Advertising and the future of
minority languages in Europe
Helen Kelly-Holmes & David Atkinson
University of Limerick, Ireland
Research Focus
Language choice in advertising in areas
of Western Europe
 in which there is an official regional or
national commitment to the promotion of
 one or more historically minoritised
languages

Hypotheses & Assumptions

The appearance of a marginalized language
in the familiar textual frame of an
advertisement has a very powerful effect
 In this context (minority autochthonous
languages in Western Europe), where there
are by definition no monolingual speakers,
language choice will always have a strongly
symbolic/fetishistic element.
Research Questions

To what extent are advertisers making
statements about their own identity, their
customers’ identities and their product’s
identity through their language choices?
 Do these choices contribute towards
“normalization” of these historically
minoritised languages across different
sociolinguistic contexts?
Sociolinguistic context of Irish
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Irish is first official language, but English is
the dominant language
1.57 million in Republic report that they can
speak Irish (pop. 3.9 million) (Census 2002)
21.6% report using it on a daily basis, but
78% of these were school-going age
Effectively no monolingual speakers of Irish
Gaeltacht – predominantly Irish-speaking
areas
The Gaeltacht
Irish in Northern Ireland
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Good Friday Agreement (1998) enhanced
status of Irish in Northern Ireland (and Ulster
Scots and other languages)
“Rights, Safeguards and Equality of
Opportunity (Economic, cultural and social
issues)”
In relation to Irish: Commitment to take
resolute action to promote the language
To facilitate and encourage spoken and
written use in public
To encourage Irish-medium schools, liase
with Irish-speaking community etc.
Potential of Irish as advertising language

Irish has not been a language associated with
the market
 Both privileged and minoritised e.g. Official
Languages Act 2003:
“The duty of public bodies to ensure that the Irish
language only, or the Irish and English languages
together, are used, on oral advertisements, -whether
they be live or recorded, on stationery, on signage and
on advertisements under regulation to be made by the
Minister. [Section 9(1)]”
For the majority of the population – strong
symbolism
 For those who identify themselves primarily as
Irish speakers

Potential of Irish as advertising language
cont’d.

Why not express yourself in the most professional
and correct way in the most learned and versatile of
languages. Use that which is more authentically Irish
than any other aspect of our most ancient but vibrant
culture - OUR LANGUAGE
(http://indigo.ie/~europus/).

On each page your customers will be able to choose
between English and Irish. Alternatively you may
choose to have a site in English only or Irish only. We
encourage the use of the Irish Language. You will find
that the use of Irish will attract users to your site as it
adds to the unique flavour of an Irish business
(www.webbery.ie)
Foinse (“Source”)
“the Irish language national weekly newspaper” ;
 established 1996
 Aims to provide “high quality Irish language
journalism”
 Published in a Gaeltacht region “a natural
environment where the language can grow and
develop” (http://gaeltacht.local.ie).
 “Foinse sa Rang”
 Read by Irish speakers throughout the country
 Circulation of ca. 10,000
 89 advertisements from 4 issues

Sector/Product
Number of ads
Language
Planning applications
45
Irish
Recruitment
27
Irish
IRL government (tenders,
info., grants etc.)
22
Irish ex. web addresses
(e.g. smokefreeatwork.ie)
Language courses
6
Irish
Other courses (HE)
5
Irish
Arts & academic events
4
Irish, 1 bilingual (Arts
Council of NI)
Travel (Aer Aran, Irish
Rail)
4
Irish (incl. Terms &
conditions)
Quarry
4
Name only in English
Scholarships
4
Irish
Public utilities notices/
sponsorships
2
Irish (incl. New rates for
electricity)
Political party (clinics)
2
Progressive Democrats
(name given bilingually,
Irish bigger)
Local phone company
2
Irish
Inter-gov & EU tenders
1
Sponsors in English;
Trilingual NI gov. address
Publishers and books
1
Irish (I-E dictionary)
National Lottery
1
Irish apart from name
WP services
1
Irish
Seat dealership
1
Irish (incl. Tech. details
etc.)
Lá (“Day”)
Daily newspaper
 Published in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Lonely Planet - Ireland Map
 86 advertisements from10 issues
 Although a daily paper, attracts less
advertising than Foinse.
 Circulation ca. 4,000 – not just in
Belfast.

Sector/Product/
Service
No. of ads
Language
Arts & academic
events
19
Irish, some bilingual
(e.g. Pan-Celtic song
contest)
Professional services
13 (repeats)
Irish
Language courses
9
Irish
Religious courses
9
Irish
TV Rentals
7 (repeats)
Irish
UK/NI govt. tenders
etc.
4
Irish, apart from gov.
addresses
IRL government
notices, tenders,
information
6
Irish, only 1 fully
bilingual (commission
on electronic voting)
Educational courses
(HE)
6
Irish
Recruitment
5
Irish, except 1 NI/UK
government dept using
bilingual name
School open days
3
Irish
Publishers, books,
bookshops
3
Irish
Scholarships
2
Irish
Conclusions re. Advertising in
Irish
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Advertising is exclusively monolingual in Irish,
except for some addresses, slogans etc.
Government and public sector are main
advertisers in Foinse (Rep. IRL)
Arts sector is main advertiser in Lá (N.I)
Limited number of other domains (e.g.
Language courses, education)
Very limited no.of “purely” commercial
advertisements; these stand out visually
Conclusions re. Advertising in
Irish

1. Compulsion: adherence to language
policy directives (tokenistic/symbolic/
decorative or communicating with a minority
group and as is their right?)
 2. Language-ideology-based marketing
approach, in which the language is either a
core part of the product, and so it must be
used in the commercial discourse in order to
add to the credibility of the product
Conclusions re. Advertising in
Irish

3. Domain-specific usage: Irish is found in the
domains where we expect to find it; does this
challenge commonsense assumptions/
contribute to normalization?
 4. Communication with community that
identifies itself with the language (more
dominant in Lá (N.I. context)) -> language
choice in this situation always about
constructing identities for product, advertisee
etc.
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