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Irish language

Irish (Gaeilge) is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish. Irish is now spoken natively by a small minority of the Irish population – mostly in the Gaeltacht – but also plays an important symbolic role in the life of the Irish state. It enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland and it is an official language of the European Union. Irish is also an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.

Estimates of fully native speakers range from 20,000 to 70,000 people. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs estimated in 2007 that 17,000 people lived in areas where Irish was the community language, and a further 10,000 in areas where it is partly the community language. But since Irish is an obligatory subject in schools, many more are reasonably fluent second-language speakers. Furthermore, a much larger number regularly regard themselves as competent to some degree in the language: 1,656,790 (41.9% of the total population aged three years and over) regard themselves as competent Irish speakers. Of these, 538,283 (32.5%) speak Irish on a daily basis (taking into account both native speakers, as well as those inside the educational system), 97,089 (5.9%) weekly, 581,574 (35.1%) less often, 412,846 (24.9%) never, and 26,998 (1.6%) did not state how often.

14% of the population of the Republic of Ireland listen to Irish radio programming daily, 16% listen 2-5 times a week, while 24% listen to Irish programming once a week.

The number of inhabitants of the official-designated Gaeltacht regions of Ireland is 91,862, as of the 2006 census. Of these, 70.8% aged three and over speak Irish and approximately 60% speak Irish on a daily basis.

The 2001 census in Northern Ireland showed that 167,487 (10.4%) people "had some knowledge of Irish" (see Irish language in Northern Ireland). Combined, this means that around one in three people (~1.8 million) on the island of Ireland can understand Irish to some extent.

On 13 June 2005, EU foreign ministers unanimously decided to make Irish an official language of the European Union. The new arrangements came into effect on 1 January 2007, and Irish was first used at a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, by Minister Noel Treacy, T.D., on 22 January 2007.

Names of the language

In English

The language is usually referred to in English as Irish, sometimes as Gaelic or Irish Gaelic. The term Irish Gaelic is often used when English speakers discuss the relationship among the three Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx). Scottish Gaelic is often referred to in English as simply Gaelic. The archaic term Erse (from Erische), originally a Scots form of the word Irish applied in English-speaking Scotland (by Lowlanders) to all of the Goidelic languages, is no longer used for any Goidelic language, and in most current contexts is considered derogatory.

In Irish

In the Caighdeán Oifigiúil (the official written standard) the name of the language is Gaeilge which reflects the southern Connacht pronunciation.

Before the spelling reform of 1948, this form was spelled Gaedhilge; originally this was the genitive of Gaedhealg, the form used in classical Modern Irish. Older spellings of this include Gaoidhealg in Middle Irish and Goídelc in Old Irish. The modern spelling results from the deletion of the silent dh in the middle of Gaedhilge.

Other forms of the name found in the various modern Irish dialects, in addition to south Connacht Gaeilge mentioned above, include Gaedhilic/Gaeilic/Gaeilig ([ˈɡeːlʲɪc]) or Gaedhlag ([ˈɡeːl̪ˠəɡ]) in Ulster Irish and northern Connacht Irish and Gaedhealaing/Gaoluinn/Gaelainn ([ˈɡeːl̪ˠɪɲ]) in Munster Irish.

Official status

In the Republic of Ireland

Irish is given recognition by the Constitution of Ireland as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland (with English being a second official language). Since the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 (see also History of the Republic of Ireland), the Irish Government required a degree of proficiency in Irish for all those who became newly appointed to civil service positions (including postal workers, tax officials, agricultural inspectors, etc.). Proficiency in just one official language for entrance to the public service was introduced in 1974, in part through the actions of protest organizations like the Language Freedom Movement.

While the First Official Language requirement was also dropped for wider public service jobs, Irish remains a required subject of study in all schools within the Republic which receive public money (see also Education in the Republic of Ireland). Those wishing to teach in primary schools in the State must also pass a compulsory examination called "Scrúdú Cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge". The need for a pass in Leaving Certificate Irish or English for entry to the Gardaí (police) was introduced in September 2005, although applicants are given lessons in the language during the two years of training. All official documents of the Irish Government must be published in both Irish and English or Irish alone (this is according to the official languages act 2003, which is enforced by "an comisinéir teanga", the language ombudsman).

The National University of Ireland requires all students wishing to embark on a degree course in the NUI federal system, must pass the subject Irish in the Leaving Certificate or GCE/GCSE Examinations. Exemption are made from this requirement for students born outside of the Republic and students diagnosed with having dyslexia.

In 1938, the founder of Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League), Douglas Hyde, was inaugurated as the first President of Ireland. The record of his delivering his auguration Declaration of Office in his native Roscommon Irish remains almost the only surviving remnant of anyone speaking in that dialect.

The National University of Ireland, Galway is required to appoint people who are competent in the Irish language, as long as they meet all other respects of the vacancy they are appointed to. This requirement is laid down by the University College Galway Act, 1929 (Section 3). It is expected that the requirement may be repealed in due course.

Even though modern parliamentary legislation is supposed to be issued in both Irish and English, in practice it is frequently only available in English. This is notwithstanding that Article 25.4 of the Constitution of Ireland requires that an "official translation" be provided of any law in one official language be translated immediately into the other official language—if not already passed in both official languages.

