Origins and development of language attitudes towards the Irish language in the Republic of Ireland

Master's Thesis, 2005

73 Pages, Grade: 1,3




1. Introduction

2. Literature Review: Language attitudes in perspective
2.1 The Cognitive-Affective-Behaviour Model of Attitudes (1960)
2.2 The Socio-Educational Model (1985)
2.3 Critique of the Socio-Educational Model
2.4 The interrelation of language attitide and language acquisition
2.5 Irish Language Surveys in the historical context
2.6 Hypotheses

3. Methodology
3.1 Questionnaire
3.1.1 Distribution and response rate
3.1.2 The Questionnaire Design
3.2 Participants
3.3 Data protection and research ethics
3.3.1 Data protection
3.3.2 Research ethics
3.4 Data Analysis

4. Findings
4.1 Irish language attitudes
4.2 Irish language attitudes and county of origin
4.3 Attitudes towards Irish and English
4.4 Irish language attitudes and Irish linguistic proficiency
4.5 The role of cultural identity in the formation of language attitudes
4.6 The role of family language in the formation of language attitudes
4.7 The role of gender and education in forming attitudes towards Irish
4.8 Personal accounts of the importance of the Irish language

5. Summary and discussion
5.1 Summary of results
5.2 Possible intervening variables
5.2.1 Irish instruction in school
5.2.2 Lack of opportunities to speak Irish
5.3 Attitudes towards Irish and English

6. Conclusion




Thank you to the 62 employees of Pfizer, Cork, Ireland and their friends and family who took the time to take part in this study; to Dr. Jean-Marc Dewaele of Birkbeck College for his support and guidance with this project; to my class mates for their moral support and encouragement; to my friends and family for being there for me.

Tables and Figures

Figure 1: A schematic conception of the Cognitive-Affective-Behaviour Model of Attitudes

Figure 2: The Socio-Educational Model

Figure 3: Distribution of attitudes towards Irish

Figure 4: Attitudes towards Irish and English

Figure 5: Correlation between cultural identity and attitude towards Irish

Figure 6: Attitude towards Irish and family language

Table 1: Public attitudes towards Irish, National Surveys 1975-1990

Table 2: Self-assessed ability to speak Irish, National Surveys 1973-1993

Table 3: Distribution of participants in Gaeltacht and Galltacht

Table 4: Distribution of age

Table 5: Distribution of highest academic qualification

Table 7: Mean scores of the respondents’ attitudes towards Irish

Table 8: Correlation between language attitude and language proficiency

Table 9: Attitude towards Irish by gender and education


Given the existing relations between language attitudes and linguistic competence, and places in the bilingual context of the Republic of Ireland (Irish/English) the goal of the present study is twofold: first, attitudes towards the Irish languages are described, and second, variables that can explain such attitudes are studied. These include: family language, linguistic proficiency in Irish, residence (Gaeltacht vs. Galltacht), cultural identity, socio-educational background and gender. In addition, attitudes towards Irish and English will be compared.

A questionnaire that had been successfully used in other areas was adapted and used in a sample of 62 adult speakers of Irish, about half of them (N=27) coming from traditionally Irish-speaking areas, or Gaeltacht, and the other half (N=35) coming from English-speaking areas, or Galltacht. 33 females and 29 males took part in the study. The mean age was M=35.5, SD= 10.35. All participants had undergone secondary education in the Republic of Ireland.

Globally, results show neutral attitudes towards Irish and somewhat unfavourable attitudes towards English. The formation of the participants’ attitudes to the Irish language proved not to be correlated with any of the independent variables.

Possible intervening variables, unaccounted for in the questionnaire design, were suspected to be responsible for shaping the respondents’ Irish language attitudes. An open-ended question in the survey revealed great dissatisfaction over the way Irish is taught in schools as well as lament over the lack of opportunities to use the language in an everyday context.

