Nineteen nations take to the stage of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2019 this Sunday, among them are two nations performing entirely in a minority language.
While the language rule may be a distant memory at the Eurovision Song Contest, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest remains a showcase of national languages from across Europe. All nineteen competing songs must have at least 60% of there lyrics in a national language, with only 40% allowed to be sung in English.
This restriction on the use of language has caught some nations out in the past including Azerbaijan, who in both 2012 and 2018 had to change sections of there songs back into Azerbaijani. The language rule also intends to decrease the pressure on the singers, for whom English may not be a language they are comfortable performing in.
Out of the nineteen nations taking to the stage in Poland, only four will not be performing at least part of there song in English. Below is the breakdown of languages at this years contest:
- Albania – Albanian
- Armenia – Armenian, English
- Australia – English
- Belarus – Russian, English
- France – French, English
- Georgia – Georgian, English
- Ireland – Irish
- Italy – Italian, English
- Kazakhstan – Kazakh, English
- Malta – Maltese, English
- Netherlands – Dutch, English
- North Macedonia – Macedonian, English
- Poland – Polish, English
- Portugal – Portuguese, English
- Russia – Russian, English
- Serbia – Serbian, English
- Spain – Spanish
- Ukraine – Ukrainian, English
- Wales – Welsh
Of these four nations; Albania, Ireland, Spain and Wales, it’s Ireland and Wales who will be performing in a minority language, bringing Welsh and Irish to an audience of millions.
Irish and Welsh
Ireland and Wales’ participation in Junior Eurovision differs vastly to that of the other competing nations. TG4 and S4C are both broadcasters for Irish and Welsh specifically, with audiences far lower than that of other competing nations.
TG4 was launched in 1996 and is broadcast entirely in Irish, with a mission statement of promoting the use of Irish across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Irish is currently used by around 74,000 speakers daily in the Republic of Ireland, with a further 1.85 million people who have been taught it at school.
In the Republic of Ireland, Irish is a required subject in primary and secondary schools. Approximately 6% of primary school students in the Republic of Ireland receive education entirely through Irish. Irish is recognised by the Constitution of Ireland as the first official language of the Republic of Ireland. In Gaeltacht areas, mostly on the west coast of Ireland, Irish continues to be spoken as a community language, although there are growing numbers of Irish speakers in urban areas such as Dublin. Since 2007, Irish is also an official language of the European Union.
In Northern Ireland, Irish has some protection under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. According to the 2011 UK Census, 184,898 people claim to have some knowledge of Irish, of whom 104,943 can speak the language to varying degrees. Some 4,130 people use Irish as their main home language. Irish is an elective subject in Northern Irish schools, with 2.1% of all primary school students receiving all their education through Irish. Although Irish has been associated with the Catholic community, there have been efforts to promote Irish to other communities. The issue of full recognition for the Irish language has arisen in recent years, with protests occurring in Northern Ireland.
S4C was launched in 1982 as “Channel 4 Wales” and is the fourth oldest UK broadcaster. S4C broadcasts in Welsh, with English language subtitles where available. On average 360,000 viewers watch the channel weekly, of which 166,000 are Welsh language speakers.
Currently 562,000 people in Wales speak Welsh, with a further 300,000 having competency in speaking, reading or writing. Welsh is taught from primary school age and over 100,000 students receive teaching entirely in Welsh.
History at Junior Eurovision
Ireland made its debut at Junior Eurovision in 2015 and has participated every year since. It has been one of a handful of nations to have held a televised selection process to select its entrant every year since entering the competition.
- 2015 – Aimee Banks – Réalta na mara – 12th place – 36 points
- 2016 – Zena Donnelly – Bríce ar bhríce – 10th place – 122 points
- 2017 – Muireann McDonnell – Súile glasa – 15th place – 54 points
- 2018 – Taylor Hynes – IOU – 15th place – 48 points
- 2019 – Anna Kearney – Banshee
Wales is the newest member of the Junior Eurovision family alongside Kazakhstan, having debuted last year in Minsk, Belarus. Wales joined the contest having made its debut Eurovision appearance at Eurovision Choir in 2017.
- 2018 – Manw – Perta – 20th – 29 points
- 2019 – Erin Mai – Calon yn Curo (Heart Beating)
Junior Eurovision an Opportunity
For both TG4 and S4C, Junior Eurovision provides the opportunity to showcase there respective languages to an audience of millions across Europe. Through song, Welsh and Irish can be heard by children across a continent, but also by viewers at home inspiring them to learn.
As TG4’s Commissioning Editor for Junior Eurovision, Laura Ní Cheallaigh explained:
We are very proud to be participating in Junior Eurovision, but especially because we can put Irish, the national language of Ireland, on the big European stage that is Junior Eurovision. It is a beautiful, poetic language and it really suits “Banshee” that Anna Kearney is singing for us.
TG4 promotes Irish in everything we do, serving those for whom Irish is a first language and those who are not so fluent. We would be very happy if more young people are inspired to use more Irish after hearing “Banshee” on the Junior Eurovision stage.
The sentiment was repeated across the Irish Sea by S4C’s Content Comissioner, Elen Rhys:
S4C is extremely proud to be flying the Welsh flag at the Junior Eurovision song contest. Our priority has always been to create the best content in the Welsh language. This competition gives us the opportunity to take the Welsh language further, to an European stage to share our passion and values and love of music.
Junior Eurovision has been a tool for us to get children, young people and their families involved with the channel. We have welcomed Welsh speakers, welsh learners and those willing to learn the language to take part in this competition. The popularity of the competition has certainly raised the profile of the language and has shown that the language can give some amazing opportunities and experiences.
So when Erin Main and Anna Kearney take to the stage this Sunday, not only will they be having the opportunity of a life time, they will be playing their part in bringing minority languages to millions across Europe.