Dublin’s linguistic landscape tells us much about language policies and practices from above and below. It reveals the symbolic construction of the (national) public space, and indexes the languages of a diverse population.
Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Irish constitution of 1937, declares Irish to be the national and first official language of Ireland; English is recognised as the second official language. While the success of official language policy in Ireland remains a subject of debate, a constituent part of that policy is the bilingual display of placenames. A walk around Dublin will take you along bilingually named streets, such as Plás Anraí/Henry Place. If you prefer to take the bus, your destination will be displayed bilingually.
Significant changes in the Irish economy from the 1990s are reflected in Dublin’s urban landscape. Derelict areas were developed to house multinational corporations, international banks and global financial services. The Commerzbank, for example, sits in the old – and now highly modern – Dublin docklands. Symbolic of global capitalism, the display of such names will hardly strike passersby as being especially multilingual, however.
Economic transformation also saw considerable in-migration to Ireland and the proliferation of small businesses to serve a growingly diverse population. Since 2004, with large numbers of economic migrants from the EU accession countries settling in Dublin, eastern European food stores and bars have opened in the city, displaying commercial signage in different languages.
Small business advertisements in different languages and scripts are typical sights in Dublin’s north inner city, which has long been socially and economically neglected. Unlike the multinational corporations of the Dublin Docklands, such displays of language index a rather different degree of social prestige. As Ireland’s economic transformation led to a more diverse population, Dublin’s linguistic landscape highlights patterns of linguistic differentiation in line with patterns of socioeconomic stratification.
The author: Sarah McMonagle
Carson, L., McMonagle, S. and Murphy, D. (2015) Multilingualism in Dublin. LUCIDE City Report. London: The London School of Economics and Political Science.
McMonagle, S. (2017) “Dublin: Linguistic habitus and hierarchies in the (new) multilingual city”, in Peukert, H. and Gogolin, I. (eds) Dynamics of Linguistic Diversity, 235-258. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.