Recent news and updates regarding the Endangered Languages Project
Recent news and updates regarding the Endangered Languages Project
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
In this post, ELP Language Revitalization Mentor Alexandra Philbin shares her thoughts on recent media coverage of Irish language policy, and examines some of the harmful myths circulating around Irish language in schools.
In recent weeks, Irish speakers have faced a number of explicit attacks on their language from within mainstream media and politics. In the space of two days, a major Irish newspaper, the Irish Independent, published two opinion articles online that espouse a host of negative and dangerous beliefs about the language. This was followed by the Labour Party adding to some of these beliefs by giving them a political standing.
The first article on Independent.ie, published on December 7, calls on people to “face facts” and appreciate that the “wealth and success of Ireland today owes much to the English language”. The article focuses on Ireland’s apparent economic success, dismissing the huge economic inequalities in the country and the horrific housing crisis that has left thousands without a home. Already on shaky ground, it argues that one of the “most significant factors” in this “success” is the English language. The author cites English attracting multinational corporations to set up in Ireland, the dominance of the language in the European Union and the connection it brings to other countries where English is a dominant language as central to Ireland’s “success”. The benefits of English to the Irish, then, are seen in purely neoliberal economic terms. For the author, this is apparently enough for the Irish to “thank – rather than blame – the English for giving Ireland the language of Shakespeare”. The author highlights that they have an “affection” for Irish, saying they “like to see it on street signs and within the heritage of the nation” and “like to hear it, when it’s spoken attractively”. Irish people, then, according to the author, should embrace the language that colonialism brought them. It is enough to see Irish as a pretty language that was a part of Ireland’s past and be happy that it is still to be seen and heard in limited domains.
When this article came up on my social media feed, I was doubting whether to respond to it or not. The views seemed too ridiculous to warrant a response and I did not want to give them power by acknowledging them as valid enough to debate. On further thought, I decided to do so for a number of reasons: 1) This was an article published in the mainstream Irish media. It was not a stray comment from an anonymous social media account. These views have received a major platform to be aired. 2) It seems important to draw attention to the fact that these views are out there and circulating and 3) to firmly stand against them. 4) While many Irish speakers have already spoken out against the comments, it is good to support them on this. As many have rightly pointed out, the views in the article represent a colonial outlook that positions the Irish language below the English one, and in extension, Irish speakers below English speakers. The author uses the language of objectivity, speaking of “facts”, while speaking from an ideological position that suggests Irish people should feel thankful for the fact that their ancestors or people that came before them on the land were forced to deal with terrible oppression so that the dominant language nationally would one day be English. The suggestion that English was “given” rather than forced completely hides the violence in this process.
A day later, on December 8, the same newspaper published another article online about the Irish language. In this one, the author argues against the requirement that teachers in the Republic of Ireland acquire a certain level of Irish in order to teach at primary-school level. This argument is framed as a solution to a shortage of and a lack of diversity among primary-school teachers, despite no evidence pointing to the Irish language being the cause of the lack of diversity rather than structural discrimination against minorities and the working class. The headline states that the requirement is “just blocking diversity in our schools”. The fact that a requirement ensures that children are exposed through schooling to the first official language of the State, a language spoken on the land and a minoritised language, is erased by the word ‘just’. It is as if the Irish-language requirement exists simply to prevent non-Irish speakers from teaching and not to support children to learn a language that they have the right to know and speak. The author suggests that a diverse group of people cannot and do not speak Irish. They write of diversity, while erasing the diversity within the Irish-language community and calling for a step that could harm the country’s linguistic diversity. Instead of calling for ways to make the Irish language more accessible to members of various social groups, by financing free courses and by giving extra support to those who need it, for example, the author calls for it to not be a requirement for the average teacher at all.
It was frustrating to read that Irish was being positioned as a barrier to diversity and that we should seriously consider reducing the numbers of speakers in education, a fundamental domain for the language. I managed to calm myself somewhat by thinking that at least it was just one opinion article online – it wasn’t like this was being called for on a wider level. Until suddenly it was. That day, the Labour Party of Ireland released a statement by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, their education spokesperson. He stated that it is “time to understand why [the Irish-language requirement] is in place and consider changing course requirements for entry into the teaching profession”. I would hope that an elected politician would understand why an Irish-language requirement would be in place. I would hope they would understand the Constitution that states that Irish is the first official language of the State. I would hope they would understand the importance of supporting people in speaking and reclaiming their language. I would hope they would understand the need to raise a generation of children that are empowered to use their language. I would hope they would look beyond arguments based on a lack of evidence and work towards ensuring greater accessibility to the language and the teaching profession by fighting against discrimination, instead of pushing for more of it.
It was of great comfort to read people’s responses to these events, knowing that there are many Irish speakers who will not let the language be spoken about in this way and who are willing to call out people in powerful positions for their harmful comments. When I spoke to my ELP colleagues about it, they were extremely supportive and encouraged me to write down my point of view. It cannot be forgotten how many of us are working against these views, in Ireland and around the world. We should go against them, we should call them out, but we should not allow them to cloud the fact that we are part of a wonderful global movement: a movement that goes beyond simplifying, colonial narratives that hold us in the past.
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Hello, friends of ELP!
You may have noticed the blog is a bit empty lately. If you're not following us on social media, you may even wonder if ELP is still active! We assure you: we are very much still active. In fact, we're growing and expanding our programs significantly. The only problem is this old blog!
You see, the ELP website was built back in 2012 - ten years is a lifetime, in website terms. This site is slowly starting to break, and the blog is no exception. (We hope this post even shows up correctly.)
So, we've been doing most of our sharing about ELP programs on our social media accounts - to keep up to date with what's happening at ELP, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up for our quarterly newsletter!
Old, buggy websites are frustrating! That's why we'll be launching a brand-new, updated, expanded website in summer 2023. We're developing some exciting new features, including:
We've got a lot going on right now, as well! While we count down to the new website next summer, you can check out all the ELP programs which "live" outside this website:
We're hard at work behind the scenes to create resources which will be useful to all you language champions around the world, as you work to document, revitalize, reclaim, strengthen, and promote your languages.
We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being here with us in this space, celebrating and supporting the world's Indigenous, endangered, and minoritized language communities. If you have ideas, questions, or comments about our work, please write to us! We would love to hear from you.
(And if you'd like to support our work, we are always profoundly grateful for donations! You can donate to ELP via the University of Hawaii Foundation in the US, or MakeWay Foundation in Canada.)
We can't wait to continue our work together - learning from you, hearing and sharing your stories, and being together in community - over the coming International Decade of Indigenous Languages.
With solidarity, good wishes, and greetings,
The ELP Team
Monday, February 4, 2019
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Monday, November 14, 2016