Irish is not just the language of Gaels
2018-07-15 14:02:36 -
Opinion
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By Panu Höglund

God knows much of the public discourse concerning the status of the Irish language in society is destroyed by people who don’t even have the cúpla focal but who have strong opinions concerning the language despite this ignorance. Those people may be well educated, but not educated enough to know Irish. 

Maybe they did have ‘compulsory’ Irish at school, but as their parents were forever telling them that you didn’t need Irish to get a job, they didn’t bother to learn it. Actually, the story isn’t that simple, for the language is indeed professionally useful – but that fact really irks some monolingual English speakers.

Basically, these English speakers seem to be afraid of the day when Irish comes back. Half the time they are telling us, as if we were little children, that it’s a dead language which cannot be revived. The other half they are telling horror stories about ‘Nazi’ Irish speakers who are trying to take away their ‘right’ to speak English. Well, let everybody have their native language as they want, but English is the least threatened language in today’s world, and it is patent nonsense to suggest anything else.

These enemies of the Irish language probably think they are very witty suggesting that Irish speakers are somehow racist. Typically they aren’t themselves particularly welcoming towards immigrants, and you’d often hear them telling tales about the ‘tidal wave’ of immigrants from less developed countries. But if they need mud to throw at the Irish language, racism allegations do the job just fine. It is a common suggestion that children are put in Gaelscoils to keep them away from immigrant children. Of course it’s taken for granted that immigrants wouldn’t put their children in Gaelscoils.

Such allegations are part of the campaign these people have, trying to convince us that Irish speakers are ‘elitist’, although the campaign doesn’t stop them from calling Irish the language of poverty. It seems that they aren’t themselves aware of how stupid this looks. They remind me of the racists in my own country who are able to say, in one of their manifestoes, that immigrants should be assimilated the hard way, by prohibiting them to speak their language or to keep their culture – and that they should keep to their own ghettoes and have their culture there as much as they want! Obviously these people are just throwing whatever mud they have handy, logic be damned.

It seems these people can’t even imagine that an African or a Muslim could take an interest in Irish. These anti-Gaelicists – in imitation of the old English elite – act like only white people can have intellectual curiosity. They can’t conceive of dark-skinned or black people as equal human beings, and moreover, they can’t identify with anyone who is curious about Irish, because they are themselves so cavalier about the language. So if they happen to meet an Irish-speaker of African descent, they’ll immediately forget about that meeting, because their prejudices don’t allow them to accept the very existence of such a person.

Anyone who wants to acquire an intelligent or scientific understanding of the status of the language in society must accept that there are people of non-European backgrounds who are studying the language today, and that some have learned it thoroughly.

Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish.
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