Research article
Issue: № 4 (12), 2017


The globalization processes put a number of regional languages on the verge of extinction, therefore, they have raised awareness of protecting and maintaining the minority languages among a great number of foreign and Russian scholars. The paper deals with Irish that is under protection of the European Charter for regional and Minority Languages in UK and is an official language of Ireland. The research is aimed at comparing the Irish language position in both regions: Ireland and Northern Ireland. Reviewing the quantitative data in the regions under the study allows us to see clearly the language situation, monitor development, and relying on the achieved results, assess the current state and predict the future of Irish in both regions. The research results are considered to be of practical use for further language planning, improving the efficiency of language policies.


Scientific interest and attention are drawn to regional and minority languages due to public concerns of decline in linguistic diversity caused by the globalization processes. Preservation and maintenance of regional and minority languages, analysis of both the phenomenon patterns and new trends in the area are the object of sociolinguistic research of Russian and foreign scholars as Fishman J., Ferguson Ch., Kloss H., Alpatov V. M., Sveytser A. D., Nikolskiy L. B., Bayramova L. K., Volodarskaya E. F., Mustafina D. N., Grishaeva E. B., Slavina L. R., and others [1-20]. Literature review proves complexity and size of the linguistic diversity maintenance issue. Decline in the language functions is a result of the certain external and internal factors - political, religious, and cultural. In some cases the crucial factor is that society and a state or region do not give due heed to a language.

Today, the matter of regional language protection goes beyond one single state and acquires international importance. Within the context the language policy issues require sound scientific and empirical base. The term “language policy” is associated both with state/region actions and scientific movement in sociolinguistics that is targeted at demonstrating patterns of language situation development, introducing influence and control mechanisms for this important field. Klokov V.T. defines “language policy” as “conscious and targeted influence on a language functions and systems from the side of administrative and non-administrative representatives, social institutions, parties, governments, classes, and others” [21, Р. 15-16]. Mustafina D. N. puts forward the following definition: “language policy is the state’s actions on regulation of its own language paradigm so as to adjust it to the goals and objectives of the state national policy” [9, P. 113]. Language policy and language situation are, nowadays, mutually influential and cannot be viewed separately. According to the definition by Mustafina D. N, language situation is “combination of historically based quantitative and qualitative features of a language situation in a region or state that is viewed within the context of the relevant extralinguistic factors” [9, P. 40]. Mechkovskaya N. B. views language situation as a group of language forms, i.e. languages and language variations (dialects, jargon, functional styles, and other forms of language existence) that are used by a society (an ethnos or multiethnic community) within a region, political and territorial entity, or state [22]. She classifies a language situation by the following features:

  1. Number of language forms (single - / multi-component);
  2. Number of ethnic language forms (multi-component one language situation/ multi-component two-(three-, four-, five -) language situation);
  3. Percentage of people speaking each language (demographically equal/unequal situation);
  4. Number of communicative functions of each language formation (balanced/imbalanced);
  5. Language legal status (equal/unequal);
  6. Genetic relationship of languages composing a language situation(closely related/not closely related/unrelated languages)
  7. Language prestige within a society.

The above mentioned list of features can be divided into quantitative (1-4 features) and qualitative (5-7 features) profiles of a language situation [22-23]. Therefore, the theoretic base for language situation study covers a group of aspects that prove complexity and multiplicity of the matter.

One of the examples of the complex approach to the language policy is the document developed by European Council – the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (hereinafter Charter) [24]. The document is developed for protection and revitalization of the regional languages, and November, 2017 is 25th anniversary of Charter adoption. The states signing the Charter plan their language policy as outlined in the document that puts forward the various levels of regional and minority language maintenance according to the conditions of their functioning within a state or region.

It should be highlighted that in the United Kingdom Irish as a co-official language of Northern Ireland is under protection of the Charter, however, Ireland has not signed the Charter so far.


In the paper we applied the methods of comparative analysis, the quantitative research method, and the results of the review are synthesized in the tables. The research demonstrates the comparative analysis of the language situation in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The object of the research is the Irish language functional potential.

Structurally, the paper is divided into two parts: the first part gives a brief review of the Irish language on the island and the second one focuses on the present situation and quantitative data of both regions.


