Teicneachabaireacht an “Réaltaistir” agus an Ghaeilge

(leagan leasaithe den tseanaiste a foilsíodh ar an Tuairisceoir sa bhliain 2013)

Ceann de na foinsí Béarlachais is mó i saol na Gaeilge í an tsiamsaíocht Mheiriceánach – sin rud chomh follasach agus is féidir. Ní gnách Gaeilge a chur ar na sraithscéalta teilifíse a bhfuil gnaoi an phobail orthu, ná fiú ar na leabhair mhór-ratha le scríbhneoirí éadroma. Ró-annamh a bhactar leis an teanga a chur ar leabhair nach raibh iontu ar dtús ach ficsean sainseánra (nó genre fiction mar a deir an Béarla) nó garrfhicsean (pulp fiction) agus a bhain amach clú an chlasaicigh idir an dá linn. (Tá mé féin tar éis leabhar amháin den chineál sin,  Foundation le hIsaac Asimov, a aistriú go Gaeilge. Thairis sin, tá Foundation and Empire leis an údar céanna agus A Princess of Mars le hEdgar Rice Burroughs á n-aistriú go Gaeilge agam i láthair na huaire.) Is beag an sólás do lucht na Gaeilge é, ach is féidir an fhadhb chéanna a aithint i saol na dteangacha eile – teangacha, fiú, a bhfuil stádas cobhsaí acu i saol cultúrtha agus poiblí a dtíortha.

San Fhionlainn, mar shampla, chloisfeá cliséanna na sraithscéalta Meiriceánacha go léir – sa bhunteanga – i gcoimhthéacs an chomhrá Fionlainnise. Tá an Béarla á fhoghlaim ón tríú rang bunscoile i leith. Thairis sin, ní gnách linn na sraithscéalta teilifíse a dhubáil: is fearr linn fotheidil ná athghuth. Mar sin, chuala muid criú an Enterprise, na Friends, agus laochra na sraithscéalta eile ag labhairt Béarla ar an teilí riamh, agus d’éirigh muid cleachtach ar a gcuid buafhocal. Ní hé sin an scéal atá fíor ina lán tíortha Eorpacha eile. Cé go bhfuil Gearmáinis an lae inniu torrach le focail Bhéarla, dealraíonn sé gurb as Gearmáinis a labhraíos Picard, Janeway, Worf agus Troi, gan tagairt a dhéanamh don chuid eile acu, ar theilifís na Gearmáine.

Luaigh mé an Enterprise, agus ceart go leor beidh an Star Trek go mór mór faoi chaibidil agam san aiste seo. Nó an Réaltaistear – sin é an leagan Gaeilge a múineadh dom thiar sna nóchaidí, nuair nach raibh mé ach díreach i ndiaidh ballraíocht a bhaint amach ar an bhfóram Gaeilge úd Gaelic-L.

Tá sé ina sheandeilín smolchaite ag lucht na Gaeilge ná nach bhfuil maith ar bith sna téarmaí eolaíochta a thagas as ceárta an Choiste Téarmaíochta. Cé nach bhfuil mé féin sásta le gach moladh dá n-eisíonn siad, caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil mé tinn tuirseach de bhéal bhocht seo na nGaeilgeoirí i dtaobh na téarmaíochta oifigiúla ar na saoltaibh seo. Déarfainn go raibh téarmaí ar choincheapanna nua-aimseartha amscaí i ngach teanga ó thús. Nuair a chuaigh na cainteoirí ina dtaithí thréig an coimhthíos. Sin, nó chuir siad a gcasadh féin ar an bhfocal lena dhéanamh níos nádúrtha sa teanga.

