The Future Of The Irish Gaelic Language

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The use of Irish Gaelic has varied throughout the centuries. Its usage can be traced back to about the fifth century BC. The use of Irish was suppressed by the English as a result of their occupation of Ireland starting in the sixteenth century. Since Irish independence in 1922, the language has undergone a dramatic rebirth as a result of the government support for the use and teaching of the Irish Gaelic (Coady 3). In modern times, Irish Gaelic has encountered a very unique linguistic situation. While a majority of the Irish population supports the use of the language and to varying degrees is able to speak it, Irish Gaelic has remained a secondary language to English. The Irish government fosters and supports the use of Irish Gaelic, and has engaged in a policy of re-Gaelicisation which aims at increasing the use of Irish Gaelic. This policy mandated the teaching of Irish Gaelic to all school children and also established Gaeltacht areas where Irish Gaelic is used as the everyday language of the people. The government also encourages the use of Irish Gaelic by giving stipends to those who use Irish Gaelic as the primary language in home life (O hIfearnain 518). While a large majority of the Irish population possesses at least some linguistic ability in Irish Gaelic, the language has almost no chance of becoming dominant over English as a result of its lack of use in everyday life, the fact that the learning of the language is limited to academics and because many people view the language as symbol of their cultural identity than a practical language.

Due to government policies and a lack of acceptance, the learning and teaching of Irish Gaelic is limited to academics and is rarely spoken in the average Irish home. As a result of re-Gaelicisation the Irish Gaelic government has mandated that schools provide classes that teach Irish Gaelic. Due to this policy, many of the country’s youth are to use Irish Gaelic comfortably due to thier extensive education in it. However, even though children can speak the language, they often chose not to outside of the classroom, instead, opting to use English (CITE). Since children do not use the language in their everyday life, they are missing a key component in learning and adopting Irish Gaelic. Being any language for one class a day is simply not enough to truly grasp that language’s intricacies. Students are only learning Irish Gaelic academically and do not truly understand the language itself or its cultural significance (Harris 52). As a result, they are not inclined to use Irish Gaelic outside of the classroom. This initiates another hindrance for the adoptions of Irish Gaelic since many speakers lose fluency as they grow older (CITE). Since Irish Gaelic is primarily used in the classroom, once students graduate from school, their exposure to Irish Gaelic is extremely limited causing them to lose the ability to speak it. It has also been observed that since 1985, there has been a significant drop in the ability of students to speak and understand Irish Gaelic (Harris 53). The school system that is relied upon to teach newer generations to speak Irish Gaelic is failing. Without this system in place, it is unlikely that there is any chance for Irish Gaelic to develop into the primary language of the nation, and Irish Gaelic may in fact regress and be spoken by fewer people.

Even in Gaeltacht areas and Irish Gaelic emersion schools, where Irish Gaelic is intended to be the primary language of instruction, it is not uncommon to hear English being spoken. One cause of this is the limited amount of classroom materials available in Irish Gaelic. As a result some classes may be taught in Irish Gaelic but the books for the class are written in English (O hIfearnain 512). Therefore children are not fully emerged into the Irish language and culture which is instrumental in their use and adoption of the language outside of school. Also, traditionally, the manner in which a language is spread is intergenerationally. However, Irish Gaelic is typically not taught to children in the home even in Gaeltacht areas and thus, schools are relied upon to teach the language to new generations (Harris 50). Since newer generations were not raised with Irish Gaelic in their home, when they start a family of their own it is likely that they will raise their children in the same manner their parents did and rely on the school system to teach their children Irish Gaelic. This results in the continuation the cycle where new generations are taught Irish Gaelic in an academic setting rather than in the home. Unlike many other non-dominant languages, younger generations are more fluent than older generations (O hIfearnain 516). Children who learn Irish are unlikely to continue to use it because they do not see a reason that they will need to use it in the future. Since Irish Gaelic does not have equal uses across all age groups, it is unable to gain a foothold in Irish Gaelic society which limits its ability to grow and overtake English as the primary language of the nation. Without being accepted as an everyday form of communication, Irish Gaelic faces a difficult road block in becoming the primary spoken language of the nation. Despite the best efforts of the government, Irish Gaelic seems destined to remain a language that is only important culturally and not one that dominates the Irish isle.

