Irish language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pronunciation: IPA: ˈgeːlʲɟə
Spoken in: Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland 
Region: Gaeltachtaí, mainly in the west and north-west of Ireland.
Total speakers: est. 380,000 fluent speakers.[1]
Language family: Indo-European
  Insular Celtic
Writing system: Latin (Irish variant
Official status
Official language of: Ireland, European Union
Regulated by: Foras na Gaeilge
Language codes
ISO 639-1: ga
ISO 639-2: gle
ISO 639-3: gle

Irish (Gaeilge) is a Celtic language of the Goidelic branch spoken in Ireland. Although once spoken across the whole of the island, it is presently a minority language. It is constitutionally upheld as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland and is an official language of the European Union.

The number of people in the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland who use the language as their daily mother tongue has been variously cited as 70,000[2] and 83,000.[3] However, according to census figures released by the Central Statistics Office in 2004, out of the Republic's 4.2 million residents, there are approximately 1.6 million who regard themselves as competent in Irish. Of these, 350,000 reported using Irish every day, 155,000 weekly, 585,000 less often, 460,000 never, and 30,000 didn't state how often. Of the 350,000 who were reported to use Irish every day, the majority are schoolchildren who use it during their classes in Irish.

It has been argued that previous censuses have overestimated the true number of Irish speakers, as those speaking it only in the schools are included. The recent 2006 Census may provide a more accurate estimate of the Irish-speaking population, because of changes to ask the respondents how often they speak the language and where. Other data state that 168,000 people in Northern Ireland can speak Irish "with varying degrees of ability".[4] The results of the United States Census, 2000 suggest that some 25,000 people use the language at home in the United States.[5] On 13 June 2005, EU foreign ministers unanimously decided to make Irish an official language of the European Union. The new arrangements came into effect on 1 January 2007, and Irish was first used at a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, by Minister Noel Treacy, T.D., on 22 January 2007. Since then, it has been regularly used by Irish government ministers.

There also exists a cant called Shelta, based partly on English and partly on Irish, in use by the Irish Travellers. For the English language as it is spoken in Ireland, see Hiberno-English.

Note: This page uses the IPA to transcribe Irish. Readers familiar with other conventions may wish to see International Phonetic Alphabet for Irish for a comparison of the IPA system with those used in learners' materials.


[edit] Names of the language

[edit] In English

The language is usually referred to in English as Irish, sometimes as Gaelic (IPA: /ˈgeɪlɪk/), or in general terms as Irish Gaelic when discussing other Goidelic languages. Gaelic is often used in the Irish diaspora. Calling the language Irish is a precise indication of its constitutional status as the national language of the Republic of Ireland, and by extension, the Irish people. Irish is the term generally used among scholars of the language; it is also the term used in the Constitution of Ireland. On the other hand, use of the term Gaelic acknowledges the language's close relationship with other Goidelic languages and could be considered more endonymic.

Closely related languages which descend from Old Irish include Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), and Manx Gaelic (Gaelg), languages spoken in Scotland and the Isle of Man, though the term Irish Gaelic instead of Irish is often used when the three languages and their relationship to one another are being discussed. Scottish Gaelic is often referred to in English as simply Gaelic (IPA: /ˈgeɪlɪk/ or /ˈgæːlɪk/). The archaic term Erse (from Erisch), originally a Scots form of the word Irish, and used in Scotland to apply to all of the Goidelic languages, is no longer used for any Goidelic language, and in most current contexts is considered derogatory.

[edit] In Irish

In the Caighdeán Oifigiúil (the official written standard) the name of the language is Gaeilge (IPA: /ˈgeːlʲɟə/), which reflects the southern Connacht pronunciation.

Before the spelling reform of 1948, this form was spelled Gaedhilge; originally this was the genitive of Gaedhealg, the form used in classical Modern Irish. Older spellings of this include Gaoidhealg in Middle Irish and Goídelc in Old Irish.

Other forms of the name found in the various modern Irish dialects, in addition to south Connacht Gaeilge mentioned above, include Gaedhilic/Gaeilic/Gaeilig (IPA: /ˈgeːlʲəc/) or Gaedhlag (IPA: /ˈgeːɫ̪əg/) in Ulster Irish and northern Connacht Irish and Gaedhealaing/Gaoluinn/Gaelainn (IPA: /ˈgeːɫ̪əɲ/) in Munster Irish.

