Gan teanga, gan tír -
If it is true that there can be no nation without its own national tongue for the preservation and development of its national identity then Ireland would
appear to have ceased to be a nation and become just another member of the larger English cultural family. For isn't English spoken throughout the
country, by the overwhelming majority of the people? Isn't English used in parliamentary debate? Doesn't it dominate the mass media, education?
Yet things weren't always so. For a very long time the requirements of nationhood appeared to have been fully met in Ireland. It had a geography
favourable to the notion of separateness; and the people had their own national tongue. This language had come to Ireland with the Celts. Early
evidence of a form of writing in Irish are the famous Ogham inscriptions (300-
with Christianity, and writing in the modern sense began about the 7th century. There is a large body of literature from this period of Old Irish
their language in Scotland and the Isle of Man. In the periods of Middle (900 -
even assimilated a series of invaders.
What happened then, what went wrong? Truth to tell, several factors were to contribute to Ireland's cultural decay. The first blow was struck in the early
17th century, when English power was finally consolidated in Ireland by the 'planting' of English-
before. Irish, for more than 1,000 years the written and spoken language of' the Irish people, began to decline. By the early 19th century, the Irish
language had to such an extent become the mark of an oppressed people, that little remained of their pride in their rich Gaelic traditions. The growing
contempt on the part of the Irish for their own language might indeed be termed linguistic suicide. The mass emigration from the poorer Irish-
areas of the west in the second half of the 19th century dealt the final blow.
The Gaelic revival movement from 1893 onwards succeeded in restoring much of the Irish people's pride in their language and culture. and this led
eventually to the success of the political movement for independence. Irish was made first official language of the new state, was made a compulsory
subject in schools and a requirement for civil service careers, etc.
The Government granted considerable financial aid to the Gaeltacht, those areas in the West where Irish is still spoken. To facilitate efforts to revive the
language, a standardized version of the language was agreed on, replacing the three main dialects of Connacht, Munster and Ulster; the reformed
spelling was adopted in 1948.
When speaking of the position of the Irish language today, we must not forget its influences on the English spoken in Ireland. Though the words 'yes'
and 'no', which have no equivalents in Irish, have gradually crept into Irish usage, many people still tend to avoid them, and repeat the verb of the
question instead, as one does in Irish. Some tailor their English verbs so as to express the strong distinction between continuous and habitual, even as
regards the verb 'to be', for which there are two verbs in Irish, 'táim' (I am now) and bím' (I am usually), the latter being sometimes rendered 'I do be'. The
tendency to use 'you' only in the singular, with 'ye' as the corresponding plural form, is widespread. Certain phrases like 'I am after doing' for 'I have just
done' reflect the strong dependence in the Irish language on prepositions and nouns (pronouns, gerunds), which even do the work of the verb 'to have',
Should the influence of the mass media eventually succeed in wiping out the last traces of Gaelic syntax in Irish speech, the old language of Ireland will
still be echoed in the sounds of Irish English: the pure vowels in words such as 'go' [go:] and 'pay' [pe:], the clear pronunciation of 'r' even at the end of a
word, and the sounds somewhere between 'th' and 't' or 'd' used in words such as 'there' and 'three', just to name a few examples.
Still, it would be a pity if this were all that was to remain of the Irish language. It must be stressed that it is still a living language, though the number of
native speakers has declined to less than 100,000 out of a total of about 4 millions.
The attempt to restore Irish as the main language of Ireland has obviously failed, but it has at least had the result that most people have some passive
knowledge of Irish, -
Irish folk music may be a sign that the Irish language, which forms such an intrinsic part of this tradition, has a lot of life in it still. More and more people
in Ireland today are looking for their cultural roots and are finding that the language is the key to national self-
1. Ogham -
2. vernacular -
3. Connacht -
4. Munster -
5. intrinsic -
Find synonyms for the following words:
1.1.4. wiping out
1.2. Paraphrases. Explain in your own words.
1.2.1. things weren't always so
1.2.2. the requirements of nationhood appeared to have been fully met
1.2.3. most people have some passive knowledge of Irish
1.3.1. Explain the form 'were' in l. 60.
1.3.2. Give examples of how one might avoid using yes or no in Ireland.
2.1. Why did the Irish language decline?
2.2. Why would it be a pity if Irish were to disappear completely?
3. Comment and discussion
3.1. The Irish should be glad they speak English and stop trying to turn the clock back. Discuss.
3.2. Give examples of other countries with language problems, or where language has acquired a political importance. Compare with the Irish situation.
3.3. Should languages be kept pure, i.e. free of foreign words and influences?