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Is It Possible to Preserve National Identity When You’ve Lost Your Native Language?

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This is a follow-up on the previous blog post where I touched upon a related concept – Dominance of English and its Lack of Appreciation for Smaller Languages.

The reason why I recorded this video is simple enough.

I published the previous video where I voiced my opinion on the dominance of the English language and concluded that we can’t really blame English for decline of smaller languages in the world – after all, it’s the PEOPLE who make countless choices as individuals driven by their social and economic needs that determine if speakers of a particular language are going to decline in a long run.

Then I got a sudden realization – “Hold on, does losing a native language NECESSARILY mean losing one’s national identity? The moment anyone mentions languages dying out it’s perceived as a terrible and tragic event, but do those people really lose their native characteristics and heritage just because they’ve started speaking in English?”

And so I recorded this video where I’m revealing what I actually think about the whole thing, and here’s the exact script of it:

Hi guys! Hello boys and girls!

That’s me – Robby from EnglishHarmony.com and welcome back to my blog! In today’s episode we’re going to look at the following issue: “Is it possible to preserve and maintain your national identity despite having lost your native language?”

And when you hear it for the first time, you may think that of course, how COULD it be possible to preserve your national identity if you don’t speak your native language anymore? And the reason for that is – we all perceive native language as pretty much the only thing that defines a person as belonging to this or that particular language group, nationality.

Basically national background, right, is defined by the language for most of us! So, this video is a follow-up to the previous video I recorded a couple of days ago which is called “Dominance of English and its lack of appreciation for smaller languages.”

And the reason why I chose this subject for today’s video – or podcast – depending on where you actually access this content if you’re on iTunes or playback the audio file on my blog you’re actually just listening to me. But don’t worry – this is pretty much the same content as you’d be watching in the video, right?

And, basically the reason why I chose this subject is because right after recording the previous video it got me thinking – “Hold on! Why is it that the moment we mention about the demise of a particular language, that we perceive it as a bad thing, as a very sad thing, as if – if that language disappears, then basically that nation is gone off the face of the Earth!

But it’s not necessarily so! Actually, as a matter of fact, nothing could be further from the truth, my friends! You see – there’s a host of examples of native speakers having lost their native language, yet they retain a very, very thorough and deep understanding of who they are, where they come from, where they’re going; and they basically still belong to the same national background even though they all might be speaking in English – which is the case here in Ireland, for example, right?

Irish people have their own native language – Irish – but nowadays it’s almost extinct. It’s only spoken in certain geographical areas in the country and they try to revive the language. There’s a broadcast, there’s a TV program… not a program but actually a dedicated channel which is all in Irish.

But the truth is that people don’t use the language on the street and basically you could come to the country and you wouldn’t be hearing the Irish language at all, because as a matter of fact, English is the language that is spoken in Ireland and it’s all because of policies hundreds of years ago when England invaded Ireland. Basically Irish was pretty much forbidden!

It was forbidden to be spoken in families and schools and it had gone to a very extreme whereby it was punishable, if I’m not mistaken, by death penalty! So basically, whoever was caught using the Irish language they would be punished by the death penalty.

And obviously it was a huge deterrent to prevent people from using the language in real life and so the language is pretty much gone nowadays and English became the language of the Irish people. But do you think that it made them more English-like? Not a hope in hell, my friends! Irish people to the best of my knowledge actually have the biggest sense of belonging to their nation!

They’re very closely tied with links which surpass the language. They enjoy their own sports and Ireland is pretty much the only country in the world where the local sports are even more popular than the typical – football, which is very popular in England, right?

Irish people have their own Gaelic sports – they’re somewhat similar to other types of sports, but at the same time they’re very unique – the likes of hurling and Gaelic football – and the whole country is united by those sports events and there’s a whole lot of different things that define Irish people as being Irish.

Language is not the determining factor. It’s not the language that defines them. They speak English nowadays – but dare you call them English because you hear them speak English.

And if you told them: “Listen, you speak in English, so you must be an Englishman!” On some occasions you might get punched in the face for that because that’d be a big insult – because Irish people are Irish irrespective of what language they speak, right? So, this whole thing just flies in the face of argument that the moment a native language disappears then the national identity of those people is just gone and destroyed and those people are destroyed as a nation and it’s not existing anymore.

It’s not the case, my friends, and just think about Italians in New York for example, right?

The first Italians who came over, who emigrated to New York back in 18-hundreds, if I’m not mistaken – that’s how it all began, right? And then they all settled in New York along with other nationalities such as Irish and Germans and all those emigrants over time adopted English as their language. And a few decades in the future, right, fast forward – Italians didn’t speak Italian anymore because English was the common language!

It was “lingua franca” in New York but do you think that they lost their national identity just because those descendants of the initial immigrants started speaking English rather than their own language? Of course not! There’s a whole lot more that determines who you are, where you come from. It’s the social group, it’s the people who you mix with. It’s how you behave, how you understand the society around you, what are your common dreams, your hopes, your economical background, what activities you get involved in and a whole lot of different things – that defines you as belonging to a particular nationality.

