The current situation and challenges
Have you ever heard about the world’s minority languages? Do you know that many languages worldwide are at risk of extinction? Currently, there are approximately 6,500 languages spoken in the world. It is almost incredible that 50% of these languages are spoken within the boundaries of eight countries, including- Australia, Mexico, India, Brazil and Cameroon. I know that we get tired hearing statistics trotted out all the time; but the first time I heard this fact, I remember I was really shocked. You would associate Australia solely with English and Brazil only with Portuguese. But what about the hundreds of other languages that are spoken in these countries? These are minority or regional languages!
A minority or regional language is a living language spoken in daily communication by certain communities; but more often than not, it lacks official recognition and status. Often, people are not allowed to use it outside the family to conduct their business with state and commercial organisations. In Europe alone, there are about 60 languages in this bracket. One might imagine from the term “minority” that only a handful of people or minority groups speak these languages, but that is not the case! There are over five million people in Spain, in Andorra, in the Balearic Islands and in Sardinia who speak Catalan, one of the minority or regional languages of Europe! The Catalans are doing their best to secure status and rights for the language! But having said that, many other languages in Europe and across the globe are at risk of becoming extinct and being swallowed up by strong world languages like English! This is happening because the young generation does not speak them. Children and teenagers don’t bother with them. These languages would be spoken naturally by their parents but their children do not acquire and use them!
Irish is not really a minority language! We are fortunate in that it has recognition as an official language of this state and that its constitutional status is enshrined here and in the European Parliament. This is not to say, however, that the language is safe and secure in the future! This is not so! We all know all that it will not survive until the next century without living speakers. This will not happen without people and children speaking it in the home. The language must be passed on to the next generation but this will certainly not happen until the language becomes the normal language of everyday communication by all or most of our children. So we have no other choice but to give the language to our children so that they will have it for life. Otherwise, it will become a victim to a “predator” language like English- a term used by the American linguist, Nancy Horberger. Strong words but room for thought, nonetheless!
An Dr. Muiris Ó Laoire, Institiúid Teicneolaíochta Thrá Lí, Co. Chiarraí