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Matt ( -
Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2000 - 01:40 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Today only 3 percent of the population of Ireland are native speakers of Gaelic. (Some people think it is only 1 percent). I don't know about you, but I find this very depressing. If you go to any other country in Europe (outside the British Isles)you will find everyone speaking that nation's native tongue. I once read a sociology article that was published in 1996 about the language situation in Ireland. The author said outright that if something completely radical isn't done about it, the language will die in two generations. In this article he openly admitted that he had absolutely no idea what to do about it. I for one take pride in my heritage, but I have no interest in studying a dead language.
However, there is always hope. Unlike extinct animal species, extinct languages can always be revived. This is exactly what the Israeli government did. At the turn of the century, Hebrew was a dead language (as it had been for almost two millennia) but now the entire Jewish population of Israel (five million people) speak it as a first language. The Irish government, unlike Israel, actually had a head start when it broke off from England in 1922: there were still a fairly large number of people speaking Irish in the Gaeltacht. But Ireland's efforts to revive the language were an utter failure. Can Ireland still learn from the Israeli example? Should Ireland become a Gaelic speaking nation again? It is a hard question for me to answer. Unlike Israel, Ireland is right on the back door of England, and English is becoming an international language as the world turns increasingly global. However, I personally think that if Ireland lets its language die, it will cease to be a distinct cultural entity, and the English will have really won in the end. (I know you might say Americans all speak English, but America is a land of immigrants; the majority of Ireland's population are indigenous.) Perhaps Ireland should follow the example of Wales, and opt for bilingualism. I really don't know. I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue.

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Jonas ( -
Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2000 - 02:16 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Indeed I agree with you, Matt, but I fail to see how it could be acomplished; nothing is as heard to save or revive as a language or a culture under pressure. I belong to the tiny Swedish speaking minority in western Finland, who has been here for at least 2.500 years, but is predicted to disappear forever in the coming 100-200 years. Finland, like Ireland, is bilingual by law, and and Finland, like Ireland, is monolingual in real life. I doubt that there are any truly bilingual places in the world that have been BILINGUAL FOR A CONSIDERABLE TIME. We have a saying in Finland that bilingualism leads to monolingualism, and I think this holds true in most places. Bilingualism is the situation that appears when a language, usually the original, comes under severe pressure from another (usually dominant) language. Bilingualism could aptly be described as the process of transforming a society from one culture into another. Those parts of Ireland that are completely English speaking today have all been bilingual, and Irish has always lost since the 16th century. Given this, I doubt that bilingualism is the answer to saving a language.
This applies to the society on the whole, not to individuals. I firmly believe in the advantedges of bi-, tri,- etc lingualism.
I would say that something like the revival of Hebrew, to a totaly living language in every aspect, is impossible. Yet, it has happened and that experience certainly gives cause for some general optimish concerning the revival of languages. How this could be accomplished in Ireland is extremly hard to say, as Matt points out, but I would like to give some perfectly unscientific suggestions, most of them highly theoretical.
1. This matter is not a political matter, and should not be mixed up with political goals. This is a cultural goal, and as such, it can only be reached if supported by a broad majority of the people. It seems that many Irishmen support the revival of the language, which gives cause for some optimism.
2. As a cultural goal dependet of the populations goodwill, it is vital that it gets active support by the population. In the case if Irish, this would mean that A) people bothered to learn the language, at least to a certain degree. B) people really tried to use the language. This is the point that makes me pesimistic. Although most Irishmen support the language, their support is only passive, and they would never dream of conducting any daily business through the language. Unless the people chose to speak the language, it is surely doomed.
3. According to the last census, 1.5 million Irishmen speak Irish. In Connaught and Munster almost 50% claim to speak Irish, yet the language is dead in 95% of the country, if only those who claim to speak Irish really done that, the situation would be changed. If shopkeepers informed thier customers, by a sign outside the shop for exmaple, that they can get service in Irish, many more would get a chance of speaking some Irish every day. Since shops normaly recruit students, who generaly speak Irish quite well, for part-time work, this would not be too hard. THe pub "the Quays" in Galway has already adopted this philosophy (which probably would benefit the businessmen too, surveys show that the ability of conducitng business in minority languages generatas profit). If people tried to use their Irish, when possible, the situation would rapidly improve.
4. As stated above, many youngsters learn very good Irish in school, but they never pass the language on to their children. Every survey during the last twenty years show that it is easier for a bilingual child to learn new languages (and other subjects). Parents who would speak Irish with their children would followingly participate in reviving the language, as well as improving their children's possibilities in life.

