Neoliberalism and language shift: the Great Recession and the sociolinguistic vitality of Ireland's Gaeltacht, 2008-18
Kelly, Benjamin Edward Joseph
Ó Ceallaigh, Ben
The tendency of macro-level economic forces to drive language shift is frequently referred to in scholarship on language planning and policy (LPP). Despite this, there has, to date, been very little research that attempts to systematically explain how economic change contributes to language minoritisation. This thesis takes steps towards addressing this deficit by examining the effects of the “Great Recession” which began in 2008 on the vitality of the Irish language in those peripheral communities where it remains a vernacular, collectively known as the “Gaeltacht”. Although the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, Irish was in a severely threatened state in the Gaeltacht even before 2008, and this work demonstrates how the Great Recession served to significantly exacerbate what was an already challenging situation. The decade following 2008 saw a rapid intensification of neoliberal policy measures both in Ireland and elsewhere. Given the international dominance of neoliberalism, this period thus offers a valuable opportunity to examine how neoliberal policies can negatively impact LPP initiatives. Drawing on concepts which are well established in the wider field of public policy studies, but not yet prominent in the more specialised area of LPP, the neoliberalisation of Irishlanguage policy between 2008-18 is charted, as are the disproportionately severe budgetary cutbacks received by institutions serving to promote the vitality of the Gaeltacht. It is argued that neoliberalism’s inherent antipathy towards social planning and redistributive economic policies meant that measures to support the Gaeltacht were inevitably hit particularly hard in an era of austerity. The findings of ethnographic research conducted in some of the strongest remaining Gaeltacht communities in Galway and Donegal in the mid- and north-west of the country are also presented. These illustrate some of the micro-level consequences of the macro-level language policy reforms that took place in the wake of the crash, as well as many of the broader consequences of the recession for these communities, particularly with regard to their effects on the sociolinguistic vitality of Irish. Labour market transformations, drastically increased out-migration and the dismantling of important community institutions are documented, along with other related developments. This study thereby demonstrates some of the key ways in which the peaks and troughs experienced by Ireland’s economy – which itself is one of the most neoliberal in the world – have contributed to the weakening of the Irish language in its core communities in recent years. In doing so it adds empirical weight to the assertions on the centrality of economic change to language loss that are so commonplace in LPP literature and highlights some of the fundamental tensions between neoliberalism and language revitalisation policy.
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