1. Introduction

The aim of the study is twofold: first, attitudes of adult speakers of Irish in the Republic of Ireland towards the Irish language are described, and second, variables that can explain such attitudes are studied. These include

- Family language
- Linguistic proficiency in Irish
- Residence (Gaeltacht vs. Galltacht)
- Cultural identity
- Socio-educational background
- Gender

In addition Irish language attitudes will be compared to English language attitudes. Attitudes towards a target language, the second-language group and second-language learning situations have long been recognized as some of the key factors for successful language learning. According to Noels (2001) language attitudes as part of the makeup of a learner’s motivation to learn a second language are placed alongside the individual’s motivational orientations, interest in the second language and second language anxiety.

As quoted in Gardner (1979) in his discussion on the nature of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), Lambert was the first researcher to put forward a social psychological theory of SLA in 1963. Lambert argued that an individual successfully acquiring a second language would gradually adopt various aspects of the second language community’s behavioural characteristics, and that the learners motivation is to be established by his attitudes and his orientation towards learning the second language (Gardner, 1979).

In his 1985 socio-educational model, Gardner emphasized the close interrelation between L2 performance and favourable attitudes towards the L2 culture and the L2 language community. In summary the model suggests that the individual’s learning experience (formal vs. informal) affect the student’s “attitude which affects motivation which, in a never-ending cyclical process, then affects continued experience in the classroom or other environments.” (Baker, 1992, p. 40)

In their testing the adequacy of Gardner’s (1979) socio-educational model, Gardner, Lalonde and Pierson (1983) used integrativeness and attitudes toward the language learning situation as attitudinal constructs in order to determine learners’ motivation. Both motivation and language anxiety were found to have an effect on second language achievement. Results indicated that integrativeness and attitudes tow'ard the language learning situation are causally linked to motivation and in turn may cause second-language achievement.

Baker (1992) emphasizes that attitudes and language acquisition are mutually determined and both are cause and effect in a reciprocal way: “It is possible that some reciprocal causation also exists. Attitudes and achievements may be both the cause and effect of each other. In a cyclical, spiral, relationship, one builds on the other - in an upward or downward relationship.” (Baker, 1992, p. 44)

In his study on language attitudes towards Welsh amongst secondary school children, Baker (1992) identified certain variables to be of importance for the formation of language attitudes. Amongst them are:

- Gender
- Language background (family language)
- Cultural background (cultural identity)

Most studies examining language attitudes are set in a second language (L2) learning context. (Baker, 1992; Gardner, 1985; Huguet-Canalis, 2005; Sánchez y Sanchez, 1992.). The previously mentioned studies involve secondary school children and measure their attitudes towards the target language within a formal instructional learning context.

The present study aims to tackle the topic from a different angle. Participants are adult (+22 years) residents of the Republic of Ireland with varying degrees of Irish language proficiency. All of them have undergone secondary schooling in an Irish school. About half of the participants (N=27) are from traditionally Irish-speaking areas, or Gaeltacht, the other half (N=35) from traditionally English-speaking areas, or Galltacht.

First, their attitudes towards the Irish language will be assessed and then compared to their attitudes towards English. It is of interest to the study to see whether the sample population has different attitudes towards the minority language (Irish) and the majority language (English) and if so, in what ways they differ.

Correlational analyses will be used to establish whether the Irish language attitudes of the sample population are interrelated with the above mentioned variables:

- Family language
- Linguistic proficiency in Irish
- Residence (Gaeltacht vs. Galltacht)
- Cultural identity
- Socio-educational background
- Gender

These variables proofed significant determinants of language attitudes in the previously mentioned studies and it is of interest whether they will have an effect on the sample populations’ attitudes towards Irish; in other words, will the variables that proved to shape language attitudes in secondary school children, have the same effect on adult speakers of Irish?

In order to measure the cultural orientation of the study sample this study makes use of an adapted version of the General Ethnicity Questionnaire (GEQ)1, developed by Dr. J.L Tsai at the University of Berkeley. As Tsai point out, the strengths of the GEQ are the fact that (1) it samples multiple domains of experience, (2) it has been shown to be reliable and valid with certain samples, and (3) it can be easily adapted for different cultures.