Mar sin is é is bunrúta leis an bhfadhb áirithe seo – arís – ná nach n-úsáidtear an Ghaeilge ná na téarmaí eolaíocha Gaeilge go fairsing. Dá gcloisfeá téarmaí Gaeilge ar an teilifís an t-am ar fad, dá mbeifeá ag léamh leabhair fhaisnéise faoi bhrainsí éagsúla eolaíochta agus a gcúrsaí, agus dá mbeadh cultúr léitheoireachta an chineál sin leabhar forleathan i measc lucht na Gaeilge (ar ndóigh ba mhór an chabhair dá mbeadh na leabhair sin ann!), is dócha nach mbeadh na daoine chomh míshásta is atá siad leis na téarmaí, cé go mba iad na “drochthéarmaí” céanna a bheadh i gceist. Is é an locht is mó atá ar na téarmaí Gaeilge ná go bhfanann siad sna foclóirí in áit a bheith i gcúrsaíocht choitianta.

Patrick Stewart ina Bhorg
“Ní fiú cur inár n-aghaidh! Déanfar cuid den chnuasphobal díbh!” (“Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated”) Sin é an chaint a chloisfeá ó na “Borg“. Is iad na Borg cine na gcibearg in ollchruinne fhicseanúil an Réaltaistir – daoine agus iad iompaithe ina róbait. Níl pearsantacht ná indibhidiúlacht acu, agus is é an t-aon chuspóir atá acu ná na daoine go léir a “Bhorgú” nó a “chomhshamhlú” le comhphobal agus cnuasintinn na mBorg. San eipeasóid dhúbailte “The Best of Both Worlds” (“Rogha an Dá Shaol” – is iad sin saol na ndaoine daonna agus saol na mBorg) den tsraith “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, d’éirigh leis na Borg captaen an Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, a chimiú agus a “chomhshamhlú”, ionas go ndearnadh Borg de. “Locutus” an t-ainm a bhí air agus é ina chibearg – focal Laidine a chiallaíos “An Té a Labhair”. Sa deireadh, d’éirigh le criú an Enterprise Picard a tharrtháil agus gléasra na mBorg a bhaint de. Ba é Patrick Stewart a rinne páirt Jean-Luc Picard sa tsraith ST:TNG. (Foinse: Vicipéid an Bhéarla.)

Is minic a bhíos na téarmaí Béarla ar choincheapanna eolaíochta lán chomh hamscaí leis na téarmaí Gaeilge. Scéal eile é áfach go gcloiseann na Béarlóirí na téarmaí seo i gcoimhthéacs na teanga nádúrtha, agus nuair atá Béarla dúchasach timpeall ar an bhfocal deacair, is furasta duit do chuid féin a dhéanamh de. Bítear ag fáil lochta ar an “teicneachabaireacht” (technobabble) ar na sraithscéalta ficsin eolaíochta, cosúil leis an Réaltaistear, go minic, nó ag gáire fúithi, ach b’fhearr liom sibhse stad den scigiúlacht sin le bhur marana a dhéanamh ar an bhfíric seo leanas: is í an teicneachabaireacht a chuireas an chosmhuintir i dtaithí na bhfocal eolaíoch agus a dhéanas cuid nádúrtha den ghnáthchaint díobh. Is é an fhadhb ná nach mbíonn na focail nuachumtha nó na téarmaí eolaíochta le cloisteáil i sruth na cainte líofa ná le léamh i gcoimhthéacs na dea-Ghaeilge. A mhalairt ar fad.

Is minic a chloiseas muid iomrá ar an dá rud “Gaeilge uafásach scoile” agus “Gaeilge Gaeltachta”, ach ar an drochuair dealraíonn sé nár bhac aon duine riamh le comparáid chórasach a dhéanamh idir an stíl a chleachtas na scríbhneoirí dúchasacha agus an cineál Gaeilge a bhíos le léamh i scríbhinní na n-údar nár fhoghlaim Gaeilge ach ar scoil. Mar sin, níl treoirleabhair ná téacsleabhair againn a mhíneodh don ghnáthléitheoir, don ghnáthscríbhneoir agus don ghnáth-Ghaeilgeoir bhocht conas a d’fhéadfadh sé “an Ghaeilge uafásach scoile” a dhí-fhoghlaim. (An ar mo chrann-sa a thitfeas sé, meas tú?)

