Parity of Languages

As Chaps. 1 and 3 explained, religious denomination and national allegiance emerged as the primary markers of communal identity before and during the Troubles. Vernacular languages (Irish and Ulster-Scots) remain only one of the attributes of communal belonging, and not necessarily the most significant or politically salient one in Northern Ireland.

However, the expansion of Irish-medium education and the emergence of calls for Ulster-Scots-medium education suggest that these heritage languages are being constructed as a further marker of mutually exclusive communal (and political) identities. Rather than emerging as sources of overarching identification, as Arabic in Lebanon, the Irish and Ulster-Scots vernaculars add a linguistic dimension to the confessional and national cleavages of Northern Ireland’s communities. These vernaculars are rarely taught at home: by teaching them, schools help socialise children into mutually exclusive Catholic/Nationalist and Protestant/ Unionist ‘cultures’.

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