If language and culture are intimately connected, then cultures involving people who speak more than one language must have special characteristics, as well as particular social issues to negotiate. What are the challenges faced by a people with two or more languages as their heritage? How does that multiple heritage affect cultural forms, including literature and the arts? How does linguistic difference influence the conceptualization and writing of history? And if the meeting of languages within a people has involved contestation and power, how are those conflicts negotiated?
This volume uses the tools of critical theory to explore such questions with respect to the complex, multilingual history of Ireland. Avoiding the simplistic polarized oppositions popular with cultural nationalists, the contributors examine the nexus of language, tradition, and authority in Ireland that has created such a rich, multivalent culture.
Although the linguistic interface of Irish and English has dominated cultural negotiations in Ireland over the last five hundred years, the island has an even longer history of linguistic and cultural exchange. Arguing that tradition is never static, the essays in this volume challenge the concept of a monolithic cultural origin, while insisting on the importance of inherited discourses in the continuity of culture through time and across linguistic difference. The chapters cover a broad range of topics from early Irish narratives and Latin hagiography to literary works by such writers as Yeats, Joyce, Friel, Montague, and McGahern, as well as other cultural forms, including traditional Irish music. Several chapters address issues of politics and power, from the role of interpreters in the relations between linguistic communities in Ireland to the politicization of language in Northern Ireland since the 1980s. Taken together, the essays illuminate scholarly domains as varied as postcolonial theory, the relationship between language and nation, the nature of tradition, and Irish literature of all periods.
In addition to the editors, contributors include Michael Cronin, Joanne Findon, Helen Fulton, Declan Kiberd, Jeremy Lowe, Gordon McCoy and Camille O'Reilly, Catherine McKenna, Cóilín Owens, Thomas Dillon Redshaw, and Sally K. Sommers Smith.