THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE IRISH LANGUAGE

Source: (Ciarán Ó Pronntaigh, Irelandclick.com)


There are many reasons why there should be a daily newspaper in a minority language such as Irish.

To have the language as a real means of communication, where it is used to give information and is therefore seen as necessary, is one of the most important, as well as letting people see that the language can be as adept at dealing with the modern world as English.

However, there is always one reason which is left out in discussions about the media in Irish and that is the issue of the standard and its promotion. For those who have not started learning the language you will be blissfully unaware that the language is really only at the point of adopting a 'standard', that is, there should be only one way of spelling each word and that there should be a grammatical system which is usable by the average speaker.

This may sound surprising but we have only to look back at the English language a few hundred years ago to see that words could be spelt just as they are said. (Some people would say that this is the basis of the Ulster Scots language but that would be unfair).

It was only when books and particularly newspapers began to be printed that this ever became a real problem and thus, by general agreement, only one spelling was permitted.

The Americans may well revel in their special spellings, such as 'thru' and 'honor' but these are the exceptions which prove the rule. The standard in English may well seem like it is slipping if you read the Sun, but in reality it is quite robust.

So why, you may ask, has the Irish language not developed a standard like English, if, as we are told it has the old vernacular in Europe.

Well the truth of the story is that there was a standard Gaelic language with precise grammar and spelling all the way from the tip of Kerry to the north of Scotland. In fact we took great pride in our use of language, something which brushed off on our English as well.

The reason why this did not develop in the same way as say French or Italian developed was because we were occupied by a power which saw the Irish language as a threat. While the rest of Europe was developing newspapers in their own language millions of Irish people died or were
forced to flee as refugees.

This is important because no daily newspapers developed in the language, one of the reasons why even today very good speakers are often not as confident in reading or writing in the language and in using the standard. It is only through a daily newspaper that people can become
acquainted with the words which deal with their immediate lives. For example, does the word 'príoracht' mean a priority or a priory? What is the correct spelling for hurricane, Nazi or nurse? We still a have a long way to go but these are the types of questions which should be disappearing with a daily paper in Irish.

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