In Northern Ireland



Prior to the establishment of the Northern Ireland state in 1921, Irish was recognised as a school subject and as "Celtic" in some third level institutions. This policy continued in spite of attempts in the 1930s to restrict it further in the curriculum . Between 1921 and 1972, Northern Ireland had a measure of devolved government. During those years the political party holding power in the Stormont Parliament, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), was hostile to the language. In broadcasting, there was an exclusion on the reporting of minority cultural issues, and Irish was excluded from radio and television for almost the first fifty years of the Northern Ireland state. The language received a degree of formal recognition in Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and then, in 2001, by the Government's ratification in respect of the language of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The British government promised to create legislation encouraging the language as part of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

In the European Union

While an official language of the European Union, only co-decision regulations must be produced in Irish for the moment, due to a renewable five-year derogation on what has to be translated, requested by the Irish Government when negotiating the language's new official status. Any expansion in the range of documents to be translated will depend on the results of the first five-year review and on whether the Irish authorities decide to seek an extension. The Irish government has committed itself to train the necessary number of translators and interpreters and to bear the related costs.

Before Irish became an official language on 1 January 2007, it was afforded the status of treaty language and only the highest-level documents of the EU had been translated into Irish.

Gaeltacht

There are parts of Ireland where Irish is spoken as a traditional, native language. These regions are known collectively as the Gaeltachtaí. These are in County Galway (Contae na Gaillimhe), including Connemara (Conamara), the Aran Islands (na hOileáin Árann), Carraroe (An Cheathrú Rua) and Spiddal (An Spidéal); on the west coast of County Donegal (Contae Dhún na nGall); in the part which is known as Tyrconnell (Tír Chonaill); and Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) in County Kerry (Contae Chiarraí). Smaller ones also exist in Mayo (Contae Mhaigh Eo), Meath (Contae na Mí), Waterford (Contae Phort Láirge), and Cork (Contae Chorcaí).

To summarise the extent of the survival: (See Hindley, 'The Death of the Irish Language') Irish remains as a natural vernacular in the following areas: south Connemara, from a point west of Spiddal, covering Inverin, Carraroe, Rosmuck, and the islands; the Aran Islands, with the exception of the town of Kilronan on Inishmore; northwest Donegal in the area around Gweedore, including Rannafast, Gortahork, the surrounding townlands and Tory Island; in the townland of Rathcarn, Co. Meath.

Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair),County Donegal is the largest Gaeltacht parish in Ireland.

The numerically and socially strongest Gaeltacht areas are those of South Connemara, the west of the Dingle Peninsula and northwest Donegal, in which the majority of residents use Irish as their primary language. These areas are often referred to as the Fíor-Ghaeltacht ("true Gaeltacht") and collectively have a population just under 20,000.

Irish summer colleges are attended by tens of thousands of Irish teenagers annually. Students live with Gaeltacht families, attend classes, participate in sports, go to céilithe and are obliged to speak Irish. All aspects of Irish culture and tradition are encouraged.

According to data compiled by the Irish Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, only one quarter of households in officially Gaeltacht areas possess a fluency in Irish. The author of a detailed analysis of the survey, Donncha Ó hÉallaithe, described the Irish language policy followed by Irish governments a "complete and absolute disaster". The Irish Times (6 January 2002), referring to his analysis, which was initially published in the Irish language newspaper Foinse, quoted him as follows: "It is an absolute indictment of successive Irish Governments that at the foundation of the Irish State there were 250,000 fluent Irish speakers living in Irish-speaking or semi Irish-speaking areas, but the number now is between 20,000 and 30,000."

Dialects

There are a number of distinct dialects of Irish. Roughly speaking, the three major dialect areas coincide with the provinces of Munster (Cúige Mumhan), Connacht (Cúige Chonnacht) and Ulster (Cúige Uladh). Newfoundland, in eastern Canada, is also seen to have a minor dialect of Irish, closely resembling the Irish spoken during the 16th to 17th centuries (see Newfoundland Irish).

Munster dialects

Munster Irish is mainly spoken in the Gaeltacht areas of Kerry (Contae Chiarraí), Ring (An Rinn) near Dungarvan (Dún Garbháin) in County Waterford (Contae Phort Láirge) and Muskerry (Múscraí) and Cape Clear Island (Oileán Chléire) in the western part of County Cork (Contae Chorcaí). The most important subdivision in Munster is that between Decies Irish (Na Déise) (spoken in Waterford) and the rest of Munster Irish.

