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THEORY: Irish, and language death

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Thursday, June 19, 2003, 9:09
Quoting Aquamarine Demon <aquamarine_demon@...>:

> >>Adam Walker scripsit: > > Speaking of Gaelic (Yes I'm back. My earthly > > possessions were picked up by the movers 2 days ago, > > so I have time again!) does anyone know when was the > > last time that Gaelic was the majority language of > > Ireland? > > Well, it surely was in 1800, and it surely was not in 1900, so > somewhere in there was the tipping point.<< > > Well, techically the tipping point would have been earlier than 1800, > whenever the English made it illegal to speak Irish, at the same time they > made it miserable for Catholics.
I would respectfully have to disagree. Here is what Robert D. King has to say about Irish in the Linguistic Prolegomena to his study of the language politics of India: "Earlier, before the 18th century, most inhabitants of Ireland spoke Irish. Sometime between 1750 and 1850 a wholesale transfer to English, the language of the island's rulers, began. By 1851, when the first census to take language into account was held, only some 5% of the population described themselves as monolingual Irish speakers; 23 per cent said they were bilingual in Irish and English." (p. 32, "Nehru and the Language Politics of India") That would seem to put it right around 1800. The reason is quite straightforward: it is only with the extremest rarity that a government policy is ever able substantially to change linguistic behavior; it usually requires physically pointing a gun at someone's head before they will willingly change. The language reforms under Atatürk in Turkey are the usually cited example, but many more could be produced. Almost always, short of genocide, the impetus behind language death is economic motive to improve one's every-day well-being. Equally, language revitalization programs almost always fail, because the people meant to "reacquire" (i.e., acquire for the first time) their ancestral tongue usually have a much easier alternative available which will work for all their daily needs. In the case of the Irish, it was English. Hebrew is an exception to the general trend, and it is (to oversimply somewhat) a result of having no one other language which all Jews in Palestine could easily pick up without going to great lengths (though note that it is in many ways a new language, not at all like that of King David). ========================================================================= Thomas Wier "I find it useful to meet my subjects personally, Dept. of Linguistics because our secret police don't get it right University of Chicago half the time." -- octogenarian Sheikh Zayed of 1010 E. 59th Street Abu Dhabi, to a French reporter. Chicago, IL 60637


Dan Sulani <dnsulani@...>Hebrew revival (was: THEORY: Irish, and language death)