A History of the Irish Language: From the Norman Invasion to Independence

A History of the Irish Language: From the Norman Invasion to Independence

A History of the Irish Language: From the Norman Invasion to Independence

A History of the Irish Language: From the Norman Invasion to Independence


In this book, Aidan Doyle traces the history of the Irish language from the time of the Norman invasion at the end of the 12th century to independence in 1922, combining political, cultural, and linguistic history. The book is divided into seven main chapters that focus on a specific period in the history of the language; they each begin with a discussion of the external history and position of the Irish language in the period, before moving on to investigate the important internal changes that took place at that time. A History of the Irish Language makes available for the first time material that has previously been inaccessible to students and scholars whocannot read Irish, and will be a valuable resource not only for undergraduate students of the language, but for all those interested in Irish history and culture.


Libraries and bookshops often have sections entitled Language, or Language Studies. Within these sections one will find a number of books dealing with the history of individual languages, like English or French. These histories can be divided into two types depending on the approach taken by the author.

Internal histories deal with concrete changes that have occurred in a language over the centuries. In the case of English we can observe a major difference if we compare the Old English period (c.450–c.1150 AD) with present-day English. Old English is closely related to Old German, and many of its linguistic features can still be found in present-day German: for example, the three genders for nouns—masculine, feminine, and neuter. Present-day English no longer has this grammatical gender, and its vocabulary has expanded considerably in the last millennium, by borrowing words or creating them out of existing resources. An internal history of English would describe all of the various changes in detail, and try to account for their occurrence.

Language history is also part of history in general, it does not exist in isolation from it. External histories describe changes that take place in the communities that speak different languages, linking these changes to events in politics, culture, and social structure. If we take again the case of English, an external history would refer to the effect that the Norman invasion of England in 1066 had on its linguistic community. It would describe among other things the wholesale borrowing of words like dinner or baron from French into English in the period following the Norman invasion, linking this to the prestige enjoyed by the language of the new ruling class, Norman French. External histories also deal with such matters as bilingualism, the rise and fall of languages, and written and spoken language. In brief, one might say that external histories deal with the social aspects of language use, or sociolinguistics.

To some extent, internal and external histories are independent of each other. Thus, it is possible to provide an outline of the development of a language and its interaction with society and culture without going into details . . .

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