An Irish of the future

A few weeks back I uploaded some information on the upcoming round of WorkGroup Meetings as part of the COST EU Action on “New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe“. The meetings which will be held at Heriot-Watt between 6-7 March 2014.

The project involves researchers from some 17 European countries. In the project we are interested in finding out more about what it means to become a ‘new speaker’ of language in the context of a multilingual Europe.

One of the multilingual strands we are exploring is indigenous minority languages and what it means to become a new speaker of languages such as Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, Galician, Catalan etc.

As a new speaker of Irish, I have been intrigued by this growing phenomenon in the case of the Irish language. I am also a new speaker or neofalante of Galician, a language spoken in northern Spain. I have also begun to pick up a smattering of Scottish Gaelic since my move over to Edinburgh.

I’ll leave my observations on Galician and Scottish Gaelic for another blog post and focus on new speakers of Irish for now and a project on which I am now working on jointly with Dr John Walsh at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Becoming a new speaker of a minority language requires commitment and dedication. The new speakers I interviewed during my field trips back to Ireland had clearly invested a lot of time in learning the intricacies of the language.

In the early years after political independence in Ireland, there was a strong link between national identity and the Irish language.

But new speakers of Irish in 21st century Ireland are no longer speaking Irish for patriotism.

Speaking Irish is more about establishing an individualized identity as opposed to a collective national identity (O’Rourke  2011: 339)

In the globalized world in which we now live, becoming a speaker of a minority language such as Irish is about standing out and being different.

As one of the new speakers I spoke to way back Dublin in 2003 told me “I think that I am very proud that I can speak Irish .. .I like that side of it you know like when other people think about you or ‘she has Irish’…. so like I stand out because of Irish and I like that…” (O’Rourke 2005: 294).

So in the Irish context where English has become the language of the majority of the population, the minority language would seem to be used by new speakers to symbolise an authentic individuality, allowing them to ‘stand out’ and as an expression of difference, reflecting a heightened concern about self-realisation and identity (O’Rourke 2005: 295)

While the Irish language was for a time tainted by the association of nationalism with political violence in Northern Ireland, for a lot of young people now, being a new speaker of Irish is more about tolerance and recognition of diversity.

New speakers bring with them new ways of speaking the language – they often mix Irish with English, they make up new words, use the language in creative ways and often speak with an urban accent.

The term ‘Dublin Irish’ was used by some of the new speakers I spoke to refer to their own way of speaking. These new speakers are bringing Irish into new contexts, ranging from hip-hop music to playful use of the language in internet chat rooms.

So instead of drawing on an Irish of the past, they are inventing and re-inventing an Irish of the future.

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’Rourke@hw.ac.uk

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

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