Friday, February 18, 2011

Ejection of Irish - letter

A Eagarthóir, a chara,
Enda Kenny proposes to eject Irish from the core curriculum at Leaving Certificate level. When asked to explain how the survival prospects of an imperilled language could be improved by lowering its social status, he replied that his policy for Irish in the schools is based on a personal 'hunch.' 
Fine Gael prides itself on basing all its other policies on information and research, but there is no evidence, theoretical or empirical, that a threatened language can be saved from extinction by lowering its social status compared to that of its rival. It just does not happen.

The authorities on the subject tell us that the speakers of high status languages rarely learn lower status languages. Some, of course, do so. They may be motivated by interest or love of the language and of its associated culture, or by national or local sentiment. Such people are at the heart of language maintenance, but in any society they will always be a minority. Majorities of speakers of high status languages learn second languages only where they perceive that language to be essential in their lives.

If the Irish people wish to maintain and restore the language that is unique to Ireland, the living link between past, present and future generations, they must provide the kinds of social supports that were lost through conquest. Those supports include the constitutional and legal standing of the language, the social standing and number of those who habitually use the language, the degree to which the language is perceived to be essential in education and in all other domains of social life, the extent of its use in government and public administration, its visibility and presence in public communication, the prestige of its literature and associated culture and the measure of the social functions that can be performed through the language.

Since 1893, when the language was on the point of extinction, it has been the objective of the national movement, in its widest sense, to ensure survival and restoration of Irish, and on several of the above-mentioned counts Irish is now doing well. But in 1973-75, a part of the national movement, Fine Gael, told us that it would vastly improve the prospects for the survival of Irish if its status was lowered in the state apparatus. We opposed their idea. In the absence of the strongest possible balancing status-supports and interventions, we pointed out that in any society the subordinated language would, in a short time, be driven out and replaced by the dominant language. As they are telling us today, Fine Gael told us then that our critique was 'nonsense'. They went ahead and withdrew the status-supports of Irish in the state apparatus. What was the result?

The Department of Education once operated almost entirely through Irish. Recent research has shown that of the adult population, born in Ireland and of all levels of education, over 9 percent are Fluent or Very Fluent in Irish. Yet, as a result of Fine Gael's removal of the status of Irish in 1973 and its replacement by some voluntary incentives, in the Department of Education, which is the state's primary and most influential cultural agency, and which one must assume has a highly educated workforce, the proportion of staff who can provide a service through Irish is down now to 1.5 percent! That is hardly an advertisement for lowering the status of Irish in the education system.

Is sinne,

Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa, uachtarán Chonradh na Gaeilge

Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh, iar-uachtarán

Séagh Mac Siúrdáin, iar-uachtarán

Tomás Mac Ruairí, iar-uachtarán

Gearóid Ó Cairealláin, iar-uachtarán

Áine De Baróid, iar-uachtarán

Íte Ní Chionnaith, iar-uachtarán

Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, iar-uachtarán

Maolsheachlainn Ó Caollaí, iar-uachtarán

Cathal Ó Feinneadha, iar-uachtarán

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