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Invisible Languages in the Nineteenth Century


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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A Sociolinguistic Analysis of a National Language: Irish in the Nineteenth Century (Aidan Doyle)


Aidan Doyle A Sociolinguistic Analysis of a National Language: Irish in the Nineteenth Century abstract The notion of the visibility of a particular language is relative. In nineteenth-century Ireland, observers tended to underestimate the number of speakers of Irish. In the twen- tieth century, under the influence of the prevailing nationalist orthodoxy, there was gross exaggeration in the opposite direction. This article is an attempt to re-assess the number of speakers of Irish and the pace of change; in so doing we will draw on recent statistics concerning speaker numbers, and offer a re-appraisal of the notion of native speaker. Introduction From the point of view of language in Ireland, the nineteenth century has long been regarded as crucial. The prevalent view, found in general histories and in works dealing specifically with Irish, is that until c. 1800 Irish was widely spoken all over the country, with the exception of Dublin and the surrounding area, and other cities and large towns. In the period 1800–1850, according to this account, it was replaced by English as the main language for a majority of the population. Thus, in a history of Gaelic literature recommended for university courses we read: ‘There were four million speakers of Irish out of a population of five million at the begin- ning of the nineteenth century in Ireland. That is, Ireland was for the most part Irish in language and custom as late as that’ (Williams and Ford 1992: 255). Or, according to a widely quoted...

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