Irish-Speaking Immigrants in Ireland: A Discursive Analysis of Identity and Language Ideology

Justin McCubbin

University of Limerick, Ireland (Republic of)


With non-nationals constituting roughly 10% of the Irish population according to the National Census of 2006, Ireland is undergoing a social transformation unparalleled in its modern history. Questions of multiculturalism and social integration are of central importance and present a number of unique challenges for Irish society. Determining the roles that the Irish language should play in contemporary Ireland is one such challenge. This has been a topic of debate since well before the arrival of substantial numbers of immigrants, of course, but it is due to these demographic changes that the role of Irish has become a subject of even greater contention and increased complexity. Can the Irish language be maintained and promoted while simultaneously encouraging multiculturalism and integration of immigrants into an English-speaking mainstream? What role, if any, can immigrants play in promoting native Irish culture?

This paper will address these issues by means of a discursive analysis of identity and language ideology among a particular segment of Ireland’s immigrant population: those who have chosen to learn and speak Irish. I will examine their beliefs about the role of language in their own identities and contrast this to the way in which certain discourses in mainstream Irish society perpetuate contrary ideologies, forming covert language policies. It is my intention to show that the act of identifying oneself and being identified by others as belonging to the Gaelic ethnoculture is in many ways a discursive practice rather than one based upon ethnicity. If the challenges created by rapid demographic change in Ireland are approached from a more humanistic perspective on language and identity, social integration could be achieved in a way that does not threaten the viability of the native Gaelic ethnoculture.


Central Statistics Office of Ireland. 2007: Census 2006. Available at:

Johnstone, B. 2002: Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Session: Paper session
Various Topics
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 16