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Bliain na Gaeilge

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Hi,

Full disclaimer: I'm not part of the Irish team, only an immigrant to Ireland, so ignore my gold ring :)

As many of you probably know, 2018 was announced as a special year for Irish, as it marks the 125th year of the revitalisation efforts for the language. This article does a good job in listing the most common grievances against the efforts so far, and tries to answer those concerns; the comment section is as poisonous as in every online newspaper, but it does give an idea of how many more sides there are to the issue.

"The general secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge", quoting from another newspaper, "says it's all about giving people more opportunities to speak Irish". That's often seen as the main obstacle, as the opportunity to use Irish in real life is extremely limited in most of Ireland: recently it made the news when Bank of Ireland ordered new ATMs without support for Irish, as it was seen as a useless and expensive feature to maintain on their software, and as a private company they're not bound by law to provide their services as Gaeilge.

I know that the teaching of Irish and its problems has often been discussed in this forum, but I'm interested in hearing how people feel about this latest effort: will it really help? Or will it just make the Irish speakers seem even more of a somewhat exotic close minority?

December 31, 2017

3 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Count_Nosliw
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'Bliain na Gaeilge 2018' is a publicity stunt that will change nothing (much like 'Bliain na Gaeilge 2013'; remember that?).

The primary reason for the collapse of Irish is linked, not to the lack of incitement for learners to progress towards fluency - which is a separate issue -, but to the active impediments placed upon native speakers, whereby their acquisition of the language is stymied by the Education system - can you imagine native speakers of English acquiring full fluency if they were following a course designed exclusively for (weak) second-language learners? -, and their right to fully live through the language is actively opposed in, and by, the State in which they live.

The problem isn't just in the classroom, nor is it confined to the effect that poorly qualified teachers have on second-language learners of Irish. The problem is in the State as a whole, in its refusal to facilitate those native speakers of Irish wishing to engage with the State in Irish, and in the lack of incentive for companies to provide Irish-language services, or even signage. These problems are compounded by a long-standing refusal in Ireland to change systems that have proved themselves to be inadequate. (That last problem is obviously one whose negative effects are not confined to Irish - one need only look at housing and lack of sensible rural development.)

There is no hope whatsoever that any of this will change in the life of the current government, nor any signs that future governments would be keen to try a different tack: The government's primary commitment appears to be the espousal of Irish as a hobby language that 'belongs to us all' and costs no more than whatever must be spent acquiring votes for the next election. The only truly positive move of the past few decades - namely, the push for a new syllabus for native speakers - appears to have stalled, and there is no sense of any drive to take the necessary steps to support Irish as primary language and fully-realised means of communication that belongs everywhere that English belongs - that is, on packaging, in the Civil Service, in the Cinema, on ATMs.

The (re-)appointment of Joe McHugh is, of course, a clear sign of the government's preference for hobbyists over those who might wish to use the language in more consistent, and therefore demanding, ways: When first appointed as 'Aire na Gaeltachta', he was a learner, thereby obliging the people he was supposed to represent to communicate with him in English. Even now, his Irish remains woefully inadequate; English-speaking Irish people would be horrified if someone with such a weak grasp of English was constantly being called upon to speak in public and on their behalf. More generally, the position of 'Aire na Gaeltachta' has revealed itself to be fatally compromised in other ways: Despite being theoretically responsible for the Gaeltachtaí as a whole, the position is now little more than a means of subsidising votes. The grant money that McHugh has awarded, for instance, has been grossly overweighted towards his home Dáilcheantar - i.e. to those who will vote for him in future elections -, while his predecessor Seán Kyne gave the vast majority of the money he awarded to his home region of Galway. In essence, what should be the strongest voice for the Gaeltachtaí in the Dáil serves primarily as a vote-buying scheme for whatever person is appointed, and there is no sense of any party wanting to change this through, for example, committing to appoint as minister someone who speaks the language but who has nothing to gain, electorally, from supporting any one of the Gaeltachtaí over the others.

The situation is largely hopeless, and many native speakers have already given up. 'Bliain na Gaeilge 2018' will do nothing to change that, but it will provide some photo-ops and a bit more money for Conradh na Gaeilge while we wait for 'Bliain na Gaeilge 2023'.

