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Anglophone Supremacism: Spurious Arguments, Factual Inaccuracies

Pog Mo Thoin Ghaelach

The Language Commissioner, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, has offered a carefully worded response to an article published in last week’s Irish Examiner by the eco-conservative journalist Victoria White. Through her newspaper column White derided the legislative basis for language rights in Ireland while extolling the lyrical, airy-fairy, oh-so-gossamer nature of our indigenous tongue, one that has no place as the living language of several hundred thousand citizens in a modern post-industrial society (or some such nonsense). From Monday’s newspaper:

“IN last Thursday’s Irish Examiner, Victoria White advanced the sensationalist theory that the Official Languages Act (2003) is “killing off what’s left of the Irish language”.

The fact of the matter is that the recent controversy about the validity of drink-driving convictions has absolutely nothing to do with the Official Languages Act.

Firstly, people are charged for traffic offences under the Road Traffic Act, not the Official Languages Act. Secondly, the fact that the legislation which stated that breath test results be furnished in both official languages was ignored is not the fault of the Irish language, or language legislation designed to protect the rights of Irish language speakers, but rather an example of the State deciding one thing in legislation and subsequently failing to fulfil what was a fairly simple procedural duty.

While many of us might find it comforting to imagine, as Ms White does, that ‘only love’ will save the Irish language, all evidence and research points to the fact that effective language legislation is also crucial to the survival of minority languages.

Likewise, we are told matter-of-factly about the “idiocy of attempting to revive the Irish language by an act of parliament”, despite the historical and contemporary evidence from across the globe that suggests that acts of parliament, while never the sole determinant in the fate of a language, are often important in deciding whether languages survive or not.

There is also a question of language rights, two words which Ms White feels necessary to place in quotation marks. Many regard the right to speak a language as a human right, but she seems to hold the reductive view that understanding English renders the very notion of linguistic rights redundant.

The Taliban reference is an obvious, tiresome, and disrespectful slur, but we might also wonder as to who these “guardians” of language rights are. Is Ms White referring to the thousands of Irish speakers, from the Gaeltacht and elsewhere, who took to the streets of Dublin last year on ‘Lá Mór na Gaeilge’ to demand the same language rights? Or to the many parents who demand services in their native language for the child they are raising, against the odds, in Irish?

For many people, the Irish language is more than a ‘bird dialect’ or even a beautiful historical anachronism. It is a living language spoken by a significant minority who deserve to be treated with respect rather than to be patronised with spurious arguments based on factual inaccuracies.”

In other words, stop drinking the supremacist Kool-Aid.

[With thanks to the many folk on ASF, email and Twitter who alerted me to the article by An Coimisinéir Teanga]

9 comments on “Anglophone Supremacism: Spurious Arguments, Factual Inaccuracies

  1. Chris Fogarty


    A GREAT response!

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. ar an sliabh

    I wish there was more rebuff like this by both, government and industry to some of the most obvious sh.te like this that gets spewed out by the media, and not just ours.


  3. It seems a large, unrepresentative and disproportionate section of the media have free reign to attack the language and it’s speakers. Here’s a particularly nasty opinion piece:
    It’s always good to see a public rebuttal.
    It really is time for the Irish people to step up and be counted now while the vast majority are positive towards the language according to numerous studies. We have to speak/learn/teach our kids the language. Caithfimid í a úsáid gach lá le gach duine. There are people, like the regular contributor on this blog, Jānis , who genuinely do not hear Irish being used. We have to change that so the minority opposed to the language cannot use as an excuse that Irish people don’t want to speak Irish.
    I believe Irish is on an upward swing outside the Gaeltacht and in the North. I see evidence for this in my own community and beyond. However, we can all do more if we want to see the language thrive in the future.


    • Eileen Healy

      i didn’t need to click on that one to know the content ! ‘Don’t mind me but ‘ prefaced many of Patricias articles hoping we would excuse her for taking a ‘Granny Rant’ and getting away with it She’s been doing it for years! The admonishing that the editor received a the time [press and journalistic guidelines addressed seemed to strenghten his brazenness on the issue which gave me the impression at the time that he was 100 per cent behind her and knew exactly how close to the wind he could sail Found it very difficult to find comments the last time i looked! and there was a spell afterwards where she was quite tame. Maybe MR ALAN ENGLISH inspite of his reaction was a bit tamed himself ! It was a particularly vile diatribe


    • I’ve seen people saying something like this many times before.
      But there are many others, like myself, who chose not to define either our identity or our Irishness by the tongue we speak.
      I’m wondering – If their native language isn’t part of their identity, then – what IS part of their identity?

      My native Latvian language is at the very centre of my identity and that’s the only thing that I have in common with other Latvians.
      Remove it and I’m no longer a Latvian, but a completely different person.

      If the language is not important – then what is? Can I, like millions of so-called ‘Irish-Americans”, claim to be Irish as well?


      • eileen healy

        Nobody’s identity is defined solely by their language of course but it is a big component in forming identity not just singling out the country of origin but influencing many aspects of one’s upbringing and education The literature and art alone that another language exposes us to is greatly underestimated

        I especially like the last paragraph in this piece
        There is a challenge to the anglophone reader in such discoveries — how much are we willfully forgetting if we choose not to read or speak Irish? Are we neglecting a path into a deeper understanding of this country’s past? As an academic, de Paor’s answer is a resounding, ‘yes we are’. He writes with an awareness that he is standing in the long shadow of Irish, one that covers far more of the lived experience of this country, than the newcomer tongue English.

        “Ninety per cent or more of our lived historical experience has been though the Irish language,” he says. “English has no direct access to that experience. It can only translate it. I think part of our unease with Irish is that it makes us feel foreign in our first language, and nobody likes to feel foreign at home. But we are at least partly estranged, remote from a significant part of ourselves, if we insist on being confined to English. Pre-Famine Irish-speaking Ireland and post-Famine English-speaking Ireland are two different worlds. I can’t go back there, but as someone who has learned Irish, I can at least try to get closer to that past without which we are disconnected, disinherited of what is legitimately and uniquely ours.”


  4. It’s the Irish speakers that feel foreign in their own country, because they can’t use their native language and must use the language of the invader instead.


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