The Effects of the Loss of a National Language: The Example of Ireland

Historically, we can see a dynamic and vital spirit that formed the Celtic people based in the Gaelic language.  Conquest by the English and the imposition of the English language set back the development, and the Celtic influence in the world-culture was dramatically truncated thereafter.  In more recent times, the Irish Republic is working to re-establish its native identity and maintain its independent stance from the English, with focus on cultural matters, while still trying to find ways to express the spirit of the Irish people through the medium of the English language.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Ireland had its own tongue when it had its own free nationality and culture and its loss was a loss to humanity as well as to the Irish nation.  For what might not this Celtic race with its fine psychic turn and quick intelligence and delicate imagination, which did so much in the beginning for European culture and religion, have given to the world through all these centuries under natural conditions?  But the forcible imposition of a foreign tongue and the turning of a nation into a province left Ireland for so many centuries mute and culturally stagnant, a dead force in the life of Europe.  Nor can we count as an adequate compensation for this loss the small indirect influence of the race upon English culture or the few direct contributions made by gifted Irishmen forced to pour their natural genius into a foreign mould of thought.  Even when Ireland in her struggle for freedom was striving to recover her free soul and give it a voice, she has been hampered by having to use a tongue which does not naturally express her spirit and peculiar bent.  In time she may conquer the obstacle, make this tongue her own, force it to express her, but it will be long, if ever, before she can do it with the same richness, force and unfettered individuality as she would have done in her Gaelic speech. That speech she had tried to recover but the natural obstacles have been and are likely always to be too heavy and too strongly established for any complete success in that endeavour.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pg. 247