Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland: English Renaissance Literature and Elizabethan Imperial Expansion

Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland: English Renaissance Literature and Elizabethan Imperial Expansion

Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland: English Renaissance Literature and Elizabethan Imperial Expansion

Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland: English Renaissance Literature and Elizabethan Imperial Expansion

Synopsis

The Elizabethan conquest of Ireland sparked off two linguistic events of enduring importance. It initiated the language shift from Irish to English, which constitutes the great drama of Irish cultural history, and it marked the beginnings of English linguistic expansion. In Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland, Patricia Palmer explores the part which language played in shaping colonial ideology and English national identity. The book is an ambitious, comparative study which will interest literary and political historians.

Excerpt

We traffic with time in the arts of language, and with history and its events.

Robert Welch, Changing States, p. 4

The Elizabethan conquest of Ireland is that point in history where the fortunes of two languages briefly intersect, then spectacularly diverge. For one, the conquest marks the inaugural episode of its imperialist expansion. For the other, it is the originary moment of a language shift that constitutes the great drama of Irish cultural history. The present book, written from the perspective of an Irish anglophone awkwardly aware that those troubled origins continue to shadow Irish speech, explores how far that moment of encounter throws light on an enduring paradox: that Irish literature in English — a literature rooted in the silencing of Irish and animated by that rupture — itself participates in that most Elizabethan of concepts, 'the triumph of English'.

A sense of discontinuity, self-estrangement, of living beyond the faultline of a fractured tradition haunts Irish writing. Anglophone Ireland, cut off from its Irish-speaking antecedents, is 'adrift among the accidents of translation' (Thomas Davis, quoted in Lloyd, 'Translator as Refractor', p. 145). The 'semantics of remembrance' are impaired; cultural amnesia is inescapable: 'there no longer exists any inherited reservoir of meaning' (Steiner, After Babel, p. 494; Kearney, Transitions, p. 13). The past is available only in translation and not everything — not much — can jump the gap. In a context where 'mother tongue' and 'native language' do not necessarily seem synonymous, language is made strange. Declan Kiberd's Idir Dhá Chultúr captures in its title — 'Between Two Cultures' — the displacement of modern Irish literature which, he argues, sprouts in the cracks between the two languages. When an Irish writer like Samuel . . .

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