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Let's Keep the Irish Language Alive!

written by: Laura Jean Karr • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 6/25/2014

Irish Gaelic is one of three main languages of Ireland. Lately, unfortunately, it has been dwindling to almost no use at all. Is it in danger of becoming extinct? Or is here hope?

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    The Basics of Irish

    Irish is one of the three Gaelic languages; the others being Manx Gaelic and Scots Gaelic derived from the Goidelic branch of the Irish Flag Celtic languages. When many people think of Gaelic they tend to group all three of these languages together as one. All three languages are very different with each one having various local dialects and influences from the English language. The main difference between all three is that Irish is the only Gaelic language that is on the UNESCO Interactive Endangered Languages list. The reason that Irish has made that list is because it is considered a dying language.

    Like the Cherokee language in America, Irish is the foundation for various place names having a cultural influence on the modern land. Rivers, mountains, historical monuments, roads and towns all have Irish names. Again, like the Cherokee and other Native American languages in America, Irish has been mainly phased out with the use of English dominating the main line of common communication. The spread of English-speaking immigrants into both countries has contributed to the replacement of history and the way each land has developed in accordance with the economic growth of other English-speaking countries.

    The main Gaeltacht (areas where Irish are spoken) began to fade out at the start of the Great Famine in the mid-1800s and the last invasion of the English to the island. Under English rule the Irish were made to learn and speak English when dealing with the ruling officials. When the Republic of Ireland was formed and the English only retained Northern Ireland, the government of the Republic established Irish as the official language but still dealt in the English language as many people had started to use that language more. English was the official language of Northern Ireland until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 allowed Irish to be used again in that area. Using English instead of Irish also helped the new government in communicating with foreign governments for economic purposes.

    Impact of Technology

    The developing technology of our world made more commerce possible and outsourcing became a large and profitable venue. The majority of businesses outsourcing to other countries use English as the main language and Ireland became a major hub for outsourcing from the United Kingdom and America. In 2007 the profits for Ireland due to outsourcing reached over $357 million dollars. In addition to outsourcing, the Dublin Institute of Technology has helped to gear Irish students for working in the fields of Nicholas Ostler Empires of the Word A Language History of the World computer programming, web design and Internet businesses, all covered in English.

    The full influence of our world technology and the English language domination is covered in Nicholas Ostler’s book Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World where he writes. “Even more, the twentieth century’s technological revolutions in communications, telephones, films, car ownership, television, computing and the Internet were let overwhelmingly from English-speaking America, projecting its language across the world, to parts untouched even by the British Empire." Historically then, we can see how English is spreading through the world while other languages that have not adapted are dying out. Irish is one of those lingering languages underneath the English language veil that is dying out.

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    A Movement to Save the Language

    A movement to save the Irish language began with small pockets of people from all over the world. With an estimated 72 million emigrants from Ireland spread throughout different countries, the Irish born, the Irish descendants and those who became enamored of the Irish culture have worked together in an effort to save the Irish language. Because of the hard work and study from many people all over the globe, in 2008 the Irish government took a nationwide survey to ask its citizens how they wanted to re-establish the nation’s first and official language. The Irish language is now in the process of working its way off the Endangered Languages list.

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    Hope for the Endangered Language

    logo gaeilge One of the major supporters dedicated to saving Irish is Foras na Gaeilge. Since 1999, the Foras na Gaeilge has taken on the responsibility of promoting Irish throughout Ireland. The group developed the Good Friday Agreement, which makes the promotion of the Irish language a joint effort between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. They were also instrumental in ensuring that Irish was added to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, making it a recognized language at the inception of the European Union.

    Foras na Gaeilge also has an educational outline program where being taught Irish from preschool through to Third Level is becoming more common in the local schools. Adults are offered immersion classes in the local Gaeltacht’s, which are townships where Irish is the only language used.

    Ireland also has Irish-only media sources in an effort to promote the language. The TG4 television channel produces programs only in Irish. There are now three main newspapers that print only in Irish. They are: Lá Nua which is daily news, Foinse which is weekly news and Saol which is monthly news. In radio there is Raidió na Gaeltachta, while the BBC has started to air some programs in Irish such as Karen na hAoine. Irish-only magazines in print are An tUltach, Comhar and Feasta, while for online magazines in Irish there are Gaelport and Beo.

    If you aren’t a citizen of Ireland there are other ways to either brush up on your Irish skills, or to learn Irish as a new language all on your own. A good workable software solution to learning Irish on your own is through the Teach Me Irish! language package. Teach Me Irish! is an interactive software program that engages the student in proper pronunciation with voice-recognition feedback through the lessons. This program also focuses on enabling the student to read Irish through twenty different stories that test the verbal word recognition already covered. A student can also utilize the integrated audio dictionary in the program and they can develop their own dictionary as the lessons progress. In addition to the Teach Me Irish! language package the Linguashop creators also offer On the Road Irish!, Speak! Irish and Audio Book Irish in MP3 format. If those don't appeal, there is also Rosetta Stone Irish.

    For more information on the Irish language, see Learn Irish Online with Rosetta Stone and for fun Learn Irish Sayings for St. Patrick's Day and the Rest of the Year.

    *Image provided by and © Foras na Gaeilge

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