[edit] Official status

Irish is given recognition by the Constitution of Ireland as the first official language of Ireland (with English being a second official language), despite the limited distribution of fluency among the population of the country. Since the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 (see also History of the Republic of Ireland), the Irish Government required a degree of proficiency in Irish for all civil service positions (including postal workers, tax officials, agricultural inspectors, etc.), as well as for employees of state companies (e.g.RTÉ, ESB, etc).[citation needed] Proficiency in Irish for entrance to the public service ceased to be a compulsory requirement in 1974, in part through the actions of protest organizations like the Language Freedom Movement. While the requirement was also dropped for wider public service jobs, such as teaching, Irish remains a required subject of study in all schools within the Republic which receive public money (see also Education in the Republic of Ireland). The need for a pass in Leaving Certificate Irish for entry to the Gardaí (police) was dropped in September 2005, although applicants are given lessons in the language during the two years of training. Most official documents of the Irish Government are published in both Irish and English. On January 18, 2007, Marian Harkin, a North West Independent MEP, became the first person to address European Parliament in Irish.[1]

In 1938, the founder of the Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League), Douglas Hyde (an Anglican), was inaugurated as the first President of Ireland. The record of his delivering his auguration Declaration of Office in his native Roscommon Irish remains almost the only surviving remnant of anyone speaking in that dialect.

The National University of Ireland, Galway is required to appoint a person who is competent in the Irish language, as long as they meet all other respects of the vacancy they are appointed to. This requirement is laid down by the University College Galway Act, 1929 (Section 3) and recently was subject of a High Court case on the matter [2] - it is expected that the requirement may be repealed in due course[3].

As an official language of the European Union all legislation and documents of major public importance or interest are produced in Irish. Before Irish became an official language on 1st January 2007, it was afforded the status of treaty language of the European Union, and only the highest-level documents of the EU had been translated into Irish.

The language has also received a degree of formal recognition in Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The British government promised to create legislation encouraging the language as part of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement through an "Irish Language Act - Acht na Gaeilge".[6]

Even though modern parliamentary legislation is supposed to be issued in both Irish and English, in fact it is frequently only available in English.[7] Publicly displayed Irish is sometimes ungrammatical, which has the potential to irritate speakers and activists. That the Dáil uses Irish in less than 1% of its business may also contribute to the public image of the revival.

[edit] Gaeltachtaí

Official Gaeltachtaí
Official Gaeltachtaí

There are parts of Ireland where Irish is spoken as a traditional, native language. These regions are known as Gaeltachtaí. These are in County Galway (Contae na Gaillimhe), including Connemara (Conamara), the Aran Islands (na hOileáin Árann), Carraroe (An Cheathru Rua) and Spiddal (An Spidéal); on the west coast of County Donegal (Contae Dhún na nGall); in the part which is known as Tyrconnell (Tír Chonaill); and Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) in County Kerry (Contae Chiarraí). Smaller ones also exist in Mayo (Contae Mhaigh Eo), Meath (Contae na Mí), Waterford (Contae Phort Láirge), and Cork (Contae Chorcaí). However, even within the Gaeltacht areas, the Irish-speaking populations have declined since the Gaeltacht boundaries were drawn up. In 2007 the Gaeltacht boundaries will be redrawn, the first time that this has happened since the 1950s.[citation needed]

Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair), County Donegal is the largest Gaeltacht parish in Ireland.

The numerically and socially strongest Gaeltacht areas are those of South Connemara, west Dingle and northwest Donegal, in which the majority of residents (although not all in North-West Donegal) use Irish as their primary language. These areas are often referred to as the Fíor-Ghaeltacht ("true Gaeltacht") and collectively have a population just under 20,000, of which over 80% use the language daily[citation needed]. The highest proportions of daily Irish speakers in the community are found in Rosmuck (Ros Muc), County Galway, (over 91%)[citation needed], and around Bloody Foreland (Cnoc na Fola) in Donegal (88-89%)[citation needed].

Gaeltacht summer schools are attended by tens of thousands of Irish teenagers annually. Students live with Gaeltacht families, attend classes, participate in sports, go to céilithe and are obliged to speak Irish.

According to data compiled by the Irish Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, only one quarter of households in Gaeltacht areas possess a fluency in Irish. The author of a detailed analysis of the survey, Donncha Ó hÉallaithe, described the Irish language policy followed by Irish governments a 'complete and absolute disaster.' The Irish Times (January 6, 2002), referring to his analysis, which was initially published in the Irish language newspaper Foinse, quoted him as follows: 'It is an absolute indictment of successive Irish Governments that at the foundation of the Irish State there were 250,000 fluent Irish speakers living in Irish-speaking or semi Irish-speaking areas, but the number now is between 20,000 and 30,000.'