Is deacair a rá ar ndóigh céard is dea-Ghaeilge ann, an cineál Gaeilge a mba chóir dúinn aithris a dhéanamh air, an stíl neodrach. Ina lán teangacha tá stíl na teanga liteartha chomh cobhsaí, chomh seanbhunaithe, is nach bhfuil mórán easaontais ann faoin gcineál teanga ba chóir a fhoghlaim is a chleachtadh. Bíonn scríbhneoirí cruthaitheacha ann agus a gcuid turgnamh is trialach idir lámhaibh acu ach tríd is tríd tá a fhios agat céard is dea-stíl ann mar a thuigfeadh clasaicigh na teanga an coincheap sin. Maidir le dea-stíl na Gaeilge, arís, chinn mé, na blianta ó shin, mo thuiscint féin ar na cúrsaí seo a thógáil ar dhúshraith an bhéaloidis agus na scéalaíochta traidisiúnta.

B’fhéidir nach raibh traidisiún liteartha ag muintir na Gaeltachta fadó, ach ar a laghad bhí traidisiún scéalaíochta agus seanchais acu, agus cé gur gnách linn mar Ghaeilgeoirí bheith ag caí, ag cáiseamh agus ag caoineadh an tsaibhris a cailleadh nuair a d’imigh an teanga, is é lomlán na fírinne ná go bhfuil cuid mhór den tsaibhreas chéanna againn i gcónaí. San am a chaith mé féin i mo Ghaeilgeoir chuaigh a lán ábhar béaloidis i gcló faoi chlúdach leabhair, agus de réir is mar a rinne mé staidéar ar na cinn a cheannaigh mé i rith an ama seo tháinig ciall agam do Ghaeilge na Gaeltachta. Ní féidir liom a rá go mbeinn ar aon leibhéal leis na máistrí móra ach sílim go bhfuil mé in ann aithris éigin a dhéanamh ar a bhfuil léite agam agus na hamscaíochtaí is dual do scríbhneoirí na Galltachta a sheachaint.

Cé go bhfuil na nuathéarmaí riachtanach agus géar-riachtanach, is é an rud is tábhachtaí, an rud is géire a theastaíos, ná an Ghaeilge thraidisiúnta. Caithfidh an scríbhneoir maith bheith eolach ar an ábhar agus ar na téarmaí riachtanacha, ach san am chéanna caithfidh sé a bheith ábalta na saintéarmaí a sheachaint nuair nach bhfuil gá leo. Níl sna téarmaí sin ach uirlisí de chuid na ceirde go bunúsach. Mar is eol dúinn, is namhaid í an cheird gan í a fhoghlaim agus bíonn an uirlis is úsáidí dainséarach díobhálach i lámh an duine nach bhfuil an dóigh cheart aige uirthi.

Is iomaí cineál Béarlachais a chuireas isteach ar léitheoir na Gaeilge, ar ndóigh. Ceann acu an rómhuinín a bhíos ag scríbhneoirí maithe féin as na téarmaí nuachumtha i gcoimhthéacsanna neamhoiriúnacha, Bíonn an Béarla scríofa an-difriúil leis an teanga líofa labhartha, agus na focail teibí teicniúla ag ruaigeadh na gnáthchainte as, agus is rómhinic a fheicim daoine a bhfuil a gcuid Gaeilge go hiontach ar fad nuair a labhraíos siad ag cur seaicéad ceangail an Bhéarla fhoirmiúil orthu féin nuair a thosaíos siad ag scríobh – ag scríobh Gaeilge.

