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Global Legacies of the Great Irish Famine

Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

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Edited By Marguerite Corporaal, Christopher Cusack, Lindsay Janssen and Ruud van den Beuken

The 150 th anniversary of Ireland’s Great Famine in the 1990s generated a significant increase in scholarship on the history of the crisis and its social and cultural aftermath. Two decades later, interest in the Irish Famine – both scholarly and popular – has soared once again. A key event in Irish cultural memory, the crisis still crops up regularly in public discourse within Ireland and among the Irish diaspora. This volume, containing essays by distinguished scholars such as Peter Gray, Margaret Kelleher and Chris Morash, offers new perspectives on the Famine and its contexts. Addressing the challenges and opportunities for Irish Famine studies today, the book presents a stimulating dialogue between a wide range of disciplinary approaches to the Famine and its legacies.
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Peter Slomanson: Cataclysm as a Catalyst for Language Shift

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PETER SLOMANSON

Cataclysm as a Catalyst for Language Shift

The starting point for this essay is the observation that the dislocations and destabilization caused by cataclysm, natural or man-made, facilitate the spontaneous or planned introduction of profound social and cultural changes, once a semblance of normalcy returns to the affected society. In the case I will discuss, the change in question was mass rejection, by a major section of the Irish population, of the Irish language, immediately following the Great Famine. This is a process that is unlikely to have taken place at the same speed or on the same scale in the absence of such a collective trauma. The specific role of the Great Famine in this rejection and the extent of that role, as well as the collective significance and cultural consequences of the rejection, particularly from the perspective of those Irish speakers who watched it unfold all around them, have not yet been sufficiently investigated and examined. Rather, the language shift itself, as opposed to the revival movement that would eventually follow, continues to be treated in much of general Irish historiography as a kind of footnote, and the role of the Famine is taken for granted. Instead, the enormity of the shift and the speed with which it took place should help us to see this historical case as a rich potential source of knowledge and insight into what such a linguistic revolution entails and what it yields, not...

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