This report presents research findings about the background, practice and ideologies of ‘new speakers’ of Irish. ‘New speakers’ describe people who use a certain language regularly but
who are not traditional native speakers of that language. New speakers usually acquire the target language through the bilingual education system or through immersion education or depending on the sociolinguistic background, the acquisition may occur because of language
restoration programmes. In the case of Irish, a broad definition of ‘new speaker’ is used because of the great variety of speaker types in the language community.
This report is based on research undertaken in recent years by a European research network entitled ‘New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: Opportunities and Challenges’ under the auspices of the COST organisation (European Co-operation in Science and Technology). 50 researchers from 27 European countries participate in this network and the authors of this report are currently researching new speakers of Irish. In this report, 46 interviews conducted with a wide range of new speakers of Irish and other written material collected from them over a period of three years from 2012 are analysed in depth. This analysis is presented under
various themes: (a) sociolinguistic background (b) motivation (c) competence (d) use (e) ideologies regarding the Gaeltacht and (f) opinions regarding language policy.
The report reveals that new speakers of Irish are from a variety of sociolinguistic
backgrounds, both in terms of family upbringing and experience of the education system. Many attend standard English-medium schools but several report they had inspirational Irish teachers. New speakers report defining changes towards the use of Irish at various points in
their lives, for instance because of Gaeltacht visits or while attending university. Depending on their competence and dedication, new speakers use Irish in different ways. Some depend on conversation groups to speak Irish occasionally but others use Irish as the family language with their children. The Gaeltacht is important to the new speakers but their opinions regarding how important or authoritative the traditional dialects spoken there vary. Some new speakers believe that they do not have the same degree of ownership of Irish as Gaeltacht
communities. The new speakers also have varying opinions about the government’s language policy for Irish. Some demand language rights emphatically but others prefer to spend their efforts on speaking Irish socially.
The report concludes with some recommendations for language policy in light of the research findings and identifies other research necessary in the future.