpt from a New Zealand TV programme, what Maori and Welsh have in common is that they are only kept going by forcing people to speak them and ain’t that wonderful. One minute into the clip, the commentary says,

“Four New Zealand teachers on a British Council “Linking Minds” scholarship were given a chance to see how compulsion is helping to save the Welsh language, Cymraeg, from extinction.”

Just after that one of the teachers, Nichola McCall, says to camera,

“The Welsh people have used law to support the use of the language, used it to build its status, used it to change public opinion. I think the law has really encouraged or helped education to do what it’s doing with the language, to help with its revival, to help bring it equal status with the English language here.”

Later on Ann Keane, Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales says at 3:24,

“If you live in Wales then you are entitled to learn something about its culture, its history and to learn something of its language.”

Who could object to that? I could, because she is using the word “entitled” in an Orwellian sense that I first noticed being used among educational opinion-formers when I was a teacher a quarter of a century ago. In Educratese “you are entitled to do this” means “you are not entitled not to do this”. Ms Keane continues:

“The time was right in Wales to bring Welsh in as a compulsory, as a mandatory, part of the National Curriculum in 1990.”

Emphasis added. The use of locutions such as “the time was right” or “the situation demanded” to describe how a law came to be passed is another trick of speech I have long hated. It makes it sound as if, rather than one more-powerful bunch of humans forcing another less-powerful bunch to do their bidding, it all happened by the irresistible pressure of some force of nature.

Just to reinforce that “entitled” is being used in this particular and deceptive sense, the commentator purrs approvingly:

“Ann believes all peoples living in Wales and New Zealand are entitled as citizens to learn the language of the land”.

This is immediately followed at 3:59 by Professor Mac Giolla Chriost of Cardiff University, who says that he thinks:

“the arguments for compulsion are much more powerful and convincing than the arguments against compulsion.”

We never get to learn what the arguments against compulsion are, so this claim is difficult to judge. The professor continues:

“There are very good arguments for making sure that all young people in New Zealand are allowed access to Maori as a part of their national identity . . . the only way of doing that, then, is compulsion.”

“Allowed access to Maori,” is another variant of “entitled to learn Maori” or “have the right to learn Maori”. As used here all of them actually mean “will be forced to learn Maori”. It just sounds prettier if a pose is maintained that someone – probably an Englishman in imperialist headgear – is trying to stop eager pupils from learning Maori or Welsh, and the “right” or “entitlement” or “demand for access” is being asserted against such oppression. I do not know about New Zealand but that picture of Anglophone oppression was certainly true of Wales at one time, although most accounts of cruel practices such as the Welsh Not skirt around the fact that its use was supported by Welsh-speaking parents who saw English as the route to prosperity for their children. My late mother-in-law, for whom Welsh was the much-loved “language of the hearth”, confirmed to me that it was common in her childhood for Welsh-speaking parents to discourage the Welsh speech of their children. Few would have wished to punish Welsh in the home by means of the hairbrush or the belt, but plenty were happy to have the teacher do it in school, where they did not have to see their child cry. No doubt many African parents nowadays make the same calculation.

→ Continue reading: What do the Maori and Welsh languages have in common?

The Dance of the Deaf

Reported in yesterday’s Daily Mail:

Company bosses who claimed £130,000 in benefits for sign language interpreters despite not being deaf walk free from court

Two company directors who pocketed tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayers’ money from bogus claims for sign language interpreters have swerved prison.
Tracy Holliday, 39, and Ian Johnston, 43, sent their children to private school off the back of the £134,000 they made from bogus claims for interpreters and support staff they did not use.
Despite their crimes being branded ‘sickening’ by the Minister for Disabled People, the pair have walked free from court on suspended sentences.

The Northern Echo has the same story, although Ms Holliday’s name is given as “Tracey”, as it is in several other sources.

This being the Daily Mail, everybody is outraged about everything. The Mail commenters are outraged that the couple committed the fraud, that they escaped jail, and that they get to keep the money. “People like this are crippling our welfare system by stealing from us daily – they never suffer any kind of real punishment and so it will continue,” runs a typical comment.

The Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper, shares the commenters’ outrage and manages to get in a plug for the Access to Work scheme the defendants were abusing, “This is a sickening example of two people milking a system designed especially to support disabled people to get or keep a job. ‘Access to Work helps over 35,000 disabled people to do their job. More and more disabled people are getting into work thanks to this fund and our Disability Confident campaign – as employers recognise the tremendous skills they bring to business.”

