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Wars of Words: The Politics of Language in Ireland 1537-2004 [Hardcover]

Tony Crowley

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Book Description

14 May 2005
Wars of Words is the first comprehensive survey of the politics of language in Ireland during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Challenging received notions, Tony Crowley presents a complex, fascinating, and often surprising history which has suffered greatly in the past from over-simplification. Beginning with Henry VIII's Act for English Order, Habit, and Language (1537) and ending with the Republic of Ireland's Official Languages Act (2003) and the introduction of language rights under the legislation proposed by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (2004), this clear and accessible narrative follows the continuities and discontinuities of Irish history over the past five hundred years.

The major issues that have both united and divided Ireland are considered with regard to language, including ethnicity, cultural identity, religion, sovereignty, propriety, purity, memory, and authenticity. But rather than simply presenting the accepted wisdom on many of the language debates, this book re-visits the material and considers previously little-known evidence in order to offer new insights and to contest earlier accounts. The materials range from colonial state papers to the writings of Irish revolutionaries, from the work of Irish priest historians to contemporary loyalist politicians, from Gaelic dictionaries to Ulster-Scots poetry.

Wars of Words offers a reading of the crucial role language has played in Ireland's political history. It concludes by arguing that the Belfast Agreement's recognition that languages are 'part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland', will be central to the social development of the Republic and Northern Ireland. The final chapter analyses the way in which contemporary poets have used Gaelic, Hiberno-English, Ulster-English, and Ulster-Scots, as vehicles for the various voices that demand to be heard in the new societies on both sides of the border.

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A Sourcebook, a treasure trove... Crowley brings a welcome sensitivity to the complexity of his subject ... Tony Crowley's (Irish Literary Supplement)

and his earlier

are seminal texts for our understanding of how that dichotomy has evolved over the centuries. [Crowley has] raised profoundly important questions and provided a context in which they can be thought about and planned for in the hope that future wars over words will be far less bitter and prolonged.

This book offers a simultaneously sweeping and subtle view into the ways language has been inextricably linked with notions of cultural, political, and personal identity throughout modern Irish history. As impressive as the breadth of Crowley's research is the beauty and accessibility of his prose: the book proves enjoyable to the historian or critic as well as the linguist. Indeed, War of Words will encourage scholars in all aspects of Irish Studies to recognize the centrality of the language issue to nearly all aspects of Irish culture and politics. (Michael J Durkan Prize review)

Crowley's War of Words is a valuable and stimulating book, bringing together an impressive array of primary and secondary sources from more than five centuries in a carefully crafted argument. (Chris Morash, Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

Tony Crowley is a Professor of Modern English Literature at the University of Manchester. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
In 'A New Look at the Language Question', Tom Paulin begins by asserting that 'the history of a language is often a story of possession and dispossession, territorial struggle and the establishment or imposition of a culture'. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yr hen iaith 30 May 2006
By D. P. Birkett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A comprehensive history of languages used in Ireland over the last five hundred years, and the ways in which language use has interacted with religion and politics.

During this time the Irish have mostly used two of the main languages of the British Isles. One of them is English, in various dialects. The other is the language called by its speakers Gaeilge, and referred to by English speakers, when used in Ireland, as Irish. Its artificial revival has been associated with nationalism and Roman Catholicism, but Crowley shows that this was not always the case, and that at some junctures it was protestantswho supported translating the Bible and preaching in the vernacular.

It is very full and detailed (perhaps too much so for the general reader) but is, to my mind, too Hibernocentric (if that's a word). This may be criticizing a writer for not writing a different book, but I would have liked more about the status of minority languages in general, As Spanish, English and French battle it out in North America, and as Navajo, Nahuatl, Inuit and Maya disappear, Crowley's comments would be interesting. I would have liked his comments on why Welsh survived, within two hundred miles of London, so much more vigorously and naturally than Irish or Scottish Gaelic.

Elevating dialects of English, such as Ulster Scots, to the supposed dignity of a distinct language is an intriguing endeavor, but the examples given seem to be transcribed phonetically on the assumption that London (or Trinity College, Dublin) English is normative. For example writing "old" as "oul" and "none" as "nane." Bad spelling is just bad spelling.
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