Monday 15 October 2007

The Death of the Irish Language II

The CSO have recently published the results of the Irish language portion of the 2006 census. The total number of people who claim they can speak Irish has increased a little though the figure has decreased as a percentage of the population. I want to comment however on the numbers relating to daily use of the language.

In particular I will dwell on the numbers who speak the language daily outside the education system. I think this is a valuable approach because those who use Irish inside the education system are doing it to earn either a living or a diploma which, in my opinion, is a vast misrepresentation of the state of the language. (In fact that's why the Census people decided to make that breakdown to begin with).

The figures show that some 53,471 people in this state speak Irish on a daily basis outside the education system. That's 0.4% of the population. If you can draw a positive picture from this figure, you must have followed a very different stats syllabus than I did. To me, this indicates that the language is hanging not by a thread, but a micro-fibre. It's beyond me how the Irish language body, the government, and enthusiasts of all sorts can pass over this figure without rushing to the belfry to sound the bell.

Looking at the figures for the Gaeltacht is scarcely a cause to raise our glasses either. In the Gaeltacht 17,687 people speak the Irish daily outside the education system. That's less than 20% of all Gaeltacht residents. Surely it's time to question the entire Gaeltacht policy if more than 80% of residents don't really speak the language daily in any meaningful way. The tax payer funds Gaeltacht programs to the tune of hundreds of millions per annum yet no linguistic cost benefit analsysis is ever attempted. Even if we agree that the government should fund the language at all, surely the money could be better spent elsehwere. At the very least the whole Gaeltacht project needs to be reassessed or reformed.

Looked at another way, a full two out of every three people who speak the language daily outside the education system now reside outside the Gaelteacht. Why then does the Gaeltacht deserve special status? A status which has singularly failed to stop the decline of the langauge on the western seaboard.

These figures, however shocking, will draw no debate. One reason is that the government doesn't want to be seen to offend a reasonably powerful Irish langauge lobby. And second, perhaps more important is that the said lobby willfully ignores the parlous state of the language. It is as if the movement is afraid to take that first critical step towards introspection, afraid to peer into its own soul, afraid perhaps to take a look at all, terrified that when it does there will be no soul to inspect.


vince said...

I agree with much of what you write. The numbers just do not stack up, when held against the professional and student speakers. And a re-think on the whole thing is required. Here though is on what I disagree. The Gaeltacht are a must, the roll is more important now than in any time in the past. They provide a core, a heart, a center in the real meaning of the word for the many who need the 'ahh Irish' mental picture.

Tomaltach said...

Vince, I agree that the survival of the Gaeltacht, first, as a spiritual home of the language, but moreover as a reserve of richness, is vital to the survival of the language. Personally, I never would have learned Irish had there not been a Gaeltacht and the beauty and variety of Gaeltacht speech far outstrips that of non-native speakers.

The points I'm trying to make are: most of the area called the Gaeltacht is not an Irish speaking community and therefore doesn't deserve any specific state support. And second, that Irish continues to die in the Gaeltacht and therefore the future of the language anywhere is bleak.

vince said...

There are so many directions when one attempts to explain the language situation, a bit like the Abbey or the health service. There are so many people doing their jobs, where the job is seen by them as the be all and the end all. But to what point, each and every one of them has their own.
The Dept na G' is in theory designed to if not provide armystyle direction then a sheep dog roll. But the language is in reality under all of the Depts of State, this is admirable but displays a criminal level of wishful thinking.
Over the years, I have come near many types of speakers. One behind an acid green door in Galway, another in Bray and another within college at NUI, Galway. Of these the people in UCG, were by far the more forgiving of error. While the others displayed the taunt fluency of a well blown balloon. These people have their position in the system of things, the problem at the moment is that this type seems to run the whole thing. And give the impression that My Language is their exclusive property to preserve as they will.
Over all there does not seem to be a point, a goal if you will, something that can be measured. And when achieved done, to move on to the next thing.
It is time to move the Gaeltacht areas to a formal reserve type position. This would slice through much of the county issues. If this required a change in the Constitution, then so be it. But to my mind this may not be needed as Irish is special within the Document.

RG said...

The situation is not that negative. Irish is in decline in the traditional Gaeltacht areas though is on the increase outside them.

Your are correct about the unwillingness of Government and the big players in the language movement to think outside the box but many other speakers and organisations are continously ploughing ahead.

One example is BAILE - - which is currently researching the possibilites of establishing new Irish-speaking communities along the east coast.

And a quick look at Bebo will illustrate how vibrant our language is among many young people.