Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements

Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements

Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements

Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements

Synopsis

Essays on the relationship between language and culture in Ireland from the early Middle Ages to the present If language and culture and intimately connected, then cultures involving people who speak more than one language must have special characteristics, as well as particular social issues to negotiate. What are the challenges faced by a people with two or more languages as their heritage? How does that multiple heritage affect cultural forms, including literature and the arts? How does linguistic difference influence the conceptualization and writing of history? And if the meeting of languages within a people has involved contestation and power, how are those conflicts negotiated? This volume uses the tools of critical theory to explore such questions with respect to the complex, multilingual history of Ireland. Avoiding the simplistic polarized oppositions popular with cultural nationalists, the contributors examine the nexus of language, tradition, and authority in Ireland that has created such a rich, multivalent culture. Although the linguistic interface of Irish and English has dominated cultural negotiations in Ireland over the last five hundred years, the island has an even longer history of linguistic and cultural exchange. Arguing that tradition is never static, the essays in this volume challenge the concept of a monolithic cultural origin, while insisting on the importance of inherited discourses in the continuity of culture through time and across linguistic difference. The chapters cover a broad range of topics from early Irish narratives and Latin hagiography to literary works by such writers as Yeats, Joyce, Friel, Montague, and McGahern, as well as other culturalforms, including traditional Irish music. Several chapters address issues of politics and power, from the role of interpreters in the relations between linguistic communities in Ireland to the politicization of language in Nort

Excerpt

If language and culture are intimately connected—as linguists, ethnographers, and literary scholars agree—then cultures involving people who speak more than one language must have special characteristics, as well as particular social issues to negotiate. What are the challenges faced by a people with two or more languages as their heritage? How does that multiple heritage affect cultural forms, including literature and the arts? How does linguistic difference affect the conceptualization and writing of history? Is it in fact possible to be one people with a united culture, or is the community constantly in danger of falling apart along the divide of linguistic heritage? To what extent does language remain thematized within the polity or nation? And if the meeting of languages within a people has been polarized or agonistic, if it has involved contestation and power, how are these conflicts negotiated?

These questions are at the heart of the essays in this volume, for all must be asked of Ireland and Irish culture. Although the linguistic interface of Irish and English has dominated cultural negotiations in Ireland in the last five hundred years, Ireland has a long history of linguistic and cultural interface. Just as in England many linguistic and cultural groups came together, so too in Ireland we can chart a persistent history of linguistic mixing. From the pre-Celtic languages and the various dialects of the Celtic invaders to the integration of Latin after the conversion of the Irish to Christianity by British clerics, from the linguistic diversity encountered by Irish missionaries abroad to the assimilation of Scandinavian dialects introduced by the Vikings, the early history of Ireland is rich in multilingualism. The Anglo-Norman conquest brought still other languages to Ireland at the end of the twelfth century, with the armies and settlers speaking more than one dialect of French, Occitan, Welsh, Flemish, and English. Most of these early linguistic groups had turned to the Irish language by the start of the Tudor period, but it is important to mark them, because they remind us that Irish-language culture was not pure, essentialist, singular, isolated, or . . .

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