Teastaíonn uathu téarmaí casta “liteartha” a chur in áit na bhfocal nádúrtha, in aithris ar nós an Bhéarla. Ní féidir leo anáil a tharraingt ná a ligean amach mar is dual don duine – tosaíonn siad ag ionanálú agus ag easanálú, nó fiú ag cleachtadh ríospráide. Anois, admhaím go mbíonn focail cosúil leis an mbeirt seo ag teastáil agus sinn ag iarraidh cúrsaí eolaíochta a phlé – shílfínn nach ndéanfá in uireasa “ionanálú”, “easanálú” nó “ríospráid” i dtráchtas leigheaseolaíochta nó fiseolaíochta. Ach má bhímid ag plé na rudaí seo i gcomhthéacs na gnáthchainte, is é an rud is tábhachtaí ná na gnáthfhocail nó na gnáthleaganacha a fhoghlaim is a úsáid, is é sin, tarraingt na hanála agus ligean amach na hanála.

Is mór an trua ar ndóigh má bhaineann daoine úsáid as “ionanálú” agus “easanálú” toisc nach bhfuil na leaganacha dúchasacha ar eolas acu agus iad ag gabháil leor leis an gcéad fhocal (nó fiú leis an aon fhocal!) a dtagann siad air san fhoclóir. Má théann siad ar lorg “inhale” agus “exhale” – focail mhóra Laidineacha sa Bhéarla féin, gheobhaidh siad ansin “ionanálaigh” agus “easanálaigh”, téarmaí troma Gaeilge nach bhfuil inghlactha ach i dtéacs foirmiúil leigheaseolaíochta, má scríobhtar téacsanna den chineál sin sa teanga ar aon nós.

Má chuirimid Gaeilge i mbéal na mBorg ar an Réaltaistear, is é an chéad leagan a mholfas lucht na Gaeilge scoile dúinn ná “comhshamhlófar sibh” nó rud éigin cosúil leis sin, Cúpla mí ó shin bhí pictiúrchomhad á scaoileadh timpeall ar an bhFacebook le haistriúcháin droch-Ghaeilge ar roinnt frásaí ón Réaltaistear – más buan mo chuimhne ní raibh oiread is ceann amháin acu in aon neasacht do bheith ceart ná intuigthe mar Ghaeilge, ach is díol suntais é gur bhain an duine bocht ónar tháinig an iarracht thruamhéileach seo – gur bhain sé úsáid as “comhshamhlú” le “assimilate” an Bhéarla a aistriú. Léiriú maith scigphictiúrtha é seo ar an meon a bhíos ag a lán agus iad ag iarraidh “an Ghaeilge a chur in oiriúint don aonú haois fichead”: is cuma faoi cheart na comhréire, faoi dhul nádúrtha na bhfocal, is é an rud is tábhachtaí ná úsáid a bhaint as téarma nuachumtha.

Is é an chéad phrionsabal atá ag gach aon aistritheoir maith ná go bhfuil sé leis an gciall a aistriú seachas malairt focail a chur ar an mbuntéacs. Ar ndóigh más ag cur malairt teanga ar fhicsean eolaíochta ar nós an Réaltaistir atáimid, is cuid den atmaisféar iad na focail mhóra nach dtuigtear ach ar éigean. Le fírinne thig a rá nach mbíonn an cineál Béarla a labhraíos na Borg ar an Réaltaistear rónádúrtha, toisc go bhfuiltear ag tabhairt le fios gur cnuaschine, cnuasphobal agus cnuasintinn iad nach dtugann aitheantas d’indibhidiúlacht ar aon nós. Is féidir a rá go bhfuilimid i gcall Gaeilge chomh mínádúrtha céanna leis an smaoineamh seo a chur in iúl.