English is often the language of choice for the vast majority of Irish citizens; as a result, Irish Gaelic at a distinct disadvantage in becoming the dominant language of the island. This is mainly a result of three factors: first, children do not use Irish Gaelic outside of school; second, most bilinguals chose to use English over Irish Gaelic and third, even in Gaeltacht areas of Ireland, Irish Gaelic is not totally dominant. Since children often opt to use English instead of Irish Gaelic, there is little hope that Irish Gaelic will be able to overtake English any time soon. In order for a language change to occur, younger generations must adopt a new language as they are the ones who will have the most influence on the future of the country. No matter what the government does, if the younger generations do not fully embrace the new culture, it is destined to fail. Since Irish Gaelic is rarely used by children outside of an academic setting, it is hard to imagine Irish Gaelic becoming dominant. This can be seen most easily in electronic communications which dominate the current culture. In everything from texting to email to surfing the web, Irish Gaelic is spurned in favor of English (Fleming and Debski 89). Irish Gaelic is unable to gain a foothold in the numerous emerging communications arenas which many believe will define future global communication. Since Irish Gaelic has little use to what people view as cutting edge, it is quickly becoming viewed as a language of the past with little practical use. Since the language is viewed as impractical, many bilinguals chose to use English in the majority of the interactions (Walsh and Mcleod 23). In order for a language to gain enough support for it to become dominant, its use must be expanded. If Irish Gaelic speaker almost all of whom are bilingual chose to use English, they are effectively killing any chance Irish Gaelic has in becoming a dominant language. Bilingualism is also in a way discouraged because there is very little incentive in learning Irish Gaelic. The use of Irish Gaelic is primarily supported by the educated upper and middle classes (CITE). Since Irish Gaelic has very little economic value, the lower classes do not see the use in knowing Irish Gaelic. In order for Irish Gaelic to overtake English, its use must be accepted by all classes, not just the elites. Therefore it is important for the knowledge of Irish Gaelic to create some type of incentive for its speakers. The government has attempted to do this by favoring Irish Gaelic bilinguals for public service positions (Walsh and Wilson 24). While this has had some success in promoting the use of Irish Gaelic, it has not provided any sweeping changes. In order for Irish Gaelic to be economically advantageous, there must be a demand for it created by buyers in the work place. Without a good incentive for learning the language, many people will continue to use and promote the use of English. Even in Gaeltacht areas where Irish Gaelic is supposed to be the primary language spoken, English is still used in everyday conversation. Of the people living within Gaeltacht areas, eighty percent are fluent in Irish Gaelic but only thirty five percent use it daily. This statistic clearly demonstrates the difficulty in making Irish Gaelic the primary language of the nation. If an area saturated with Irish Gaelic speakers that is designed to foster the use of Irish Gaelic cannot overcome English, what hope is there for Irish Gaelic becoming prevalent across the country. Due to the fact that Irish Gaelic is not used in everyday conversations and is showing no signs that this is going to change, it is unlikely that Irish Gaelic will become the primary language of Ireland.

In order for a language to become more popular, it must be used and useful to the people who speak it. Irish Gaelic however, is seen primarily as a link to Irish Gaelic culture, history and identity rather than a practical language. Irish Gaelic citizens like speaking and hearing Irish Gaelic and wish they could use Irish Gaelic more (CITE). However, they have done very little to make their dreams a reality. This proves that even though people support the use of the language, it is ultimately their job to promote it. Since Irish Gaelic is not viewed a practical, as much as people like to hear and use the language, it is still just a language that is a symbol of their culture, not a language to be used every day. Even in family life, people wish that they could use Irish Gaelic more. Upon graduation, students wish to continue to use Irish Gaelic and parents wish they had used more Irish Gaelic around their children growing up. Once again however, neither group is doing anything to promote their goal of expanding the use of Irish Gaelic. Just as in the previous example, this can be attributed to the fact that the Irish Gaelic do not think that the use of Irish Gaelic in everyday life is truly import, there merely support its use because they see it as part of their national identity. When Irish Gaelic is used in conversations it is usually used to convey short phrases and sayings (Fleming and Debski 97). Even when Irish Gaelic is used, in most cases, its use is limited to being an add-on to English. It is used by speakers too convey an Irish Gaelic saying or portray their Irish Gaelic identify. Irish Gaelic is also used as a sort of secret language that can be used to demonstrate one’s Irish Gaelic identity or used to speak freely among non-Irish Gaelic speakers. This cements the use of Irish Gaelic to a fairly limited set of situations. This token use of Irish Gaelic is detrimental to Irish Gaelic because it inhibits its growth to other parts of society as people will be afraid that if its use becomes commonplace, it will lose the importance it has to the select few who are able to sue it. Also, historically, Irish Gaelic has been viewed as a lower language due to the English conquering and settling Ireland (CITE). Being viewed as a lower language means that people will be less likely to want to learn or use the language since it may put a negative stereotype on them. This is especially true among the lower class farmers in the Gaeltacht areas. In order for Irish Gaelic to overtake English, it must escape this blight on its reputation and come into common use. However, since people are hesitant to use it, it is unlikely that Irish Gaelic will be able to overtake English as the primary language of Ireland.

Irish Gaelic is a language that refused to die. Despite centuries of foreign occupation, the will of the Irish Gaelic people has kept their language alive. However, Irish Gaelic is also unlikely to emerge as the dominant language of the Irish Gaelic people any time soon. This is primarily due to the lace of use of the Irish Gaelic language in the everyday life of the Irish Gaelic people. Without widespread community support for the adoption of the language it is impossible for the language to emerge from the shadow of English. Despite the best efforts of the government in schooling the youth and promoting the use of Irish Gaelic in Gaeltacht areas, Irish Gaelic seems destined to remain in its current linguistic role.

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