I don’t know why, but this Irish Times article by Carl O’Brien was quite surprising to me:

From Acholi to Zulu, Ireland a land of over 167 languages
More than 167 languages are being used in Ireland, according to research conducted by academics at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
The list of languages, ranging from Acholi – spoken in Uganda and Sudan – to Zulu, was based on research with translation firms, schools and the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.
Anne Gallagher, director of the language centre at NUI Maynooth and president of the Irish Association for Applied Linguistics, said they expected a high number of languages but were surprised at the results.
“When you ask most Irish people how many languages are used here, they expect the figure to be around 30 or 40. I expected between 100 and 130 languages. But I don’t think anyone expected 167,” she said. The languages are used by 160 nationalities. Regional dialects were excluded…
A conference on the new languages of Ireland at NUI Maynooth yesterday heard that the lack of translation services was a serious issue for thousands of migrants based here.
Mary Phelan, a lecturer at Dublin City University’s school of applied language and intercultural studies, said there was a “huge” demand for interpreters by State authorities, but little focus on the standards of translation.
In areas such as the courts, Garda stations or health services, the consequences could be serious. “People offering their services don’t always see a need for training because authorities are not looking for standards,” Ms Phelan said.

I knew in part of my mind that Ireland had very much joined modern Europe, but in another part of my mind it was a quaint land where people spoke a little Irish and a lot of English. Wake up, Hat, it’s the twenty-first century! (And thanks for the link, Trevor.)


  1. michael farris says

    I wonder what this will do to Gaelic (the unluckiest language in Europe). I can easily imagine it being another nail in the coffin.
    Conceivably, it might motivate Irish people to use Gaelic in public more (to keep out the foreigners) or make learning Gaelic a condition for asylum seekers to stay, but I kind of doubt it.

  2. Michael, are you suggesting that somehow Breton and Sorbian have had more luck than Irish Gaelic in their political and social fortunes?
    I fear that, as is normally be the case in Ireland, the need for decent standards in translation will be ignored in the contexts where it matters, until people start to complain or take court cases. On the plus side, English is not German (or Russian?), it’s relatively easily to make one’s meaning clear with basic vocabulary, and relatively easy to know if that hasn’t been done.
    (Does anyone have any surveys of New York officialdom’s attitude to this sort of thing in the late 19th century, when something like 60% of the population of the city was born abroad?)

  3. Ah, bugger. s/normally be/normally/, if that notation is readable to the editors; if not, I meant “as is normally the case” with ” as is normally be the case” in the above comment.

  4. michael farris says

    “Michael, are you suggesting that somehow Breton and Sorbian have had more luck than Irish Gaelic in their political and social fortunes?”
    Make that unluckiest national language in Europe.

  5. Paul Lucic says

    Man, this site is great.
    Just a couple of days ago a link to an encyclopedia covering 50/60 German dialects (who woulda thunk) and now 167 languages used in Ireland (who w…).
    I’ve always been a ‘plane nut’ (you know, one of those guys who always looks up whenever an airplane passes overhead) and now I get to indulge my fascination with language.
    Thanks so much.

  6. Fascinating stuff. There are more native speakers of Urdu in Scotland than of Gaelic, but I wonder if this is or will be the case in Ireland. On visit there last year, I noticed an increasing antagonism to the influx of foreign immigrants to Ireland and their impact on the social security system there (and the Irish tax system).

  7. There will be a census next month which should be interesting. The only language question is about Irish but the form itself is available in 18 languages: http://www.cso.ie/census/foreign_languages.htm

  8. Have the French done anything to help out Breton?…I know the constitution forbids instruction of any language except French, but can’t they subsidize Breton-language schools or something?

  9. “but can’t they subsidize Breton-language schools or something?”
    Maybe, as soon as they stop penalizing people for trying to give their kids Breton names. That was years agoa and mayeb they have changed, and maybe pigs have learned to fly.
    This kind of thing will be a big boost to Irish, if only because all these foreigners speak English. If the foreigners only spoke thier own langugaes, that wouldn’t be a problem.
    All sorts of inconvenient little languages are coming back from the dead because people don’t want to be completely homogenized, just enough to make out in the odern world.

  10. “Maybe, as soon as they stop penalizing people for trying to give their kids Breton names”
    I have two words: FREEDOM FRIES

  11. Chommy; you’re under the impression that FREEDOM FRIES is a Breton name?

  12. And an ancient one too! There was a great medieval hero, C’hwridom C’hwraezh, who drove the hated French almost to Paris before being felled by treachery.

  13. “More than 167″… meaning 168? That’s a pet peeve of mine. If they’re going to be that specific, instead of, say, “more than 160” or “nearly 170,” just give the exact number. But then Gallagher in the article says “But I don’t think anyone expected 167.” So is that the exact number? Argh!

  14. Michael Farris says

    I assumed it meant they counted 167 languages besides English and Irish. So if you count those two as well, you do have ‘more than 167’.

  15. Then they should have said 169. (Yes, it’s a silly hangup, but that’s what pet peeves are all about.)

  16. “But I don’t think anyone expected 167.”
    No one expects 167! Its chief weapon is surprise.

  17. Michael Farris says

    I, for one, fully expected 167. I was, however, tragically unprepared for more than 167 …

  18. “The need for quality English-language tuition for students at all education levels was another urgent issue, said Mary Ruane, director of the applied language centre at UCD.
    “We have to ensure they get good quality English language tuition,” she said.”
    Director at a language centre? Centre for English language or what? So we can use more public money to promote another nation’s already over-used language? Why not spend that money teaching every adult Irish? Everyday our national language falls further and further into decline. Now that’s a shame….
    Is maith lem’ chroíse fíor-theanga na hÉireann, agus cuireann fuarchúis mhuintir na tíre seo dár sean-theanga, teanga na nGael an-bhrón ormsa.

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