Research Proposal: An Investigation in the Role of Trade Ties in Minority Language Decline: A Case Study of 19th Century Ireland

Hi! I'm really excited to share my preliminary research proposal for my project on economics and language. I'm very open to any comments, advice, or questions anyone may have!

Like Comment

An Investigation in the Role of Trade Ties in Minority Language Decline: A Case Study of 19th Century Ireland


 This interdisciplinary project explores the intersection between economics and language use. It focuses on how the minority languages of countries are impacted as they increase trade with countries who speak a different, more dominant language.

The Irish language provides a perfect example of a minority language which suffered great decline as trade increased between Ireland and the UK: the Irish language suffered the most over the course of the nineteenth century while trade ties were the strongest they had ever been between Ireland and England.

By conducting an in-depth case study of this relationship, this project will provide evidence of the rarely discussed role trade plays in language decline. Minority languages need to be preserved and it is essential that all potential causes for their decline be analysed. I hope this project will prove to be starting point for further research about the impact of economic factors on the decline of minority language use.


Using primary data from the nineteenth century and applying modern economic analysis methods, I plan to fulfil the following objectives:

  1. To conduct an in-depth case study about how the Irish language was impacted as trade ties between Ireland and England strengthened over the course of the nineteenth century
  2. To provide evidence that trade affects minority languages as well as a reliable research technique that can be applied to investigate the decline of other minority languages around the world



Research Problem: How trade ties affect minority languages, using 19th Century Ireland as a case study

Case Study Hypothesis: Trade with England played a central role in the decline of the Irish language during the 19th century, seen particularly through the use of Irish in port towns that engaged in extensive trade with England, in comparison to non-port towns that did not experience this trade to the same effect.

The primary research method for this project comprises a literature review and a longitudinal study.

Online databases that contain census reports from 19th century Ireland are available and provide detailed breakdowns of English and Irish speakers in each barony (i.e. sub districts) of the counties of Ireland. Parliamentary Papers published by the English government at the time provide insights into trade. Shipping logs have also been preserved and are accessible which provide a breakdown of shipping in and out of Irish ports per month over the course of many years. This literature will provide the core data I need for the study and are integral to finding the link between Irish and trade.

A longitudinal study involves cross section analysis of the same variables over a period of time.  Census reports outlining the number of Irish speakers per barony will provide the base for the study. The key treatment of interest is the measurement of baronies’ distance to trade. The distance to trade combines both geography and intensity. The outcome variable will be the change in numbers speaking Irish (in percentage points), which can then be analysed, placed into context and used as a reference point.

Preliminary research I have undertaken has shown strong correlations between baronies with an active port and a large decline in the use of the Irish language compared to baronies without a port in that same county: Waterford and Limerick provide clear examples of this. Counties like Galway had a port but did not engage in significant trade with England, and the variation in Irish language decline is not as apparent.

I plan to use spatial software, ArcGIS, to convey these correlations in an accessible, visual form that maps Ireland’s trade and Irish language decline.


The decline of the Irish language during this period has most often been linked to immigration and death because of the Great Famine, as well as educational policies imposed in Ireland that outlawed formal teaching of Irish. However, the impact trade has had on the Irish language has yet to be explored, and I believe that this case study will provide previously unacknowledged insights into our native language’s decline. By understanding all the ways our language was negatively impacted, it makes solutions to save the language easier. The world we live in is rapidly globalising and language and culture need to be protected so they do not fall victim to this progress. I believe that both language and trade can thrive and coexist, but in order for the most effective measures to be put in place to ensure the two survive and flourish, an understanding of how they affect each other must first be developed.


If the longitudinal study is successful in proving a definite link between Irish language decline and trade, I hope it will provide grounds for similar investigations to be conducted for other countries whose minority languages may have faced a similar impact as Irish. I would hope to conclude my research with providing general recommendations on how to conduct a study as this.


Supervisors and Support

This research project has support from academic staff in both the Departments of Economics and Irish and my research supervisor, Dr. Ronan Lyons’ expertise and experience in this area of research has already been of great benefit. He has also brought economics and linguistic expert Dr. David Clingingsmith on board to provide further advice and expertise to the project.


Proposed Timeline

The timeline of the research would be as follows:

Week 1-2: locate, compile and input all empirical data available (on Irish language use and shipping imports from England) into ArcGIS (the spatial software) and identify the principle counties in which the case study will primarily focus on

Week 3- 5: conduct the cross-section analysis of the counties’ language decline in their sub-districts and their individual trade dealings with England, focusing on the variable factors and outcomes of interest outlined above

Week 6- Display these findings in an accessible visual format with explanations as well as provide general recommendations to prevent language decline.

Eimear Kearins

Student, Trinity College Dublin

Dia Dhaoibh ! My name is Eimear Kearins and I'm an undergraduate Economics and Politics student at Trinity College Dublin.

My research focuses on the effects economics and trade has on minority languages. As a lover and speaker of the Irish language, I'm delving deeper in the impact trade with Britain had on the language's decline particularly during the 19th century. 

I feel really privileged to be a part of the Laidlaw community, and I'm really looking forward to connecting with everyone on this Network!


Go to the profile of Julian Pallinger
5 months ago

Fascinating topic! How would you control for the possibility that more English speakers (traders) would migrate to better connected coastal burrows in Ireland? Idk if this would show up as "English speakers" in the statistics? (But does not necessarily indicate a change in language of the native population). Adding fixed effects would perhaps control for some spatial heterogeneity between port and rural regions. Perhaps you could locate where the language was outlawed first, and use this variation to estimate some causal relation (Difference in Difference?). You'll figure it out. Best of luck!

I am looking forward to reading your paper.


Go to the profile of Eimear Kearins
5 months ago

Thanks so much for your comment Julian!

You make some really interesting points that really show the difficulties in tracking language development due to all its innate intricacies. In terms of migration, I am mainly focusing on migration abroad as a fixed factor, as it has been seen that when Irish migrated from rural to urban areas within the country, Irish-speaking neighbourhoods were formed in the urban centres. I am basing my research mainly on a previous study looking at the Irish speaking population in each of the decennial cohorts of the 1881 census, which (I'm hoping!) will account for the loss of Irish from one generation to the next that may have occurred due to rural to urban migration.

l have the project well underway now and have added county fixed effects in the regression analysis to account for all the other variables that have definitely also contributed to the decline in the language like the concentration of national schools in the areas (Irish was outlawed in the nationwide system), migration levels, as well as religious factors, which interestingly enough, also played a large role in language in Ireland at the time!

I actually hadn't considered using a DID model, so thank you for that suggestion.

I read your project proposal and the topic is really fascinating, and extremely important- I'm really looking forward to reading what you find!

All the best, 


Go to the profile of Julian Pallinger
5 months ago

All the best for your research! It seems you have considered a lot already. I am not really familiar with the (historical) context so I cannot really judge. But the linguistic difference between Northern Ireland and the rest is striking. Perhaps the border variation can also be used. (Estimate increase in trade using a gravity model due to missing border coefficient, and use it to predict change in language. But this includes a lot of other factors so is probably not helpful. And time is limited, so yeah.)