According to the language survey, levels of fluency among families is 'very low', from 1% in Galway suburbs to a maximum of 8% in parts of west Donegal.[citation needed] With such sharp decline, particularly among the young, the real danger exists that Irish will largely become extinct within two generations, possibly even one.[citation needed] While the language will continue to exist among English speakers who have learned fluency and are bilingual (though mainly English-speaking in their everyday lives) Gaeltachtaí embody more than just a language, but the cultural context in which it is spoken, through song, stories, social traditions, folklore and dance. The death of the Gaeltachtaí would make a break forever between one of Ireland's cultural pasts and identities, and its future. All sides, irrespective of their view on the methodology used by independent Ireland in its efforts to preserve the language, agree that such a loss would be a cultural tragedy on a monumental scale.

[edit] Dialects

There are a number of distinct dialects of Irish. Roughly speaking, the three major dialect areas coincide with the provinces of Munster (Cúige Mumhan), Connacht (Cúige Chonnacht) and Ulster (Cúige Uladh).

[edit] Munster dialects

Main article: Munster Irish

Munster Irish is mainly spoken in the Gaeltachtaí of Kerry (Contae Chiarraí), Ring (An Rinn) near Dungarvan (Dún Garbháin) in County Waterford (Contae Phort Láirge) and Muskerry (Múscraí) and Cape Clear (Oileán Chléire) in the western part of County Cork (Contae Chorcaí). The most important subdivision in Munster is that between Decies Irish (spoken in Waterford) and the rest of Munster Irish.

Some typical features of Munster Irish are:

  1. The use of personal endings instead of pronouns with verbs, thus "I must" is in Munster caithfead, while other dialects prefer caithfidh mé ( means "I"). "I was and you were" is Bhíos agus bhís in Munster but Bhí mé agus bhí tú in other dialects.
  2. In front of nasals and "ll" some short vowels are lengthened while other are diphthongised.
  3. A copular construction involving is ea is frequently used.
  4. Stress is often on the second syllable of a word, e.g. "bio-RÁN" ("pin"), as opposed to "BIO-rán" in Connacht and Ulster.

[edit] Connacht dialects

Main article: Connacht Irish

The strongest dialect of Connacht Irish is to be found in Connemara and the Aran Islands. In some regards this dialect is quite different from general Connacht Irish but since most Connacht dialects have died out during the last century Connemara Irish is sometimes seen as Connacht Irish. Much closer to the larger Connacht Gaeltacht is the dialect spoken in the smaller region on the border between Galway (Gaillimh) and Mayo (Maigh Eo). The Irish of Tourmakeady (Tuar Mhic Éadaigh) in southern Mayo (Maigh Eo Theas) and Joyce Country (Dúiche Sheoigheach) are considered the living Irish dialects closest to Middle Irish.[citation needed] The northern Mayo dialect of Erris (Iorras) and Achill (Acaill) is in grammar and morphology essentially a Connacht dialect; but shows an affinity in vocabulary with Ulster Irish, due to large-scale immigration of dispossessed people following the Plantation of Ulster.

Connemara Irish is very popular with learners, in part thanks to Mícheál Ó Siadhail's self-teaching textbook Learning Irish but also thanks to the large number of Irish Summer Camps there in comparison to all other counties.

There are features in Connemara Irish outside the official standard—notably the preference for verbal nouns ending in -achan, e.g. lagachan instead of lagú, "weakening". The non-standard pronunciation with lengthened vowels and heavily reduced endings give Connemara Irish its distinct sound. Distinguishing features of this dialect include the pronunciation of broad bh as [w], rather than as [vˠ] in Munster. For example mo bhád ("my boat") is pronounced [mˠə wɑːd̪ˠ] in Connacht and Ulster as opposed to [mˠə vˠɑːd̪ˠ] in the south. In addition Connacht and Ulster speakers tend to include the "we" pronoun rather than use the standard compound form used in Munster e.g. bhí muid is used for "we were" instead of bhíomar elsewhere.

[edit] Ulster dialects

Main article: Ulster Irish

Linguistically the most important of the Ulster dialects today is that of the Rosses (na Rosa), which has been used extensively in literature by such authors as the brothers Séamus Ó Grianna and Seosamh Mac Grianna, locally known as Jimí Fheilimí and Joe Fheilimí. This dialect is essentially the same as that in Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair = Inlet of Streaming Water), and used by native singers Enya (Eithne) and Moya Brennan and their siblings in Clannad (Clann as Dobhar = Family .from the Water) Na Casaidigh, and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh from another local band Altan.

Ulster Irish sounds very different and shares several unusual features with Scottish Gaelic, as well as having lots of characteristic words and shades of meanings. However, since the demise of those Irish dialects spoken natively in what is today Northern Ireland, it is probably an exaggeration to see Ulster Irish as an intermediary form between Scottish Gaelic and the southern and western dialects of Irish. Indeed, Scottish Gaelic does have lots of non-Ulster features in common with Munster Irish also.