Some typical features of Munster Irish are:

  1. The use of personal endings instead of pronouns with verbs (know as an fhoirm tháite), thus "I must" is in Munster caithfead, while other dialects prefer caithfidh mé ( means "I"). "I was and you were" is Bhíos agus bhís in Munster but Bhí mé agus bhí tú in other dialects.
  2. Use of absolute/dependent forms of verbs that are not included in the Standard. For example, "I see" in Munster is chím (this is the absolute form), whereas "I do not see" is ní fheicim (this is the dependent form, after particles such as ). Chím is replaced by feicim in the Standard. Similarly, the traditional form preserved in Munster bheirim I give/ní thugaim has become tugaim/ní thugaim in the Standard; gheibhim I get/ní bhfaighim has become faighim/ní bhfaighim; and deirim I say/ní abraim has become deirim/ní deirim.
  3. In front of nasals and ll some short vowels are lengthened while others are diphthongised.
  4. A copular construction involving is ea is frequently used. Thus is Éireannach mé is more likely to be Éireannach is ea mé in Munster.
  5. The dative singular remains in use{{Fact|date=July 2008}, and the dative plural is sometimes used. The dative singular varies from the nominative in the case of many feminine nouns: ag an bhfuinneoig "at the window", don mhnaoi "to the woman", lem charaid "with my friend", where the nominatives would be fuinneog, bean and cara respectively.
  6. Both masculine and feminine words are subject to lenition in the dative: sa tsiopa, "in the shop", compared to the Standard sa siopa (the Standard lenites only feminine nouns in the dative).
  7. Eclipsis of f after sa: sa bhfeirm, "in the farm", instead of san fheirm.
  8. Stress is often on the second syllable of a word, e.g. bio-RÁN ("pin"), as opposed to BIO-rán in Connacht and Ulster.
  9. The vigesimal counting system is still often used, eg deich is cheithre fichid "ninety".

Connacht dialects

The strongest dialect of Connacht Irish is to be found in Connemara and the Aran Islands. In some regards this dialect is quite different from general Connacht Irish but since most Connacht dialects have died out during the 20th century Connemara Irish is sometimes seen as Connacht Irish. Much closer to the larger Connacht Gaeltacht is the dialect spoken in the smaller region on the border between Galway (Gaillimh) and Mayo (Maigh Eo). The northern Mayo dialect of Erris (Iorras) and Achill (Acaill) is in grammar and morphology essentially a Connacht dialect; but shows an affinity in vocabulary with Ulster Irish, due to large-scale immigration of dispossessed people following the Plantation of Ulster.

There are features in Connemara Irish outside the official standard—notably the preference for verbal nouns ending in -achan, e.g. lagachan instead of lagú, "weakening". The non-standard pronunciation with lengthened vowels and heavily reduced endings give Connemara Irish its distinct sound. Distinguishing features of this dialect include the pronunciation of broad bh as [w], rather than as [vˠ] in Munster. For example mo bhád ("my boat") is pronounced in Connacht and Ulster as opposed to in the south. In addition Connacht and Ulster speakers tend to include the "we" pronoun rather than use the standard compound form used in Munster e.g. bhí muid is used for "we were" instead of bhíomar elsewhere.

Ulster dialects

Linguistically the most important of the Ulster dialects today is that of the Rosses (na Rossa), which has been used extensively in literature by such authors as the brothers Séamus Ó Grianna and Seosamh Mac Grianna, locally known as Jimí Fheilimí and Joe Fheilimí. This dialect is essentially the same as that in Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair = Inlet of Streaming Water), and used by native singers Enya (Eithne) and Máire Brennan and their siblings in Clannad (Clann as Dobhar = Family from the Dobhar[a section of Gweedore]) Na Casaidigh, and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh from another local band Altan.

Ulster Irish sounds very different and shares several unusual features with Scottish Gaelic, as well as having lots of characteristic words and shades of meanings. However, since the demise of those Irish dialects spoken natively in what is today Northern Ireland, it is probably an exaggeration to see Ulster Irish as an intermediary form between Scottish Gaelic and the southern and western dialects of Irish. For instance, Scottish Gaelic has many non-Ulster features in common with Munster Irish.

One noticeable trait of Ulster Irish is the use of the negative particle cha(n) in place of the Munster and Connacht version . Even in Ulster, cha(n)—most typical of Scottish Gaelic—has largely ousted the more common (except in níl "is not") in northernmost dialects (e.g. Rosguill and Tory Island).

An Caighdeán Oifigiúil

An Caighdeán Oifigiúil ("The Official Standard"), often shortened to An Caighdeán, is the standard language, and was introduced in the 1950s/1960s in an attempt to make Irish easier to learn, as it was composed using elements of the Munster and Ulster dialects, but strongly based on the dialect of Connacht. It is the form of Irish that is taught in most schools in Ireland. The Connacht dialect was, immediately prior to the Official Standard, regarded as ungrammatical, or grammatically innovative, in many points; yet, those points have been adopted into the Official Standard. Examples could be adduced: the verb "to see" traditionally had an absolute/dependent contrast, still preserved in Munster and Ulster Irish. I see should therefore be do-chím or at-chím (the prefix is often dropped: chím), with the negative being ní fheicim, the interrogative being an bhfeicim? and the negative interrogative being ná feicim? But the Connacht dialectal use of feicim for the absolute form has been adopted into the Standard.

The dialects of Irish native to Leinster, the fourth province of Ireland, became extinct during the 20th century, but records of some of these were made by the Irish Folklore Commission among other bodies prior to this.

The present-day Irish of Meath (in Leinster) is a special case. It belongs mainly to the Connemara dialect. The Irish-speaking community in Meath is mostly a group of Connemara speakers who moved there in the 1930s after a land reform campaign spearheaded by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (who subsequently became one of the greatest modernist writers in the language).