2. Literature review: Language attitudes in perspective

2.1 The Cognitive-Affective-Behaviour Model of Attitudes (1960)

Research has shown that the concept of language attitudes, which is rooted in the field of social psychology, is made up of such elements as cognition, affect and behaviour (Rosenberg & Hovland, 1960; Shaw & Wright, 1967). Rosenberg and Hovland (1960) suggested that attitudes are hypothetical constructs that interfere between observable, precedent stimuli and subsequent behaviour.

According to The Cognitive-Affective-Behaviour Model of Attitudes (1960) attitudes consist of three components:

1. Affect - relating to what a person feels about the attitude object
2. Cognition- relating to what a person thinks about the attitude object
3. Behaviour - relating to how the person acts toward the attitude object

Rosenberg and Hovland’s cognitive-affective-behaviour model structures attitudes in terms of three underlying components as is illustrated in Figure 1.


In a linguistic setting the affective component could be made of like or dislike of a particular language, such as Irish or of anxiety over learning that particular language. The researchers suggest that the key to understanding attitude has been the evaluation of the affective component. The cognitive component of how an attitude object is perceived could refer to the Irish language itself being the attitude object. Maria Coady (2001) points out “that cognition and affect are not necessarily in harmony with one another. That is, a person may express a positive attitude toward bilingual education, but may covertly have negative feelings toward it.” (Coady, 2001, p. 2)

The behaviour component, which refers to the power of a person’s behavioural affinities towards the object, could influence a person with a positive attitude toward the Irish language in their decision to attend Irish language classes or to send their child to an Irish immersion school.

In their model, Rosenberg and Hovland display the three intervening variables of attitude on the same level, which is fiercly disputed by Shaw (1967). According to Shaw’s own definition, attitudes are “a set of affective reactions toward the attitude object, derived from the concepts or beliefs that the individual has concerning the object, and predisposing the individual to behave in a certain manner toward the attitude object” (Shaw, 1967, p. 13).

While Shaw's theory supports Rosenberg and Hovland’s three dimensions of attitude, he rejects the notion that all three components work on the same level and focalize in an overall attitude. Shaw (1967) proposes that neither the beliefs which the individual accepts about the object nor the action are a part of the attitude itself, but considers the overriding dimension of attitude to be affect. He further affirms that affective responses more accurately complement the attitude, whilst the cognitive element underlies an evaluation of the attitude. Finally, Shaw suggests that it is the attitude itself that predisposes an individual to behave or act in a certain way toward the attitude object.

2.2 The Socio-Educational Mode! (1985)

More recently, researchers such as Gardner and Baker have closely examined the various dimensions of attitude. Gardner (1985) suggests that measuring attitude is more straightforward for attitude objects or referents than it is for abstract ideas. For

example, he claims, attitudes toward French-speaking people are more specific than attitudes toward ethnocentrism, as the referent is more concrete.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2. A Schematic Conception of the Socio-educationai model (Gardner in Baker (1992), p. 39)

In 1985 Gardner elaborated a socio-educationai model of L2 acquisition, which comprises of four closely interrelated stages:

1. Social and cultural background
2. Individual differences: intelligence, language aptitude, motivation, situational anxiety
3. Language learning context: formal vs. informal language learning
4. Outcome: bilingual proficiency (vocabulary, pronunciation) vs. non-linguistic outcome (attitudes, self-concept, cultural values and beliefs)

Gardner argues that individual’s social and cultural environment plays a vital part in shaping their beliefs about other cultures and languages. According to the model these beliefs have a significant impact on SLA. Baker (1992) points out the monolingual and monocultural setting of Britain and other predominantly monocultural communities throughout the world where the dominant belief exists that it is not necessary to learn another language and that minority groups should assimilate and become proficient in the dominant language of the country. However, as Baker continues, in other countries such as Canada, bilingualism and biculturalism, are often encouraged within society. Gardner’s model (1979, cited in Skehan 1993) suggests that expectations regarding bilingualism, combined with attitudes towards the target language and its culture, form the basis of an individual's attitude towards language learning.

The second stage of Gardner's model introduces the four individual differences which are considered to be the most significant in second language acquisition: intelligence, language aptitude, motivation, situational anxiety (Giles and Coupland, 1991).