These are some suggestions that might help, but I fail to see what would make people interested in them.


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Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2000 - 02:23 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Lots of issues here. But if the pessimists are saying that Irish might be dead in two more generations, you will not be "studying a dead language." It will still be alive after both of us are dead. (As Yiddish speakers say, "Yiddish has been dying for 200 years, may it die for another 200." (Something taken to heart here in Brooklyn.)

The Irish-medium school system is steadily expanding and there are young parents chosing to raise their children Irish-speaking. There are few places where the latter make up the majority, unfortunately, but Irish-speaking kids exist. In fact, the proportion of young children who speak Irish is now a bit higher than it was a hundred years ago. The difference is that these are bilingual kids comparable to the Welsh example.

You put the issue very nicely and your comments are perceptive. Hope you continue with Irish. If you do, you'll be able to read a book that just came out in Irish about the Hebrew revival and its lessons for the Irish. That's one good sign that people are starting to understand.

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Anthony Valentino
Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2000 - 03:56 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

It is my understanding that the language is making slow headway (which is an
improvement over the way it was at the beginning). It is also my understanding that for a
number of years, more than half of all books published in Ireland are published in Irish.
This turnaround, however is a recent one. It hasn't been going on long enough to
balance out the tailspin of the early Irish education system. It seems to have been a
learning process, once which requires an effective system for teaching the language to
be developed (still being developed), and a change in attitude towards the language which
seems to be rather successful. Without question, much work must be done, but I think
the longer it gathers steam, the easier steam gathering will be. Just think, there are
enough speakers to prompt, newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, books...and
classes to teach others both home and abroad. I see things a little more
optimistically...while no one can claim the language is in a HEALTHY position, I think that
we may see it taken off critical condition in two generations. And who knows...English
isn't what it used to be, a living language, it changes in all the areas it was
sown. Nigeria speaks English (the "global language" with French), but it has continued to
develop through their use. By the end of this generation, Nigerian English will be
unintelligible to other English speakers. In effect, they will no longer be speaking
English, but a new language: Nigerian. Think also of Vietnamese French and Brazilian
Portugese. Through this effect (which you cannot stop without killing the language) the
"global languages" will decline in practical global usage. In two generations, English may
not be king anymore. Cónaigh Gaeilge fad!

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Matt ( -
Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2000 - 04:35 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I disagree with Jonas' argument that bilingualism inevitably leads to monolingualism. Look at the case of Canada. The incidence of French speaking there has gone up in recent years. And India has literally hundreds of languages (although I admit it also has almost a billion people). Bilingualism can work if the linguistic majority and the linguistic minority are capable of understanding each others languages, and if they have mutual respect for those languages. One day I was skimming through a book in the library about irish medium schooling and it cited surveys which showed that this type of education leads to an increase in the use of Irish in the home, which is crucial for saving a language. I should have told you the first time, but
in that article where the author wrote that the language could die in two generations, he said at the end that he recently traveled around Ireland and noticed people speaking Gaelic in places where it had been dead for years. And you know what else is encouraging? The all Irish TV station, which was established in 1996, has higher ratings in Ireland than MTV. There is always hope.

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Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2000 - 05:15 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I learned to speak Irish in the Curragh some twenty years ago, and although I don't find a lot of opportunity to speak it nowadays, my love for the language has remained strong and so I keep it up. It is a personal decision, not inspired by pride. I find that often the kids feel "why should I bother speaking Irish - no-one else speaks it except for the farmers" know what I mean? They also seem to be embarrased to try, for unless they're truly in one of the Gaeltact areas, they don't feel comfortable yet to try, because its not "normally done".

I hope that not too much pressure is put on the youth to revive the language, for if Gaelic is to be truly revived, which I personally believe it will, The youth need to feel good and comfortable about speaking it, and only parents and community leaders can create this type of environment.

