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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 Four Language, Culture and Development: Elaborating a Theoretical Framework 113

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Chapter Four Language, Culture and Development: Elaborating a Theoretical Framework People want the freedom to participate in society without having to slip of f their chosen cultural moorings. It is a simple idea, but profoundly unsettling. — United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2004, p. 1. When a people is stripped of its identity it is no longer capable of self- determination, they become subject peoples whose future and whose past is shaped by others, and whose projects, dreams, values and mean- ings are supplied by others. In the eyes of the developers their societies are stagnant and fossilised, incapable of self-directed development and portrayed as obstacles to development. — Vincent Tucker, Cultural Perspectives on Development, pp. 6–7. Reversing language shift deals with a ‘good problem’ because it is itself a potential contribution to overcoming some of the endemic sociocul- tural dislocation of society. Indeed, RLS is a contribution to many of the central problems that eat away at modern life, at modern man and at modern society. — Joshua Fishman, Reversing Language Shift, p. 7. 114 Chapter Four 1. Introduction In this chapter, I will examine the theoretical basis for the links between language, culture and development posited by the commentators surveyed in Chapter Three. These links may be better understood in the context of various bodies of theory which have emerged (predominantly in the last century but which have deeper historical roots). I will examine the nature of how the link between language and development is understood by these...

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