Imagine this. The town of Ennis, County Clare in Ireland (where I grew up) has about 30,000 inhabitants. Let’s say each of those inhabitants spoke a peculiar language that nobody else spoke.
Whenever someone from this theoretical Ennis would move away to go get a job, or to go to college, they would have to speak English to interact with others.
Worse yet, for this language of theoretical Ennis, if a new inhabitant moved to town, they just continued to speak English. They wouldn’t have the motivation to learn to speak this local peculiar language. Why would the bother? Everyone in Ennis could speak English anyway.
Not only that, their parents, and their parents’ parents had an emotional hangover from collectively remembering being beaten at school to learn this local language when it used to be more widespread.
Let’s say that only the 30,000 inhabitants of Ennis spoke this language, and nobody else outside of the town across Ireland and across the world spoke the language on a daily basis.
You’d easily think their language is doomed, right?
30,000 people speak the Irish language in Ireland daily today (not counting in school kids and their teachers who otherwise speak English).
That’s a frighteningly small number. They don’t have the critical mass behind them.
Elsewhere, let’s jump over to California. Seals are dying from the oceans being too warm. Bats are dying from fungus on their noses. To greatly oversimplify a seismic shift that’s ahead of us: the world is changing.
For the Irish language, it has great energy behind it. On the one hand, respectable people like you bothering to embrace it, making it part of their identity. It embodies a form of Ireland’s traditional culture. It’s a deeply personal way to connect with your Irish heritage.
On the other hand, it’s easy to say that people across the globe are becoming more alike. Certain languages have a critical mass behind them, and a language change also brings a cultural change.
Should this mean that we all just give up? Not bother speaking a single word of Irish? Is it a depressing state, or a reason to share it even more aggressively wit your friends and family? I’ll leave that up to you. There were lots of comments on this topic on Podcast 039: Three Bold Predictions for the Irish Language.
It’s all about your perspective, as Karen Reshkin said on another episode of our podcast. And I recommend that you choose the more optimistic version of the future:
- Declare that you are a life-long learner of the Irish language. It doesn’t matter how far you’ll get, that’s not the point.
- Make a habit of learning in little portions regularly.
- Share the language with your friends. Share it on Facebook. Wear a t-shirt. Buy an Irish book. Watch Irish language TV online.