Drastic Steps Needed to Save Native-Spoken Irish

Posted on: 05/01/2010

The Irish language needs to be promoted in ways that differentiate between native speakers and others

Last month the Government published its draft 20-year strategy for the Irish language, 2010-2030. The constructive nature of many of its recommendations is to be welcomed. The positive aspects of the draft are particularly significant given current economic circumstances and the threatened withdrawal of support schemes for the language, recommended by the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes – “Bord Snip Nua”.

The invitation to engage in a quasi-consultative process towards the final draft marks a positive departure. Equally, the Government strategy affirms the support of the majority language community for planning initiatives on behalf of the minority language, an essential component of effective language planning in any minority context. Having recognised the limitations of previous policies, the renewed commitment of the Government to Irish is to be commended.

The most immediate priority according to all available evidence is the linguistic crisis of the contemporary Gaeltacht. The draft accepts the troubling sociolinguistic conclusions and the rescue strategy presented in the Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht (2007).

Two important issues, although neglected in the draft, are worthy of further discussion: unidirectional bilingualism (ie bilingualism of native Irish speakers, monolingualism of native English speakers) in the Gaeltacht, and the failure to distinguish between the diverse needs of two distinct speech communities – ie speakers of Irish as a first language on the one hand, and learners or speakers of Irish as a second language on the other. This re-examination of the draft’s philosophy may assist in the formulation of the definitive plan.

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