One noticeable trait of Ulster Irish is the use of the negative participle cha(n) in place of the Munster and Connacht version . Even in Ulster, cha(n)- most typical of Scottish Gaelic- has ousted the more common in easternmost dialects. The practice seems to be[original research?] that cha(n) is most usually used when answering to a statement, either confirming a negative statement (Níl aon mhaith ann - Chan fhuil, leoga = "It is no good" - "Indeed it isn't, alas") or contesting an affirmative one (Tá sé go maith - Chan fhuil! = "It is good" - "No, it isn't!") while is preferred in answering a question (An bhfuil aon mhaith ann? - Níl = "Is it any good?" - "No").

[edit] An Caighdeán

An Caighdeán is the standard language, and was introduced in the 1950s/1960s in an attempt to make Irish more user friendly, as it was composed using elements of the Munster, Ulster and Connacht dialects. This is the 'dialect' that is taught in most schools in Ireland.

The dialects of Irish native to Leinster, the fourth province of Ireland, became extinct during the 20th century, but records of some of these were made by the Irish Folklore Commission among other bodies prior to this.

The present-day Irish of Meath (in Leinster) is a special case. It belongs mainly to the Connemara dialect. The Irish-speaking community in Meath is mostly a group of Connemara speakers who moved there in the 1930s after a land reform campaign spearheaded by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (who subsequently became one of the greatest modernist writers in the language).

What has been called "Dublin Irish" and "Gaelscoil Irish" is also spoken in the capital and amongst the students of Irish-speaking schools throughout the country.

[edit] Comparisons

The differences between dialects are considerable, and have led to recurrent difficulties in defining standard Irish. Even everyday phrases can show startling dialectal variation.

The standard example is "How are you?":

  • Ulster: Cad é mar atá tú? ("what is it as you are?" Note: caidé or goidé and sometimes are alternative renderings of cad é)
  • Connacht: Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? ("what way [is it] that you are?")
  • Munster: Conas taoi? or Conas tánn tú? ("how are you?")
  • "standard Irish": Conas atá tú? ("how are you?")

In recent decades contacts between speakers of different dialects have become frequent and mixed dialects have originated.

With the growth in the Irish language media -and in particular TG4- it has become much easier for speakers of different dialects to understand one another, although this is mostly seen in the younger generations.

[edit] Linguistic structure

The features most unfamiliar to English speakers of the language are the orthography, the initial consonant mutations, the Verb Subject Object word order and the use of two different forms for "to be". However, initial mutations are found in other Celtic languages as well as in some Italian and Sardinian dialects, as an independent development. They are also found in some West African languages.

[edit] Syntax

Main article: Irish syntax

Word order in Irish is of the form VSO (Verb-Subject-Object) so that , for example, "He hit me" is Bhuail [hit-past tense] [he] [me].

One aspect of Irish syntax that is unfamiliar to speakers of other languages is the use of the copula (known in Irish as an chopail). The copula is used to describe what or who someone is, as opposed to how and where. It is used to say that a noun is another noun, rather than an adjective. This has been likened to the difference between the verbs ser and estar in Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese (see Romance copula), although this is only a rough approximation.

[edit] Morphology

Another feature of Irish grammar that is shared with other Celtic languages is the use of prepositional pronouns (forainmneacha réamhfhoclacha), which are essentially conjugated prepositions. For example, the word for "at" is ag, which in the first person singular becomes agam "at me". When used with the verb ("to be") ag indicates possession; this is the equivalent of the English verb "to have".

Tá leabhar agam. "I have a book." (Literally, "is a book at me")
Tá deoch agat. "You have a drink."
Tá ríomhaire aige. "He has a computer."
Tá páiste aici. "She has a child."
Tá carr againn. "We have a car."
Tá teach agaibh. "You (plural) have a house."
Tá airgead acu. "They have money."

[edit] Orthography and pronunciation

"Gaelach" in the Gaelic script.
"Gaelach" in the Gaelic script.

The written language looks rather daunting to those unfamiliar with it. Once understood, the orthography is relatively straightforward. The acute accent, or síneadh fada (´), serves to lengthen the sound of the vowels and in some cases also changes their quality. For example, in Munster Irish (Kerry), a is /a/ or /ɑ/ and á is /ɑː/ in "law" but in Ulster Irish (Donegal), á tends to be /æː/.

Around the time of World War II, Séamas Daltún, in charge of Rannóg an Aistriúcháin (the official translations department of the Irish government), issued his own guidelines about how to standardise Irish spelling and grammar. This de facto standard was subsequently approved of by the State and called the Official Standard or Caighdeán Oifigiúil.

It simplified and standardised the orthography. Many words had silent letters removed and vowel combination brought closer to the spoken language. Where multiple versions existed in different dialects for the same word, one or more were selected.


