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Learning a Strange Native Language

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The colonial practice of destroying native cultures and supressing native languages is already familiar; less thoroughly investigated is the set of practices adopted by newly independent (or simply new) nations in an effort to re-establish (or simply establish) a cultural and national identity, particularly insofar as that involves attempting to revive (or invent) a dead or moribund language. Here I bring Derrida's work to bear on these issues through an examination of the fate of the Irish language after colonization. Can a population now monolingual in the language of the coloniser be convinced that acquisition of its no-longer-native native language is a cultural imperative? How to describe the experience of a population upon whom this imperative is officially imposed by a state apparatus that is no longer that of the coloniser? In what sense is this unknown language its own? In what sense is this state apparatus or this culture its own? How is this peculiar split in the identity of such a nation-state to be understood? How is such an entity to understand itself in the midst of a post-national Europe?
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2007

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