What has been called "Dublin Irish" and "Gaelscoil Irish" is also spoken in the capital and amongst the students of Irish-speaking schools throughout the country. This is, arguably, simply the national standard of Irish, or An Caighdeán Oifigiúil but with strong influence from English in the form of idioms and expressions.

Comparisons

The differences between dialects are considerable, and have led to recurrent difficulties in defining standard Irish. A good example is the greeting "How are you?". Just as this greeting varies from region to region, and between social classes, among English speakers, this greeting varies among Irish speakers:

  • Ulster: Cad é mar atá tú? ("What is it as you are?" Note: caidé or goidé and sometimes are alternative renderings of cad é)
  • Connacht: Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? ("What way [is it] that you are?")
  • Munster: Conas taoi? or Conas tánn tú? ("How are you?")
  • "Standard" Irish: Conas atá tú? ("How are you?")

In recent decades contacts between speakers of different dialects have become frequent and mixed dialects have originated. With the growth in the Irish language media—and in particular the television channel TG4—it has become much easier for speakers of different dialects to understand one another, although this is mostly seen in the younger generations.

Linguistic structure

The features most unfamiliar to English speakers of the language are the orthography, the initial consonant mutations, the Verb Subject Object word order, the use of two different forms for "to be", and noun genders. However, initial mutations are found in other Celtic languages as well as in some Italian and Sardinian dialects, as an independent development. They are also found in some West African languages.

Syntax

Word order in Irish is of the form VSO (Verb-Subject-Object) so that, for example, "He hit me" is Bhuail [hit-past tense] [he] [me].

One aspect of Irish syntax that is unfamiliar to speakers of other languages is the use of the copula (known in Irish as an chopail). The copula is used to describe what or who someone is, as opposed to how and where. It is used to say that a noun is another noun, rather than an adjective. This has been likened to the difference between the verbs ser and estar in Spanish and Portuguese (see Romance copula), although this is only a rough approximation.

Morphology

Another feature of Irish grammar that is shared with other Celtic languages is the use of prepositional pronouns (forainmneacha réamhfhoclacha), which are essentially conjugated prepositions. For example, the word for "at" is ag, which in the first person singular becomes agam "at me". When used with the verb ("to be") ag indicates possession; this is the equivalent of the English verb "to have".

Tá leabhar agam. "I have a book." (Literally, "there is a book at me.")
Tá leabhar agat. "You have a book."
Tá leabhar aige. "He has a book."
Tá leabhar aici. "She has a book."
Tá leabhar againn. "We have a book."
Tá leabhar agaibh. "You (plural) have a book."
Tá leabhar acu. "They have a book."

Orthography and pronunciation

The written language looks rather daunting to those unfamiliar with it. Once understood, the orthography is relatively straightforward. The acute accent, or síneadh fada (´), serves to lengthen the sound of the vowels and in some cases also changes their quality. For example, in Munster Irish (Kerry), a is /a/ or /ɑ/ and á is /ɑː/ in "law" but in Ulster Irish (Donegal), á tends to be /æː/.

Around the time of World War II, Séamas Daltún, in charge of Rannóg an Aistriúcháin (the official translations department of the Irish government), issued his own guidelines about how to standardise Irish spelling and grammar. This de facto standard was subsequently approved of by the State and called the Official Standard or Caighdeán Oifigiúil.

It simplified and standardised the orthography. Many words had silent letters removed and vowel combination brought closer to the spoken language. Where multiple versions existed in different dialects for the same word, one or more were selected.

Examples:

  • Gaedhealg / Gaedhilg(e) / Gaedhealaing / Gaeilic / Gaelainn / Gaoidhealg / GaolainnGaeilge, "Irish language" (Gaoluinn or Gaolainn is still used in books written in dialect by Munster authors, or as a facetious name for the Munster dialect)
  • Lughbhaidh, "Louth"
  • biadhbia, "food"

The new spelling often ignores aspects of Ulster and Munster pronunciation that were better served by the older spelling. In standard Irish, bia, "food", has the genitive bia. But in Munster Irish, the genitive is pronounced /bʲiːɟ/. For this reason, the spelling biadh is still used by the speakers of some dialects, in particular those that show a meaningful and audible difference between biadh (nominative case) and bídh (genitive case) "of food, food's". In Munster, the latter spelling regularly produces the pronunciation /bʲiːɟ/ because final -idh, -igh regularly delenites to -ig in Munster pronunciation. Another example would be the word crua, meaning "hard". This pronounced /kruəɟ/ in Munster, in line with the pre-Caighdeán spelling, cruaidh. In Munster, ao is pronounced /eː/ and aoi pronounced /iː/, but the new spellings of saoghal, "life, world", genitive: saoghail, have become saol, genitive saoil. This produces irregularities in the matchup between the spelling and pronunciation in Munster, because the word is pronounced /sˠe:l̪ˠ/, genitive /sˠe:lʲ/. This pronunciation can only be derived from the pre-Caighdeán spelling. Tinn, "sick", was written teinn in the old spelling, and is still pronounced so in Munster--the Cork pronunciation is /tʲəiɲ/. Numerous other examples could be cited.

