2nd International Symposium



ISCH EU COST Action IS1306
Bernadette O’Rourke, Network Chair, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
Joan Pujolar, Network Vice-Chair, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
20‒22 November 2014 Barcelona


Global social changes are transforming the linguistic ecologies of contemporary societies. They change our linguistic landscapes, our linguistic repertoires and the ways we use languages in everyday life. In fact, what we used to understand by “languages” is also changing, along with the concepts and theories traditionally employed to analyse language use. The “New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe” network invites linguists, social scientists, language activists and language planners to take part in the analysis and debate of these sociolinguistic transformations.


The concept of “new speakers” provides one angle from which to investigate the new multilingual realities of contemporary Europe; we propose to explore multilingualism from the perspective of the social actors and their experience of using different languages in their daily lives. We focus especially on the experience of people as they socialize in languages that are not their “native” or “first” language, both synchronically and diachronically (e.g. in different periods of their lives). The concept shifts our focus away from the “native speaker”, a notion which has traditionally dominated linguistic analysis and institutional language policies. In this first phase of this EU COST project, we examine three new speaker profiles:


New speakers of regional minority languages
New speakers in the context of immigration
New speakers who adopt new languages for specific work purposes
Deadline for submission of abstracts 30 June 2014
More information at

Irish in a multilingual world

In my previous post, I mentioned that new speakers of Irish are bringing the language into new contexts. While some speakers still try to model their Irish on what was traditionally spoken in the Gaeltacht, many others deliberately move away from this model. They break the rules of grammar and adopt hybridized forms of language. Although language purists may be critical of these non-conventional forms, as we all know the nature of language use is that it changes. The language is also been used in new and creative ways by the many new speakers of Irish amongst Ireland’s New Irish. These New Irish originate from places like Poland, Romania, Nigeria, the Philippines and China, to name but a few. I recently met a woman from Poland who was learning Irish and sending her children to an Irish-medium school. Many of the parents of immigrant background I met were very enthusiastic about learning Irish and ensuring their children would become speakers of the language. In a way, becoming a new speaker of Irish is not such a big deal for them. They are already multilingual individuals anyway. So they’re open to the idea of learning and trying out new languages. Of course new speakers of Irish are not restricted to Ireland itself. Irish is also spoken outside of Ireland. You can study Irish in Germany, Spain and Russia and there are dozens of universities in North America where Irish is taught. In fact, with the help of technology and the Internet, it is possible to learn Irish from anywhere in world without ever even coming to Ireland. To end, here is a fun video which tells the story of Yu Ming who learned Irish in China. As you will see, however, when he reaches Ireland he is a bit frustrated to find that in Ireland’s capital city, Dublin, he finds it difficult to find Irish speakers. For new speakers of minority languages, this is often a challenge and the active seeking out of speakers is a big part of the process. [youtube] Bernie O’Rourke Email – B.M.A.O’ Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke Twitter – @BernORourke

An Irish of the future

A few weeks back I uploaded some information on the upcoming round of WorkGroup Meetings as part of the COST EU Action on “New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe“. The meetings which will be held at Heriot-Watt between 6-7 March 2014.

The project involves researchers from some 17 European countries. In the project we are interested in finding out more about what it means to become a ‘new speaker’ of language in the context of a multilingual Europe.

One of the multilingual strands we are exploring is indigenous minority languages and what it means to become a new speaker of languages such as Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, Galician, Catalan etc.

As a new speaker of Irish, I have been intrigued by this growing phenomenon in the case of the Irish language. I am also a new speaker or neofalante of Galician, a language spoken in northern Spain. I have also begun to pick up a smattering of Scottish Gaelic since my move over to Edinburgh.

I’ll leave my observations on Galician and Scottish Gaelic for another blog post and focus on new speakers of Irish for now and a project on which I am now working on jointly with Dr John Walsh at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Becoming a new speaker of a minority language requires commitment and dedication. The new speakers I interviewed during my field trips back to Ireland had clearly invested a lot of time in learning the intricacies of the language.

In the early years after political independence in Ireland, there was a strong link between national identity and the Irish language.

But new speakers of Irish in 21st century Ireland are no longer speaking Irish for patriotism.

Speaking Irish is more about establishing an individualized identity as opposed to a collective national identity (O’Rourke  2011: 339)

In the globalized world in which we now live, becoming a speaker of a minority language such as Irish is about standing out and being different.

As one of the new speakers I spoke to way back Dublin in 2003 told me “I think that I am very proud that I can speak Irish .. .I like that side of it you know like when other people think about you or ‘she has Irish’…. so like I stand out because of Irish and I like that…” (O’Rourke 2005: 294).

