Friday, January 20, 2012

Does Speaking Irish Help You Get Ahead?

A paper in the current edition of the Economic and Social Review by Iarfhlaith Watson and Máire Nic Ghiolla Phádraig from UCD (I wonder if either are Irish speakers themselves) considers whether being able to speak Irish is advantageous. For one thing, those attending Gaelscoileanna tend to do well in the Leaving Cert. Further evidence is presented in a previous ESR paper Borooah et al. (2009). The authors provide a useful summary of what is likely to be the actual prevalence of Irish speaking. Clearly selection is an important issue, and there is a full discussion of this in the paper. They conclude that “the advantage is held by a so-called “middle-class” elite, which is more likely (to claim) to speak Irish, rather than by an Irish-speaking elite."

The Economic and Social Review, Vol. 42, No. 4, Winter, 2011, pp. 437–454

Linguistic Elitism: the Advantage of Speaking Irish Rather than the Irish-speaker Advantage


Abstract: This paper contributes to the discussion of linguistic elitism in this journal (Borooah et al., 2009). Two main questions are addressed. First, most “census Irish speakers” are not in fact Irish speakers and the majority of Irish speakers proper are not a coherent group. Second, the Irish language is part of the cultural capital which can be acquired by people with an “advantage.” The argument is made that people with an advantage are more likely to speak Irish rather than Irish speakers being more likely to have an advantage.

The Economic and Social Review, Vol. 40, No. 4, Winter, 2009, pp. 435–460

Language and Occupational Status: Linguistic Elitism in the Irish Labour Market

VANI K. BOROOAH, University of Ulster
DONAL A. DINEEN, University of Limerick
NICOLA LYNCH, University of Limerick

Abstract: This paper, using data from the 2006 Irish Census, provides evidence of the structural advantage of Irish speaking, relative to non-speaking workers in Ireland’s labour market with advantage and disadvantage being defined in terms of occupational outcomes. To the best of our knowledge there has been no systematic investigation of any advantage enjoyed by Irish speakers in Ireland and allegations of the comfortable middle class ambience of the Gaelscoileanna have remained at the level of anecdote. Since linguistic elitism is a feature of many societies and since Irish enjoys the constitutional status of the national and first official language of Ireland, such an investigation was, arguably, overdue. This is then compared to the structural advantage of Irish speaking workers in Northern Ireland and of Welsh speaking workers in Wales. Our conclusion is that after controlling for as many relevant factors as the data permitted, a considerable part of the difference between Irish speakers and non-speakers in Ireland, in their proportionate presence in the upper reaches of occupational class, was due to structural advantage. The major contribution of this paper is to lift the debate about the economic position of Irish speakers in Ireland above the level of hearsay: dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi.


Martin Ryan said...


Would be interested to know if similar schools exist in Wales and Scotland. And if so, if those schools are generally considered to give students an advantage.

Mark McG said...

Hi Martin,

Yes it's a very interesting question. Is there something about Gaelscoileanna that makes them good schools, or is it just the case that their pupils are a select group?

The data in the second paper look at labour market outcomes in Wales. I'm not sure whether there are similar schools.