Language Policy and Social Reproduction: Ireland, 1893-1993

Language Policy and Social Reproduction: Ireland, 1893-1993

Language Policy and Social Reproduction: Ireland, 1893-1993

Language Policy and Social Reproduction: Ireland, 1893-1993

Synopsis

During the nineteenth century, Irish-speaking communities declined almost to the point of extinction. But in 1922 the new Irish state launched a broad strategy to re-establish Irish as a national language. This book looks at that policy and its impact over the last seventy years. Padraig O Riagain focuses not only on the evolving structure of bilingualism in Ireland but also on the process of bilingual reproduction. His analysis is based on a series of language surveys conducted between 1973 and 1993.

Excerpt

During the nineteenth century the assimilation of the Irish language community into the English-speaking world appeared to have entered its final phase. While Irish was spoken by the overwhelming majority of the people in Ireland three centuries earlier, at the beginning of the twentieth century only 18 per cent of the population was returned as Irish-speaking in the Census of Population. As this book will show, that census statistic overstated the actual extent of bilingualism in the community. Many of those returned as Irish-speakers were in older age-groups and scattered across communities where Irish had ceased to be the everyday language. Furthermore, the linguistic division of labour was both hierarchical and segmental in that Irish-speakers were primarily to be found both among the poorest farming classes and, within that class, in the most remote regions. Yet despite the well-established dynamic of decline, the newly independent Irish state in 1922 launched a broad strategy to re-establish Irish as a national language, to maintain it where it was then spoken, and to extend its use elsewhere.

This book is about that policy and its impact over the subsequent seventy years. Taking a long-term historical perspective, the Irish case can be seen to have some parallels with other minority language situations in Europe--Wales, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Friesland, etc. Thus the study is a source of comparative material within that context. But Ireland also differs from most, if not all, of these examples in two respects. First, Irish language policy has been in operation for a much longer period. This makes Ireland a more appropriate case than most for testing ideas about, for example, the long-term effects of minority language programmes in schools. Secondly, unlike other minority language situations, in Ireland the state tried to deal with its minority language problem by seeking to re-establish it as a national language. No other minority language problem in Europe was tackled in this way, although the rather special (but relatively recent) cases of the regional languages in Spain have some similarities. While that particular element of the language policy has not succeeded, it gave the overall policy a unique shape and character which still troubles those who like to classify such matters. There is a sense, in fact, in which the most appropriate cases with which the Irish case can be meaningfully compared are not, in fact, those of Europe's regional languages, but rather those European nation-states which 'adopted' as a national language that initially spoken only by minorities: for example, the process whereby French (spoken initially only in the Paris region) became the national language of France or Italian in Italy. Again, claims . . .

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