[lg policy] dissertation: English title: Immigrants and Irish: The language ideology and practice of Irish-speaking immigrants in Ireland

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jan 19 17:17:30 UTC 2012

Inimircigh agus an Ghaeilge: Idé-eolaíocht agus cleachtas teanga lucht
inimirce na Gaeilge in Éirinn

Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis

Subject Language(s): Irish (gle)

Dissertation Director:
Tadhg Ó hIfearnáin

Dissertation Abstract:

English title: Immigrants and Irish: The language ideology and practice of
Irish-speaking immigrants in Ireland
Irish title: Inimircigh agus an Ghaeilge: Idé-eolaíocht agus cleachtas
teanga lucht inimirce na Gaeilge in Éirinn

This is a sociolinguistic study of the language practice and ideology of a
number of Irish-speaking immigrants in Ireland. It springs from the
under-researched question of immigration into autochthonous minority
language communities and therefore bridges two distinct sociolinguistic
phenomena in Ireland: 1) the rapid ethnolinguistic diversification of Irish
society around the turn of the 21st century; and 2) the ideological
mismatch between official state language policy in support of Irish and the
covert de facto language policy that continues to marginalize it.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2007 with seventeen immigrants
to Ireland who have become daily speakers of Irish, approximately half of
whom reside in the Gaeltacht (officially designated Irish-speaking areas)
and the other half in urban areas throughout the country. Their language
practices and beliefs were examined and their discourse was critically
analyzed in relation to ethnocultural identification, language ownership,
and the social functions of Irish in daily life. A critical analysis of the
public's discourse on these matters was also performed by examining samples
of English- and Irish-language print and broadcast media produced between
2005 and 2010.

The results show that the informants speak Irish habitually in a wide range
of language domains, both private and public. They discursively negotiate a
complex repertoire of identities that includes Gaelic ethnocultural
membership, sometimes in distinct contrast to a broader Irish identity, as
well as simultaneous ethnic, cultural and transnational identities. The
informants consistently depict Irish as a tool for social inclusion and
present a social-constructionist view of language ownership; however,
dominant public discourse is typified by an ethnic essentialism that
derives its persuasiveness from naturalized ideologies about the death,
dysfunction or otherwise irrelevant status of Irish to modern life. This
finds expression most often in discourse on Irish-medium schooling, which
is portrayed as fundamentally exclusionary. By comparing these two strands
of discourse, it can be seen how language ideologies and categories of
belonging are managed in relation to each other and expressed in language
policy at various levels of society.

The main conclusion is that immigrants are neither encouraged nor expected
to learn Irish because doing so would contradict the de facto language
policy of English monolingualism. Such policy dictates the type of
integration that is expected of immigrants to Ireland, but also undermines
official language policy by entrenching the minoritized status of Irish and
potentially depriving the language of new users and new uses. This study
sheds new light on language policy in Ireland as identity planning amid
major demographic change. It contributes to our theoretical understanding
of language shift and maintenance by challenging the ethnic essentialism
that typically informs such efforts, arguing instead for the need to
consider a social-constructionist perspective.


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