Right? So it’s not necessarily the language! So, going back to the very initial argument – “Is the English language dominating language in the world and is it a bad thing that it has a detrimental effect on smaller languages?”

Yes, some people might say that: “Yes, it has a detrimental effect!” But I’m saying – that that effect isn’t necessarily detrimental!

Yes, some languages are shrinking in use and the print media in languages such as Tagalog which is a language in the Philippines if I’m not mistaken. Correct me if I’m wrong, if I pronounced the name of the language incorrectly – I’m sorry about that! But I got a YouTube comment recently on the previous video saying that Tagalog – that language – and some other languages have almost disappeared from the print media in their native countries because all print material is issued in English pretty much, right?

So it’s a bad thing, kind of… But I’m saying – it’s not a bad thing! Those people certainly don’t lose their national identity just because they have started using the English language and they read newspapers and literature in English. It’s where they live, it’s what their ancestors are, what their families are, how they behave, how they go about their daily business, what their economical background is – that’s what determines who they are!

And they don’t become more English than I’ve become English, or Irish, or whatever – just because I speak in English. I will always be a Latvian! That’s where I’ve come from, and sometimes when I think about what defines my national background, what is it that makes me Latvian…

I can’t really answer that question… ’cause I don’t know! I live here in Ireland, and I’ve certain interests, and I’ve my job, I’ve people I communicate with, I have this English Harmony website going on and.. But what is it that defines me as a Latvian? Obviously my family, my family ties with my country and things that I’ve done in my life and friends that I get in touch with.

But it’s not necessarily the language! Those people may as well be speaking in English for all I know! It’s the people that define who you are, right? It’s not the language necessarily, so basically this video or podcast – in case you’re listening to the audio version of this video, right, kind of debunks the myth that you have to be speaking in your native language if you want to preserve your national heritage.

At the moment your native language disappears, then all hopes of restoring your national identity are just gone.

No, I don’t believe that because as I just told you – Irish, Italians and a whole lot of different nations have lost their native languages… well – Italians in New York obviously – not in Italy! And the same goes with, say, Welsh people, Scottish people over in England, right?

Those people have their own languages still, but most of them speak English but it doesn’t mean that they consider themselves being English!

They consider themselves being Scottish, or Welsh and say, for instance, Scotland is waging a real campaign now to regain its independence because it wants to be a country on its own.

And basically that’s about it, my friends! Let me know please in the comments below what you think about the whole thing and if you disagree with me – obviously any comments are welcome and this was just my opinion but I think that there is at least a certain degree of truth to that, my friends! Don’t you think so?

All right, thanks for watching, thanks for listening to the podcast in case you’re listening to the audio file and see you soon again my friends! Bye-bye!

Robby

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • It’s not about Irish being easier/more difficult than English nor it’s about lack of material – believe me – there’s ABUNDANCE of it!

    What it’s all about is very simple – TRADITIONAL STUDIES vs using languages in real life.

    My kids are using English in real life so they picked it up naturally whereas Irish is not even spoken in the classroom (everything is about writing/reading) and as a consequence they suck at speaking it!

  • Juhapekka

    I think that learning to speak Irish fluently has to be very difficult because learning to speak English fluently is also very difficult but English is completely possible and somehow very easy to learn due to the huge amount of English learning material. There are perhaps only a few Irish materials available and they can be very inefficient, I think. And motivation to learn Irish can be sometimes difficult to find, in English you have always motivation because it’s so widespread. Learning to speak Irish or some other rare language is possible but you have to be strong inner motivation, ordinary interest in languages isn’t perhaps enough. I had learnt English for ten years in school and I had done my homework almost always well and carefully. But still after my matriculation examination I hadn’t been able to understand normal natural spoken English and because of that all English conversations had been impossible, of course. How can you discuss if you don’t even understand what your discussion partner is talking about? In the light of this I can only imagine how difficult Irish is. But I think only reason why I didn’t understand spoken English was my too low listening practice and also I didn’t know right tips to it. Luckily, today I understand spoken English well (except some native speaker’s fast linked speech). But I don’t know whether English knowledge is any helpful to learn Irish?

  • Gaelic refers to all Celtic languages Irish and Scottish included! As a matter of fact, Irish and Scottish are quite similar (so I’m told; pretty much like Spanish and Portuguese) and by the way – the correct spelling for the Irish in the actual Irish language is Gaeilge. My daughters have been learning the language for 11 years now but do you think they can speak it? Sadly it’s not the case because of the traditional studies (I must sound like a broken record with all the traditional language studies thing, I guess! 😉

  • Juhapekka

    That was very good point but perhaps still something very important disappears when the language disappears!
    By the way, one thing in your videos confused me a bit: you said that Irish people have their own Gaelic sports but I thought before that the word Gaelic refer only to Scottish sports and Scottish language. Does the word Gaelic refer also to Irish people who have their own language Irish or Gelka (I’m not sure at all that I spelled it correctly)?