  • Gaedhealg / Gaedhilg(e) / Gaedhealaing / Gaeilic / Gaelainn / Gaoidhealg / GaolainnGaeilge, "Irish language" (Gaoluinn or Gaolainn is still used in books written in dialect by Munster authors, or as a facetious name for the Munster dialect)
  • Lughbhaidh, "Louth"
  • biadhbia, "food" (The spelling biadh is still used by the speakers of those dialects that show a meaningful and audible difference between biadh (nominative case) and bídh (genitive case) "of food, food's". For example, in Munster Irish the latter ends in an audible -g sound, because final -idh, -igh regularly delenites to -ig in Munster pronunciation.)

Modern Irish has only one diacritic sign, the acute (á é í ó ú), known in Irish as the síneadh fada "long mark", plural sínte fada. In English, this is frequently referred to as simply the fada, where the adjective is used as a noun. The dot-above diacritic, called a ponc séimhithe or sí buailte (often shortened to buailte), derives from the punctum delens, which was used in medieval manuscripts to indicate deletion, similar to crossing out unwanted words in handwriting today. From this usage it was used to indicate the lenition of s (from /s/ to /h/) and f (from /f/ to zero) in Old Irish texts.

Lenition of c, p, and t was indicated by placing the letter h after the affected consonant; lenition of other sounds was left unmarked. Later both methods were extended to be indicators of lenition of any sound except l and n, and two competing systems were used: lenition could be marked by a buailte or by a postposed h. Eventually, use of the buailte predominated when texts were writing using Gaelic letters, while the h predominated when writing using Roman letters.

Today the Gaelic script and the buailte are rarely used except where a "traditional" style is required, e.g. the motto on the University College Dublin coat of arms or the symbol of the Irish Defence Forces, The Irish Defence Forces cap badge (Óglaiġ na h-Éireann). Letters with the buailte are available in Unicode and Latin-8 character sets (see Latin Extended Additional chart (see PDF).

[edit] Mutations

In Irish, there are two classes of initial mutations:

  • Lenition (in Irish, séimhiú "softening") describes the change of stops into fricatives. Indicated in old orthography by a dot (called a sí buailte) written above the changed consonant, this is now shown by adding an extra -h-:
    • caith! "throw!" - chaith mé "I threw" (this is an example of the lenition as a past-tense marker, which is caused by the use of do, although this is now usually omitted)
    • margadh "market", "market-place", "bargain" - Tadhg an mhargaidh "the man of the street" (word for word "Timothy of the market-place" (here we see the lenition marking the genitive case of a masculine noun)
    • Seán "Seán, John" - a Sheáin! "O John!" (here we see lenition as part of what is called the vocative case - in fact, the vocative lenition is triggered by the a or vocative marker before Sheáin)
  • Nasalisation (in Irish, urú "eclipsis") covers the voicing of voiceless stops, as well as the true nasalisation of voiced stops.
    • athair "father" - ár nAthair "our Father"
    • tús "start", ar dtús "at the start"
    • Gaillimh "Galway" - i nGaillimh "in Galway"

[edit] History

Written Irish is first attested in Ogham inscriptions from the fourth AD; this stage of the language is known as Primitive Irish. Old Irish, dating from the sixth century, used the Latin alphabet and is attested primarily in marginalia to Latin manuscripts. Middle Irish, dating from the tenth century, is the language of a large corpus of literature, including the famous Ulster Cycle. Early Modern Irish, dating from the thirteenth century, was the literary language of both Ireland and Gaelic-speaking Scotland, and is attested by such writers as Geoffrey Keating. From the eighteenth century the language went into a decline, rapidly losing ground to English, and in the mid-nineteenth century it lost a large portion of its speakers to death and emigration resulting from poverty, particularly in the wake of the Irish potato famine. At the end of the nineteenth century, members of the Gaelic Revival movement made efforts to encourage the learning and use of Irish in Ireland.

[edit] Current status

[edit] Republic of Ireland

The number of native Irish-speakers in the Republic of Ireland today is a smaller fraction of what it was at independence. However, this number has risen significantly over the past two decades. The Official Languages Act of 2003 gave people the right to interact with state bodies in Irish. It is too early to assess how well this is working in practice. Other factors were outward migration of Irish speakers from the Gaeltacht and inward migration of English-speakers. The Planning and Development Act (2000) attempted to address the latter issue, but the response is almost certainly inadequate. Planning controls now require new housing in Gaeltacht areas to be allocated to English-speakers and Irish-speakers in the same ratio as the existing population of the area. This will not prevent houses allocated to Irish-speakers subsequently being sold on to English-speakers. Outward migration of Irish-speakers could be reduced if the state, which is the main employer in the Republic of Ireland, were to exercise its right to have certain jobs performed in Irish and relocated to the Gaeltacht. On 3rd December 2003 the Minister for Finance announced a new Decentralisation programme, moving over 10,000 civil and public service jobs to 53 locations in 25 other counties outside Dublin. The government explicitly said this was being done to boost the economy of outlying areas. None of these jobs were used to provide employment for native Irish-speakers in the Gaeltacht.

