Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Making the Case for Irish through English?

I posted this to quixotically calm a flame war on the Yahoo Learning Irish group list today.

The thread of the prospects for Irish is taken up here, but after a while, who wants to scroll down increasingly lengthy previous posts tagging a few new lines? This drives me crazy when I have to read these posts. So, a new subject line. I borrow it from DCU translation theorist Michael Cronin. Whether Irish is alive or dying cannot be discussed intelligently unless the contexts of Irish-language use in our 21c reality are scrutinized.

Regarding debates on the health of Irish, I have had the help of Cionaidh and of David both on other Yahoo Irish language lists. I respect them both, thank them, and advise against descending into namecalling. Muiris' bibliographical forays are appreciated by me, by the way; I wish him luck in returning to Ireland.

The predicament of Irish in the new century, as shown in works by Michael Cronin (see my abstract below), James McCluskey (language death in globalized contexts), Ciarán Mac Murchaidh, Steve Fallon (on learning Irish as a Yank and touring the Gaeltachtaí and Irish-language cafés in Dublin), Aodan Mac Poilin (on NI & Irish) & Fionntan de Brún (on Belfast) --all in English-- recently have analyzed the state of Irish. Their findings complicate English sociologist Reg Hindley's reductive Marxian study done in the later '80s; Hindley was criticized by among others Eamon Ó Ciosain of NUI Maynooth in a 1991 paper. (I understand Hindley may have revised assertions in a paperback reprint of his book, but I have never been able to find this paperback reprint slightly expanded with 30 pp. or so, of "Death of the Irish Language: A Qualified Obituary?" I only have the hardcover.) I highly recommend MacMurchaidh's edited essay collection on "Who Needs Irish?" to anyone on this list. This tackles the types of questions David, Muiris, Cianoidh and LI'ers have been raising.

Supporting Hindley, on the other hand, the prospects for community use in the Gaeltachtaí appear now to be diminishing even in redoubts like Ghleann Cholm Cille or the heart of the Conamara region; I do not know as much for Munster, but surely pressures of tourism and second-home owners swarming in the wake of Fungi into Dingle/ An Daingean cannot be seen as encouraging for the sustenance of Irish. Studies by the Irish government chart this slump; see the book I review by Mac Giolla Chríost for examined data from recent NI and RoI statistics. Wish I could be a Pollyanna, but the numbers of active users in a community setting keep slipping. Again, the steadily increasing EU second-home and holidaymakers influx, as seen in Wales and the Scots Gaelic regions, must also take some of the blame for the state of Irish among "natives" today.

This decline leads, of course, to the supposition that in our century, as Cronin argues and I expand in my paper abstracted below, the survival of Irish in its "native habitat" depends on the actions of we the English-dominant millions rather than the few thousand (however tallied or how many) who claim to use Irish daily in the Gaeltachtaí. Can it survive on "reservations"? What about the cities? Naturally, anyone using Irish today does so by conscious choice to set themselves against the Anglophonic mainstream, and the growth of gaeilscoileannaí and enclaves in urban areas in the North as well as Dublin is intriguing as a counterbalance. I think of my friends and their children in West Belfast, finally able to attend school through the medium or Irish. Although I wonder if it means that Irish will become like Esperanto, an avocation and an aspiration? There is a backlash in some cities to the perceived "snobbishness" of Irish-medium education, and with the growing multilingualism in Ireland on both sides of the border, I wonder too if Irish will be weakened still more.

My own research into sociolinguistics and my interest in how the Irish language is represented through the media of English-language literary culture means that although ironically I am still laboriously learning Gaeilge in the midst of a life and a career (how some folks manage flame wars and heated debates multiple times daily is beyond me, or I suppose my more restrictive workplace where I cannot monitor a computer station all day....!). I have read all I can find admittedly from a distance about this issue. I wanted to share with you a bit of what I have synthesized, not to blow my own horn but to offer a contribution to this thread that avoids "culchaint" and examines what scholars have recently found about recent prospects for Irish.

Ok, I do have a Ph.D.; I try not to sound too stereotypical, however. I have no tenure, no cushy research fund. I buy books when I can and try to pursue my interests while teaching nearly all year-round with little time for study. I say this only to show that I am very challenged by Irish, and I do not find it comes naturally at all. It's tough. Modern Irish, even, is much harder than the medieval literature I studied for my dissertation, and the intricacies of numbering and naming what's numbered in Irish are among the most troublesome sets of information I ever encountered. I am not a linguist, I am not a born acquirer of languages, and I struggle almost daily with the bits of Irish that after two decades still at my child's level confound me. But I like it!

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8308/socioling1.html Panu Hoglund's 2002 paper to the Royal Academy of Sciences, Valencia, Spain. "How is Dear Old Irish & Where Does She Stand" reviews sociolinguistics.

http://www.estudiosirlandeses.org/indexnavy.htm My own article from Estudios Irlandeses 2 (2007): 151-160, "Making the Case for Irish through English: Ecocritical Politics of Language by Learners" also in PDF. I cut and paste here my abstract.

Abstract. This paper examines recent accounts by Americans who have learned Irish. Their narratives from the West of Ireland express what translation theorist Michael Cronin calls 'individualist politics of language'. He claims that the English-speaking majority will determine the survival of 21st century Irish. Cronin shifts Irish into a globalized, 'late modern' network.

Foreign-born learners enter this network when they choose to study Irish. They counter the stereotype of Irish schoolchildren forced into rote recitation of a moribund language. Patricia Monaghan combines goddess-worship with academic research into indigenous spirituality, place-name lore, literature, and the Irish environmental inheritance. Her travelogue and reports by five other American visitors to Gaeltachtaí are compared with John Montague and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne's literary depictions of 20th-century Irish-born school-level learners.

Feminist, post-colonial, and literary criticisms enrich understanding of how American students apply ecological and cultural strategies that seek to recover this indigenous language. Choosing to make the case for Irish, adult students share Cronin's 'individualist politics'. In English-language books, American advocates preserve and expand a linguistic ecology in which Irish may survive.

Key Words. Eco-criticism. Irish language learners. Irish Americans. Feminist spirituality. John Montague. Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. Post-colonial. Dindshenchas or Irish place-name lore.

Note to Learning Irish List readers. I refer to Michael Cronin's recent monograph in Irish & English, "Irish in the New Century/ An Gaeilge san Aois Nua," from Cois Life, Dublin. This is a serious publisher of academic and linguistically centered works in Irish, on Irish. Anyone doubting the health of criticism "as Gaeilge" needs to examine Cois Life's works before digging its grave. http://www.coislife.ie See also the Conamara publisher in music and print Cló Iar-Chonnachta. These offer works for adults, not only learners or kids, also. http://cic.ie

Finally, I have reviewed many books (some of my popular non-academic reviews are on Amazon.com US) in English on Irish; many titles are found in the works cited in this Est. Irl. article and my review article at LinguistList of Diarmuit Mac Giolla Chríost's 2005 Routledge study "The Irish Language in Ireland." http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3392.html#1My blog under this March 2007 also contains reviews of popular English-language works about learning Irish: http://fionnchu.blogspot.comThanks to the list for a lively debate. I hope I can add some substance to the issues raised by LI-ers lately. Slán go fóill agus le dea-mhéin.

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