The Germanic Mosaic: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Society

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview

CONCLUSIONS

Accounts of the decline of Irish and the concomitant rise of English generally emphasize the role that schools played in the development of bilingualism. However, estimates of literacy and bilingualism in County Galway indicate that schools could not have played such an important role in the acquisition of English. Space does not permit discussion of similar estimates for County Mayo, which also show large numbers of illiterate bilinguals. Moreover, further work on census data for certain other counties will probably show the same pattern (especially for Counties Clare, Kerry, Cork, and Waterford).

If naturalistic second-language acquisition was more important than English instruction in schools, the question arises as to what induced people in the rural areas of Ireland to try to pick up English. In all probability, the growing poverty of Ireland in this period was the most important factor. Freeman ( 1957) provides one estimate of the population in 1780 of about three million; by 1840 the population had risen to over eight million. Freeman suggests that this massive increase made even subsistence farming all the more difficult and that seeking outside employment became imperative. In this context, learning English no doubt helped the rural poor of Ireland to seek work in towns and other areas where English was spoken.


NOTES
1
There were two other important causes of the decline of Irish: emigration and famine, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in Connacht and Munster in the 1840s.
2
Column A is based on census data but represents a summation of figures as discussed in connection with Table 14.4.
3
Fitzgerald (personal communication) concurs on the approach taken in these new estimates of the bilingual population.
4
The barony of Galway is not the town of Galway. Space does not allow discussion of figures for Irish and English in the town of Galway and other nonrural districts treated separately in the census. In Irish towns, English was more widespread than in the countryside, and bilingualism was common in Galway. However, the focus of this paper is on rural districts, where most people in County Galway lived.
5
The figures in Table 14.4 provide a conservative estimate of the proportion of illiterate bilinguals, since one highly questionable assumption in the calculations is that the only literate individuals in the baronies were bilingual.

-144-

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