Ireland: Gaelic tongue slipping despite Irish drive

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Oct 5 13:51:27 UTC 2007

Gaelic tongue slipping despite Irish drive

22 hours ago

DUBLIN (AFP) — The number of Irish people who claim to speak Gaelic is still
slipping despite a major drive to revive the traditional language, according
to figures released Thursday. Over 1.6 million Irish people claim they can
speak the Gaelic language but the proportion of native speakers dropped from
42.8 to 41.9 percent between 2002 and 2006, according to the Census data.
Schoolchildren were by far the most likely to speak Gaelic but figures from
the Central Statistics Office (CSO) shows fluency declined when people left
school. Of the 1.66 million people who indicated in the 2006 Census that
they could speak Gaelic, just over a million either never spoke the language
or spoke it less frequently than weekly.

Nearly half a million people said they spoke Gaelic on a daily basis at
school but this plummeted to some 72,000 -- 4.4 percent of all those who can
speak Gaelic -- who spoke it on a daily basis outside education. Under
Ireland's 1937 constitution, Gaelic is recognised as the first official
language. In June 2005, the EU made Gaelic the 25-nation body's 21st
official working language. Last year, in the first major policy statement on
Ireland's Gaelic language in more than 40 years, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
unveiled a 20 year strategy to create a bilingual society.

He said the "aim of 20th century government policies was to reinstate Irish
as the main language spoken by the people." But the new figures will be a
disappointment.  Even in most of the special so-called Gaeltacht areas,
where dwellers receive extra grants and allowances for schools, homes,
clubs, and festivals to encourage Gaelic speaking, the numbers are down.
Most of the Gaeltachts are scattered along the western seaboard.

Gaelic was the country's predominant language up until the middle of the
1800s. British colonisers introduced English as the sole language of
government and it became dominant in the bigger cities.

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