Modern Irish has only one diacritic sign, the acute (á é í ó ú), known in Irish as the síneadh fada "long mark", plural sínte fada. In English, this is frequently referred to as simply the fada, where the adjective is used as a noun. The dot-above diacritic, called a ponc séimhithe or sí buailte (often shortened to buailte), derives from the punctum delens used in medieval manuscripts to indicate deletion, similar to crossing out unwanted words in handwriting today. From this usage it was used to indicate the lenition of s (from /s/ to /h/) and f (from /f/ to zero) in Old Irish texts.

Lenition of c, p, and t was indicated by placing the letter h after the affected consonant; lenition of other sounds was left unmarked. Later both methods were extended to be indicators of lenition of any sound except l and n, and two competing systems were used: lenition could be marked by a buailte or by a postposed h. Eventually, use of the buailte predominated when texts were writing using Gaelic letters, while the h predominated when writing using Roman letters.

Today the Gaelic script and the buailte are rarely used except where a "traditional" style is required, e.g. the motto on the University College Dublin coat of arms or the symbol of the Irish Defence Forces, The Irish Defence Forces cap badge (Óglaiġ na h-Éireann). Letters with the buailte are available in Unicode and Latin-8 character sets (see Latin Extended Additional chart).

Mutations

In Irish, there are two classes of initial consonant mutations:

  • Lenition (in Irish, séimhiú "softening") describes the change of stops into fricatives. Indicated in old orthography by a buailte written above the changed consonant, this is now shown in writing by adding an -h:
    • caith! "throw!" — chaith mé "I threw" (this is an example of the lenition as a past-tense marker, which is caused by the use of do, although it is now usually omitted)
    • margadh "market", "market-place", "bargain" — Tadhg an mhargaidh "the man of the street" (word for word "Timothy of the market-place"; here we see the lenition marking the genitive case of a masculine noun)
    • Seán "Seán, John" — a Sheáin! "O John!" (here we see lenition as part of what is called the vocative case — in fact, the vocative lenition is triggered by the a or vocative marker before Sheáin)
  • Eclipsis (in Irish, urú) covers the voicing of voiceless stops, as well as the nasalisation of voiced stops.
    • athair "father" — ár nAthair "our Father"
    • tús "start", ar dtús "at the start"
    • Gaillimh "Galway" — i nGaillimh "in Galway"

History

Written Irish is first attested in Ogham inscriptions from the fourth century AD; this stage of the language is known as Primitive Irish. Old Irish, dating from the sixth century, used the Latin alphabet and is attested primarily in marginalia to Latin manuscripts. Middle Irish, dating from the tenth century, is the language of a large corpus of literature, including the famous Ulster Cycle. Early Modern Irish, dating from the thirteenth century, was the literary language of both Ireland and Gaelic-speaking Scotland, and is attested by such writers as Geoffrey Keating.

From the eighteenth century the language went into a decline, rapidly losing ground to English due in part to restrictions dictated by British occupation - a conspicuous example of the process known by linguists as language shift. In the mid-nineteenth century it lost a large portion of its speakers to death and emigration resulting from poverty, particularly in the wake of the Great Famine (1845–1849).

At the end of the nineteenth century, members of the Gaelic Revival movement made efforts to encourage the learning and use of Irish in Ireland.

Current status

Republic of Ireland

The number of native Irish-speakers in the Republic of Ireland today is a smaller fraction of the population than it was at independence. The main reason for the decline was, according to some, the pressure the state put upon Irish-speakers to use English. Also, many Irish speaking families encouraged their children to speak English as it was the language of education and employment; the Irish-speaking areas today were always relatively poor and remote, and this remoteness caused the survival of the language as a vernacular. The Official Languages Act of 2003 gave people the right to interact with state bodies in Irish. It is too early to assess how well this is working in practice. Other factors were outward migration of Irish speakers from the Gaeltacht (see related issues at Irish diaspora) and inward migration of English-speakers. The Planning and Development Act (2000) attempted to address the latter issue, with varied levels of success. Planning controls now require new housing in Gaeltacht areas to be allocated to English-speakers and Irish-speakers in the same ratio as the existing population of the area. This will prevent new houses allocated to Irish-speakers being immediately sold on to English-speakers. However, the restriction only lasts for a few years. Also, people are not required to reach native speaker standards of fluency to qualify as Irish-speakers.

On 19 December 2006 the government announced a 20-year strategy to help Ireland become a fully bilingual country. This involved a 13 point plan and encouraging the use of language in all aspects of life.

Daily life

Several computer software products have the option of an Irish-language interface. Prominent examples include KDE, Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, and Microsoft Windows XP.

Many English-speaking Irish people use small and simple phrases (known as cúpla focal, "a few words") in their everyday speech, e.g. Slán ("goodbye"), Slán abhaile ("get home safely"), Sláinte ("good health"; used when drinking like "bottoms up" or "cheers"), Go raibh maith agat ("thank you"), Céad míle fáilte ("a hundred thousand welcomes", a tourist board saying, also used by President Hillery to welcome Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979), Conas atá tú? ("How are you?"). There are many more small sayings that have crept into Hiberno-English. The term craic has been popularised outside Ireland in this made-up Gaelicized spelling: "How's the craic?" or "What's the craic'?" ("how's the fun?"/"how is it going?"), though the word is not Irish in origin, and the expression "How's the crack?" was widely used in Ireland since at least the 1960s before the Irish-language spelling "craic" became the common journalistic style.

