Protecting endangered languages: The case of Irish

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Li, Lan
MacSwiney Brugha, Cathal
Gallagher, Mary
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This article reviews the Irish experience of plurilingual aspiration from three perspectives. It first relates the case for preserving and learning the Irish language to Ireland’s cultural development as an independent nation, as distinct from its struggles for political freedom and economic self-determination. It next considers the broader context of the value of learning or knowing a second language. It then considers Irish secondary schoolgoers’ critical attitudes to the learning of Irish and to government policy on the learning of the Irish language. It concludes that it is wrong to consider global vehicular languages such as English and cultural languages such as Irish as competing for single-language dominance. Instead, there should be an early initiation into multiple language systems, deepening people’s linguistic diversity and plurilingual competence. This should be combined with a content-based integrated approach concentrating on cultural value, history, and literature. Languages should be seen as vectors of continuity and of connection with a specific identity, a specific past and a specific place. Ultimately, as English becomes increasingly and even exclusively vehicular, 'non-global’ languages like Irish will be valued as embodying community and relational values, and as channels serving people's inter-communication, connectedness and development – at deeper levels than the physical, political and economic.