“I don’t want to talk like a hick, but I want to speak Irish” – “Ní maith liom aithris a dhéanamh ar chaint na dtútachán, ach teastaíonn uaim Gaeilge a labhairt”

The term “cultural appropriation” has a relevant meaning, even in the context of learning Irish. A couple of months ago I found out about this. In a Facebook linguistic group, I made the acquaintance of a person who had had a bad experience with the Irish language movement, as those he know there stuck to what they perceived as their own “dialect” – i.e. a strongly English-influenced non-native jargon – and dismissed the native varieties saying that they didn’t want to “speak like a hick”.

Téarma ciallmhar é “leithghabháil chultúrtha”, fiú i gcoimhthéacs na Gaeilgeoireachta, mar a fuair mé amach cúpla mí ó shin. I ngrúpa teangeolaíochta ar Facebook casadh duine orm a raibh drochthaithí aige ar ghluaiseacht na Gaeilge. Iad siúd sa ghluaiseacht a raibh aithne aige orthu chloígh siad lena “gcanúint” féin – is é sin leathchaint neamhdhúchasach a ndeachaigh an Béarla i bhfeidhm uirthi ar gach dóigh – agus ní raibh meas an mhadra acu ar na leaganacha dúchasacha, nó is éard a dúirt siad ná nár theastaigh uathu “aithris a dhéanamh ar chaint na dtútachán”.

I must say that yer man was quite right to leave the language movement. The very definition for “cultural appropriation” is that you take somebody’s language, use your own faulty version of it and dismiss the language of the native speakers as “hick talk”. For me personally, “to speak like a hick” has always meant the greatest thing to aspire to if you are studying Irish. More precisely, I have always seen the native speakers’ own literature – from Séamus Ó Grianna to Máirtín Ó Cadhain – and their folklore as THE model for good Irish style.

Caithfidh mé a rá ná go raibh an ceart ar fad ag mo dhuine nuair a d’fhág sé slán ag an ngluaiseacht. Is é an “leithghabháil chultúrtha” den chineál is measa a rithfeadh liom ná teanga daoine eile a shealbhú le do leagan bacach di a labhairt agus tú ag caitheamh anuas ar urlabhairt na gcainteoirí dúchais toisc nach bhfuil inti ach “caint na dtútachán”. Mé féin, is é an rud a theastaigh uaim riamh ná mionaithris a dhéanamh ar “chaint na dtútachán”, agus is í an chéimíocht is airde is féidir a bhronnadh orm ná a rá go bhfuil mé in ann Gaeilge na dtútachán a labhairt. Is é sin, ba í litríocht na gcainteoirí dúchais – ó Shéamus Ó Grianna go Máirtín Ó Cadhain – chomh maith le béaloideas na gcainteoirí dúchais an múnla ab fhearr don dea-stíl sa Ghaeilge.

Rest assured that I write like a hick, even when I am writing about astronomy. The “hick” Irish is perfectly good for that, you only need some names for concepts to learn. Let us speak Irish like a hick, write Irish like a hick, be proud to do so, and be humbly thankful to the hick for keeping the language alive for us to learn!

Bígí cinnte go bhfuil mé ag iarraidh aithris a dhéanamh ar Ghaeilge na dtútachán, fiú nuair a bhíos mé ag scríobh faoin réalteolaíocht. Tá Gaeilge na dtútachán sách maith chuige sin – ní theastaíonn uait ach ainmneacha na gcoincheapanna a fhoghlaim. Bímis ag labhairt Gaeilge na dtútachán agus ag scríobh Gaeilge na dtútachán. Bíodh bród orainn as teanga na dtútachán, umhlaímis don tútachán agus bímis buíoch beannachtach gur choinnigh an tútachán an teanga beo, ionas gur fhéad muid í a fhoghlaim uaidh!

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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.)

“Must”

Translating English “must” into Irish is tricky. Usually, you use forms of the verb caith!/caitheamh, which has many meanings, among them “throw” and “consume”. The forms usually used are the future, which then has a present meaning, and the conditional, which has a past meaning (i.e. “had to”).

Caithfidh mé an obair a chríochnú ‘I must finish the work’

Chaithfinn an obair a chríochnú ‘I had to finish the work’

If a present form is required for formal grammatical reasons, i.e. in a má clause, then use it:

Má chaithim an obair a chríochnú… ‘If I must finish the work…’

Sometimes you do see such constructions as caithim é a dhéanamh ‘I must do it’ (rather than caithfidh mé é a dhéanamh) with present form, or chaith mé é a dhéanamh (rather than chaithfinn é a dhéanamh, or b’éigean dom é a dhéanamh). This usage is in my opinion markedly Munster Irish, and I’d prefer not to use it, unless your aim is to imitate that particular dialect closely, in other features too. (Thus, chaitheas é a dhéanamh feels more natural than chaith mé é a dhéanamh.)

Note the impersonal use of caithfidh sé or just caithfidh in such constructions as caithfidh sé go bhfuil tú sásta, caithfidh go bhfuil tú sásta ‘you must be happy/satisfied’. This means that it can safely be assumed, in the present situation and because of known causes and circumstances, that you are happy. If you say caithfidh tú bheith sásta, that sounds as if there was a dictator telling you that you must show a happy face.

Obviously, there are other ways to translate “must”. The direct translation of the English “I have to do it”, tá agam é a dhéanamh, is used by native speakers, although tá orm é a dhéanamh might fit better in, noting that duties and responsibilities are in Irish usually “on” (ar) you.