Many public bodies have Irish language or bilingual names, but some have downgraded the language. An Post, the Republic's postal service, displays Irish place names in both Irish and English is equal prominence outside its offices and continues to have place names in Irish on its postmarks as well as recognising addresses (as does the Royal Mail in Northern Ireland). Traditionally, the private sector has been less supportive, although support for the language has come from some private companies. For example, Irish supermarket chain Superquinn introduced bilingual signs in its stores in the 1980s, a move which was followed more recently by the British chain Tesco for its stores in the Republic. Woodies DIY now also have bilingual signs in their chain of stores. In contrast, the "100% Irish" SuperValu has few if any Irish signs, and the German retailers Aldi and Lidl have none at all.

In an effort to increase the use of the Irish language by the State, the Official Languages Act was passed in 2003. This act ensures that most publications made by a governmental body must be published in both official languages, Irish and English. In addition, the office of Language Commissioner has been set up to act as an ombudsman with regard to equal treatment for both languages.

A major factor in the decline of natively-spoken Irish has been the movement of English speakers into the Gaeltacht (predominantly Irish speaking areas) and the return of native Irish-speakers who have returned with English-speaking partners. This has been stimulated by government grants and infrastructure projects: "only about half Gaeltacht children learn Irish in the home... this is related to the high level of in-migration and return migration which has accompanied the economic restructuring of the Gaeltacht in recent decades". In a last-ditch effort to stop the demise of Irish-speaking in Connemara in Galway, planning controls have been introduced on the building of new homes in Irish speaking areas.

Thanks in large part to Gael-Taca and Gaillimh Le Gaeilge and two local groups a significant number of new residential developments are named in Irish today in most of the Republic of Ireland. In several counties there are a large number being named in Irish.

Media
Attempts have been made to offer support for the language through the media, notably with the launch of Raidió na Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht radio) and Teilifís na Gaeilge (Irish language television, initially abbreviated to 'TnaG', now renamed TG4). Both have been relatively successful. TG4 has offered Irish-speaking young people a forum for youth culture as Gaeilge (in Irish) through rock and pop shows, travel shows, dating games, and even a controversial award-winning soap opera in Irish called Ros na Rún. Most of TG4's viewership, however, tends to come from showing Gaelic football, hurling, soccer and rugby union matches and also films in English, and English pop music programmes, although some of its Irish language programmes attract large audiences. In 2007 TG4 reported that overall it "has a share of 3% of the national television market". This market share is up from about 1.5% in the late 1990s. TG4 delivers 16 hours a day of television from an annual budget of €30 million, which is widely judged to be relatively efficient. The budget has the full support of all political parties in parliament. TG4 is the most successful and high-profile government initiative for the Irish language for the past fifty years.

The Irish language daily newspaper Lá Nua publishes five days a week and has circulation of several thousand. There is also a weekly paper, Foinse. These require government sponsorship. The Irish News has two pages in Irish every day. The Irish Times had up until recently one article in Irish every week. Now it has several articles with some articles appended with short lists giving the meaning of some of the words used in English. Another paper, Saol, and about 5 magazines are also published in the language, as well as internet-only publications such as "Beo!". The immigrants magazine Metro Éireann also has articles in Irish every issue, as do many local papers throughout the country including university publications. The BBC offers a website for beginners called Blas ("a taste").

Each year in March, an Irish language music CD is released in tandem with Seachtain na Gaeilge. Various Irish artists come together each year to work on this collaboration, which has seen many artists produce songs in Irish.

Placenames
The Placenames Order (Gaeltacht Districts)/An tOrdú Logainmneacha (Ceanntair Gaeltachta) (2004) requires the original Irish placenames to be used in the Gaeltacht on all official documents, maps and roadsigns. This has removed the legal status of those placenames in the Gaeltacht in English. Opposition to these measures comes from several quarters including some people within popular tourist destinations located within the Gaeltacht (namely in Dingle) who claim that tourists may not recognise the Irish forms of the placenames.

However following a campaign in the 1960s and early 1970s, most roadsigns in Gaeltacht regions have been in Irish only. Maps and government documents did not change, though. Previously Ordnance Survey (government) maps showed placenames bilingually in the Gaeltacht (and generally in English only elsewhere). Unfortunately, most other map companies wrote only the English placenames, leading to significant confusion in the Gaeltacht. The act therefore updates government documents and maps in line with what has been reality in the Gaeltacht for the past 30 years. Private map companies are expected to follow suit. Beyond the Gaeltacht only English placenames were officially recognised (pre 2004). However, further placenames orders have been passed to enable both the English and the Irish placenames to be used. The village of Straffan is still marked variously as An Srafáin, An Cluainíní and Teach Strafáin, even though Irish has not been the spoken widely there for two centuries. In the 1830s John O'Donovan listed it as "Srufáin The nearby village of Kilteel was "Cill tSile" for centuries, meaning "The church of Saint Sheila", but since 2000 it is shown as "Cill Cheile" which does not carry the same meaning. There are numerous other examples, raising the question of how, by whom and why such new names are chosen.

