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Antaine ( -
Posted on Monday, January 21, 2002 - 08:46 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I thought the idea of starting a new thread had merit.

I'm glad tempers seem to have simmered down a bit. I find this notion of culture very interesting, and have spent many hours debating many of these same questions with friends of mine (particularly the linguist).

For starters, America is not a melting pot, it's a salad (It's also my understanding that E Pluribus Unum is from an ancient salad recipie). The difference? All the components remain distinct (except for a little runniness from the tomatoes when they sit in the dressing). If America were a melting pot, then Cailn would be absolutely correct about an "American culture." Now, I must say before going farther, that there is a kind of commercial American culture - the kind of thing you see on T-shirts in far flung corners of the world on National Geographic episodes: hot dogs, apple pie, baseball, coca-cola, McDonalds, gas-guzzling cars, the English language (ironic, no?) et cetera et cetera ad nauseum (literally).

America is not like Europe. To find a European equivalent to the cultural setup we have here one would need to go back to the Roman Empire c AD 190. A representation of every culture in the known world. At least, however, the Romans had a form of Romanitas that amounted to more than the kind of fast food you eat which was what held all the diverse cultures together from Spain to Syria and Britain to Egypt.

European countries have begun (with the collapse of their old empires, and indeed for some it started a bit before that) to experience a force that has shaped America from the start. In the post-Roman Empire days, every European country was essentially composed of the barbarian cultures that dissected the Empire. In Spain and Italy were the Goths. In France the Franks, Burgundians, and Lombards (and north Italy). In Germany the Allemanii, the Teutons. In south Britain the Angles and Saxons. East of the Teutons were the Lithanians, the Rus, the Finns (to the north). In short, NATIONS don't have this problems, EMPIRES do. Nations are homogeneous populations. But when one of those homogeneous nations (say, England, for instance) starts conquering other homogeneous nations (Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Angoulme, India, South Africa, Australia, various and sundry Native North American nations and unhappy people the world over too numerous to name here) they are subject to immigration and cultural influences from the conquered peoples. That is what keeps a culture from stagnating.

I am an American of Irish descent. I do not call myself Irish-American. My family (the Irish part of it, anyway) came to this country in 1918 or 19. My great-grandfather had fought in the Easter Rising and was imprisioned. After his release, he was pretty much chased here by the British (family history is a little hazy on this point but I know it had to do with some form of "official" harassment). Needless to say, he wasn't exactly here by choice.

But I digress...and I've drifted off topic besides...

To get back to it, what does this mean for the Irish language? Well, the language is at a crossroads. It has been pulled, in the last 150 years, back from the brink of annihilation, but it still has a long way to go before it can be termed "healthy."

The only way the language will survive is if it daily used by the Irish people, and the only way it can manage to compete with English on it's own turf (no pun intended) is if it goes global. If it does not become a world issue, it will fade into oblivion. People have to CARE about it, and people do. That could be the reason Irish has actually seen a little growth in past years - after all, look at Breton. Linguists feel it will disappear in two generations despite recent efforts to revive it. I would lay money on my living to see it disappear. Personally, I feel that Irish never had as good a chance at pulling through at it does right now. One hundred deValera's could not do the work of the internet in twice the time.

Now, maybe it's the poet in me that has a tendency to over-romanticize, but the way I see it, my great-grandfather (my FAMILY, my BLOOD) was forced from his homeland. A homeland with a rich and ancient culture (far older than newcomers like the French, Spanish, and English). A culture that is now under seige. As far as I'm concerned, it is my DUTY to learn the language and pass it on to my children along with as much culture as I can absorb. It is my DUTY to my family, my DUTY to myself, my DUTY to the culture. To do my part to keep the Irish language, art, music et cetera alive is my DUTY to the millions of men, women and children that came before me who shared my blood and perhaps died for it, and it is my DUTY to countless generations yet unborn.

How's that for justification?


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Seosaimhín Nic Rabhartaigh ( -
Posted on Tuesday, January 22, 2002 - 06:17 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

A Antaine a chara,
Mo cheol thú!
"Blood duty to Culture!" Now that is a concept I can relate to!
I applaud the way in which you have set out your opinions regarding the Irish language and how you see its fate.
It is so refreshing to read in black and white that there is at least one other person out there who shares the hope that the Irish language can pull through.
I think you are right regarding the cultivation of Irish on a Global scale. There are many people whose forebears, like your own, were "officially assisted" from the land of their ancestors and were therefore forced to give up their language in order to survive in a new context. Now that so many people the world over are rediscovering the beginnings of their own families in Ireland, it is only natural and right that they should want to learn the language and pass it on as a birthright to their children along with as much of the culture as they can absorb.

What people in Ireland need to do is to open their hearts to those in other countries who wish to pursue their interest in the Irish language and not try to dissuade them from their path through envy or " the dog in the manger" reaction that we have witnessed in the old "Unhappy Irish Person" thread. One of the less attractive aspects of the human condition is, that people tend to devalue the dreams/accomplishments of others in a particular area just because they themselves have not experienced a similar level of success in that area. Rather than being jealous they should just 'Go for it" themselves.

So, Antaine, I say to you "go for it!" in every aspect of the culture that you can and I am sure that you will be offered every assistance possible by the contributors to this forum. Doubtless there are many musicians, singers , poets, writers, and storytellers among the group of Irish language enthusiasts who visit this site.

I myself am committed to doing my duty and sharing my variation of Irish culture with whoever wants to know about it everywhere I go. From the Basque country to the U.K. and The Netherlands I have taught Irish, sung and danced and recited poetry and I will continue to do so now that I am in the USA!

So you have company Antaine!
Good on you!

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Antaine ( -
Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2002 - 05:13 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

This is what Ethnologue has to say about the languages spoken on the Emerald Isle. Now, it's my understanding that fewer people in Ireland claim to be able to speak the language than really can - so the number below should be higher...and higher still because the census that compiled the number was 20 years old (it's my understanding that things are better now than 20 years ago):

Languages of Ireland

See language map.
[See also SIL publications on the languages of Ireland.]

Éire. National or official languages: Irish Gaelic, English. 3,681,000 (1998 UN). Literacy rate 99%. Information mainly from M. Stephens 1976; R. McCrum, W. Cran, R. MacNeil 1986; J. Fishman 1991. Christian. Deaf population 214,569. Deaf institutions: 36. Data accuracy estimate: B. The number of languages listed for Ireland is 5. Of those, all are living languages. Diversity index 0.17.

Spoken living languages
[ENG] 2,600,000 in Ireland (1983 estimate).   Dialects: SOUTH HIBERNO ENGLISH, NORTH HIBERNO ENGLISH.  Classification: Indo-European, Germanic, West, English.  More information.

[GLI] 260,000 fluent or native speakers (1983 census), 13% of the population (1983 census). 13% of the population over 3 claim to be Irish speakers (1981 census). Population total all countries 260,000 or more.  Alternate names: IRISH, ERSE, GAEILGE.  Dialects: MUNSTER, CONNACHT, DONEGAL, LEINSTER, ULSTER.  Classification: Indo-European, Celtic, Insular, Goidelic.  More information.

[SCO]   Donegal County. Classification: Indo-European, Germanic, West, English.  More information.

[STH] 6,000 in Ireland. Population total all countries 86,000.  Alternate names: THE CANT, CANT, IRISH TRAVELER CANT, SHELDRU, GAMMON.  Classification: Indo-European, Celtic, Insular, Goidelic.  More information.

Deaf sign languages
[ISG]   Dublin and elsewhere. Classification: Deaf sign language.  More information.

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