New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe

The recent resignation of the Irish-language commissioner in Ireland, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, featured strongly in the Irish media just before Christmas.

Irish is the official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is one of the only minority languages in Europe and perhaps in the world to have this level of official status.

However, despite this apparent protection at institutional level, there has been a very laissez-faire attitude to the language.

It is little wonder that the Irish-language commissioner accused the Irish Government of hypocrisy, and said Irish speakers in traditional heartland areas of the Gaeltacht (meaning Irish-speaking) were being neglected.

But the Irish language, like many of Europe’s other minority languages, including Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Galician, Occitan, Sami, Romani, Yiddish etc., is being embraced by new speakers.

New speakers are individuals who were not brought up speaking the language in the home as “native” speakers but who learned it as a second language outside of the home, either at school, through adult classes or some other formal means.

Followers of the blog will remember a post on the concept a few years back inviting people to our symposium New Speakers of Minority Languages: A Dialogue.

This is an exciting moment for Irish and others minority languages which are now being used in modern and new contexts.

I am currently coordinating an EU-funded COST project on the theme, ‘New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe involving researchers from some 17 European countries.

As part of the project, some of my European colleagues and I are interested in finding out more about what it means to become a new speaker of a minority language such as Irish, Gaelic or Welsh.

In particular:

▪   Why do people decide to invest time and effort in learning a minority language?

▪   What are their experiences of speaking these languages?

▪   Who are these people?

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’Rourke@hw.ac.uk

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

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