gaeilge san aois nua

Michael Cronin

An Ghaeilge san aois nua/Irish in the new century

A critical study of cultural displacement as it manifests itself as background, as context and as central theme in modern and contemporary literature in Irish. Bilingual book.

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Product ID: 783 ISBN: 978-1-901176-52-0. Categories: , , , , .

A critical study of cultural displacement as it manifests itself as background, as context and as central theme in modern and contemporary literature in Irish.

Drawing on post-colonial theoretical perspectives, the author discusses the cultural effects of marginalisation and minoritisation as these are explored both in the literature itself and in the critical commentary on it.

Weight125 g

Angela Bourke, The Irish Times, 16 July 2005

One of Michael Cronin's back-to-back essays on the situation of the Irish language in a globalising world is written in Irish, the other in English. They appear together in the second dual-language, upside-down/downside-up book from the innovative Irish-language publisher Cois Life, now almost 10 years old (the first was James McCloskey's Guthanna in Éag: An Mairfidh an Ghaeilge Beo?/Voices Silenced: Has Irish a Future? (2001).

Attractively designed, neat enough to slip into a pocket or bag, yet stitched in signatures so they won't fall apart, these little books are designed to be carried around and talked about - modern versions of that most urbane genre, the pamphlet. Intended to provoke and inform debate, they are packed with ideas, examples, international perspectives and clues to wide reading, yet they manage to be admirably lucid and succinct.

Cronin identifies in Irish public discourse, with a few honourable exceptions, a "repeated emotional inability to deal with the language dimension to Irish experience". He invites his readers, therefore, to set aside the cliches, pieties and fulminations that so often characterise discussions of Irish in both languages, in favour of an informed, thoughtful, "intercultural" approach that will embrace questions of nationality, globalisation and the transition to a "knowledge society".

He prompts us to recognise the complexities surrounding language use, instead of reducing them to simple oppositions. The thinking that underpinned the political importance of Irish in the 19th century, he points out (languages as the souls of emerging nations), has given way to other formulations and preoccupations, notably in the new, multi-ethnic, multilingual Ireland.

If life on this island is to be all it can be in the diversified "knowledge society" of the new century, he suggests, the Irish language must be recognised and embraced as a unique aesthetic and cognitive resource. But Irish has a global dimension too, not just in the number of native speakers and learners worldwide, but also in what a single language possessed of a rich literary heritage and long cultural memory brings to cultural diversity as a vital resource for the human species. These essays inquire: what is required of a national language in the 21st century? How can citizens best have access to it? What is, or should be, the role of translation into or out of Irish? How can translation work to redress imbalances of power and mitigate damage to cultural ecologies?

Centuries of this island's history remain occluded because their documents are illegible except to specialists, while chairs in the relevant disciplines remain unfilled in Irish universities. But those who know Irish and want to see it survive, Cronin argues, must show others its value, instead of merely telling them.

He challenges scholars to prepare new literary translations (in Irish and English), which will allow readers a more immediate, intimate access to the rich vividness of early literature in Irish, and liberate poetry and prose from the trappings of moribund antiquity and colonial condescension that hang about so many 19th-century versions in English. "We must find a way to mediate between the archive and the society," he writes.

Differences between his two essays bear witness to what Cronin calls "assymmetrical bilingualism". Since there are no readers of Irish who can't read English, almost anyone living in Ireland can read his English-language argument, but only readers of Irish will have access to both essays.

He challenges scholars to prepare new literary translations (in Irish and English), which will allow readers a more immediate, intimate access to the rich vividness of early literature in Irish, and liberate poetry and prose from the trappings of moribund antiquity and colonial condescension that hang about so many 19th-century versions in English. "We must find a way to mediate between the archive and the society," he writes.

Differences between his two essays bear witness to what Cronin calls "assymmetrical bilingualism". Since there are no readers of Irish who can't read English, almost anyone living in Ireland can read his English-language argument, but only readers of Irish will have access to both essays. This offers a neat objective correlative for both the hermetic quality of a language we don't know and the added value of knowing more than one. Bilingualism implies a mostly one-language society, however, so that a refusal to translate from Irish to English (one thinks, for example, of the poet Biddy Jenkinson) may, paradoxically, be a move towards rather than away from openness and diversity. More adults are learning Irish than ever before, and not just in Ireland. Some of them will certainly read the English side of this book first, then use a dictionary to make their way through the Irish. Many who have strong opinions about Irish can't read it, and every Irish speaker has friends who don't speak Irish. Passionate, engaging and persuasive, this book offers to facilitate discussion across the divide: a "both/and" rather than "either/or" approach.


Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí, Magill, June 2005

A tumble-book, with the English text starting from one end and the Irish from the other; they fill the same number of pages, but are not straight translations. Tony Canavan interviewed Cronin about the book in our April issue and there is not much more to say except that the tone is pragmatic and optimistic, examining "the opprtunities afforded by and for the Irish language in a new and affirmative version of Irish society". It is a short book - hardly more than a magazine article in length - on interculture, power, multilingualism and such, though under 'power' Cronin talks more of social and political matters than the psychological and intellectual advantages of those lucky enough to grow up bilingual.
Books Ireland, May 2005

Those involved in what could be loosely described as Irish Studies have shown increasing ingenuity in sourcing subject matter to sustain their arguments about contesting versions of Irishness. Much of these efforts have led to pioneering work, but taken as a whole they have been undermined by a failure to address the questions of the Irish language and its relationship to Irish identity. The huge implications of the language shift in the 19th Century are sometimes alluded to briefly and Irish is occasionally indulged as the poor relation in Hiberno-English, but any proper debate in the continuing role of Irish in the formation of Irish identity and Irish culture is rare. All of which means that Michael Cronin's new dual-language polemic, Irish in the New Century/An Ghaeilge san Aois nua is an important and long overdue work . Cronin dismisses the usual arguments for the relevance of Irish as something self-evidently good for Irish heart and soul, a cultural cup-of-soup. Instead, he argues that Irish has a crucial role to play in the creation of a 'radical dissonant modernity of Ireland'. This modernity, he argues, would be based on a culture of 'engagement, continuity and remembering' that would go against the present global fashion for forgetting and discontinuity.

For Cronin, Irish should be at the centre of both the 'knowledge society' and the 'knowledge economy' as both forms of knowledge are made redundant by a sense of time 'which only admits the experience of English monoglasia'.

Likewise, Cronin is correct in his argument that there is no pointing taking the importance of Irish as an act of faith. While his support for the simplification of Irish language grammar will raise eyebrows and blood pressure levels, it is his discussion of what he calls 'Irish-language Catastrophists' that is probably the most controversial. He claims that the Irish language commentators' excessive negativity about the prospects of Irish leads only to apathy and opposition. The 'greater the dangers without, the cosier the certainties within', he writes. One man's catastrophist however, is another man's realist. Elsewhere, Cronin dismisses the type of language enthusiast who clings to the belief that a spate of 'Pauline' conversions is just around the corner. Perhaps the type of activist the Irish language now needs lies somewhere in between. Cronin himself calls for the re-cultivation of the 'scholar-intellectual' (in the mould of Hyde or MacNéill), someone that can think and then engage the public with that thinking. In bringing the rigours of sociology, cultural theory and linguistics as well as an alert an invigorating intelligence to bear on a nascent debate, Cronin's stimulating book is in itself a beginning full of potential. *