Mar sin féin, dá mbeinnse le Gaeilge a chur ar scannáin nó ar scéalta a bhaineas le coincheap an Réaltaistir, is dócha go mbeinn ag iarraidh téarmaí speisialta a sheachaint a fhad agus ab fhéidir.  Ar ndóigh, ní féidir déanamh in uireasa rudaí ar nós “féasar” (phaser), ach níl ina leithéidí ach ainmneacha ar rudaí nach bhfuil ann ar aon nós ach taobh istigh d’ollchruinne fhicseanúil an Réaltaistir féin – ainmneacha is féidir a dhealramh le hainmneacha dílse. Cuid de na téarmaí meafaracha is féidir iad a aistriú focal ar fhocal (wormhole mar shampla – ní thuigim cén fáth nach bhféadfainn “poll péiste” a thabhairt air as Gaeilge). Maidir leis na Borg, is dóigh liom gur fearr coincheap an assimilation a aistriú go Gaeilge gan dul i muinín leis an bhfocal “comhshamhlú”: Déanfar cuid den chnuasphobal díbh! Ní fiú cur inár n-aghaidh!

An focal resistance, dála an scéil. Cé gur chaith na Gaeil seacht n-aois laochais (seven heroic centuries,mar a dúirt Yeats) ag cur troda ar na Gaill, níor ceapadh focal ar leith le resistance a aistriú sa chiall mhíleata – ba leor do na Gaeil troid nó cath. Is é an focal a chuireas ligeadóirí agus casadóirí na téarmaíochta ar fáil dúinn inniu ná “frithbheartaíocht”, agus cé go bhfuil sé cineál trom, níl locht ar bith agamsa air. Scéal eile áfach go bhfaca mé an téarma “friotaíocht” go rómhinic sa chiall seo ag daoine ar mó a ngrá don Ghaeile ná a n-eolas uirthi. Is éard atá i gceist leis an bhfriotaíocht ná resistance na leictreoireachta. Dá mbeadh an teanga go maith ag an té a chrothnaigh uaidh an focal Gaeilge ar resistance, thuigfeadh sé go mb’fhearr an téarma a sheachaint agus an coincheap a chur in iúl le gnáthfhocal éigin (troid, cath, spairn lann…) mura bhfuil tú cinnte faoi aistriúchán ceart an téarma Béarla

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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.

Aerfort – why do they write it like that?

Aerfort is of course the Irish word for “airport”, but it looks somewhat funny. To start with, that word aer, air, which does not seem to adhere to the “caol le caol, leathan le leathan” principle (and no, it does not – there are other similar examples). And why -fort? Should it not be -phort, because in compound words the second constituent is lenited (p becoming ph), and it is obvious the latter part of this word is “port”? Yes, it should, but for some reason the ligeadóirí agus casadóirí of the Caighdeán have decided otherwise.

One of the problems of Irish orthography is that there is no satisfactory way to write a long e sound both preceded and followed by a broad consonant. In Munster, -ao- is pronounced like this, but in most dialects, -ao- is more like a long i sound preceded and followed by a broad consonant. (A well-known exception is aon with its derivatives, which is usually pronounced with an e sound even in non-Munster dialects.) Note though that this particular long i is very unstable and has very different phonetic realizations due to the influence the broad consonants have on it: the English names Milligan and Mulligan are both based on Ó Maolagáin: in words (mostly names) borrowed from Irish into English the -ao- has very different English reflexes. (Русским изучающим ирландский язык конечно известно – или должно быть! – , что ирландское “ao” – очень похоже на русское “ы”, которое является самым лучшим русским приближением ирландского звука.  – Может быть я здесь еще буду публиковать целые статьи по русски, но я стесняюсь писать на этом языке, которым владею гораздо хуже, чем ирландским. Russian speakers have in their native language a very good approximation of Irish “ao” – the sound they write “ы”. I might yet write blog posts about Irish in Russian, but as yet I am ashamed to write Russian, my command of which is much more shaky than that of Irish.)

