Is Irish Gaelic A Dead Language? 🇮🇪: Is the Irish language really dying?


Now, many of you will agree that the Irish Gaelic is a fascinating language.


Along with Scottish (Gàidhlig) Gaelic and Manx Gaelic (Gaelg),  it is considered a Goidelic language. This equates to a group of Celtic languages, with it forming one of two of the Insular Celtic language, the other one known as Brittonic languages.


Is there a difference between the three Goidelic languages? The answer to that is yes. If you know – or at least have heard of – all of them, they have a distinct difference when you hear them. Additionally, they have their own numerous local dialects. Between the three, Irish is the only Gaelic language on the UNESCO Interactive Endangered Languages list.


But why is such a beautiful language on the endangered list? Is it really true that Irish Gaelic is a dead language? We delve deeper and discuss it here in our blog. Continue reading to learn more.


Ach cén fáth go bhfuil teanga chomh hálainn ar an liosta atá i mbaol? An bhfuil sé fíor i ndáiríre gur teanga marbh í Gaeilge na hÉireann? Déanaimid iniúchadh níos doimhne agus déanaimid plé air anseo inár mblag. Lean ort ag léamh chun níos mó a fhoghlaim.



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They say it is dying


We can’t say for sure if the Irish like or dislike their own language. On one hand, you see Gaeltacht (again, a place with primarily Irish speakers) areas embracing our heritage coming from our ancestors. Meanwhile, on the other,  you will see English slowly but surely eradicating what is left of our Irish speakers. A measly 1.2 million (out of 7.8 billion!) people currently speak Irish as we speak. And, of those 1.2 million, only about 170,000 of them consider it as their first or primary language!


With that, 10.5% of the Irish speakers use it on a daily or weekly basis, while 4.2% only truly speak it as their language. This is all in Ireland; outside of Ireland, no accurate data exist that can determine the number of Irish speakers overseas. Plenty of them, however, are located in the United States. This includes places like New York, California, Massachusetts, and others – all located, as I have stated, in the United States.


With how big our world and is how populated it is, this will lead many to believe that maybe the Irish language is really dying. But is this really the case? Some might argue yes, while some might say otherwise.



English is the reason why [Irish Gaelic is considered a dead language]


Of course, if you think of a language which almost all (I know, not all can) can both use around the world, the answer to that would be English.


Ireland, obviously, is also a country dominated by English speakers. To add, a number of the Irish speakers, as stated above, only have Irish as a secondary language: under English. You will notice them carry only a short conversation in Irish before changing or reverting back to English. This certainly does not help the case.


People there often argue about the use of the Irish language. And, quite frankly, they do have a point. Why trouble yourself learning the language (if you did not know it prior) just for everyone around you to speak a completely different language? My friend’s cousin, who also became my friend in a fateful meeting, studied in a Gaelscoil. Gaelscoil simply means a school wherein you do everything Irish. Speaking: Irish, reading: Irish and writing: Irish. Basically, it is an Irish language-medium school located, of course, in Ireland.


Now, don’t get me wrong. My friend’s cousin easily aced this school and learned Irish to a great extent. This is not the typical “never cared, never learned” scenario. However, with all of that said, he does not use it outside of school. He still speaks English to his mam, dad, and 2 siblings. He also speaks English to his cousin’s mom and dad aka his aunt and uncle.


You might argue, “how come he does not speak Irish if he learned it and speak it fluently?” The answer to that is first, he lives in an area not considered as Gaeltacht. Second, those he speak to do not speak Irish, so why bother speaking in Irish?


Maybe the Irish Gaelic is indeed a dead language


If you think about it this way, maybe Irish Gaelic really is a dead language. No one really uses it all the time outside of Gaeltacht areas in Ireland. In addition, those who do know it by learning it at a Gaelscoil do not even use it outside schoool. Sadly, those who study it are those eager while those who do know it and keep a conversation going in Irish more often than not avoid so.




I will argue it is not dead in a sense you are comprehending. Truly, it is dead in a sense that the community itself, save Gaeltacht areas, does not use it anymore. Shops, restaurants, cafés and other establishments commonly put up English signs instead of Irish.


Having said all of that, based off the prior statements I made above, communities still know but do not use it as often. It will only truly be dead if you do not find any speakers or listeners anymore. Irish Gaelic, like its Scottish and Manx cousins, is alive, being relevant to many, still.



Final thoughts on whether the Irish Gaelic is a dead language or not


Irish Gaelic as a dying language is something many (admittedly, including I) simply do not believe. Many people, especially those tracing their roots or ancestries, often study and practice Irish up to this day.


If you plan on learning Irish now, look at our website and check out our podcasts!


Má tá sé ar intinn agat Gaeilge a fhoghlaim anois, féach ar ár suíomh Gréasáin agus féach ar ár bpodchraoltaí!


>>Which level?: Find out which level of spoken Irish you understand!