It is compulsory in all primary and second level schools in Ireland to study the Irish language from when you begin, aged around five, to when you leave at eighteen or nineteen. Here, Caoimhe Fitzgibbon & Nicola Murphy debate the relevance of it in a modern context, where a very small minority of people actively speak the language outside of the education system, in a feature that we will hopefully see occur regularly on the blog – if you would like to propose a motion for two scouts to debate, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Irish Is a Dying Language, With Little Relevance Today”
Caoimhe Fitzgibbon on The Difference One Person Can Make, and How We Might Underestimate Our Ability to Speak Our Native Tongue
Ladies and gentlemen, I am strongly against the motion in question and will be taking into account a number of elements of the survival of the Irish language and its role in a modern Ireland.
- Irish in the media
- Thriving ‘Gaeltacht’ areas
- Our underestimation of our capabilities speaking ‘As Gaeilige’
- How just one person can make a huge difference in the revival of a language
I’m sure we all know of TG4, Raidió na Gaeltachta and other Irish speaking media outlets like them, even if you don’t watch, listen to or read them personally. But they wouldn’t be able to survive without viewers, without listeners, without support. I’m sure many of us can remember when TG4 showed Harry Potter in Irish? I thought that was the coolest thing as a kid and so I watched it in amazement as one of the most popular movie franchises in the world was being shown in my native tongue.
Ever heard of the ‘Gaeltacht’ areas? They are fully functioning, thriving communities full of people young and old alike who love the language and speak it daily. They are not just a distant hermit kingdom of old, traditional Irish speakers. “Well that’s only a handful of people”, you could be saying and, “they’re all fluent, I wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation with them” – bringing me nicely on to my next point.
Unbeknownst to ourselves some of us could in fact have a bit of Gaelige in us. Even if you don’t do particularly well in the subject in school, that doesn’t mean you can’t string a sentence or two together. In school we have to study prós, filíocht agus aistí: stories, poetry and essays. 40% of the exam may be your oral but an incredible amount is basically the subject English through Irish. If you aren’t gifted with natural proficiency in English in the first place, chances are you will find Irish a bit more difficult because of it. Thousands of students go to the Gaeltacht (Irish college) every year to improve their Irish and every year they are surprised at their own progress and level of understanding of the language! Even those who don’t go to Irish college often pick up the ability to communicate with other Irish speakers. You may tell yourself and others repeatedly that you don’t have a lick of Irish, but you’d be surprised what you can remember when you put your mind to it.
Finally I’ll move on to my last point- one person has the power to make a huge difference in the world. They can do this in a multitude of ways but I’m going to use the example of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. This man was the driving force behind the rebirth of the modern Hebrew language. Can you imagine that? He resurrected a whole way of speaking, literally! He was so passionate about his language that he made massive efforts towards the revival of Hebrew. Now thanks to him being the driving spirit behind this Hebrew renaissance there are over 9 million modern Hebrew speakers worldwide – to me that’s astounding. And it all started with one person. This, more than anything, should give us hope for the future.
Nicola Murphy on The Extinction of the Irish Language and the Flaws in the Education System
The Irish language is alive in the same way tigers survive in the captivity of zoos.
I believe the Irish language is falling into extinction. Almost 60% of the Irish population have absolutely no capability to speak Irish, and a quarter of those who can said in the last census that they rarely ever do. This means that 85% of our population never speak our native language outside of the education system. Gaelige is far from thriving in our country.
One of the main catalysts for this is our flawed education system. In the junior cycle very little emphasis is put on spoken Irish. While I was in junior cycle I always thought this was great and alleviated a lot of pressure but looking back now I can see how much of a positive impact it could have had on my schoolwork this year. I know in my own school at senior level we are bordering on having more students taking ordinary level than higher level Irish. This is not all because of people having difficulties with the subject; a large number of students have just decided Irish is not a necessity. When it comes to choosing a subject to drop to relieve some pressure Irish is the obvious choice. It’s not needed for the majority of college courses; unlike a European language it’s rarely ever going to be useful at a later stage. Also there’s so much learning to be done with all the literature and oral work, it consumes a large amount of time which could be spent on other subjects.
The fact that it is compulsory in schools doesn’t help it much either. Sure it makes it seem as though it’s keeping the language alive but the majority of students will never speak Irish again after their leaving certs. This is where the tigers come into it. The extinction of tigers is avoided by keeping and breeding them in captivity. Few will be left in the wild. Irish is ‘kept alive’ in schools and Gaeltachts but few Irish speakers exist outside of these areas and over 30% of those living in Gaeltachts can’t speak Irish.
The Irish language is fighting a losing battle. The amount of people speaking Irish is steadily dropping. Only 1.8% of our population speak Irish everyday outside of the education system, this demonstrates just how endangered the language is. As hard as it might be to accept and as much as we may wish to deny it, the Irish language is becoming a dead language. A relic of a lost culture.