From the Confessions of a Grammar Nazi – Admhálacha ó Shaoithín Gramadaí

I have often been called a grammar Nazi as far as the Irish language is concerned, and I am quite happy to plead guilty. In my position, you would be one, too. Here is why.

Is minic a chuirtear i mo leith gur saoithín gramadaí mise. Tá mé breá sásta a admháil, iad siúd a deir mar sin, go bhfuil an ceart acu. Dá mbeifeá i m’áit, níor thaise duitse é. Seo fios fátha agus siocair.

The whole idea of a “grammar Nazi” comes from the English-speaking world, where it makes much more sense than in the world of small, threatened languages. Much of what is traditionally considered “good grammar” in English is based on Latin, but Latin and English are different languages, even representing different branches of the Indo-European genealogical tree. So it is completely lunatic to suggest that, say, you “should not split an infinitive”. If infinitives are split in spoken language, and if they were part of the written language before Latin-influenced grammarians gained the upper hand, then it makes no sense to not split them (ha!). Instead of basing the normative grammar on Latin, it should be, as far as possible, be based on natural spoken language, as well as established literary tradition.

An coincheap sin, saoithín gramadaí nó grammar Nazi mar a deir an Béarla, tháinig sé as saol an Bhéarla, agus cé go bhfuil sé oiriúnach don Bhéarla, ní luíonn sé le réasún i gcoimhthéacs na dteangacha neamhfhorleathana atá faoi bhagairt. Tá cuid mhór dá bhfuil meas na dea-ghramadaí air sa Bhéarla bunaithe ar an Laidin, ach is dhá theanga dhifriúla iad an Laidin agus an Béarla, agus níl siad fiú ar aon chraobh le chéile i gcrann ginealais na hInd-Eorpaise. Mar sin tá sé aiféiseach ar fad a rá, mar shampla, “nach bhfuil sé ceart infinideach a scoilt” sa Bhéarla. Más gnách infinidigh a scoilt i gcaint na ndaoine, agus má bhí an t-infinideach scoilte coitianta sa teanga scríofa sula bhfuair lucht na Laidine seilbh ar an gcaighdeánú, níl sé ciallmhar an t-infinideach scoilte a sheachaint. Ba chóir caighdeán na gramadaí a bhunú ar chaint na ndaoine agus ar thraidisiún seanbhunaithe na litríochta seachas ar an Laidin.

Now we come to the interesting part. The prescribed Irish grammar and style is based on the language of the last monolingual speakers. It was not some book language regulated by village schoolmasters thinking too much of themselves. It was the language of the people. The language of such luminaries as Séamus Ó Grianna and Peig Sayers is not revered because it is some Latinizing schoolmaster’s idea of good Irish. It is revered and imitated because it is the authentic language of the Gaeltacht and the nearest thing to an established literary tradition you could find among illiterate native speakers: the language of the oral literature of the story-tellers and tradition-keepers.

Seo an chuid is mó spéis den scéal anois. Tá an leagan saintreorach den Ghaeilge bunaithe ar chleachtais na gcainteoirí deireanacha aonteangacha. Níorbh iad na mionmháistrí scoile a bhí ag síleadh an domhain díobh féin a chum ná a cheap é. Ba é caint na ndaoine é. Má thugaimid urraim do theanga Shéamuis Uí Ghrianna agus Pheig Sayers, is é is cúis leis sin nach bhfuil an teanga sin bunaithe ar thuiscint mháistir scoile na Laidine ar an rud is dea-Ghaeilge ann. Bímid ag iarraidh aithris a dhéanamh ar an teanga sin toisc gurb í fíortheanga na sean-Ghaeltachta í agus í bunaithe ar an rud is cosúla le traidisiún liteartha seanbhunaithe i gcultúr na gcainteoirí dúchais nach bhfuil léamh ná scríobh a dteanga féin acu: teanga na béal-litríochta, is é sin teanga na scéalaithe is na seanchaithe. 

Those who do not speak Irish natively, such as yours truly, are advised to learn their language from native speakers, including the tradition-keepers and storytellers whose stories are available in book form, as well as native speakers who wrote books, such as Séamus Ó Grianna, Seosamh Mac Grianna, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, and the writers of Gaeltacht autobiographies, of whom Peig is only one.

Sinne, nach bhfuil Gaeilge ó dhúchas againn, caithfidh muid Gaeilge a fhoghlaim ó chainteoirí dúchais – na scéalaithe is na seanchaithe san áireamh a bhfuil a gcuid scéalta ar fáil faoi chlúdach leabhair, chomh maith le cainteoirí dúchais ar tháinig leabhair óna bpeann, cosúil le Séamus Ó Grianna, Seosamh Mac Grianna, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, agus údair na ndírbheathaisnéisí Gaeltachta, nach bhfuil i bPeig ach bean acu.

Stupid jokes about Peig should be refrained from, because there is a strong rationale behind teaching Peig: she is one of the authentic voices of the Gaeltacht, as a native traditional storyteller, and as such, one of the authentic voices of pre-Anglicization Ireland. If there is anything wrong about Peig, it is the overreliance on Peig; instead, you should read all the native material there is, both autobiographies, folklore, and fiction.

Ba chóir stad de bheith ag insint drochscéilíní magaidh faoi Pheig, nó ní chuirfí Peig os comhair na bhfoghlaimeoirí ach cúis mhaith a bheith leis: guth údarásúil de chuid na Gaeltachta í, ós scéalaí dúchasach traidisiúnta í, agus mar sin, guth údarásúil de chuid na hÉireann réamh-Ghalldachais í. Ní bhfaighinn locht ar bith ar Pheig ach an meas a bheith uirthi gurb ionann ise agus traidisiún na Gaeltachta go léir; ina ionad sin ba chóir duit gach cineál ábhar dúchasach ón nGaeltacht a léamh, na dírbheathaisnéisí, an béaloideas agus an ficsean san áireamh.

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