Gearóid Denvir, ‘Decolonizing the Mind: Language and Literature in Ireland’, in New Hibernia Review, 1, 1 (Spring 1997), pp.44-68.

‘It is one of the ironies of the Irish historical experience over the last two hundred years or more that the language shift and the process of cultural assimilation should take place at the same time as the development of Irish political and cultural nationalism. One aspect of these interlinked processes which is not often commented upon, particularly in the field of Irish Studies, is what I would like to call the palimpsestization, and also the peasantization, of the Irish language as a living vernacular and particularly as a language of intellectual or creative enquiry during this time. A palimpsest is a manuscript which has been written on twice, the original obliterated. It appears to me that this is the fate of the language during the intellectual discourse of the nineteenth century and, indeed, in much of the discourse of cultural critique, even among sympathetic commentators, of Irish Studies to this day. Thus, the Irish language is reduced to something in the background, either cultural or psychical, in order to render the Irish slightly different from the normalizing and powerful center, but not too different so as to be totally incomprehensible to those at that center, and, therefore, dangerous or outside the”civilized” Pale. In the end, this attitude constitutes nothing less than an out-and-out provincialism that regards the powerful colonial center as the originating norm.’(p.50). The article otherwise establishes the wilful attack on the Irish language in the educational system, and regards the Dublin Catholic middle-class as willing collaborators in this process; speaks of the literary revival as the development from the celtic revival of the 1820s: ‘this scholarly and literary mvoement reached its creative literary apotheosis in the great flowering [51] of the Anglo-Irish REvival with the cration of hat idealistic quasi-Gaelic construct, Anglo-Irish literature, whose aim was to restore Ireland to its former glory - as understood and interpreted by the seer-poet-artist - by drawing on the ancient atavistic repository of knowledge that was the Irish tradition.’ (pp.51-52).

Quotes Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1981; London 1994): ‘The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in tehir languges, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities, and ultimately in themselves … It makes them want to identity [45] with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other people’s language rather than their own.’ (p.3.)

‘In my view the language was the most important vehicle through which that power fascinated andheld the prisoner. The bullet was the means of physical subjugation. Language was the means of spiritual subjugation.’ (p.9.)

‘English became the measure of intelligence and ability in the arts, the sciences and all the other branches of learning. English became the main determinant of a child’s progress up the ladder of formal education … English was the official vehicle and the magic formula to colonial elitedom. (p.11.)

Quotes Alberti Memmi, ‘Liekwise the colonised no longer knew his language except in the form of a lowly dialect. In order to emerge from the most elementary monotony and emotions, he had to borrow the coloniser’s language. In recovering his autonomous and separate destiny, he immediately goes back to his own tongue. It is pointed out to him tht its vocabulary is limited, its syntax bastardised. It would be comical to hear a course in higher mathematics or philosophy in it. Een the lef-wing coloniser is surprised by this unnecessary challenge which is more costly in the long run to the coloniser than to the coloniser. Why not go on using Western languages to describe motors or teach abstract subjects. (Coloniser and Coloniser, NY 1965, p.134.)

Further, ‘[t]he most urgent claim of a group about to revive is certainly the liberation and restoration of its language. Indeed, if I express wonder, it is that anyone wonders. / Only that language would allow the colonised to resume contact with his interrupted flow of time and to find again his lost continuity and that of his history … The colonised writer, having succeeded after much effort in being able to use European languages - those of the coloniser, let us not forget - can use them only to clamor for his own. That is not a question of incoherence or blind resentment, but a necessity.’ (ibid., p.134; Denvir, idem.)

[ back ]
 
[ top ]