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Nation-State, Devolution and the Parliamentary Discourse of Minority Languages

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Devolution in the UK has engendered debates about which language (or languages) should be the language of parliament in the respective regional institutions. Simultaneously, the European Union, while officially endorsing cultural and linguistic diversity, is moving towards a supranational state which operates alongside devolution and regional autonomies. In this context, the contestation of the language of parliamentary discourse can be seen as a site of power struggle and political negotiation. The present analysis focuses on a specific example of regional parliamentary discourse from Northern Ireland, in which Members debate the desirability of using Ulster-Scots and Irish, alongside English, in official House proceedings. This can be seen to operationalise “language” in specific, but interrelated, argumentative contexts: (a) as a form of agreed and formally recognised communication; (b) as a natural right, reflecting individual culture or heritage; (c) as a legal and formal right; (d) as a political symbol. These themes are discussed in terms of “nationalist” and “sovereign” state arguments, with reference to both the political context of Northern Ireland, and the processes of devolution and supranationalism, in the broader political arena.
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Keywords: Parliamentary discourse; devolution; linguistic diversity; minority languages; regionalism; supranationalism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Ulster

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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