Sunday, March 11, 2007

James McCloskey's "Voices Silenced?"

Whenever I get a negative rating as the first one for an Amazon review, I assume it's by the author if I give a book less than a perfect five stars. 2 out of 3 readers liked my review, however, for this linguist's study in both languages of Irish within a context of global language preservation. Short, not enough on Irish, but good to read alongside the more recent "Irish in the New Century" by the same publisher Cois Life by translation theorist Michael Cronin.

Is Irish dead, moribund, or alive? James McCloskey, a linguist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, tackles this question in his bilingual book. I found his musings far too rambling-even within the small scope of 51 pages in either language-around the world rather than addressing Irish itself. His title misleads: only chapter six and an epilogue focus upon Gaeilge. Yet, this intercontinental context has too often been neglected when addressing Ireland's language question, and his counter-parochialism exemplifies how contemporary linguists can apply issues of language death, transmission, and recovery learned over the past century-often after the Gaelic Revival-as anthropologists, missionaries, professors, and activists began to encounter many more of the approximately 6,800 languages still surviving the century after the founding of Conradh na Gaeilge. Yet, half of the world's languages will not survive this century, experts predict. In expanding and resisting imperialism, strategies of how people encode a wealth of meaning within a particular means of expressing their worldview in a microcosmic means of preservation and progression.

McCloskey spends most of this very short book--the 51 pp. are duplicated more or less in Irish and English, although not an exact translation to the former from the latter--musing about the international threats to languages. This material can be found in such books as David Crystal's Language Death, and even for Scots Gaelic, in an earlier academic work by Nancy Dorian with the same title as Crystal's short overview. I wish McCloskey had delved more deeply into his subtopic.

Still, alongside Darerca Ni Chartuir's The Irish Language: An Overview and Guide (2001 ed.) and Ciaran MacMurchaidh's "Who Needs Irish?" contributors (Dublin: Veritas, 2004), this raises extremely crucial points about the viability of Irish, and a rather optimistic conclusion. Irish with a 100,000 speakers and government support gains a place for this century in the top 10% "safe" category; and the use of the net, software like GaelTalk and technical degrees pursued at Galway's university entirely through the medium of Irish bode well, he predicts, for the continued health of a rich, complex, and irreplaceable means of identity, expression, and cultural diversity.

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