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Invisible Languages in the Nineteenth Century

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Edited By Anna Havinga and Nils Langer

The great linguistic diversity of spoken languages contrasts greatly with the much smaller number of languages used in written discourse. Many linguistic varieties – in particular, regional and minority languages – are not deemed suitable for writing because they do not possess the necessary lexical wealth or grammatical complexity. Such prejudices are commonplace amongst non-linguists and they have their origin in the sociolinguistic history of their speaker communities.
This book focuses on the nineteenth century as the time when language became an important part of the cultural identity of speakers, communities and nations. It comprises fourteen chapters on a variety of languages and countries and seeks to explore why and how certain linguistic varieties were excluded from written discourse – in other words, why they remain invisible to contemporary readers and modern historians. The case studies in this book illustrate the factors involved in the invisibilisation of languages in the nineteenth century; the metalinguistic debates about the suppression or promotion of regional, minority and non-standard languages; and the ways in which a careful study of informal writing can visibilise the linguistic diversity of spoken languages.

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The Celtic Languages: Visible and Invisible (Niall Ó Ciosáin)

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Niall Ó Ciosáin The Celtic Languages: Visible and Invisible abstract Invisible languages are usually languages that are not used by the institutions of the state. This distinction between official and non-official languages is also usually accompanied by a parallel distinction between languages that are written or printed and those that are not. However, the two distinctions do not always coincide. This paper considers the four principal Celtic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton) during the nineteenth century. They were very similar as regards their non-official status, but had dramatically different degrees of visibility in print. This is explained by the different degrees to which the languages were used by religious institutions. Introduction: (In)visibility In discussing the visibility or invisibility of a particular European language in the nineteenth century, a number of different criteria can be applied. Did it have a written form and register, for example? Was it written in private? Did it appear in written form in public? Was it recognised, tolerated or prohibited in official business? Did it have any presence in education? Was it used in church services? Languages varied in these respects, and a language might be invisible in one domain but relatively visible in another. This can best be seen by comparing different languages, and this paper will look at the Celtic languages of north-western Europe – Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton. It will argue that while they were all equally invisible in the official sphere, that is, in state business, they had...

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