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In the age of the text, just where is English headed?

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Date Published: {J}

To many, it will hardly come as a shock that surprise visits by schools’ inspectors around the country found that, in a significant number of cases, there is a distinct lack of quality in both Maths and English in our classrooms at primary level.

The days seem to have long departed where there is a concentration on ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’. They should surely be the basics of education even today, but newspaper reports in the past week seemed to indicate that standards were low in a key number of cases, and that the standard of teaching was also low in a minority of cases.

It follows in line with a recent report from the UK where it was found that significant numbers of children were close to illiterate when they completed their first level education.

The finding reminded me of an extraordinary piece of research which Dr Sean O Muircheartaigh, of the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, brought to my attention. We met at the Galway Science and Technology Exhibition and he plonked before me a typewritten sheet and invited me to read it.

In amongst all the high-tech of the exhibition, here was a piece of English which defied even the sorts of nonsense which you occasionally see in text messages on mobiles. Yet it was capable of being read.

And as a result of being intelligible . . . you have to ask, how would it fare out in years to come in a world which will surely be less and less a user of the written word.

I reproduce the piece below:

The pweor of the hmuan mnid: Aoccdring to a rscheearch at Cmabridge Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in what oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouhitt prbelm. Tihs is bcusae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lterer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Incredibly, yes it can be read. Incredibly, I can also read some of the text messages which I get from those who have become experts in the ‘new lingo’ which is guaranteed to cut the phone bill for the mobile, but must surely play havoc with the written English language in the years to come.

In a world where literally billions of messages are sent by text each day, and in an Ireland where tens of millions of text messages are exchanged, what will eventually become of a language which commonly uses 4U instead of ‘for you’ and in which everyone understands ‘tnx’ for ‘thanks’.

The text message is an extraordinary and versatile means of communication, but remember also that in many, many cases, this is the only ‘writing’ that many people do in any one day. Then throw in the confusion which can be caused by the ‘Americanisation’ of our spellings such as ‘harbor’ for ‘harbour’ and ‘defense’ for ‘defence’ and you have to wonder where it will all end.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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