The Irish Language in the United States: A Historical, Sociolinguistic, and Applied Linguistic Survey

The Irish Language in the United States: A Historical, Sociolinguistic, and Applied Linguistic Survey

The Irish Language in the United States: A Historical, Sociolinguistic, and Applied Linguistic Survey

The Irish Language in the United States: A Historical, Sociolinguistic, and Applied Linguistic Survey

Synopsis

Many Irish-Americans feel like outsiders when the topic turns to the Irish language. This collection of essays will inform them of the history of the language in America, the role this language plays in Irish-American identity, and the best way to go about learning it. The sociolinguistic essays concentrate on Irish as an American ethnic language, including interviews with native Irish speakers in the United States today, surveys of Irish usage, and an examination of letters by immigrants back to Ireland in the nineteenth century. Applied linguistic essays describe the Irish language student population in the United States, survey materials and methods used to teach Americans, and tell the story of one Irish language teacher in California whose work has led to great personal satisfaction and considerable Irish-American group solidarity. This is the first major work in English on the Irish language in America.

Excerpt

Unlike many other immigrant languages, the story of Celtic languages in America is not well known. It is assumed by many Americans that the only language of the Irish, at home or abroad, is English. In fact, the particular English dialect of the Irish is sometimes erroneously called Gaelic.

The Celtic languages form one branch of the greater family of Indo- European languages. Other branches include the Germanic, which, among other languages, gives us German and English, and the Italic, which gives us all of the languages descended from Latin, including French and Spanish. The Celtic branch is itself divided into three groups: Continental, Goidelic, and Brythonic. Though the Continental Celtic languages can no longer be found, languages from both the Goidelic and Brythonic groupings continue to be spoken today. The Goidelic, or Gaelic, group consists of Irish, Scots Gaelic, and Manx, whereas the Brythonic, or Britannic, group is made up of the Welsh, Breton, and Cornish languages. Although Manx and Cornish are now considered extinct, the other four languages continue to be spoken by native speakers, functioning as community languages. One finds little trace of Celtic languages in America. Nonetheless, some less noticeable artifacts do remain, such as columns appearing in English-language newspapers, a monthly journal, some published writings, personal letters, and cablegrams. These linguistic artifacts are, however, seldom remembered today.

Languages influenced by or descended from the Celtic family are still spoken by some populations in North America. One might divide them into three linguistic groups: Scots Gaelic, Cant, and Irish. The history of the Scots Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of Nova Scotia in Canada dates back to the 1770s when their first ancestors left Scotland for the New World.

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