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Contests and Contexts

The Irish Language and Ireland’s Socio-Economic Development


John Walsh

Despite being Ireland’s national and first official language, Irish is marginalised and threatened as a community language. The dominant discourse has long dismissed the Irish language as irrelevant or even an obstacle to Ireland’s progress. This book critiques that discourse and contends that the promotion of Irish and sustainable socio-economic development are not mutually exclusive aims.
The author surveys historical and contemporary sources, particularly those used by the Irish historian J.J. Lee, and argues that the Irish language contributes positively to socio-economic development. He grounds this argument in theoretical perspectives from sociolinguistics, political economy and development theory, and suggests a new theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between language and development. The link between the Irish language and Ireland’s socio-economic development is examined in a number of case studies, both within the traditional Irish-speaking Gaeltacht communities and in urban areas.
Following the spectacular collapse of the Irish economy in 2008, this critical challenge to the dominant discourse on development is a timely and thought-provoking study.


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Preface: A Personal Journey xiii


Preface: A Personal Journey In however complex and convoluted a way, it is quite possible that the manner in which the language was lost has damaged Irish potential for self-respect, with all the psychological consequences for behaviour pat- terns that f low from that, even in the purely material sphere. — J.J. Lee, Ireland 1912–1985: Politics and Society, p. 669. [I]n our time, languages have been dying at a rate never before seen in human history, and much of linguistics has become as a result a kind of desperate scramble to record a few scraps of the languages that remain. That this is happening is surely remarkable. From some perspectives at least, it is also very disturbing. But almost as remarkable and almost as dis- turbing, is the fact that this profound change has been taking place (until very recently at least) virtually without notice, comment or debate. — James McCloskey, Voices Silenced: Has Irish a Future?, p. 12. There are many reasons why I wrote this book, but the two extracts above were particularly inf luential. The first, written by a leading Irish historian at the end of the twentieth century, raises profound questions about the psychological and socio-economic implications of the decline of the Irish language. The second, written at the dawn of the new millennium by an Irish linguist based in California, is a rallying call for all those who care about the ongoing and seemingly relentless destruction of the world’s lin- guistic diversity. These two perspectives,...

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