[edit] Daily life

Several computer software products have the option of an Irish-language interface. Prominent examples include Mozilla Firefox[4], Mozilla Thunderbird[5],[6], Microsoft Windows XP[7] and Microsoft Office 2003.

Many English-speaking Irish people use small and simple phrases (known as the cúpla focal, "pair of words") in their everyday speech, e.g. Slán ("goodbye"), Slán abhaile ("get home safely"), Sláinte ("good health"; used when drinking like "bottoms up" or "cheers"), Go raibh maith agat - ("thank you"), Céad míle fáilte ("a hundred thousand welcomes", a tourist board saying), Conas atá tú? ("How are you?"). There are many more small sayings that have crept into Hiberno-English. The term craic has been popularised outside Ireland in its Gaelic spelling: "How's the craic?" or "What's the 'craic'?" ("how's the fun?"/"how is it going?").

Bilingual sign in English and Irish in Tesco store, Ballyfermot, Dublin.
Bilingual sign in English and Irish in Tesco store, Ballyfermot, Dublin.

Many public bodies have Irish language or bilingual names, but some have downgraded the language. An Post, the Republic's postal service, continues to have place names in the language on its postmarks, as well as recognising addresses (as does the Royal Mail in Northern Ireland). Traditionally, the private sector has been less supportive, although support for the language has come from some private companies. For example, Irish supermarket chain Superquinn introduced bilingual signs in its stores in the 1980s, a move which was followed more recently by the British chain Tesco for its stores in the Republic.

In an effort to address the half-committed attitude of Irish language use by the State, the Official Languages Act was passed in 2003. This act ensures that most publications made by a governmental body must be published in both official languages, Irish and English. In addition, the office of Language Commissioner has been set up to act as an ombudsman with regard to equal treatment for both languages.

Picture of a typical Irish road sign with placenames in English and Irish.
Picture of a typical Irish road sign with placenames in English and Irish.

A major factor in the decline of spoken Irish has been the movement of English speakers into the Gaeltacht (predominantly Irish speaking areas) and the return of native Irish-speakers who have returned with English-speaking families. Some government grants have helped to limit the effect of this. "only about half Gaeltacht children learn Irish in the home... this is related to the high level of in-migration and return migration which has accompanied the economic restructuring of the Gaeltacht in recent decades".[8] Many see this as a deliberate attempt by anti-nationalist politicians to wipe out the language. "That economic development of the kind undertaken was likely to have such consequences was readily predictable a decade ago".[9] In a last-ditch effort to stop the demise of Irish-speaking in Connemara in Galway, planning controls have been introduced on the building of new homes in Irish speaking areas. These are supposed to ensure that the proportion of Irish speakers in the local population does not decrease.

Attempts have been made to offer support for the language through the media, notably with the launch of Raidió na Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht radio) and Teilifís na Gaeilge (Irish language television, called initially 'TnaG', now renamed TG4). Both have been relatively successful. TG4 has offered Irish-speaking young people a forum for youth culture as Gaeilge (in Irish) through rock and pop shows, travel shows, dating games, and even a controversial award-winning soap opera in Irish called Ros na Rún. Most of TG4's viewership, however, tends to come from showing Gaelic football, hurling and rugby matches and also films in English, although some of its Irish language programmes attract large audiences.

In 1996, Nuacht TG4 (TG4 News) was getting only about 5,000 viewers daily. This figure has now risen to just under 50,000 (as of 2006). The channel's viewership has steadily risen since the foundation of the station it will become independent from the State in the distant future. Arguments about the level of funding it receives persist.

The Irish Language daily newspaper publishes five days a week and has circulation of several thousand as well as an active website. There is also a weekly paper, Foinse. The Irish News has two pages in Irish every day. The Irish Times had up until recently one article in Irish every week. Now it has several articles with some articles appended with short lists giving the meaning of some of the words used in English. Another paper, Saol, and about 5 magazines are also published in the language, as well as internet-only publications such as "Beo!". The immigrants magazine Metro Eireann also has articles in Irish every issue, as do many local papers throughout the country, including university publications such as the Trinity News.

The Placenames Order (Gaeltacht Districts)/An tOrdú Logainmneacha (Ceanntair Gaeltachta) (2004) requires the original Irish placenames to be used in the Gaeltacht on all official documents, maps and roadsigns. This has removed the legal status of those placenames in the Gaeltacht in English. Opposition to these measures comes from several quarters including some people within popular tourist destinations located within the Gaeltacht (namely in Dingle/An Daingean) who claim that tourists may not recognise the Irish forms of the placenames.

