Minority languages such as Irish must be saved from disappearing


Morning View (March 17), appropriately on St Patrick’s Day, drew attention to the importance of English speakers learning to think and speak in languages other than their own, so as to enrich themselves linguistically and culturally.

You correctly point out that speakers of dominant languages, such as English, do not have an incentive, or pressure, to acquire other languages as would apply in the case of speakers of smaller languages. However, you critically compare funding of Gaelic or the Irish language with Spanish in Northern Ireland; while you appear to appreciate that Irish is part of the rich historical and cultural tapestry of this island, you do not appear to appreciate that it is also in a highly vulnerable and fragile state, certainly compared to Spanish.

Spanish is a dominant world language and is probably the third most used language in the world after Chinese Mandarin and English.

About 400 million people speak Spanish. It is well able to hold its own and has bodies like the Spanish Cervantes Institute to promote it.

Not so Gaelic, which is tiny and endangered and might wither and die without adequate support, including State support.

This also applies to the two other UK indigenous sister languages of Irish such as Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, which are also a part of the rich historic tapestry of the two islands.

Chrystia Freeland, a member of the Canadian Parliament, recently put her finger on the heart of this language question with regard to bilingualism in Canada i.e. English and French: “Our language (English) may be dominant, but it isn’t alone. We are far from perfect - our failings are particularly egregious in our treatment of our aboriginal people - but when it comes to living in a multilingual, multicultural world, we get a lot right.”

And she says that the real challenge of a bilingual society in which one language and culture is dominant is keeping the minority language or culture from vanishing.

Micheal O’Cathail