What are the benefits for Ireland to have a separate language, rather than exclusively relying on English?


Wikipedia has a nice summary of the current status of the Irish language:

A comprehensive study published in 2007 on behalf of Údarás na Gaeltachta found that young people in the Gaeltacht, despite their largely favourable view of Irish, use the language less than their elders. Even in areas where the language is strongest, only 60% of young people use Irish as the main language of communication with family and neighbours, and English is preferred in other contexts. The study concluded that, on current trends, the survival of Irish as a community language in Gaeltacht areas is unlikely. A follow-up report by the same author published in 2015 concluded that Irish would die as a community language in the Gaeltacht within a decade.

However the government seems to be unhappy about it and attempts to prevent the Irish language from dying away:

The Irish government has adopted a twenty-year strategy designed to strengthen the language in all areas and greatly increase the number of habitual speakers. This includes the encouragement of Irish-speaking districts in areas where Irish has been replaced by English.

But why would the government support the Irish language if their own citizens seem to be unwilling to speak it? Are there any economical benefits for Ireland to be a bilingual country rather than completely switching to English?


Posted 2017-09-16T21:42:54.700

Reputation: 36 466

4Well, there are quite a few Celtic music groups selling recordings to an international audience. Beyond that, what the heck does cultural pride have to do with economics? – jamesqf – 2017-09-17T04:40:50.093

@jamesqf e.g. in the case of Catalonia economics has a lot to do with the separatist movement. And the Catalan people speak their own language without needing to be forced by their government. – JonathanReez – 2017-09-17T04:43:26.243

2"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." - Einstein – Denis de Bernardy – 2017-09-17T09:52:55.640

2@JonathanReez Thinking about this question in relation to your recent question on a European common language, I think you vastly underestimate how strongly language is connected to identity. Maybe it's not the case where you live but take the hostility to brown Muslim people we have been talking about lately and multiply that by 10, that's how sensitive the issue can be in Ireland, France, Spain, etc. That, in a nutshell, is why everybody is treading very carefully (and not because nobody thought of it or cares about the issue). – Relaxed – 2017-09-17T10:14:03.660

@Relaxed but the Irish themselves don't seem to care as even the Prime Minister of Ireland is not fluent in the language. So I'm wondering why the government is trying to force a minority's language on the majority. – JonathanReez – 2017-09-17T10:18:14.457

3@JonathanReez The “as” in your sentence does a lot of work here and is a non-sequitur: The Irish do care in different ways. You can easily turn the argument around, the fact the government spends money on it is prima facie evidence that many people care. Now, these policies aren't very effective and even the people who care might not be using the language very much but that's a totally different question. – Relaxed – 2017-09-17T10:20:41.727

2@JonathanReez: Ireland is not Catalonia, and their current political and economic situations are different. WRT language, Gaelic is of an entirely different language family than English, while Catalan is "just another Romance language" like Spanish, Portugese, or French. – jamesqf – 2017-09-17T18:02:17.950

@JonathanReez maybe the barriers imposed by the Generalitat to use Castillian Spanish in education has a lot to do. And still.. catalán native speakers aren't majority in Catalonia. Població segons llengua inicial. Dades enllaçades 2003-2008-2013 Catalunya.

– roetnig – 2017-09-18T10:54:15.980



There is a value in a language that goes beyond mere utility. Asking about economic benefits entirely misses the point! There is a 2000 year tradition of Gaelic in Ireland, and the native speakers of Gaelic are a living link to that tradition. This has an inestimable cultural value that transcends a narrow interpretation of "worth".

Similarly, there is little economic value in the study of Chaucer, learning chess or the preservation of the Lake Erie water snake, yet these activities each have their own worth.

But the short answer to your question is "no, there are no economic benefits"

James K

Posted 2017-09-16T21:42:54.700

Reputation: 70 324

@JamesK each of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian are relics of Latin. (I may also have missed a few) – Caleth – 2019-09-11T09:51:56.130

We could likewise ask why people keep Latin or (classical) Greek alive. – jamesqf – 2017-09-17T18:04:05.493

2@jamesqf nobody is keeping Latin alive in terms of a conversational language. – JonathanReez – 2017-09-17T18:22:15.617

2Actually if you consider Sardinia (Linga Sarda) as relic of Latin (it is very similar to rustic vernacular Late Latin) then they are. It is protected under Italian Law – James K – 2017-09-17T18:37:10.913


As James K wrote, the benefit is not economic.

I would like to add that it's part of the Irish struggle for independence from Britain. The use of English in Ireland is a direct result of British rule over Ireland, so it's important for Irish Nationalists to undo this.

Quoting Wikipedia:

[The Irish language] is an important part of Irish nationalist identity, marking a cultural distance between Irish people and the English.


Posted 2017-09-16T21:42:54.700

Reputation: 2 495


Though it doesn't answer the question proper, I thought I had to mention something.

It doesn't matter how many speakers of the language exist, Irish is the first official language, English is the second. Article 8.1 of the constitution.

Anything the government does needs to be done in at least those two languages, and if there's any sort of disagreement due to different languages, the Irish-language version one prevails.

I.e. constitution/laws are written in Irish, and the English version is considered a translation.

That also goes for street-signs (the Irish version must be most "prominent" on any sign), any public government service (gardaí, post offices, tax office, hospitals), and government documents. (tax forms, passports, driver's licenses)

To summarize;

  1. Irish is the primary / official language of Ireland according to the constitution.
  2. It's the language all of the laws are written in.

  3. The government is obligated to provide public services, which must be available in Irish. (Like, solely. If you need to use another language, the service is not considered provided)


Posted 2017-09-16T21:42:54.700

Reputation: 367

"Because it's in the Constitution" doesn't really answer my original question of utility. – JonathanReez – 2019-09-10T17:05:20.577

I though that a little while writing it. As far as utility goes, the government can't not do it, and it's easier to do if there's people who speak the language to hire for those roles. It's like asking what's the economic reason for the federal US government to let states run presidential elections, rather than doing all of it federally. Any answers would have to focus on something that's not the main reason. – bobsburner – 2019-09-11T09:59:46.227

Not really. The US Constitution is very hard to change, while the Irish constitution is not. If the Irish wanted they could've got ridden of their old language a long time ago. – JonathanReez – 2019-09-11T10:18:41.213

Define hard. Please. – bobsburner – 2019-09-11T10:25:16.947

3/4 of all states have to agree, which is very difficult to achieve for anything remotely controversial. See: https://politics.stackexchange.com/questions/18312/why-havent-any-new-constitutional-amendments-been-ratified-in-the-us-since-1971. No such issues with the Irish constitution - it actually got amended this very year.

– JonathanReez – 2019-09-11T16:14:19.997

It would require two referenda to pass to remove the mandate on the Irish language from the constitution and replace it with anything else. (if one passes, but the other doesn't, it leads to other problems) To do so, an amendment bill would have to be passed, and a majority of voters would need to agree. That is assuming that there was some compelling reason to make such an amendment. (such as allowing easier divorce, in the case of the 2019 amendment) – bobsburner – 2019-09-12T10:00:51.010

Sure, but it's still way easier than in the US. – JonathanReez – 2019-09-12T17:29:38.950

I don't see how this relates to my answer anymore. I'd start a chatroom to discuss further, but I don't know how. – bobsburner – 2019-09-13T11:02:45.093