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EXPANSION AND SECLUSION: INTERNAL, OUTWARD, AND INWARD TRANSLATION OF LITERATURE IN IRELAND TODAY1 HANS-CHRISTIAN OESER INTRODUCTION the Finns and the Irish may not be considered to have all that many traits in common, since they so clearly differ in their ethnic origins, their religious persuasions, and their national languages—Irish belonging to the extended family of Celtic languages, Finnish to the Finno-Ugrian group. Yet they do share the good, or bad, fortune of being on the periphery of things, and if I include the people of the six counties of the North in the Irish headcount (even those who would strongly object to my doing so), the two territories , that is the entire island of Ireland and the Republic of Finland, have populations of roughly comparable size (approximately 5 million inhabitants each). More important, both Poblacht na hÉireann and Suomen Tasavalta gained their independence comparatively late, in 1921 and 1917, respectively; and both are bilingual countries whose adoption of two official languages—Irish and English in one case, Finnish and Swedish in the other—reflects a legacy of domination. In spite of these similarities, however, Ireland’s cultural position within Europe is, in my opinion, unique. Alone in Europe it boasts of two distinct literatures as self-expressions of one and the same people. What singles out Ireland among other nations is the fact that Irish writers and, by extension, Irish translators face a challenging choice between two different languages in which to set down their experience—and are thus free, or compelled, to engage in either one or both of two different cultures. While there are linguistic, and therefore literary, divisions similar to those in Ireland elsewhere, they tend to spring from the existence of difTRANSLATION OF LITERATURE IN IRELAND TODAY 29 1 This text has been excerpted from a talk given to the Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters in Helsinki, 28 March 1998. ferent ethnic groups, because geographical borders rarely coincide with linguistic boundaries, and political entities do not necessarily correspond to the distribution of nationalities. If Belgian authors write in French or in Dutch, it is because they are of either Walloon or Flemish stock. If a poet living in Finland composes verse in Swedish, it is because he or she belongs to the national minority of 5.9 percent Finland Swedes. If a thriving literature exists in Welsh, it is because in Wales the prevailing sense of a Celtic ethnic identity is strong enough to warrant a linguistically autonomous literature. Yet in the case of Ireland the contrast between two co-existent languages , literatures, and cultures is not, or at any rate no longer, bound to ethnic separateness, nor is it a question of standard language and dialect. As far as I can make out, Ireland is the only independent country in Europe that experiences linguistic diversity and divergence as an inherent rift between two standard languages—an experience that cannot be explained by contemporary concerns alone. The present rather complicated situation is the product of a turbulent history that saw the forcible marginalization , if not the replacement, of one language by another. Irish, the ancient indigenous tongue of the Celt, was suppressed, and to a large degree supplanted, by the much more recent Anglo-Saxon-Norman idiom of the English conquerors whose political commissars observed quite correctly that the process of colonization could not be accomplished without its corollary, Anglicization. This means that the question of two Irish cultures, with its potentially agonizing and antagonizing effects on the writing community, is a postcolonial, and hence a thoroughly political, issue. The language question is further complicated by the fact that Irish, according to the Irish Constitution the first official language of the Republic , is nonetheless very much the lesser spoken of the two. Notwithstanding extensive campaigns to secure the revival and restoration of Irish and the special position of Irish within the school curriculum, the percentage of people whose domestic idiom it is has been negligible (approximately 0.5 percent of the population). It has been estimated that even in the Gaeltachtaí—that is, the Irish-speaking areas designated and subsidized by the state—no more than 10,000 people use Irish...


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