Pobal Gaeltachta an Bhreacbhaile: A Sociolinguistic and Ethnographic Case Study in Language Policy

Ni Dhuda, Laoise

Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh. National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland (Republic of)


The closing decade of this millennium brought a resurgence of interest in language planning and language policy (LPP) concerns and issues. This was fuelled both by the spread of English and the loss of hundreds of indigenous languages (Hornberger, 2006:24). It is not entirely clear what conditions best support the survival and maintenance of linguistic diversity in minority language communities and how these might be brought about where they do not currently exist (Romaine, 2006:442). Similarly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for revitalization and preservation. At a local level, the nature and scope of LPP can only be understood in relation to that particular setting.

This PhD thesis seeks to investigate Spolsky’s tripartite division of language policy (2004) in an Irish speaking Gaeltacht area which will be referred to as an Sráidbhaile.

Specifically, a sociolinguistic analysis of:
- language practices
- language beliefs
- language management

will be completed in the region to elucidate the purpose and role of LPP at a micro-level.

A qualitative approach to fieldwork is proposed, whereby community profiling and field notes will be evaluated prior to undertaking in-depth interviewing in the field. An Sráidbhaile has been chosen as the case study in which to undertake the ethnographic inquiry.

The research findings and the recommendations which emerge from the study will:

a) provide an insight into the language and community dynamic in a Gaeltacht area

b) suggest a new foundation for LPP in the region.

This investigation will impart invaluable knowledge about LPP at a local level.

During the past ten years the researcher has been an active member of the Sráidbhaile community. This unique position should enable the researcher to gain access to indispensable, yet sensitive information. However, this situation poses many challenging and ethical considerations, such as:
- What is the most ethically appropriate method to carry out an ethnographic study in a small community, which is also the researcher’s ‘backyard’?
- What measures are usually taken to ethically recruit participants in ethnographic research?
- What type of relationship is advised among researcher and potentially unaware participants?

The central arguments of the project will be developed through the context of theoretical literature and international LPP discourse relating to lesser used languages. Issues such as:
- the role of mother tongue transmission in language survival
- the function of educational institutions
- the importance of community participation in the LPP process will be explored.

This ethnographic study will scrutinize the current language policy and demonstrate the process of language shift in a Gaeltacht area. The detailed analysis should provide a unique framework for micro-level LPP in both Gaeltachtaí na hÉireann and possibly in other threatened language communities worldwide.

The proposed poster will primarily discuss Spolsky’s tripartite division of language policy and its potential for utilisation as the theoretical underpinning of the study.

Session: POSTERS:Focus on language policy, literacy, education, identity
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:00-15:45
room: foyer