Long e sounds preceded and followed by broad consonants are found both in loanwords and original Irish words – of the latter, the very word Gael is an example. (Pre-Caighdeán spellings for this word include Gaedheal and Gaodhal.) Note the noun traein ‘(railway) train’. In it. the long e sound is preceded by a broad consonant but followed by a slender one, and to signalize the latter, an -i- is inserted. On the other hand, in its genitive form traenach the -n- is broad, and this is shown both by the fact that the extra -i- is dropped and that the -n- is followed by an -a-, which is unambiguously a broad vowel. Thus, although no textbook I have used makes this explicit, the “ae” of the present orthography must be treated, for all intents and purposes, as a broad vowel in its own right.

Then that -fort. Obviously, the word is a compound of aer and port, and shoult be written aerphort rather than aerfort. However, in the Caighdeán spelling compound words, the last constituent of which is basically -phort, are written like this: aerfort “airport”, longfort “military base, military stronghold, camp”, críochfort “terminal”, calafort “port, harbour” (this is a compound of caladh “port, harbour, landing” and port). This is just a convention, I am not especially fond of it – I would prefer the more regular aerphort, longphort, críochphort – although I admit that caladhphort looks kind of clumsy compared to calafort, and calaphort would feel vaguely wrong.

Note that there is also the word ceannfort, which means “commandant” (there are no majors in the Irish armed forces, there are commandants – I guess this was modelled on the French military tradition, in an attempted departure from the English one). I am not sure about the etymology of ceannfort, but I guess it was originally not a compound word but a genitive construction (ceann an phoirt?). Maybe you’ll find the explanation in Dinneen’s dictionary.

 

 

 

 

Snakes on a plane? Sure, but in Irish

The language of aviation is English, and even in languages less endangered than Irish, aviation terms commonly are relatively raw borrowings from English. However, we sure can do better. So, here are the parts of a plane.

The plane itself is eitleán, which is a masculine word (an t-eitleán, an eitleáin, na heitleáin, na n-eitleán), but typically referred to with a feminine pronoun (the same applies to boats, ships and other vehicles). In old days, most eitleáin had a lián which is a propeller, attached to a seafta liáin or a propeller shaft for the traiseoladh cumhachta or transmission of power from the engine, inneall. Small planes even today usually have an inneall comhbhuailteach or inneall frithingeach, i.e. a reciprocating engine, and such an engine has sorcóirí, cylinders, and loiní – pistons – the way the internal combustion engine or inneall dócháin inmheánaigh of a gluaisteán has. You can call a reciprocating engine a piston engine – inneall loiní – too. Loine is a feminine word: an loine, na loine, na loiní, na loiní.

However, passenger planes these days are usually jet planes, scairdeitleáin. A jet engine is called scairdinneall, and it has a compressor – comhbhrúiteoir – for air intake (aer-iontógáil). Behind the compressor there is the combustion chamber, cuasán dó (or maybe cuasán dócháin!), where the breosla or fuel is consumed, and then the stream of fuel turns the tuirbín or turbine. There are also turboprop engines – inneall turba-liáin – and turbofan engines – inneall turba-fean. That word looks like a very raw loanword indeed.

The main part of the plane is the cabhail or fuselage – it is a feminine noun, an chabhail, na cabhlach, na cabhlacha, na gcabhlach. Inside the fuselage you’ll find the cábán or cabin, with the stewards and air hostesses – in Irish, both are called óstach or aeróstach, and this is a first-declension masculine noun: an t-aeróstach, an aeróstaigh, na haeróstaigh, na n-aeróstach. For cabin stewards, the word stíobhard can be used too. It is an old and well-established loanword (and even in my country’s first language the word used is “stuertti”, so using stíobhard is just fine).

A modern aerlínéar (airliner) will fly at high altitudes – sroichfidh sí an-airde agus í ag déanamh a bealaigh, tá a fhios agat. So, it is necessary for the cabin to be pressurized or brúchóirithe. Note the similarity of aerchóiriú ‘air-conditioning’ and brúchóiriú ‘pressurization’ – the second one means, word by word, ‘pressure-conditioning’. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Both are part of the córas rialaithe timpeallachta or environmental control system.