So in the Irish context where English has become the language of the majority of the population, the minority language would seem to be used by new speakers to symbolise an authentic individuality, allowing them to ‘stand out’ and as an expression of difference, reflecting a heightened concern about self-realisation and identity (O’Rourke 2005: 295)

While the Irish language was for a time tainted by the association of nationalism with political violence in Northern Ireland, for a lot of young people now, being a new speaker of Irish is more about tolerance and recognition of diversity.

New speakers bring with them new ways of speaking the language – they often mix Irish with English, they make up new words, use the language in creative ways and often speak with an urban accent.

The term ‘Dublin Irish’ was used by some of the new speakers I spoke to refer to their own way of speaking. These new speakers are bringing Irish into new contexts, ranging from hip-hop music to playful use of the language in internet chat rooms.

So instead of drawing on an Irish of the past, they are inventing and re-inventing an Irish of the future.

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

Do "new speakers" of English in the UK face exclusion?

Just before Christmas the UK government announced that migrants will only be able to claim benefits if they pass a series of tough new tests.

One of these includes a check on their fluency in English. These tests are now to be done without the assistance of a translator or interpreter. There are also talks of stopping the printing of welfare paperwork in foreign languages.

These moves come ahead of the removal of transitional controls on Romanian and Bulgarian workers.  If government proposals are followed through, all foreign-born benefit claimants will face a rigorous testing of their proficiency in English.

But what exactly does proficiency mean? What counts as fluency? Who decides this? And what are the consequences of these decisions?

Acquiring, knowing and using a new language is a complicated process. It does not happen overnight. Even when a “new speaker” becomes proficient in a language in some contexts, this does not necessarily apply to all others.

Asking for a pint of milk at the corner shop does not require the same vocabulary as filling out a legal document. That is why translation and interpreting services are necessary.

Becoming a “new speaker” of a language takes time. It is often fraught by prejudicial beliefs about what counts as the correct way of speaking and by who is considered a legitimate speaker. Having a “foreign” accent is often equated with a lack of fluency and thus a point of discrimination.

Britons returning after living abroad will come under similar scrutiny and will also be challenged to demonstrate their “proficiency” in English.

But having lived abroad can also make people sound as if they have a “foreign” accent. Any of us who have lived abroad for a considerable period of time will know that we sometimes feel like we have “lost” some of our native language.

We lose some of the colloquialisms of the language and sometimes borrow words, intonation or accent from the other languages we have been exposed to. People tell us that we don’t sound “natural”.

Will this lack of “naturalness” be classified as lacking proficiency ? Could it mean failing the language test?

Globalization and European integration create a context for increased geographical mobility and the generation of “new speakers” in countries such as the United Kingdom.

For most immigrants and transnational workers, acquiring the language of their host community is essential to becoming part of their new community and playing their part in its economic, social, political and artistic life.

As one former Tory Minister put it,  “the ability to speak English is one of the most empowering tools in the labour  market and we should be encouraging as many people as possible to learn it”.

Nobody is disputing this. But what can be questioned is the expectation that becoming a “new speaker” of English, or any other language for that matter, is something that happens automatically. Learning a language takes time. Cutting support services such as translation and interpreting will not change this.

New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: 1st Round of Workgroup Meetings


COST Action IS1306:

New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe:

Opportunities and Challenges

1st Round of Workgroup Meetings

Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 6-7 March 2014



YOU ARE INVITED TO the 1st Round of Working Group Meetings of the “New Speakers” network which will take place in Edinburgh in March 2014. The “New Speakers” network is an EU-funded initiative aimed at fostering collaboration amongst researchers, facilitating the sharing of findings, and identifying key issues in research on multilingualism.

“New Speakers” refer to multilingual individuals and groups who adopt and use a language variety different from their native language.  The aim of the network is to create a dialogue amongst scholars, practitioners and policy makers interested in the “new speaker” concept and who work within and across different multilingual strands including:

  • Regional linguistic minorities, where there are now a growing numbers of “new speakers” who as a result of revitalization projects have learned their heritage languages outside of the home through formal schooling or as adults
  • Immigrant communities, where becoming a “new speaker” of a language is often essential to participating in the economic, social, political and artistic life of their new host community.
  • Transnational workers, who to varying degrees invest in multilingualism at work, at home and through the cultural products they consume

This first set of Working Group Meetings is intended to facilitate initial dialogue amongst researchers, practitioners and policy makers from different parts of Europe whose work looks specifically at “new speakers” and issues around “new speakerness” or whose work engages with multilingual practices more broadly. We welcome individual researchers as well as those linked to broader research teams to participate in our first round of working group meetings and to share their work with other members of the network.

A fuller description of the theme of the network can be found at

(see downloads for Memorandum of Understanding)


Please submit an abstract of no more than 400 words briefly describing how your research links to the overall theme of the network. Please also include the name(s), affiliation, and contact details of you and/or your research group.