However following a campaign in the 1960s and early 1970s, most roadsigns in Gaeltacht regions have been in Irish only. Maps and government documents did not change, though. Previously Ordnance Survey (government) maps showed placenames bilingually in the Gaeltacht (and generally in English only elsewhere). Unfortunately, most other map companies wrote only the English placenames, leading to significant confusion in the Gaeltacht. The act therefore updates government documents and maps in line with what has been reality in the Gaeltacht for the past 30 years. Private map companies are expected to follow suit. Beyond the Gaeltacht only English placenames were officially recognised (pre 2004). However, further placenames orders have been passed to enable both the English and the Irish placenames to be used. The village of Straffan is still marked variously as An Srafáin, An Cluainíní and Teach Strafáin, even though Irish has not been the spoken widely there for two centuries.

Irish vehicle registration plates are bilingual: the county of registration is shown in Irish above the plate number as a kind of surtitle, and is encoded from English within the plate number. For example, a Dublin plate is surtitled Baile Átha Cliath and the plate number includes "-D-".

There is a concerted effort by some to promote the language among recent immigrants. From 1964 The Bible was translated at Maynooth for Catholics under the supervision of Professor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta and was finally published in 1981.[10]

[edit] Education

The Irish language is a compulsory subject in government funded schools in the Republic of Ireland and has been so since the early days of the state.[11] While many students learn Irish well through the Irish school system, and develop a healthy respect for it, many other students find it difficult or are taught poorly by unmotivated teachers; these students' attitudes toward Irish tend to range from apathy to hostility.[citation needed] The Irish Government has endeavoured to address the situation by revamping the curriculum at primary school level to focus on spoken Irish. However, at secondary school level, it can easily be argued that Irish is still taught "academically". Students must analyse literature and poetry, and write lengthy essays, debates and stories in Irish for the Leaving Certificate examination. In March 2007, the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, announced that more focus would be devoted to the spoken language, and that from 2012, the percentage of marks available in the Leaving Certificate Irish exam would increase from 25% to 40% for the oral component[8].

Recently the abolition of compulsory Irish has been discussed and while some Irish people favour such a move, many do not. In 2005 Enda Kenny, leader of Ireland's main opposition party, Fine Gael, called for the language to be made an optional subject in the last two years of secondary school. This call drew widespread criticism from many quarters, although some have supported his call. Mr Kenny, despite being a fluent speaker himself, stated that he believed that compulsory Irish has done the language more harm than good.

A relatively recent development is the proliferation of gaelscoileanna (schools) in which Irish is the medium of education. By September 2005 there were 158 gaelscoileanna at primary level and 36 at secondary level in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland together (excluding the Gaeltacht, whose schools are not considered gaelscoileanna), which amounted to approximately 31,000 students. This has grown from a total of less than 20 in the early 1970s and there are 15 more being planned at present. With the opening of Gaelscoil Liatroma in County Leitrim in 2005 there is now at least one gaelscoil in each of the 32 counties of Ireland.

[edit] Northern Ireland

Bilingual welcome sign in Newry
Bilingual welcome sign in Newry

As in the Republic, the Irish language is a minority language in Northern Ireland, known in Irish as Tuaisceart Éireann.

Attitudes towards the language in Northern Ireland have traditionally reflected the political differences between its two divided communities. The language has been regarded with suspicion by unionists, who have associated it with the Roman Catholic-majority Republic, and more recently, with the republican movement in Northern Ireland itself. Many republicans in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, learnt Irish while in prison, a development known as the jailtacht.[12] Although the language was taught in Catholic secondary schools (especially by the Christian Brothers), it was not taught at all in state (Protestant) schools and public signs in Irish were effectively banned under laws by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which stated that only English could be used.

These laws were not repealed by the British government until the early 1990s. However, Irish-medium schools, known as gaelscoileanna, had already been founded in Belfast and Derry, and an Irish-language newspaper called ("day") was established in Belfast. BBC Radio Ulster began broadcasting a nightly half-hour programme in Irish in the early 1980s called Blas ("taste, accent"), and BBC Northern Ireland also showed its first TV programme in the language in the early 1990s.

The Ultach Trust was also established, with a view to broadening the appeal of the language among Protestants, although hardline DUP politicians like Sammy Wilson ridiculed it as a "leprechaun language".[13] Ulster Scots, promoted by many loyalists, was, in turn, ridiculed by nationalists (and even some Unionists) as "a DIY language for Orangemen".[14] According to recent statistics, there is no significant difference between the number of Catholic and Protestant speakers of Ulster Scots in Ulster (see Ulster Scots language), although those involved in promoting Ulster-Scots as a language are almost always unionist. Ulster-Scots is defined in legislation (The North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) Northern Ireland Order 1999) as: the variety of the Scots language which has traditionally been used in parts of Northern Ireland and in Donegal in Ireland [9].

