1887
Volume 45, Issue 2
  • ISSN 0272-2690
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9889
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Abstract

Abstract

Language policy in the Republic of Ireland has an unusual starting point: the geographical base of the Irish language is very weak and territorially dispersed, yet the constitutional status of the language is extremely strong. The article explores this paradox. It sets Irish language policy in two contexts: that of successful nationalist movements mainly in Central and Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century, and that of the struggling Celtic languages of Western Europe. It explores the evolution of the language and its weakening demographic status since the nineteenth century, noting that while its demographic weakness mirrors that of the other Celtic languages, its constitutional entrenchment resembles that of the national languages of Central and East European states. It attempts to explain this by suggesting that the language has played a marginal role in nationalist mobilisation; the language served as a symbol of a specific cultural heritage rather than as the vital lingua franca of the community. The central role of the language in nationalist ideology, however, failed to address the reality of continuing decline in the Irish-speaking districts, notwithstanding the emergence of a sizeable population of ‘new speakers’ of the language outside these districts.

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