Participants are invited to indicate their interest in participating in ONE of the ‘core’ Working Groups (WG) of the network:

WG1: Indigenous minority speakers

WG2: Immigrants

WG3: Transnational workers

Abstracts and enquiries should be sent to

Closing date 20th January 2014

*Please note that places at the event are limited.

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe

The recent resignation of the Irish-language commissioner in Ireland, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, featured strongly in the Irish media just before Christmas.

Irish is the official language of the Republic of Ireland. It is one of the only minority languages in Europe and perhaps in the world to have this level of official status.

However, despite this apparent protection at institutional level, there has been a very laissez-faire attitude to the language.

It is little wonder that the Irish-language commissioner accused the Irish Government of hypocrisy, and said Irish speakers in traditional heartland areas of the Gaeltacht (meaning Irish-speaking) were being neglected.

But the Irish language, like many of Europe’s other minority languages, including Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Galician, Occitan, Sami, Romani, Yiddish etc., is being embraced by new speakers.

New speakers are individuals who were not brought up speaking the language in the home as “native” speakers but who learned it as a second language outside of the home, either at school, through adult classes or some other formal means.

Followers of the blog will remember a post on the concept a few years back inviting people to our symposium New Speakers of Minority Languages: A Dialogue.

This is an exciting moment for Irish and others minority languages which are now being used in modern and new contexts.

I am currently coordinating an EU-funded COST project on the theme, ‘New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe involving researchers from some 17 European countries.

As part of the project, some of my European colleagues and I are interested in finding out more about what it means to become a new speaker of a minority language such as Irish, Gaelic or Welsh.

In particular:

▪   Why do people decide to invest time and effort in learning a minority language?

▪   What are their experiences of speaking these languages?

▪   Who are these people?

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

Events: BAAL Conference 2013

This year, the 46th Annual conference of the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL) will take place at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh from 5 – 7 September. The event is organised by the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS) with Dr Bernadette O’Rourke as principal organiser. The local organising committee includes Ms. Rita McDade, Professor Máiréad Nic Craith, Professor Graham Turner, Professor Isabelle Perez, Ms. Elizabeth Thoday, Mr John Cleary, Ms Emma Guion Akdag, Dr Michelle Liao, Mr Ashvin Devasundaram, and Mr Anik Nandi.

BAAL dates back to 1965, and since then it has received encouragement from the leading linguistics scholars in Great Britain including: James Britton, Michael Halliday, Glyn Lewis, Donald Riddy, Frank Palmer, George Perren, David Stern, Peter Strevens, John Trim, and Jean Ure among others.

Over the last few decades, research in the area of applied linguistics has been transformed by an increasing focus on socio-cultural and linguistic change. This adjustment has accompanied increasing globalisation, mobility and human migration alongside new technologies and a shifting political and economic landscape. This year, the conference theme: ‘Opening New Lines of Communication in Applied Linguistics’ addresses the challenges and opportunities these developments present.

To understand the complexity of this new (socio)linguistic reality, the conference explores new lines of communication between sub disciplines within and beyond  applied linguistics. Apart from the central theme, the conference includes a diverse variety of papers spanning the spectrum of applied linguistics, ranging from Language teaching/learning to sociolinguistics. We are expecting more that 300 delegates during the three days of the conference. The plenary or keynote speakers include pioneers of modern day applied linguistics research:

Kathryn Woolard, University of California, San Diego
Jannis Androutsopoulos, Universität Hamburg
Svenja Adolphs, University of Nottingham

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

New Speakers of Minority Languages: Conference Reminder

You might think that, after the Multilingual Debate on the 23rd March, the staff of LINCS could be doing with a rest. On the contrary, yet again, the department is pleased to announce a leading event on an incredibly topical subject.

As we announced back in February, LINCS is holding a conference on New Speakers of Minority Languages. This conference aims to bring together experts on the phenomenon of people who speak a language everyday but are not counted as “native speakers.” This might include people learning a traditional language to try to rediscover their heritage, people who have learned a language following government revitalization programs or even people just deciding to learn another language at an evening class.

Sometimes, increasing number of new language users can go hand-in-hand with changes to the language itself. Are such changes always welcome or useful? How do “native speaker” react when their language shifts due to new speakers? Is it even worth drawing distinctions between “native speakers” and “new speakers?”

These are just some of the topics that will be discussed at this one and a half day conference, which will take place in 7 Bristo Square, Edinburgh on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st March. For more details or to book your place, please email Dr Bernie O’Rourke at the address shown on her homepage.

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

New Speakers of Minority Languages: A Dialogue

Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh University are pleased to announce this one and a half day event to bring together scholars working on new speakers of minority languages in different parts of the world where traditional communities of speakers are being eroded.

In these contexts, new speakers often emerge as a result of revitalization efforts and more favourable language policies, prompting some individuals to become speakers of the minority language and to invest in its provision for the next generation.