Irish received official recognition in Northern Ireland for the first time in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement. A cross-border body known as Foras na Gaeilge was established to promote the language in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, taking over the functions of the previous Republic-only Bord na Gaeilge.

The British government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect to Irish in Northern Ireland.

It has been claimed that Belfast now represents the fastest growing centre of Irish language usage on the island - and the Good Friday Agreement's provisions on 'parity of esteem' have been used to give the language an official status there. In March 2005, the Irish language TV service TG4 began broadcasting from the Divis transmitter near Belfast, as a result of agreement between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Northern Ireland Office, although so far this is the only transmitter to carry it.

The Belfast city council has designated the Falls Road area (from Milltown Cemetery to Devis street) as The Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast, one of the four cultural quarters of the city.

Under the St Andrews Agreement, the government has legislated to introduce an Irish Language Act. A consultation period ending on the 2 March 2007 could see Irish becoming an official language, having equal validity with English, recognised as an indigenous language, or aspire to become an official language in the future.[15]

[edit] Outside Ireland

An interest in the Irish language is maintained throughout the English speaking world among the Irish diaspora and there are active Irish language groups in North American, British, and Australian cities. In Australia, a network of people have established special Irish schools around the country teaching the language and music. In recent years the expansion of the Irish language in Australia been so overwhelming there is too much demand for the supply of teachers.[citation needed]

The Irish language emigrated to North America along with the Irish people. Although Irish is one of the smaller European languages spoken in North America, it has cultural importance in the northeast United States and in Newfoundland, and according to a recent study, an estimated 26,000[16] people in the U.S. speak Irish at home and at work. The Irish language came to Newfoundland in the late 1600's and was commonly spoken among the Newfoundland Irish until the middle of the 20th century. There is direct evidence to suggest that as high as 90% of the Irish in Newfoundland spoke only Irish as their mother tongue. Records from Newfoundland's courts, where defendants often required Irish-speaking interpreters, indicate that the dominant language of the Avalon Peninsula was Irish rather than English. Today it remains the only place outside of Ireland that can claim a unique Irish name (Talamh an Éisc), and a area where Irish is natively spoken.

The Irish language reached Australia in 1788, along with English. In the early colonial period, Irish was seen as an opposition language used by convicts and repressed by the colonial authorities. [10] Although the Irish were a greater proportion of the European population than in any other British colony, the use of the language quickly declined and is now almost unknown. As legal barriers to the integration of the Irish and their descendants into Australian life were progressively removed, English became the language of social advancement.

Many Australian slang words are Irish-derived and there are arguments that Australian English is more influenced by Irish than other Englishes. There is a small movement to re-establish the language in contemporary Australia [11]. The Special Broadcasting Service transmits Irish language radio and television.

[edit] Sources

  • Brian O Cuiv in 'A New History of Ireland 1534-1691, Oxford 1978 ISDN 0 19 821739 0
  • R.V. Comerford, cited below, chapter 4.
  • A. Kelly, Compulsory Irish; Language and Education in Ireland (Dublin 2002).

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World". Dallas, TX: SIL International, (2005). Retrieved on January 29, 2007.
  2. ^ CSO (2002). 2002 Census of Population Volume 11 Irish Language. Retrieved on August 24, 2006.
  3. ^ "Gaeilge na hÉireann". National Virtual Translation Center. Retrieved on 29 January 2007.
  4. ^ "Paper on Proposed Irish Language Legislation for Northern Ireland". Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure, 13 December 2006. Retrieved on January 29, 2007.
  5. ^ Irish Gaelic, Use English research.
  6. ^ Consultation
  7. ^ Article 25.4 of the Constitution of Ireland requires that an "official translation" be provided of any law in both official languages—if not already passed in both official languages.
  8. ^ The Irish Language in a Changing Society: Shaping The Future, p. xxvi.
  9. ^ The Irish Language in a Changing Society: Shaping The Future, p. 47.
  10. ^ An Bíobla Naofa (Maynooth 1981)
  11. ^ The exemption from Irish on the grounds of time spent abroad or learning disability is subject to Circular 12/96 (primary education) and Circular M10/94 (secondary education) issued by the Department of Education and Science.
  12. ^ Allen Feldman. Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland.U of Chicago P, 1991. Chapter 3.
  13. ^ News, 6 February 2003
  14. ^ News, 16 November, 2002
  15. ^ BBC News, Wednesday, 13 December 2006
  16. ^

[edit] See also

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