Irish vehicle registration plates are bilingual: the county of registration is shown in Irish above the plate number as a kind of surtitle, and is encoded from English within the plate number. For example, a Dublin plate is surtitled Baile Átha Cliath and the plate number includes "-D-".

Religious texts
The Bible has been available in Irish since the 17th century, but until recent times the Protestant version translated under the supervision of William Bedell in the 17th century was the only version available. However the four Gospels had been translated several times. In 1964 the Bible was translated at Maynooth for Roman Catholics for the first time under the supervision of Professor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta and was finally published in 1981. The Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer of 2004 is published in both Irish and English.
Education

The Irish language is a compulsory subject in government funded schools in the Republic of Ireland and has been so since the early days of the state. It is taught as a second language (L2) at second level, to native (L1) speakers and learners (L2) alike! English is offered as a first (L1) language only, even to those who speak it as a second language. The curriculum was reorganized in the 1930s by Father Timothy Corcoran SJ of UCD, who could not speak the language himself. The Irish Government has endeavoured to address the unpopularity of the language by revamping the curriculum at primary school level to focus on spoken Irish. However, at secondary school level, students must analyse literature and poetry, and write lengthy essays, debates and stories in Irish for the (L2) Leaving Certificate examination. The exemption from learning Irish on the grounds of time spent abroad, or learning disability, is subject to Circular 12/96 (primary education) and Circular M10/94 (secondary education) issued by the Department of Education and Science.

In March 2007, the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, announced that more focus would be devoted to the spoken language, and that from 2012, the percentage of marks available in the Leaving Certificate Irish exam would increase from 25% to 40% for the oral component. This increased emphasis on the oral component of the Irish examinations is likely to change the way Irish is examined.

Recently the abolition of compulsory Irish has been discussed. In 2005 Enda Kenny, leader of Ireland's main opposition party, Fine Gael, called for the language to be made an optional subject in the last two years of secondary school. Mr Kenny, despite being a fluent speaker himself (and a teacher), stated that he believed that compulsory Irish has done the language more harm than good.

Gaelscoileanna
A relatively recent development is the proliferation of gaelscoileanna (schools) in which Irish is the medium of education. By September 2005 there were 168 gaelscoileanna at primary level and 43 at secondary level in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland together (excluding the Gaeltacht, whose schools are not considered gaelscoileanna), which amounted to approximately 31,000 students. This has grown from a total of less than 20 in the early 1970s and there are 15 more being planned at present. With the opening of Gaelscoil Liatroma in County Leitrim in 2005 there is now at least one gaelscoil in each of the 32 traditional counties of Ireland. In Gaeltacht areas, the medium of education has been traditionally through Irish, ever since the foundation of the State. The majority of Gaeltacht students tend to be L1 Irish Gaelic speakers, but even in the Gaeltacht areas the language is taught as an L2 language whilst English is taught as an L1 language. Professor David Little has commented: "..the needs of Irish as L1 at post-primary level have been totally ignored, as at present there is no recognition in terms of curriculum and syllabus of any linguistic difference between learners of Irish as L1 and L2."

The Irish Equality Authority recently questioned the official State practice of awarding 5-10% extra marks to students who take some of their examinations through Irish.

The Royal Irish Academy's 2006 conference on "Language Policy and Language Planning in Ireland" found that the study of Irish and other languages is declining in Ireland. The number of schoolchildren studying "higher level" Irish for the Leaving Certificate dropped from 15,719 in 2001 to 14,358 in 2005. To reverse this decline, it was recommended that training and living for a time in a Gaeltacht area should be "compulsory" for teachers of Irish.

Although the Gaeltacht is defined as an entirely Irish-language speaking area, the Irish government also pays families living in the Gaeltacht areas with school-age children to speak Irish. These are inspected and graded according to ability. In the 2006-07 school year, 2,216 families received the full grant of €260 p.a., 937 families received a reduced grant and 225 families did not meet the criteria. This payment scheme is called Scéim Labhairt na Gaeilge, the first example in Europe where citizens are paid to speak their first official language.

Irish colleges
Supplementing the formal curriculum, and after the end of the primary (usually from 4th class onwards) and secondary school years, some pupils attend an "Irish college". These programmes are residential Irish language summer courses, and give students the opportunity to be immersed in the language, usually for periods of three weeks over the summer months. Some courses are college based while others are based with host families in Gaeltacht areas under the guidance of a bean an tí. Students attend classes, participate in sports, art, drama, music, go to céilithe and other summer camp activities through the medium of Irish. As with the conventional school set-up The Department of Education establishes the boundaries for class size and qualifications required by teachers.

Northern Ireland

As in the Republic, the Irish language is a minority language in Northern Ireland, known in Irish as Tuaisceart Éireann.

Attitudes towards the language in Northern Ireland have traditionally reflected the political differences between its two divided communities. The language has been regarded with suspicion by Unionists, who have associated it with the Roman Catholic-majority Republic, and more recently, with the Republican movement in Northern Ireland itself. Erection of public street signs in Irish were effectively banned under laws by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which stated that only English could be used. These laws were not repealed by the British government until the early 1990s. Many republicans in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, learned Irish while in prison, a development known as the jailtacht. Although the language was taught in Catholic secondary schools (especially by the Christian Brothers), it was not taught at all in the controlled sector, which is mostly attended by Protestant pupils. Irish-medium schools, however, known as gaelscoileanna, were founded in Belfast and Derry, and an Irish-language newspaper called Lá Nua ("New Day") was established in Belfast. BBC Radio Ulster began broadcasting a nightly half-hour programme in Irish in the early 1980s called Blas ("taste, accent"), and BBC Northern Ireland also showed its first TV programme in the language in the early 1990s.

