If a language is only spoken by 2% of the population, is it worth saving? This is the question currently facing the Irish language. While people from Ireland and the more than 70 million people of Irish descent who live abroad are incredibly proud of their culture, the use of the language that once predominated on the Emerald Isle has experienced a steady decline. This has left the future of the Irish language uncertain.
An Exploration of the Future of the Irish Language
Irish, also known as Gaeilge, is part of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family. According to the most recent census in the Republic of Ireland, almost 40% of the population identifies as being able to speak Irish. While this statistic seems promising at first, a deeper dive reveals a bleaker picture. The number of Irish speakers decreased by 13,017 people from the previous census. And even more telling, only 2% of people in Ireland speak the language on a daily basis.
With numbers like this, it’s easy to see why Irish is an endangered language. In a country where almost everyone speaks English and only a small percentage speak this minority language, it’s easy to assume a doomed future. However, the people of Ireland aren’t ready to let the language go down without a fight.
The general consensus of the Irish people is that they would like to see an increase in the general use of the Irish language. In a survey conducted in Dublin in 2022, close to 60% of the respondents said they were interested in learning or improving their Irish.
Efforts fort the Preservation of Irish
The Irish government has opted for preservation rather than extinction. The Official Languages (Amendment) Act, passed in 2021, requires 20% of new public service employees to be competent in the Irish language by the year 2030. It’s an effort to expand the quantity and quality of public services provided in Irish.
Soon after, in 2022, Irish was declared an official language of the European Union. This was thanks to a long and hard push by the Republic of Ireland. Irish now shares the same status as the 23 other official EU languages and all EU documents must now be translated into Irish. For instance, if you run a business and plan to open a branch in Ireland, all your business docs have to be translated into the local language.
The Future of the Irish Language Hangs in the Balance
Despite these significant steps forward being taken by the government, not everyone is in agreement. The biggest argument against the preservation of the Irish language is that nearly everyone in the country speaks English, and the low percentage that speaks Irish could mean that a comeback would be an expensive and unnecessary endeavor.
Irish is a minority language, and amongst the other minority languages of Europe, it’s one of the least frequently used. In Luxembourg, for example, the most common language is French, but 77% of the population is proficient in Luxembourgish. A stark difference from the state of the language in Ireland.
An Interconnected World Might Help Drive Change
Fortunately, we can see a glimmer of hope when we look toward the younger generations. They are using social media to create an accessible environment for people who want to express themselves in Irish, at the same time promoting its use.
They’re using TikTok and Instagram to share videos, music, and arrange meetups in the Irish language. There’s also a new app that can help you locate other Irish speakers. It can be used both locally and abroad, to help exchange the language. Many young people also attend gaeltachts, or summer camps, where they are immersed in the Irish language. It’s a fun opportunity for them to meet other Irish speakers their own age and use Irish in day-to-day activities. Irish has now officially become “cool” among the younger generation, and this could enable its long-term growth.
And it’s not only the Republic of Ireland that’s responsible for the revival of the language. In Northern Ireland, the situation seems to be improving too. Unlike their neighbors to the south, the number of people that spoke Irish in Northern Ireland rose from the last census. Figures increased from 10.65% to 12.45%. The Irish language was traditionally associated with Catholic communities. But proponents of the language are advocating that it can be a unifier between the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland. It can also create a stronger link with the Republic of Ireland.
International Preservation Attempts to Save the Irish Language
Across the pond in the United States, where 35 million people claim Irish ancestry, there’s also an interest in preserving the language of their ancestors. Currently, there are 1.1 million people learning Irish on Duolingo, 36% of which are in the United States. That’s more people than the country of Ireland itself has!
While the Irish language is in danger of disappearing, people aren’t ready to give up on it just yet. In recent years, Irish has seen a cultural revival, largely supported by the younger generations. We hope this means a prosperous future for this culturally and historically important language!
About the Author
Day Translations would like to thank Chad Emery, the editor of Langoly.com, for his valuable Guest Post contribution. It is thanks, in no small part, to organizations like these that language preservation and education is being empowered across the globe.