On Anglicisms

Avoiding Béarlachas, unwanted English influence on Irish, is an important and big thing among learners, and it is not always easy to say which Anglicism is acceptable and which isn’t. Myself, I try to distinguish well-established Anglicisms from more recent ones, and Gaeltacht anglicisms from learners’ mistakes. On the other hand, it should be noted that Gaeltacht anglicisms come and go, and – iontas na n-iontas, wonder of wonders – it is not at all unheard of that a classical writer whose books and stories we are asked to look upon as something to cherish and imitate uses anglicisms that have gone out of use. An example I can think of is Seán Bán Mac Meanman, whose Irish is delightfully rich Ulster Irish, but who makes use of the expression iompar amach for translating the abstract sense of the English expression to carry out. In today’s Irish, this would never occur to any even moderately fluent speaker, because the more Gaelic expressions comhlíonadh and cur i gcrích are all over the place.

When asked to define unacceptable Anglicisms, I would suggest above all syntactic features:

  • using forms of tá where only is is appropriate;
  • using prepositions in a way modelled on English;
  • using articles where they are not appropriate: in English we might say the president of this country, but in Irish it is Uachtarán na tíre seo, and it would be out and out wrong to add an article before the first noun
  • translating word for word from English wherever there are more Irish expressions.

I am less preoccupied with English loanwords that are well adapted to the Irish system of declensions and conjugations. Sometimes people suggest that I shouldn’t use English words such as músaem, and prefer iarsmalann instead. Myself, I happily use both. It is good to use an international word which fits neatly in, such as músaem, and it is similarly good to use a word using an Irish derivative suffix, such as iarsmalann. Similarly, I am happy to use teileafón, fón, and guthán interchangeably, although the fact that fón isn’t quite assimilated to the Irish initial mutation system does make me somewhat wary about it. (Incidentally, I picked up guthán from an Ulster native speaker, so don’t tell me native speakers don’t use guthán and similar terms.)

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