‘New speakers’ are defined here as individuals who use the language of a particular minority linguistic community in everyday life but are not native speakers.

This profile of speaker has always existed in the context of immigration and colonization. It continues to exist in a contemporary context of the globalized new economy, where world languages, most notably English, are acquired by non-native speakers.

New speakers of indigenous minority languages are also emerging in situations where traditional linguistic practices are changing and new ones appearing. In many parts of the world, traditional communities of minority language speakers are being eroded as a consequence of increased urbanization and economic modernization.

At the same time, new speakers are emerging as a result of revitalization efforts and more favourable language policies, prompting some individuals to become speakers of the minority language and to invest in its provision for the next generation.

The linguistic varieties being used by new speakers can often be significantly removed from the norm associated with traditional native speakers.

Different factors may be at play here: new standardized forms may be used in educational and other formal contexts, new terminology may be developed to make the language functional in new domains, and new speakers, language may show the influence of their first language (typically the dominant state language) in terms of syntax and pronunciation.

New speakers often tend to be concentrated in urban areas that may be very different in social and socio-economic terms from the traditional rural communities.

Because of underlying linguistic, sociolinguistic, socioeconomic, socio-geographical and very often ideological differences between native and new speakers, these groups can sometimes perceive themselves as being socially and linguistically incompatible.

This may lead to tensions between different minority language speakers which can sometimes have a negative effect on the process of linguistic revitalization.

Venue: Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh

Friday 30 – Saturday 31 March 2012

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

  • Professor Alexandra Jaffe
  • Professor Alan Davies

Registration fee: £50 (Concessions: £35)

We welcome abstracts of not more than 300 words in length, by no later than 31 January 2012.
Abstracts should include the presenter’s name and institutional affiliation, if any, a very brief biography (not more than a further 100 words), and a contact email address. It is expected that information on acceptance of proposals will be communicated by 15 February.
Please email your abstracts to Bernadette O.Rourke.

Abstracts will be reviewed anonymously by our Scientific Committee and will be evaluated in terms of their relevance to the theme of the Symposium.
Dr Bernadette O.Rourke (Heriot-Watt University), Dr Wilson McLeod (University of Edinburgh)
Scientific Committee:
Dr Ane Ortega Etcheverry (Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao) Professor Graham Turner, (Heriot-Watt University) Dr Joan Pujolar (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) Professor Alan Davies (University of Edinburgh) Dr Tadhg O hIfearnain (University of Limerick) Dr Fernando Ramallo (Universidade de Vigo) Professor Estibaliz-Amorrortu Gomez (Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao) Dr John Walsh (National University of Ireland, Galway) Dr Michael Hornsby (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland) Dr Alasdair MacCaluim (Gaelic Officer, Scottish Parliament) Professor Rob Dunbar (Sabhal Mor Ostaig, University of Highlands and Islands)

Registration details will follow shortly.

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke

New Speakers of Minority Languages: A Dialogue

In many parts of Europe, traditional communities of minority language speakers are being eroded as a consequence of increased urbanization and economic modernization. While native speaker communities are dying out, at the same time, “new speakers” of these languages are emerging. To a considerable extent this trend is as a result of more supportive language policies at both national and EU levels. Such policies are in many cases leading to increased provision for these languages through their inclusion in school curricula, the media and other public domains. This is giving rise to new types of speakers on whom the future survival of these minority languages is likely to depend. To date, however, relatively little attention has been given to these speakers and their potential role in the future of these languages.

On Wednesday 28th September, over ten scholars from different parts of Europe came together at Heriot-Watt University to discuss the concept of the “new speaker” and to look at the role of these speakers in the future survival of Gaelic, Breton, BSL, Irish, Manx, Basque, Catalan, Galician, Monegasque and Yiddish.

The workshop was funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and organised by LINCS lecturer, Dr Bernie O’Rourke (expert in Irish and Galician) in collaboration with Dr Wilson McLeod (Gaelic-language expert) of Edinburgh University.

The participants on the day included experts from Scotland, Ireland, Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Poland. These included Dr Ane Ortega Etcheverry (Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao), Professor Graham Turner, (Heriot-Watt University), Dr Joan Pujolar, (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya), Professor Alan Davies (University of Edinburgh), Dr Tadhg Ó hIfearnáin (University of Limerick), Dr Fernando Ramallo (Universidade de Vigo), Dr John Walsh (National University of Ireland, Galway), Dr Michael Hornsby (University of Toruń, Poland),  Professor Rob Dunbar (University of the Highlands and Islands), Professor Alan Davies (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Alasdair MacCaluim (Gaelic Officer, Scottish Parliament).

A symposium on the topic is planned for the end of March 2012. Watch this space!

Bernie O’Rourke

Email – B.M.A.O’

Academia – Bernadette O’Rourke

Twitter – @BernORourke