For another view of 'Bliain na Gaeilge 2018' as seen through the eyes of a native speaker, see the following discussion: 'Cén mhaith 'Bliain na Gaeilge 2018' don Ghaeltacht?'[https://tuairisc.ie/cen-mhaith-bliain-na-gaeilge-2018-don-ghaeltacht-biodh-bliain-na-heigeandala-againn/]

For a good overview of the Leo Varadkar spin-heavy, substance-negative approach to Irish, see the following: 'Leo Varadkar ina Pop [sic] Up Taoiseach' [https://tuairisc.ie/leo-varadkar-ina-pop-up-taoiseach-agus-gan-aon-ghaeilge-ag-aire-na-gaeltachta/]

For details of the grossly distorted manner in which funding has been attributed to Gaeltachtaí by Kyne and McHugh, see the follows: '91% de dheontais chaipitil Gaeltachta ag dul go dtí Dun na nGall agus Gaillimh'[https://tuairisc.ie/eisiach-91-de-dheontais-chaipitil-gaeltachta-ag-dul-go-dti-dun-na-ngall-agus-gaillimh/]

January 1, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/f.formica
Mod
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Thanks for the insightful reply. As an outsider I had much of the same impression, because a festival is what you do to increase awareness of a minority rather than bring it out of its isolation: kind of like nobody becomes gay by attending a gay pride, although it's a daring comparison. That the issue has been mired in political opportunism is a given, and the fact that the language has been associated with poor rural areas and armed groups certainly didn't help the cause. The fact that private companies favour English is equally inescapable, because there is no benefit to target a small part of the population when the totality of it can be reached in another language; the Irish language media and services cannot possibly compete with the amount and quality of the English language ones.

January 1, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Knocksedan

A prime example of an béal bocht. You've got to love the argument that it's the education system that is responsible for preventing native speakers from learning the language of the home properly. Yet nobody in the Gaeltachts seems to have the gumption to do anything about it, besides complaining about what isn't being done for them.

Even the complaint about the deontas is almost a caricature - a system that was designed to milk the system is being milked! It's hardly a problem that's unique to Aire na Gaeltachta anyway (Stepaside Garda Station, health clinics in Balbriggan, Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre, to name some of the more prominent examples in the last few governments).

The fact of the matter is that the government can't force private companies or individuals to provide services in Irish, and the only "incentive" that will work is to get more customers who are willing and able to use Irish, and who will actively reward companies who provide Irish language services. Those services will be in what might be called the lárchanúint, which will be yet another cause of complaint for some people. The government can't stop young people in the Gaeltacht from speaking English, and listening to the same music and watching the same TV and youtube videos that their English speaking peers enjoy. The government can't force native speakers to become teachers and then assign them to schools in the Gaeltachts that they grew up in, the government can't "create" jobs in the Gaeltacht any more than it can anywhere else, and even if it could, at what point does a company based in the Gaeltacht limit it's own expansion y refusing to hire otherwise qualified candidates with less than satisfactory Irish - TG4 can probably find all the communications graduations that it needs, but if you want to set up a software company, or a civil engineering company, or if you're a lawyer or an architect, you probably can't rely on the Gaeltacht alone to support your business, and once you expand outside that core market, at what point do you hire salespeople or support reps who aren't from the Gaeltacht?. Tourism and hospitality is a two-edged sword - it can deliver jobs in the heart of the community, but it completely dilutes what makes the Gaeltacht the Gaeltacht - try to order your lunch in Irish in a pub or restaurant in the Gaeltacht during the summer, if the town is on the Wild Atlantic Way.

But the phrase "the strongest voice for the Gaeltachtaí in the Dáil" really sums up the problem. Notice that it's not "the strongest voice for the Irish Langauge in the Dáil". It's a geographical job, and that's exactly what the people that live in the Gaeltacht want it to be (at least when an tAire represents their constituency).

As for the lack of government services in Irish, you have the classic chicken and egg situation. You either assign all native speakers that join the Civil Service to deal with the 2% of the population who want to interact with the Government through Irish, and then deal with the complaint that the person you are dealing with doesn't know enough about the particular Tax problem that you need help with (and they speak the wrong sort of Irish anyway), or you try to encourage the working civil servants who are experts in their particular branch of government to learn Irish, and use it on a regular basis. That used to be much more common in the Civil Service, but enough Irish speakers decided that they spoke better English than the Civil Servants spoke Irish that it just wasn't sustainable. (It probably worked reasonably well when much of the interaction with the Civil Service was by post, and began to break down as the phone call replaced the letter).

The Gaeltachts are broken, probably beyond repair in a 21st century where modern communications, transport and lifestyles all serve to make the isolation of the Gaeltachts (the only feature of the Gaeltachts that actually kept the Gaeltachts monolingual for so long) a moot point. The real question is how can the Irish language survive and thrive in the 21st century, where Irish speaking monolingualism is no longer considered an option, even if every single government and commercial service you might need was accessible through Irish. Isolated Gaeltachts simply aren't an option any more, and the future of Irish can't depend on such isolation (for example, there is almost zero value in holding a Coláiste Samhraidh in the Gaeltacht - most of the students have practically no interaction with the locals, even if they are staying with 10 other students in a local home). Without isolation as a factor, there is no reason to ignore the development of Irish in non-traditional settings, such as towns and cities outside the Gaeltacht, no matter how much the Irish Language Industry will howl at the damage to their sacred cows.

January 3, 2018
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