Friday, November 6, 2015

New Irish speakers!

‘New speakers’ are those who regularly use a language who are not traditional native speakers of that language.

The Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, has launched Research Report on New Irish Speakers, prepared by Dr. John Walsh, University of Ireland, Galway, Professor Bernadette O’Rourke, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and Dr. Hugh Rowland, University of Ireland, Galway, for Foras na Gaeilge, on Friday, 30 October at Oireachtas na Samhna in Citywest, Dublin.

In his launching address, Rónán Ó Domhnaill remarked on the present state of affairs for Irish Speakers both inside and outside the Gaeltacht areas. (Our translation from the original Speaker Notes).

The State is not neutral
Rónán Ó Dómhnaill
"It is always a challenge to the "new speaker" (nuachainteoir) to find a place for speaking Irish in his life" he said. These difficulties and some solutions are discussed in the report. He addressed his own statutory obligations as Coimisinéir Teanga. The Act which set up his office was to increase the use of the language in public life. "Often officials in the state bodies state that there is little demand for services through is difficult to assess this demand realistically if the service is made as available, as effective and as easily as that in English." Indeed he went further, "If there appears not to be a demand for services in Irish there is an obligation on the State, arising from its aims and policy, to take a leadership role and to encourage the demand. The State is not neutral in these matters."

In addressing the lack of services to Gaeltacht areas he averred: "We will have no success as a language community without giving, without question, the respect, the goodwill and the legitimacy to every speaker of Irish regardless of his background, his dialect or his competancy."

"It is extraordinary that after almost one hundred years of political independence that Irish is not the automatic means of communication between the State and the Gaeltacht Community and that the opposite is the norm: that one must revert to English to do business with the State....It makes little sense that the State lays the obligation on the Gaeltacht community for preparing language planning in set language planning areas, while at the same time refusing to fulfill their own responsibilitys."

He welcomed the publication of this report and hoped that proper recognition would be given to it as a support for language planning in the widest sense of that term and that it would be a foundation for further research in that area.

The report itself is a joint venture between the University of Ireland, Galway and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, presenting the results of research on the background, practice and ideologies of ‘new speakers’ of Irish. ‘New speakers’ are those who regularly use a language who are not traditional native speakers of that language. New speakers usually acquire the target language through the education system or through immersion education or, depending on the sociolinguistic context, the acquisition may take place as a result of language revitalisation programmes. The report is based on research conducted in recent years by a network of European researchers titled New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: Opportunities and Challenges under the auspices of COST (European Co-operation in Science and Technology). There are 50 researchers from 27 European countries in this network and the authors of this report are engaged in research on new speakers of Irish.

An Dr John Walsh
"Above all, this research demonstrates that anyone can become a new speaker, regardless of their language background,’ said Dr. John Walsh, Senior Lecturer of Irish in University of Ireland, Galway. ‘One of the interesting results is that of the role of the Irish teacher in an ordinary English-medium school: many new speakers referred to inspirational teachers they had at school who fostered an interest in Irish, which encouraged them to use it as a social language after school. 

"The new speakers believe that the Gaeltacht is important but some of them have social anxiety trying to speak Irish with Gaeltacht natives. People need more support to become new speakers and we have made some policy recommendations which will help people make that transition if implemented. These include proper investment in a wide range of physical spaces in which Irish could be spoken socially and Irish language awareness campaigns in social media."

Prof. Bernadette O'Rourke
"The findings of our research on Irish have many parallels with other languages in Europe including Basque, Catalan, Breton, Galician, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, and this report will provide invaluable insights into the broader opportunities and challenges that new speakers bring to a multilingual Europe. 

"The recommendations we have made in relation to new speakers of Irish will feed into a broader set of recommendations at EU level and help identify a common framework of understanding and policy implications at European level", said Prof. Bernadette O’Rourke of Heriot-Watt in Scotland, one of the report’s authors.

Ferdie Mac an Fhailigh
Ferdie Mac an Fhailigh, Chief Executive, Foras na Gaeilge, welcomed the report and said, "Foras na Gaeilge caters to a broad range of Irish speakers nationwide, north and south, as well as within and outside the Gaeltacht. We recognise that new speakers are of great importance and we welcome this positive research revealing their aspirations and needs. We look forward to discussing the recommendations in the report to determine how best we can provide additional support to new speakers in the future."

#OnaS15 @Ceartateanga @ForasnaGaeilge 

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