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April 7, 2013 / ldejong4

Irish is wonderful, so it is!

Ever thought about how a language is born, how it dies and what happens in between? No? Ok well I have done some of the thinking while you were busy with more productive activities. According to my most recent online search results, there currently exist about 6,000 living languages in the world and sadly 25 of those will die annually. The first time I was faced with this concept of a “dying” or a “dead” language was at a young age, in school while learning the Irish language. Having lived through the education system in Ireland where the learning of Irish is compulsory for school pupils, I am very aware that Irish is considered a dying language and that many pupils contest it as a subject. So why make us learn it?

The Irish language is now formally regarded as vulnerable by the Endangered Languages Project with only 44,000 native speakers globally today and almost all with fluent English. Not only that but Irish is considered an incredibly difficult language to learn because its orthographic system doesn’t reflect its sounds. Rather, it is based on etymology on top of language evolution and reform. Simply said, what you see is NOT what you get. Compare that with German, where almost all words are phonetically pronounced as written. The longer German words tend also to be a combination of shorter words thus making it a more logical foreign language to learn. To top off the argument against Irish, the school curriculum does not do it any justice. It’s tedious, outdated and boring. Anxious and unsure exam students manipulate the learning process into a memory test to just get by – something I consider detrimental to the allowance of creativity in the arts. Nevertheless, I have some good tidings to share on the maintenance of Irish in Ireland. Most of us actually know a lot more Irish than we are even aware. Something mysteriously secretive that is already deeply ingrained in our everyday living and that I sincerely hope never disappears from Irish culture. Perhaps the drilling of those irregular Irish verbs into our heads was worth it after all.

After an initial trip to the States you realise how many differences there are between the English we speak in Ireland and that of the US. We say chips, they say fries. We say crisps, they say chips. We say arse, they say fanny and so on. The way we speak English in Ireland is certainly unique to the rest of the world and it is formally defined as Hiberno-English. To some non-natives it can sound almost “peasant like and uneducated” at its strongest but to me, Hiberno-English is a beautiful example of how language represents the true culture of a nation. It conveys a history and equips us with interesting expressions liberally used by Irish natives globally without even a thought evoked on meaning or origin until lost in translation with the American.  Rooted in those encoded strings exists an almost tacit knowledge only understood by natives or learners of Hiberno-English, which stems so delightfully from the Irish language of Gaeilge.

Many say that the best way to learn a language is to date a native speaker of that language. I certainly learned the downside of this when I said to an American some years ago he gave out to me.  I was so stunned at his incomprehension of this expression and led me to uncomfortably paraphrase it as tell off or scold – embarrassed that he firstly interpreted it as he put out to me (slept with me). We eventually agreed on give shit to for the informal American English version. I reflected on this event the following day and soon realised my phrase was a literal translation of the Irish expression ag tabhairt amach. My mind became alight with intrigue to further explore such linguistic overlap.

As it turns out, there are many ways in which the Irish language has had an influence on English in Ireland. Even those of us who have forgotten all our “school Irish”, rebel against it or never learnt it still speak English with many hints of Irish. Here are some very common phrases used in the Hiberno-English language that stem from Irish:

– To be sure to be sure – ar eagla na heagla

– At all at all e.g. “I’ve no money at all at all” – ar chor ar bith

– Repetition of the interrogative verb to respond yes or no e.g. “Are you coming here?” – “I am” – comes from the verb conjugation to be in Irish – bíonn

– Recent action e.g. I’m after breaking my nail – comes from usage of compound prepositions in Irish – Táim tar éis…

I have my breakfast eaten. Tá mo bhricfeasta ite agam

– Using the reflexive pronoun for emphasis e.g. “Himself and Mary are traveling to Cork” – Is é féin agus…

This is a good match, so it is

– Grammar of possession e.g. “Do you have change on you?” “She hasn’t a word of French” – Tá … agam

– More usage of the verb to be e.g. “He does be working every day.” – Bíonn sé ag obair gach lá

– Pluralised you: yous, ye – sibh

– Fair e.g. It’s a fair amount to pay for a bag of chips – fíor (genuine)

So there are just a few examples of how a “dying” language truly represents a nation’s heritage and culture in our everyday lives. I’m sure my family and friends know even better and more accurate examples in Hiberno-English and perhaps that even overlap from other languages. To all you native Hiberno-English speakers out there, the compulsory maintenance of Irish in education can definitely mean a lot more to you than just your first kiss at Irish college! *(Summer camp for Irish students to learn Irish over the summer, usually three weeks long)

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9 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Donal O'Conghaile (@Donal_IRL) / Apr 7 2013 11:06 pm

    Very true! Gaeilge makes us unique! Maith thú!

  2. Silvia / Apr 8 2013 8:38 am

    Great post Lisa! 🙂 I really enjoyed reading it and made me felt a lil bit Ireland-sick 🙂 hehe.
    I lived in Ireland only 3 years, but felt as a lot of the true Irish culture was being lost everyday.
    I learnt about the use of the possessive verbs once when visiting new grange, our guide explained that and found it very interesting, how the language reflected society (i.e. the neolithic Irish society).

    • ldejong4 / Apr 17 2013 11:34 pm

      Thanks so much Silvia for the comment 🙂 I’m glad I gave you some memories from Ireland and hope you’re keeping well. xoxo

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