Irish belongs to the Celtic group and Goildelic subgroup of languages. In the 17th century when the Plantations of Ireland began, English started gradually superseding Irish in the various spheres. Irish was considered as a language of poverty and lower social classes whereas English was beneficial for those who sought sound financial standing and higher position in a society. Decline in Irish social prestige was precipitated after the Great Famine (1845-49) when Ireland’s population decreased by1 mln. [25]. Despite the low social prestige, within the state the attempts were undertaken to preserve Irish and promote its use among the people. The key part in developing a favourable language policy belonged to the Gaelic League set up in 1893. After Ireland being divided into Free State (1922) and Northern Ireland (1921), one can observe two different language policies towards the Irish language. In Ireland both Irish and English became official languages and Irish was among the compulsory exam subjects since then. In 1937 Irish gained a status of the first official language as a national language of the country [26, P. 10]. However, Northern Ireland government withdrew funding for support and development of Irish and eliminated it from the curriculum at education institutions. Speaking Irish was considered to show disloyalty to the government of England. Irish-medium education was reintroduced only in 1971 [27]. Here we observe the use of a language as a political instrument which is historical trend and thus implies a greater role of a language in developing and realizing national policy of a state than being solely the means of communication. In the next section we are presenting the quantitative data on the Irish language in Ireland and Northern Ireland which will demonstrate the current trends in the language situation in both regions.



Census 2011 results show that the population of Ireland is about 4,6 mln people. Approximately 1,77 mln (41,4 %) of total population claims that they can speak Irish. 

Table1 - Number of Irish speaking people by age


Total, thsd.

Number of Irish speakers, thsd.

Percent of Irish speakers, %

Age 3-4








































The data demonstrated in Table 1 points out that the higher percentage of Irish speaking people is recorded among children and teenagers. The highest percentage (73,7%) is registered among the people aged 10-14 years. This fact proves success of the Irish education strategy at school. According to the reports on Census 2011 results, 180,9 thsd of 10-14 year-old-respondents claim that use Irish everyday at school as well as 169,3 thsd respondents aged 5-9 years and 178,7 thsd aged 15-19 years. It should be taken into account that 38,4 thsd people of the total population use Irish outside the educational institutions, and 21,6 thsd of them speak Irish daily.

Table 2 - Use of Irish outside the educational institutions by age

Age 3-4

Age 5-9

Age 10-14

Age 15-19



Age 25-34

Age 35-44

Age 45-54

Age 55-64

Age 65+




8,6 thsd.

9,5 thsd.

7,8 thsd.

1,5 thsd.

2,7 thsd.

2,5 thsd.

2,3 thsd.

1,3 thsd.




Having analyzed Table 2 data by the age groups, one can notice that the higher percentage is among the respondents of 10-14 years old; it adds up to 24% out of the total number of Irish speaking population outside the educational system, the respondents aged 5-9 and 15-19 make 22% and 20% respectively [28].

Hence, the young generation aged 5-19 amounts to 66% out of this category that proves a positive tendency in functional development of Irish within the education system.

The Economic and Social Research Institute published Attitudes towards the Irish Language on the Island of Ireland report in August 2015. The report recapitulates and organizes the results of Irish Language Survey 2013 [29]. The survey points to the fact that 50% of respondents speaking Irish fluently does not start a conversation in Irish in everyday life, and 49% does not want to talk Irish if there is a person who has no Irish command. Moreover, 75% of the responders with advanced language skills states that Irish is not spoken within their circle. The question on attitudes towards Irish received positive answers from 67% respondents, and 64% of population believes that Irish is critical for preserving the national identity.

Northern Ireland

According to Census 2011 results, the total population of Northern Ireland amounts roughly to 1,736 mln people aged over 3 years. The linguistic composition of the region is diverse: the largest number is presented by people who state that English is their main language of communication (96,86%), the second in number of speakers is Polish (1,02%), the third–Lithuanian (0,36%). Irish takes the forth position with 0,24% of people who consider it to be their native language. The language skills analysis of the population demonstrates the following data: 4,06% (70,5 thsd.) can understand, but cannot read, write, and speak Irish; 1,42% (9,2 thsd.) can speak, but cannot write and read Irish; 0,43% (1,66 thsd.) can speak and read, but cannot write Irish; 3,74% (64,85 thsd.) can write, read, and speak Irish [30]. The Department of Culture, Art, and Leisure of Northern Ireland undertakes statistical review of Irish skills and usage so as to trace the dynamics of functional development of Northern Ireland’s co-official language. The review makes it possible for the government to weigh up the language position and plan the language policy targeting at further Irish position strengthening amidst the population. At present, three reports on Knowledge and Use of Irish in Northern Ireland (2011/2012, 2013/2014, 2015/2016) have been published [31-33].

