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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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Chapter Two Overview of Irish Language 25


Chapter Two Overview of Irish Language Census returns are relatively crude instruments. Definitions require more precision. What is the real meaning of speaker, of ability? … Indications as to the degree of oral competence and the occasions of use, or of poten- tial use of a list of contexts if made available, would greatly enhance the linguistic information provided, as happens in censuses in Canada. — Helen Ó Murchú, More Facts About Irish, p. 67. The objective of Government policy in relation to Irish is to increase on an incremental basis the use and knowledge of Irish as a community lan- guage. Specifically, the Government aim is to ensure that as many citizens as possible are bilingual in both Irish and English. — Department of community, rural and gaeltacht affairs, 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language (Draft), 2010–2030, p. 4. 1. Introduction The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the Irish language at the beginning of the twenty-first century, its communities of speakers, its legal status and the institutional structures, both state and voluntary, which support it. I do not intend to provide a detailed account of the decline of Irish as the dominant vernacular in both Ireland and Scotland to its present minoritised state as a threatened language. This study is not purely histori- cal in its focus, and it is beyond its scope to investigate in detail the long history of language shift from Irish to English in Ireland. In any case, such research has already been...

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