Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gearóid O Colmáin on The Colonized

‘Every time the question of the language surfaces, in one way or another, it means that a series of other problems are coming to the fore: the formation and enlargement of the governing class, the need to establish more intimate and secure relationships between governing groups and the national-popular mass, in other words to re-organise the cultural hegemony’.

Antonio Gramsci.

This year sees the accession of two new member states to the European Union, Rumania and Bulgaria. Two more languages, two new motifs to the great symphony of European polyglossia (many tongues). 2007 will also be the year in which official documentation of the EU is translated into Irish. It took our governments long enough to insist on the implementation of this legislation, and it shows how far we have matured since our own accession to the euro club in 1973. But just how important is it to have EU documents in Irish? To the common man or woman it is of little consequence. Why then, should so much money be spent producing literature that very few are going to read? It has symbolic importance, but is this good enough? Is it sufficient to awaken this country from its cultural slumber, its socio-linguistic malaise, the trauma of its nebulous past? Will we hear Gaelic spoken in Strasbourg and Brussels? Spoken Gaelic loud and clear.That is all that is required now. Rumours of the language’s death have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Irish language literature is flourishing and our Gaelscoileanna are among the finest in the country. Now is the time for assertion and confidence. We are one of the most rapidly growing multicultural counties in Europe with well over a hundred languages spoken in our schools. We are also a country that has emerged, albeit scared and wounded, from the nightmare of history. Many who have joined us from overseas (dream dár slua thar thoinn tháinig chugainn- some have come from across the wave- Amhráin na bhFiann, national anthem), have experienced colonialism and many speak minority languages.This should make us more sensitive to the existence and importance of foreign languages in our midst .Indeed, our situation is unique in Europe; a post-colonial country, now one of the richest nations in the world, still coming to terms with a history that was experienced for the most part in a language that is now foreign to so many of us. We are foreign to ourselves. This could be the greatest lesson of any cultural history. But we will only comprehend its meaning through openness and dialogue with other cultures.The Poles, the Bulgarians, the Rumanians, the Slovenians, the Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians etc have much to teach us about language and identity. Their integration and the continued interest in Irish language and culture shown by our immigrant communities portend much hope for our future. As Europeans we must resist the increasing hegemony of English throughout the EU. This is in all our interests. Europe has much to learn from Ireland in this respect. We have perhaps even more to learn from our African emigrants, whose histories and diverse cultures, languages and traditions were obfuscated through centuries of western misunderstanding.

We must not relapse into the kind of bureaucratic approach to the Irish language criticized by one of our greatest Gaelic writers Martín Ó Cadhain. Ó Cadhain contended that
‘Henceforward the Irish language movement would have to play an active role in the struggle of the Irish people to fulfil the aims of the 1916 manifesto. This is the reconquest of Ireland, the revolution, the revolution of the mind and the heart, the revolution in wealth distribution, property rights and living standards.’

This struggle is is far from complete, but now Europe has reclaimed the Gaels. The real reclamation must start here and now through the simple use of our beautiful foclóir Gaeilge! Athbhliain faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise daoibh!


Colm said...

Blag an-simiúil atá agat a chara. Bhain mé an-sult as! :-) Beidh mé ar ais arís gan dabht ar bith.

Colm, mac leinn Choláiste na hOllscoile, Corcaigh atá suim an-mhór aige i gcúrsaí teanga agus teangeolaíochta!! :-)

terrycollmann said...

The question that is the elephant in the drawing room here is: would Ireland, a tiny country on the edge of Europe with few natural resources, be as rich, successful and influential as it is if you didn't all speak English? If Irish were the only language spoken "from Bantry bay to the Derry quay", would Ireland be little better than a Western European Albania or Latvia? Discuss ...