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Fulbright scholar speaks about Irish language

By Holly Wonnoberger
On November 30, 2012

  • Lip-sync Concert at Gampel In Celebration of Home Coming Week. DANIKA PIERCE/The Daily Campus

Thursday night, the Humanities Learning Community, and others, congregated in the Shippee classroom to hear from graduate student and Fulbright scholar Lisa Nic an Bhreithimh. A native of Ireland, she teaches Irish language courses available to all undergraduates. On Thursday, she sparked the interest of the group by highlighting the political, cultural and linguistic finer points of the Irish Gaelic language. Starting with a short video explaining the significance of the history of the language and why it is making a revival nationally and internationally, Nic an Bhreithimh made the language seem vivacious, not only a living breathing form of communication, but an artifact of Irish history, and a testament to the enduring strength of the people of Ireland.
While only 40 percent of all people in Ireland speak Irish Gaelic today, it is becoming more and more prominent among young people and adults looking to learn a language, on a national and international scale. The Fulbright Scholarship program allows about eight to 10 TAs to come to the United States and teach Irish language courses. Currently, Irish language courses are offered at approximately 60 American universities, and this number can only be expected to grow. In Gaeltacht regions of Ireland, there are about 133,000 native speakers of the language. The language is also growing in urban areas, as well as suburban areas looking to achieve what Nic an Bhreithimh refers to as "Gaeltacht status."
"People worry about the future of Irish as a minority language, but with people of all ages learning it, from Ireland to Australia to right here in UConn, I think it's clear that 'An Ghaeilge' has a challenging but also an exciting and diverse future," Nic an Bhreithimh said.
"I thought it was interesting to learn that not all Irish people speak Irish, even though it's a national language. I also found it interesting that they're trying to have a revival after the oppression from Britain," says Greg Contolini, a 9th-semester individualized major.
The language faced a significant decline when Ireland was ruled by the British monarchy and was even banned in schools. Children were punished for saying Irish Gaelic words. After the Great Famine of Ireland, 25 percent of the Irish population was lost to either death or emigration, leaving only about 20 percent of the entire Irish population as speakers of the language.
The late 19th century, however, saw what is called the "Gaelic Revival," when embracing the Irish culture was encouraged, socially and politically. Today, Ireland celebrates "Irish Week" in March, including St. Patrick's Day, which encourages people to speak Irish every day and to celebrate the culture.
The presentation ended with some fun basics of the language.
"I liked learning the cultural phrases," says Samantha Jones, a 5th-semester linguistics major.
Irish language classes will be offered this coming Spring 2013 semester, open to all UConn students. The courses fulfill the foreign language requirement and contribute to the Irish literature concentration for English majors. Students who are interested in learning more about Irish culture can also become involved or seek out events sponsored by such on-campus groups as An Cumann Gaelach, UConn Irish and Husky Hurlers. Students can contact for more information about classes and all things Irish on campus.

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