Closely interrelated to the individual differences, the third stage of the model refers to the setting or context in which learning takes place. Gardner identifies two contexts, specifically formal instruction within the classroom and unstructured language acquisition in a natural setting. Depending upon the learning context, the impact of the individual difference variables may alter, for example, intelligence and aptitude play a dominant role in learning in a formal setting, whilst in an informal setting they may exercise a weaker influence. Situational anxiety and motivation are thought to influence both settings equally.

The forth and final stage of the model comprises linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes of the learning experience. Linguistic outcomes refer to actual language knowledge and language skills, such as proficiency in vocabulary or pronunciation. Non-linguistic outcomes reflect on an individual’s attitudes concerning cultural values and beliefs, usually towards the target language community. Ellis (1997) reasons that individuals who are motivated to integrate both linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes of the learning experience will attain a higher degree of L2 proficiency and more desirable attitudes.

Gardner stresses that attitude change as a possible non-linguistic outcome can be caused by mere exposure to the language, not only by language learning. Gardner, Clement, Baker & MacIntyre (2003) point out that “second language use is one of the most effective avenues toward improving and promoting intercultural communication in a multicultural society” (p. 190), which necessarily implies a learner’s willingness to communicate as a significant factor.

According to Gardner, attitude is only one component of motivation, where motivation is also comprised of effort and desire to learn, based on Lamberts (1969) model of motivation. According to Lambert (1969) a person’s level of linguistic proficiency is determined by the type of motivation that drives their desire to learn a language, namely instrumental vs. integrative orientation. Individuals who learn a second language (L2) for practical reasons have an instrumental motivation. This side of the dichotomy refers to acquiring the language as “a means for attaining instrumental goals: furthering a career, reading technical material, translation, and so forth.” (Brown, 2000,162). People, who wish to learn about the L2 culture, its people and language community and who may even wish to become a member of that culture, have an integrative motivation for learning the L2. In general, people with an integrative motivation seem reach higher levels of performance than people with an instrumental orientation. (Huguet-Canalis, 2005,176)

In conclusion, Gardner’s socio-educational model emphasizes the close interrelation between L2 performance and favourable attitudes towards the L2 culture and the L2 language community. He claims that “the relative degree of success will be influenced to some extent by the individual’s attitudes toward the other community or the other communities in general as well as by the beliefs in the community which are relevant to the language learning process.” (Gardner, 1985, p. 146). Genesee, Lambert and Holobow (1986, p. 27) confirm this claim by establishing that if a bilingual education programme develops under appropriate conditions, appreciation for the culture and the speakers of the language in question would fortify and widen.

2.3 Critique of the Socio-Educational Model

The significance of Gardner’s model and its socio-psychological aspects of motivation in language learning have been widely acknowledged in the field of SLA research. However, the concept of integrative motivation that has often been an object of criticism. Some researchers (e.g.. Au, 1988; Crookes & Schmidt, 1991; Dömyei, 1994) argue that Gardner's definitions of integration-related terms are ambiguous and Au (1988) even points out that the concept of “social environment” used in the socio- educational model, permits pcst-hoc examinations that make it difficult to verify. He claims “because the dichotomy was based on notions about cultural beliefs, numerous


1 In order to measure language attitudes towards the Irish and the English language, an adapted version of the Servei d’Ensenyament dei Caíala (SEDEC), was used. This survey was originally developed in 1983 by the Gabinet d’estudis del SEDEC in order to establish language attitudes towards “Catalan” and “Castellano” in the Basque Country in Spain. An open-ended question on what the Irish language means to the subjects personally rounds up the survey.

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Origins and development of language attitudes towards the Irish language in the Republic of Ireland
Birkbeck, University of London
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Applied Linguistics - Angewandte Sprachwissenschaften
Irish language, language attitudes, linguistics, Galltacht, Gaeltacht, Republic of Ireland
Quote paper
Sandra Beyer (Author), 2005, Origins and development of language attitudes towards the Irish language in the Republic of Ireland, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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