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Contests and Contexts

The Irish Language and Ireland’s Socio-Economic Development

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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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Chapter One Introduction 1

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Chapter One Introduction In 1960, Seán de Fréine pointed to the paucity of discussion in histori- ography and cultural commentary on the language shift in nineteenth- century Ireland. While the intervening years have seen some research in this area, the observation still holds considerable truth. This is par- ticularly the case when the extraordinary speed and scale of the shift is taken into account. — Niall Ó Ciosáin, ‘Gaelic Culture and Language Shift’, p. 136. Some of the most productive critics working in the field of Irish Studies at the moment are critics who accept the importance of the postcolonial paradigm. However, if we examine closely the published work of most of these critics, we see that the history, culture and literature of Irish has a very limited place in it. In their work, the most noteworthy aspect of the neglect of the Irish language question as a cultural question is their indif ference to the modern state of the language and its contemporary literature. — Máirín Nic Eoin, Trén bhFearann Breac: an díláithriú cultúir i litríocht na Gaeilge, p. 26 (translation). Another enduring legacy of suppression shared by most middle-aged Native Americans is the memory of being punished physically and pyscho- logically for speaking their Native language in school. These negative associations can be painful. One Tlingit man commented, ‘Whenever I speak Tlingit, I can still taste the soap.’ Most elders have similar stories of humiliation and physical punishment. It is not...

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