Even Ms Holliday and Mr Johnston themselves manage a little hopeful outrage, over the way that that they were, they say, obliged by family circumstances to plead guilty with all its potentially unpleasant consequences (not that the actual consequences for them were much more than bad publicity), when really they just didn’t get how the system worked and hadn’t noticed the illegitimate origin of all that cash piling up in their bank accounts.

No one seems outraged or even surprised by the idea that even if Ms Holliday and Ian Johnston’s claims had been genuine, their company would be getting services worth approximately forty-five thousand pounds a year provided by the government to make it worth their while to employ deaf people who could not do their jobs without an interpreter. You don’t get 45 grand per annum to make it worth your while to employ monolingual Tagalog speakers, although by some counts the number of people in the UK whose first language is British Sign Language and whose first language is Tagalog is similar. You might argue that, unlike those who have a foreign mother tongue, deaf people have a disability making them deserving of state aid to compensate for their misfortune – but if you did you would be contradicting Deaf (note the capital D) activists who maintain that deafness is not an impairment but a cultural choice, not to mention government guidelines on how to refer to the Deaf community.

Nobody seems to give any credence to Holliday and Johnston’s claim that they just did not realise that what they were doing was wrong. Could they really be capable enough to run a business and yet still be under the impression that the government would every year squirt tens of thousands of pounds in their direction without checking how it was spent, just because some of their employees were deaf?

Be fair, why should they not have received that impression since that is indeed the way the system is meant to work?

Here is an almost spookily similar case from 2008. Notice how the culprits in that case sought out employees disabled enough to qualify for the Access to Work benefits. Applicants who could not apply for AtW support were ignored. Notice also how the real business of the “businesses” in both cases was subsidy farming. There are thousands of deaf employees and employers doing real work, providing things that people both deaf and hearing really want enough to pay for – including, of course, translation between signing and English. There are no doubt thousands more who would like to do likewise, but the mushrooming of “Community Interest Companies”, “Social Enterprises” and similar much subsidised and little scrutinised sources of employment has normalised a sort of performance dance choreographed to look like people working. Deaf employees, sign language interpreters, support workers, and those whose jobs depend on administering and policing Access to Work and similar schemes all join the dance, gracefully exchanging partners until La Ronde is complete.

Sudden Onset Regional Accent Syndrome

A recent blog post by Tim Worstall describes the lack of understanding that surrounds this embarrassing condition. He recalls his experiences as a chronic sufferer since childhood:

When at primary in Bath, good strong Bathonian. And the standard Eng middle class at home, like what I speak now. Of[f] we move to Italy to the Forces school when I’m 8. My mother still remarks on the near cockney (probably closer to what we would call estuarine now) that my brother and I both picked up in weeks. And started speaking as we walked through the doors of the school and dropped the moment we left them.

A SORAS survivor among his commenters, ‘Chris’, had an even more overwhelming attack,

“When I came back to England from British Guiana at 11, to attend an almost all-white boarding school, I had a strong Guianese accent – for about 10 minutes”

Another commenter, ‘Richard’ was a witness as the syndrome struck down a friend.

“… [he] said he could hear his accent change, in 2 or 3 stages, over the train journey home at the end of term.

Be aware that initial symptoms can seem trivial – hearing a person who has lived in England for half his life say, “put it down by there” within seconds of setting foot of the platform at Swansea station may not, at first, seem cause for concern. However without treatment “by there” can become interjections of “mun” or even “Ych y fi” with terrifying speed.

Although the disease is most common in its homolocutic form, in which people suddenly revert to an accent they thought they had abandoned years ago but did actually have at one time, it also has a heterolocutic variant.

At the London SORAS support group, I recently met Berenice (28) who blames the loss of her job at an advertising agency specialising in political campaigns on the heterolocutic form of the disease. At a creative meeting, she prefaced her query as to whether an advert suggesting that first time female voters might like to grant Ed Miliband the traditional jus primae noctis would really resonate with the youth demographic with the words “Not being funny or nuffink”, and was fired on the spot. Berenice was infected after discussing the weather with a work experience girl.

Some sufferers choose to carry an information card or medical alert bracelet in order to assist first responders when the victim himself can no longer communicate verbally in a way normal people can understand. ‘Quentin’ (not his real name), a plumber’s mate struck down with the disease after installing a combi boiler in this right posh house up on Primrose Hill, is very grateful he did. While just about still able to speak comprehensibly he called an ambulance to say he had “the most frightful case of SORAS” before lapsing into a kind of idiodialect in which the only words medical staff could understand were “yah” and “darling.” It was only his desperate gesticulation towards the bracelet while strapped to a medical trolley that stopped him being wheeled into the genito-urinary ward.

Related conditions such as TIGFAF – Talking In a Generic Foreign Accent to Foreigners – can be even more distressing.