BOOK REVIEW Language and Tradition in Ireland


Picture of the book cover.

Full Title: Language and Tradition in Ireland: Continuities and Displacements

Editors: Maria Tymoczko and Colin Ireland

Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press and American Conference For Irish Studies

Published: 2003

ISBN: 9781558494275

Pages: 240 including Notes on Contributors and Index.

Synopsis: 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, Coilin Owens, Thomas Dillon Redshaw, and Sally K. Sommers Smith.”

Review: I’m honestly not sure what I should write about this book. I bought it thinking it was one thing but it turned out to be something totally different and that is not the fault of the book but my own fault. So I’m going to write this from just of the perspective of reading the book not what I thought it was going to be about.

There are 11 essays in this book, and of these 11 I was only interested in 5. And of these 5 only 3 made any sense to me because I at least knew the material they were talking about.

The first of the three essays was actually the introduction. It was a discussion of the core issues of this volume, a little history, definitions of words like tradition and how it is used in the book and asking some good questions about language and culture.

Essay number 2 that I was interested in was about gender and power in Serglige Con Culainn and The Only Jealousy of Emer. I found this essay really informative and the discussion was an honest one about how the changes Yeats made diluted the power of women in the tale.

Finally essay number 3 was about the Tain Bo Cuailnge and the dramatization of violence and death. And a great discussion of how this tale wasn’t a simple straight forward heroic tale.

Because I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the material that the book discusses I honestly did not find this book interesting as a whole but the few essays that did interest me were really good and made me think seriously and sometimes even look at certain tales with a new fresh eye. So from that respect I enjoyed what little I knew from the book. Again this is not the book’s fault it is purely my own.

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