Linguistic Ownership in an Irish Language Classroom

Bernadette O'Rourke, Aisling Vaughan

Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK, Ireland (Republic of), National University of Ireland, Galway


According to Wee (2002), to claim ownership over a language is to assert a specific relationship between the speakers of a language and that of the language itself. Language ownership is essentially a metaphor for reflecting the legitimate control that speakers may have over the development of a language, the struggles they engage in over controlling the production and distribution of linguistic resources and over the legitimization of relations of power. At the heart of these linguistic struggles are debates about what counts as legitimate language (Bourdieu 1977; Blommaert 1999), who decides who should speak what and how. In other words, what language practices are values and considered good, normal, appropriate or correct connected to the social, economic and political interests of specific groups (Heller and Martin-Jones 2001). Also included in the notion of ownership are concepts such as ‘native speaker’, ‘native speaker competence’ and ‘mother tongue’, terms which although not unproblematic, can ascribe linguistic ownership to some speakers and exclude others, giving linguistic authenticity to the native speakers and linguistic artificialness to the non-native speaker.

Our purpose here is to examine how struggles over language ownership are played out in a minority language setting, and specifically in an Irish language setting. We will focus of the more or less serious struggles which emerge between so-called ‘native’ of L1 and ‘non-native’ or L2 speakers of Irish in a language learning environment and the effect of these struggles on language acquisition and language choice. Our discussion of these issues is based on qualitative data collected from undergraduate students of Irish in 2007 at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Session: POSTERS: Focus on variation, migration, minority languages
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 12:45-15:45
room: foyer