I'm not into statistics much, but feel that from the Ethos itself, Ireland wants to speak more Gaelic, because she is constantly waking and growing. I'm of the first generation that can inherit land from my parents. I feel like I'm waking up. That there is less discrimination and mental suppression in the world today, and I feel good about my love for Gaelic.

It cannot is too deep within us.

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Seosamh ( -
Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2000 - 06:26 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Matt & Jonas, I don't think that bi- or multilingualism is always transitional leading to monolingualism. My stepuncle lived in Nepal for years and said that ordinary people just accept language-learning (and using those languages) as part of life.

The reason that Irish in Ireland and Swedish in Finland (and gradually Newari, etc. in Nepal in recent years) are threatened is because stable (or relatively stable) bilingualism is something found in premodern societies where there is comparatively little pressure for standardization. Bring in a national school system (where the dominant-- often "national" -- language is usually the only language used) and the writing is on the wall. Add television and multiply the pressure by 10. Add economic prosperity where no one is willing to allow their family members to be anything less than completely competent in the dominant language and you've got a situation where only
deliberate, concerted action as in Québec can work, and maybe even then not permanently.

I have reservations about bilingualism working in Ireland but if there is a structure there to support it, it will work, at least for a minority. Indeed, it is fated to work because there is a minority that, I think, will not give up. As to the others, they have to be made to see that it is possible, doable, something they have not been shown to date.

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ANBHUAIN: The Gaelic Conceptual Art Collective
Posted on Wednesday, April 05, 2000 - 12:11 am:   Edit Post Print Post

....."something completely radical".....


With these three words, you have hit the nail right on the head! We are already in the fourth month of the New Millenium and it is high time for Gaeilgeoirí to do "something completely radical" and to BECOME "something completely radical".

Last month, Willie McCrea* of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party led a demonstration AGAINST the Irish language in front of the Dublin office of AN FORAS TEANGA. When was the last time we did the same AR SON NA GAEILGE? With Irish and British Consulates throughout the U.S. we have plenty of opportunities! With the Clinton Administration taking an active role in the Peace Process, we have an obligation to ensure that our gov't puts pressure on Dublin and Westminster to prioritise the Irish language and to protect the rights of Irish-speakers thoughout the island (and in the cities of our own country!). With a new Assembly forming in Northern Ireland and a new Parliament in Scotland, Irish and Gaelic speakers now have new venues and targets!

The following URL offers James Connelly's RADICAL ANALYSIS of the language situation in the early 20th Century:

This URL provides RADICAL, PRACTICAL and POTENT suggestions which we as Gaeilgeoirí can emulate in our own struggle:


* Former Belfast Lord Mayor Sammy Wilson, also of the DUP, referred to Irish as "that leprechaun language".
Perhaps, we ought to explore the Wilson-McCrea-Paisley-BobJones-Helms-Bush-Pataki-Giuliani Connection and the future challenges to linguistic freedom!

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williamfuller ( -
Posted on Thursday, April 06, 2000 - 02:28 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

What's this on Mayor Giuliani?

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Posted on Thursday, April 06, 2000 - 08:06 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I dunno a doggone thing about Mayor Giuliani, but I will make bold and say that Willie McCrea is nuts. He is barking mad, certifiable. I think ole Sammy Wilson might be right in there with him.

I'd be happy, very very happy, to see Irish become the dominant language on the island. I'm at a loss to figure how it's been screwed up so badly by those who were made the keepers, although someone wrote a post on the CNN NI politics board today that reminded me that someone once told me that the Christian Brothers were reputed to brag that they could make an oak tree speak Irish. Had to do with the laying on of a strap. I've talked to a lot of Irish folks who speak bitterly of Irish being "forced down their throats."

The Gaeltachta have been made petting zoos for the language (and quaint leprechaun Irishness in general), and frankly if I were put on display for tourists in such a manner, I'd be extracting my revenge.

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ANBHUAIN: The Gaelic Conceptual Art Collective
Posted on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 12:47 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

....the dominant language on the island....

In all due respect, that was the noble yet failed
goal of Conradh na Gaeilge.

We, at the beginning of this new century, must
aim even higher:

.....príomhtheanga an domain mhór.....

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ANBHUAIN: The Gaelic Conceptual Art Collective ( -
Posted on Saturday, April 08, 2000 - 12:49 pm:   Edit Post Print Post


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