Table3 - Irish skills by age.


Total % of the Irish speakers out of the number questioned


16-24, %, within a group


 25-34, %, within a group


35-44, %, within a group


 45-54, %, within a group


 55-64, %, within a group

Age 65+, %, within a group

























*The percentage is deduced in each age group separately

The base for the survey in 2011/12 was 3686 respondents, in 2013/14 - 3751, in 2015/16 the number of the people questioned amounted to 3285. According to the obtained data, the number of people with Irish command (can read/write/speak/understand) has increased by 2% in 2016 since 2011. The next obvious tendency is increase in the number of people aged 16-24 knowing Irish. The fact suggests that the young people show certain interest in the language and this can be attributed to the relatively successful language policy and planning in the region. The surveys of 2011/12 and 2015/16 contain the question on whether you want to learn Irish or advance your Irish, as a result “yes” answers add up to 18% and 19% respectively. However, the number of the respondents who speak Irish daily is 0%, and 4% uses it once in a while at home or in society (the figure has not changed throughout the reported years) [31-33].

The survey Public Attitudes towards the Irish Language in Northern Ireland was conducted in 2012 [34]. The results of the survey point to the fact that 35% of the respondents has a positive attitudes towards Irish, 29% - negative, 35% - indifferent.

Table 4 - Attitudes towards Irish by age (%)












Age 65+






















The number of people with positive attitude towards Irish is significantly higher among the respondents aged 35-44 compared to those aged 55-64 (43% and 28% respectively). However, it should be taken into account that 46% of respondents aged 16-24 and 34% aged 25-34 assert to be indifferent towards the language. 41% of respondents agree that some measures should be taken to support Irish and motivate people to use it (35% - disagree). The question “what would make people use Irish more often?” is answered as follows: 18% suggests that more possibilities to learn the language while gaining education and 58% states that “nothing”. 41% of the population aged 16-24 is for the opportunity to learn Irish, however, the older generation claims that nothing can motivate them to use Irish (72% aged over 65+) [34].


The review of the quantitative data makes it possible to weigh up the Irish language position in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland demonstrates an efficiently planned education strategy that allows students to master the Irish language skills. Over 53% of population asserts that the government should strengthen efforts in the Irish teaching sphere. In Northern Ireland it is considered that the efforts should be put into developing TV and radio in Irish as a tool of language revival [29].The survey results stress out that in Ireland a number of the respondents view Irish positively and consider it to be a main part of the national identity, however, the number of people speaking it every day is not sufficient. Hence, the priority of the regions’ government is to motivate people to use the regional language within and outside the educational system. The key part in this objection should be assigned to family since according to statistics people who learned the language within their family are more likely to speak it fluently and use it more often (e.g.: Irish is being spoken by 56% (Ireland) and 45% (Northern Ireland) by those who heard Irish at home and 18% (Ireland) and 6% (Northern Ireland) of those, who did not speak Irish at home [35]. Most of the respondents in both regions are for becoming a bilingual state, but with English as a main language (43% Ireland, 34% Northern Ireland) [29].

The obtained results of the regions’ qualitative analysis allow forecasting Irish further development. Having reviewed the language situation in Ireland we can assume that Irish is gradually taking a strong position in society. When the people start speak Irish more often, Ireland will be likely to become a bilingual state. However, when it comes to the future of Irish in Northern Ireland, it is difficult to forecast it. There are two crucial reasons for that: the first, the regional language comes fourth by number of speakers, the second, almost the half of the population does not show any positive attitudes towards the processes of Irish development. However, one of the possible options for strengthening Irish in Northern Ireland is to actively interact with Ireland, use it in educational programs, and other resources for maintaining the functional power of co-official language of the region.


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