The Ultach Trust was established with a view to broadening the appeal of the language among Protestants, although hardline DUP politicians like Sammy Wilson ridiculed it as a "leprechaun language". Ulster-Scots, promoted by many loyalists, was, in turn, ridiculed by nationalists (and even some Unionists) as "a DIY language for Orangemen". According to recent statistics, there is no significant difference between the number of Catholic and Protestant speakers of Ulster-Scots in Ulster, although those involved in promoting Ulster-Scots as a language are almost always unionist. Ulster-Scots is defined in legislation (The North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) Northern Ireland Order 1999) as: the variety of the Scots language which has traditionally been used in parts of Northern Ireland and in Donegal in Ireland.

Irish received official recognition in Northern Ireland for the first time in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement. A cross-border body known as Foras na Gaeilge was established to promote the language in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, taking over the functions of the previous Republic-only Bord na Gaeilge.

In 2001, the British government ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect to Irish in Northern Ireland.

It has been claimed that Belfast now represents the fastest-growing centre of Irish language usage on the island - and the Good Friday Agreement's provisions on "parity of esteem" have been used to give the language an official status there. In March 2005, the Irish-language TV service TG4 began broadcasting from the Divis transmitter near Belfast, as a result of an agreement between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Northern Ireland Office, although so far this is the only transmitter to carry it.

Belfast City Council has designated the Falls Road area (from Milltown Cemetery to Divis Street) as the Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast, one of the four cultural quarters of the city. There is a growing number of Irish-medium schools throughout Northern Ireland (see picture above), and, at English-medium schools, it is becoming more and more common that Irish be taught to children.

Under the St Andrews Agreement, the UK Government committed to introduce an Irish Language Act. Although a consultation document on the matter was published in 2007, the restoration of devolved government by the Northern Ireland Assembly later that year meant that responsibility for language transferred from London to Belfast. In October 2007, the then Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Edwin Poots MLA announced to the Assembly that he did not intend to bring forward an Irish language Bill.

Outside Ireland

An interest in the Irish language is maintained throughout the English-speaking world among the Irish diaspora and there are active Irish language groups in North American, British, and Australian cities. In Australia, a network of people have established special Irish schools around the country teaching the language and music.

The Irish language emigrated to North America along with the Irish people. Although Irish is one of the smaller European languages spoken in North America, it has cultural importance in the northeast United States and in Newfoundland, and according to the 2000 Census, approximately 26,000 people in the U.S. speak Irish at home.

The Irish language came to Newfoundland in the late 1600s and was commonly spoken among the Newfoundland Irish until the middle of the 20th century. There is direct evidence to suggest that as high as 90% of the Irish in Newfoundland spoke only Irish as their mother tongue. Records from Newfoundland's courts, where defendants often required Irish-speaking interpreters, indicate that the dominant language of the Avalon Peninsula was Irish rather than English. Today it remains the only place outside of Ireland that can claim a unique Irish name (Talamh an Éisc, meaning Land of the Fish), and an area where Irish is natively spoken. In 2007 a number of Canadian speakers founded the first "Gaeltacht" outside of Ireland in an area near Kingston, Ontario (see main article Permanent North American Gaeltacht). Despite being called a Gaeltacht, the area is uninhabited. The site (named Gaeltacht Bhaile na hÉireann) is located in Tamworth, Ontario and is to be a retreat centre for Irish-speaking Canadians and Americans.

The Irish language reached Australia in 1788, along with English. In the early colonial period, Irish was seen as an opposition language used by convicts and repressed by the colonial authorities. Although the Irish were a greater proportion of the European population than in any other British colony, the use of the language quickly declined. As legal barriers to the integration of the Irish and their descendants into Australian life were progressively removed, English became the language of social advancement. The 2001 census revealed that there are 828 speakers of the language in the country.

In May 2007, the University of Cambridge in Great Britain started offering courses in Modern Irish in addition to Medieval Irish.

Many Australian slang words are Irish-derived and there are arguments that Australian English is more influenced by Irish than other varieties of English. There is a small movement to re-establish the language in contemporary Australia. The Special Broadcasting Service transmits Irish language radio and television.

Future

In 2008, the Irish government launched a national survey entitled Plean2028 asking people for their suggestions on how best to advance the state of the Irish language in areas such as education, media, government, status etc.

Some suggestions made have been:

  • 1. The creation of a Gaeltacht Quarter in Dublin
  • 2. The introduction of an optional 6 month Gaeltacht work experience for Transition Year students in secondary school.
  • 3. The creation of a national young persons' radio station in the language.
  • 4. The introduction of statutory naming committees at council level to name new residential developments where the use of Irish names would be encouraged although not compulsory unless local councils voted to name all of their new residential developments in Irish as in Galway City Council and Shannon Town Council.

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