Irish as Symptom
: Language, Ideology and Praxis in the Post/Colony

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Within popular culture and academic scholarship alike, a standard narrative exists about the rightful (non-)place of the Irish language in post/colonial society. It is a tautological narrative because the apparent unfitness of Irish for the exigencies of postmodern life both explains its disappearance and prevents its full revival (i.e., Irish is outmoded because it is outmoded). That Irish requires costly government expenditures to stabilize it only confirms its inherent infirmity. Yet the ’problem’ of indigenous language is not so neatly resolved, especially as it threatens to erupt, symptom-like, in unexpected (i.e., Anglophone) contexts. The usual post/colonial paradigms cannot fully account for the disjunctive position of Irish. Critical theory, on the other hand, offers a way to think the striking disconnect between the constitutional fact of Irish as the ’first official language,’ for example, and the reality that almost no one speaks it. Lacan called this type of disconnect a symptom. ’Symptomal torsions’ are everywhere evident in the Republic: from bilingual road signs to the near total displacement of the language onto reluctant school-children. Such measures guarantee that Irish will not be spoken in the more unruly space of the streets. The containment of Irish alongside its official valorisation makes certain that it (and the associated ’barbarism’ of the pre-colonial past) cannot return in unforeseen ways. Yet return it does; all the cultural products analysed in the dissertation have some relationship to this return of the linguistic repressed. Each text highlights the fraught interface between the indigenous language and its imperial replacement, in both the North and the Republic. They may be humorous and satirical, as in the short films of Daniel O’Hara, or they may be resistant and political, as in the H-Block oral testimonies. They may be eulogistic, as with Brian Friel’s language play,
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRichard Kirkland (Supervisor) & Patricia Palmer (Supervisor)

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