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Self-Consciousness of the Irish Language Community

Self-Consciousness of the Irish Language Community article

As an Irish language speaker, I don’t actually listen to Raidió na Gaeltachta that much. I don’t listen to the radio itself much. Things I listen to are generally audiobooks or podcasts, in English.

I switched on Raidió na Gaeltachta lately. It was an evening drive-time current affairs show. It’s good one (Cormac ag a Cúig).

The topic of the discussion was whether it was good enough that for the past several years the government ministers in charge of the Irish language and Gaeltacht regions don’t themselves speak Irish.

There was banter back and forth about whether Irish language speakers care enough to protest the state of affairs (the point being made that if you have a Minister of Finance who didn’t understand finance, it would be ridiculed).

One member of the panel voice the opinion that people have been resigned to the fact that this is how things are. Lives are busy “these days”, and it’s hard for people to find time.

The discussion turned political, with a representative of Conradh na Gaeilge being crisitised, pretty much, for not being more political in their advice.

The details of the discussion are not my point, though. My point is this: much of the discussions of public media in the Irish language are about the Irish language. It’s such a hot point that we can’t avoid these discussions.

And that’s how it is for small communities of minority languages (and cultures). They are forced to look inward at their own situation, while members of larger nationally-spoken languages take that for granted.

I just wanted to offer a peek into this subtlety of Irish Gaelic media. As a non-Irish language speaker, it can be hard to tap into these day-to-day practical discussions of life through the language.

If you have opinions about this, please leave a reply under this blog post.

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11 thoughts on “Self-Consciousness of the Irish Language Community”

  1. What a fascinating post! I study minority languages and linguistics and one of my primary ways of learning is to listen to the local radio in the language in question. I, too, have noticed what you’re talking about – the situation of the language is always a hot-topic!

    In communities as diverse as the West Frisians in the Netherlands, the Sámi in Northern Scandinavia, the Luxembourgish in Luxembourg, to the Inuit of the Arctic, the “State of the Language” is always on the lips of the radio presenters and a hot political topic within the communities.

    It’s fascinating to me how the different language communities resolve (or not!) the issues that they face.

    In my personal opinion it’s absolutely ridiculous that a government official for the Irish language wouldn’t be fluent in the language. But if nobody from the language community itself wants to do the job, then I guess that’s the way it has to be. However, there are courses available in the language in Ireland: would a solution be for the government to pay the non-fluent official to take a course? Just a thought. Maybe even pay for them to have a subscription to Bitesize Gaelic, if not a brick-and-mortar course?


    A Eoin, gabh mo leithscéal!

    You sample size might not be big enough in my opinion.
    I too listen to Cormac, every day, and his show covers many things besides just state of the language and I
    heard you as a guest on in last year. Ronan Beo just before that is fun too, great music and talk.

    Recently Cormac interviewed a twenty something about drugs, the kids use of Gaelic was let’s say interesting. Then there was the time Cormac got someone really pissed off about poltiics (Mr N. Farriage) and the guest starts adding back English. Its all craic, I’d encourage to hear him more often.
    But if you want to give it another go, I highly recommend Fearghal Mag Uiginn, and Blás podcast:
    Its not myopic -its really about life….

    Slán agus beannacht!

  3. You were after concerning the sharp problem, dividing into some bites and pieces.

    First of all, is a strange feeling to be the part of minority while living at home. It’s a very common but strange feature of human perception: the majority is native and the minority is more o less strange or even alien (“extraterrestrial”). One should prove everytime his right to be thinking, reading, speaking native language, even which real name is not well-known (the famous problem of Irish vs Irish Gaelic) outside the community.

    Then the problem of extending of Irishsphere is coming. On the one side the conception of “gaeltacht” is very good for preserving some cultural treasures of the past, on the other side the pressure of globalization is making this area more and more conservative and backward economically, becoming exotic or nostalgic but hardly influential for modern world and it’s development. It’s not possible to achieve without urban factor, because cities is a kernel of the world we’re living in.

    While thinking about the people of Irish origin all over the world, coming back to their Irishness through the language, it’s obvious that listening practice (radio or TV) is very important. But not knowing the context of the inner problems of Irish speaking community, it’s very hard to fix one’s attention only on language comprehension, not thinking about the topics of discussions themselves.

    Summarizing the previous, we’re having objective problems of Irish speaking community even in Ireland, the bites and pieces of magnificent, but ancient stained glass in Gaeltachts, and self-boiling topics in Irish speaking media. Of course it’s optional problem for enthusiastic individuals all over the world, coming back to their Irish heritage, but it is the problem on the level of the broader community.

    Our ancestors weren’t only preserving culture, they were making new trends of their time, they were missioners and it was a fresh breathe for the world within Dark Ages and salvation for Europe. They were combining youth and wisdom as the creatures of their songs and stories which is known as “daoine sídhe”, inhabitants of “Tír na nÓg”, the world our Earth, in particular Ireland was, will be and is.

  4. I think there should perhaps be a Gaelic 2.0 in which, just like Chinese, the original Gaelic is not lost, but in Gaelic 2.o, the entire language would be simplified. I know a bit of Chinese, and I am so grateful that they simplified their pictographs from wildly complex to very simple and logical with few lines to remember. Anyone who wants to continue with the original traditional Gaelic can do so, just as they do now. But to save the language and make it INFINITELY easier for people to learn, it would have to be simplified. Few people are going to maintain interest in a language with lenitions and eclipses and wildly complex combinations of letters with rules much harder than even Arabic, a language that could so obviously be simplified and spelled phonetically according to English. I say English because it is the language of Ireland and the main language of the world. For further persuasion, how many schoolchildren come out of school really knowing Irish or doing anything but scoffing at it for its unconquerable complexity? If Gaelicians want to save the language, compromise on the spelling. No change of words or ANYTHING else. Just the spelling. That tiny compromise could bring Irish Gaelic back to be as securely in place as the Liffey and Guinness and Ha’penny Bridge. If something doesn’t “give” as we say, Gaelic will be history in a couple of generations. And to that, Dia forbid. Dia is Muira forbid!

    1. Beth, personally I have the same view. Actually, the Irish language that I speak every day is already simplified. I use the “urú” and “séimhiú”, but many times I wouldn’t know the rules of what is the correct grammar (I rely on other people to describe grammar!).

      Also, if you hear fluent kids coming out of school, they’re fluent but with quite simplified (English-influenced) grammar.

      I wouldn’t see it as this “should” happen. I would say it “is” happening.