Reindeer and Mining in Lappland

Sweden is one of Europe’s leading mining nations and is estimated to have 91% of the continent’s iron ore. The town of Kiruna was built as a result of a mine and now the whole town centre has to move two miles to the East because of the advance of the mine. But reindeer herders are saying the mining has a detrimental effect on their livelihoods, the environment and the indigenous Sami culture. Near the town of Jokkmokk, British mining company Beowulf, are hoping to open a new mine and a decision on their concession is due soon with local opinions divided. But mining companies argue that they contribute to a green economy transformation (An Là, BBC ALBA, 10/3/22).

An Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier in the Baltic Sea

The Swedish island of Gotland has been called an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Baltic Sea. 300km from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and opposite the Baltic countries it has an important strategic place. This week four Russian planes violated Gotland’s airspace. Sweden doesn’t belong to NATO, but has a cooperation agreement. The country has stepped up its defence spending by 40% in the last five years. My report on BBC ALBA news programme, An Là on 3/3/22.

Are you fluent in …?

Nerd alert: This is an issue that polyglots face, but the solution can be useful to language mortals, too.

I often get asked how many languages I speak. It’s always a tricky one to answer. I don’t want to bore people with too much detail of which languages I speak to what level. Equally I don’t want to say 10, then being asked what they are, only to then be spoken to in the one language I am still really struggling with.

The quick fix is to say “nine and a half languages”. It gives an idea of the number of languages I can say something in, but leaves me the back door open when I don’t do too well in a subsequent conversation.

If I am then asked how many languages I am fluent in, I again feel slightly uncomfortable. Fluent is such a vague term. I can have a conversation in Russian which will sound very fluent to a non-speaker of the language, but would not really be able to talk about complicated subjects such as politics, religion or science.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is a good starting point for classifying ability, but not everyone knows it. I like the term it proposes: “independent user” as somebody who can make themselves understood without too much help. I am just about there with my Russian, although it doesn’t always sound beautiful.

The next level up to my mind is a term used by LinkedIn: “professional proficiency”. That’s where it becomes really useful. LinkedIn distinguishes between ‘full’ and ‘limited’ professional proficiency. This led me, as a journalist, to distinguish between my broadcast languages: German, English, Gaelic, Spanish, my interview languages: French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Irish, and the ones I am working on at the moment: Chinese, Fering (Northern Frisian) and Swedish.

Scots or Lallans is an interesting phenomenon. It is on a continuum to Scottish English and I understand a lot of it, especially of its Glasgow variant. But if I was to go to a fishing village in Aberdeenshire where they speak the wheel-kent (well-known) Scots dialect of Doric I might struggle. There isn’t really a college for Scots like there is for Gaelic which makes learning it more difficult.

I studied Latin as a dead language at university, but apparently there are freaks out there who use it as a living language. That could be another project, as could Breton, Maori, Hawaiian, Arabic or Quechua (the language of the descendants of the Incas) or Herero (the language of the proud tribe in Namibia, whom the Germans gave a writing system, only to brutally slaughter them when it was a colony). But resources on the latter two languages aren’t great so I probably have to spend some time in those countries.

Frasch – Northern Frisian

There are 10,000 speakers of Northern Frisian, but in most schools the subject is not marked and was often dropped during the pandemic. The Frisian Council call for it to become compulsory. But the first member of the German parliament to represent the Danish and Frisian minorities for 60 years says he is making progress in rallying support in Berlin. (An Là, BBC ALBA, 05/01/22).

Colombian Climate Change Activists at COP26

The Atrato River in Colombia is flooding villages and fields more and more often caused by climate change. A court afforded the river a legal persona – the third this has happened world-wide. It’s voice is expressed by residents – Guardians of the River Atrato. But there is also violence and intimidation of community leaders.

The Colombian President, Ivan Duque, promised at COP26 that 30% of the country’s territory would be protected by 2022. But community leaders say this needs to come with funding and economic opportunities for locals to work. As seen on An Là, BBC ALBA, 6/11/21.