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TUARASCÁIL AR THEANGA: LANGUAGE REPORT IRISH IN EDUCATION AND THE MEDIA, 1994 JAMES J. BLAKE the current parlous state of the Irish language is illustrated by events— and often by nonevents—in education and in the media, including print. The primary difficulty impeding a healthy revival of Irish-language usage or, at the very least, stemming the decline of its use, directly results from negative attitudes toward the language. Yet, despite the accumulating force of the Irish people’s negative reaction generally against the language, professional sociological surveys of present-day attitudes toward the language have revealed, oddly enough, that seventy-Wve percent of the people are sympathetic to Irish as a school subject for children. In order to be as objective as possible, the sociolinguist Joshua Fishman of Yeshiva University in New York was hired in the 1970s in order to lead a research team which discovered that some latent sympathies for the language persisted. The latest survey (1994) by Pádraig Ó Riagáin and Mícheál Ó Gliasáin has been issued by the Linguistic Institute of Ireland, and it reveals similar Wndings, including the fact that none of the English-speaking majority registering sympathetic attitudes about teaching Irish would ever entertain the notion of actually speaking the language. The language is simply not perceived by them as a means of normal communication. Instead, it is sensed as a disembodied school subject comparable to mathematics and geography . Consequently, the editors of Comhar (March, 1994) wonder out loud whether the various Irish language organizations need training in reality testing. Are they Wguratively on another planet in relation to the actual status of the language now? If the vast majority of Irish people—seventy to eighty percent—do not use Irish, and only about ten percent can conduct conversations in Irish, what plans have these largely governmentsponsored organizations developed to reverse this trend? And, then, are these seventy to eighty percent surveyed the same seventy-Wve percent who are in favor of keeping Irish as a subject in the schools? The signals quite obviously conXict. IRISH IN EDUCATION AND THE MEDIA, 1994 161 Over the past thirty years, the statistics from these periodic surveys reveal a consistent ten percent of the population who customarily speak Irish. Unfortunately, however, all reports indicate that the use of the Irish language in the Gaeltachtaí continues to decline precipitously. There may no longer be any monoglot Irish speakers alive today, although no documented evidence has been published to support such a claim. The children in the Gaeltachtaí are universally bilingual and are now adopting English under pressure from the media and from the overwhelming dominance of the English language in all aspects of social, institutional, church, and state life in contemporary Ireland. Furthermore, claims have recently been made in the weekly newspaper Anois that the Department of Education is trying to undermine the study of Irish in primary and secondary schools by instituting a system of easily obtainable exemptions from the requirement to study Irish as part of the mandatory curriculum. The emphasis on teaching Irish was curtailed in the late 1970s when Irish was removed as a “compulsory” subject in the schools. Groups with names like the “Language Freedom Movement” successfully launched campaigns claiming, remarkably, that English speakers, not Irish speakers , were oppressed in Ireland—an Alice-in-Wonderland claim that led to undermining the limited public recognition that the language had previously achieved. The argument put forward then was that young children in the English-speaking areas of Ireland, which is most of the country, should be given the option to study Irish voluntarily, with the presumed enthusiastic encouragement of their parents. It was hypocritically asserted that, as a result of their heartfelt love of the language, they would soon master it. Another major blow to the language was the closing by the government in the late 1960s of the all-Irish teacher training colleges. Since that time, the quality of teaching as well as student mastery of Irish has further eroded. These activities, interpreted in Irish-speaking districts as the height of public cynicism, eVectively ended the process of language education that had begun in 1923 whereby at least a...


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