Aligning micro and macro Irish language management: Speech community and agency in _Gaeilge 2010_

Tadhg Ó hIfearnáin

University of Limerick, Ireland (Republic of)


Language planning and policy in Ireland since 1922 have been predominantly national in focus, at corpus and status level, and in acquisition and prestige planning. The macro planning of the language itself and attribution of new roles to it in administration, education and in the public space are typical of what Baldauf (2006: 148-9) describes as “future-oriented systematic-change of language code, use and/or speaking, most visibly taken by government.” The Irish case is unusual, though not unique, in international LPP context in that it was founded on planning a language revival for the majority of the population who are a post-language shift speech community, people whose forbears spoke Irish but for whom it is now a second language. The concentration on macro level language policy, planning for the perceived needs and goals of the national community, has had many far-reaching consequences for the residual groups of speakers who use Irish as their main community language, or as one of the languages in bilingual communities.

Although 42% of the population claim to be able to speak Irish (2006 Census), only 85,076 speak it every day outside the education system. There are speakers in all parts of the country, but the main speech communities are in the Gaeltacht, where only just over a quarter of these daily speakers live. Macro language management for over four million people targeting the language of such a small group inevitably produces mismatches. Defined for national language policy purposes, Gaeltacht education and administration was to be carried out exclusively in Irish aiming to provide (a) a source of speakers to fulfil functions in the state apparatus and (b) a region for language learners to improve their skills. It has been argued that macro policies of this nature in favour of Irish can actually have the opposite effect in the language community at the micro level (Ó hIfearnáin 2007). Irish has continued to decline in these regions. After generations of institutional language management, many in the Gaeltacht in effect do not support Irish-only policies for home, school and administration believing that it harms their children’s acquisition of English, and potential for bilingualism.

Language policy, being made up of (a) beliefs about language, (b) language practices and (c) how these are managed (Spolsky 2004 & Shohamy 2006), is not just the preserve of polities, but of speech communities, which may have covert, implicit but nevertheless very forceful language policies of their own. This paper will analyse qualitative information gathered by questionnaire from 10,000 Gaeltacht households during 2007 as part of an investigation of micro, in-group, linguistic goals and agency in the formation of local language development plans for Údarás na Gaeltachta’s Gaeilge 2010 initiative, reconciling macro and micro Irish language management.

Baldauf, R. 2006 Rearticulating the Case for Micro Language Planning in a Language Ecology Context. Current Issues in Language Planning. 7: 2&3 147-170.

Ó hIfearnáin, T. 2007 Raising children to be bilingual in the Gaeltacht: language preference and practice. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 10:4. 510-528.

Session: Paper session
Planning/Policy 2
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 18