An aircraft has also something called eitleonaic or avionics. I must say I am not particularly happy with this Irish term, which is an English-modelled abbreviation for leictreonaic eitilte (flying electronics, or aviational electronics), but I guess it’s more compact than leictreonaic eitilte after all. Eitleonaic includes such stuff as uathphíolóta (autopilot), rabhchán raidió neamhthreo (non-directional radio beacon), córas an-ardmhinicíochta uile-raoin (Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range system, or VOR), gléasra fadtomhaiste (distance measuring equipment, or DME), trasfhreagróir (transponder), córas tuirlingthe ionstraimí (instrumental landing system or ILS), not to mention an Córas Suite Domhanda or GPS.

A plane obviously has sciatháin or wings (singular form: sciathán, a wing), with flapaí (flaps) and coscáin eitilte (air brakes) as well as ailearáin (ailerons).  The tail of the plane usually consists of a cobhsaitheoir ingearach (vertical stabilizer) with a stiúir (rudder) attached – this is a feminine noun: an stiúir, na stiúrach, na stiúracha, na stiúrach – as well as a cobhsaitheoir cothrománach or horizontal stabilizer, with a rialtán airde or elevator (the Irish word means “altitude controller”).

The eitleán is steered by the píolóta who is a professional eitleoir. He is assisted by the loingseoir eitilte (navigator). possibly even an innealtóir eitilte (flight engineer). They are sitting in cró an phíolóta (cockpit). They have a lot of ionstraimí (instruments, gauges) to attend to, but nowadays with everything computerized and electronized, so that they have just computer displays instead of those gauges, and they can choose which instruments they want those displays to show – this is called cró gloine (glass cockpit).

Planes land on an aerfort (actually aerphort would be etymologically better, as a spelling). Or maybe it is just an airstrip. aerstráice. Landing itself is tuirlingt, and landing-gear is fearas tuirlingthe. (The focloir.ie website gives also an alternative expression, cosa tuirlingthe, i.e. landing feet, which sounds excellent to me.) The place where the plane lands is the same place where it takes off, i.e. a runway, rúidbhealach. A taxiway is raon innealta, or bealach innealta – the participle innealta is associated with the verb innill!/inleadh “to set, to order, to array”. And of course it is important for the pilot to stay i dteagmháil raidió with the crew in the túr rialúcháin, control tower.

Guides to good Irish – Treoirleabhair don dea-Ghaeilge

An Béal Beo. By Tomás Ó Máille. This one was first published in the good old days of the Free State, and when I entered the Irish-language scene in the nineties, it had the reputation of some sort of secret medicine. I acquired an old copy and started to transform it to the new spelling for my own use, but fortunately, immediately after the millennium, the book was reissued in a modernized version. It teaches traditional Gaeltacht Irish in its cultural setting – among other things it includes the description of a loom and its parts (!). You might find it rather challenging, but if you want to learn to think in Irish, to use traditional sayings and idioms and understand their meaning, you need to read this book, and make extensive notes. The language is rather Connemara-slanted, but there is linguistic material from other dialects.

Tomás Ó Máille a scriobh. Foilsíodh an chéad eagrán thiar i laethanta an tSaorstáit, agus nuair a thosaigh mise ag cur aithne ar shaol na Gaeilge is éard a fuair mé amach go rabhthas ag labhairt faoin leabhar seo mar a bheadh druagántacht na seanleigheasraí ann. Cheannaigh mé seanchóip agus chrom mé ar an litriú nua a chur i bhfeidhm uirthi le haghaidh m’úsáide féin, ach, ádhúil go leor, tháinig eagrán nua i gcló tar éis chasadh na mílaoise. Is éard a mhúineas an leabhar seo ná Gaeilge thraidisiúnta i gcomhthéacs an tseansaoil – mar shampla tá cur síos ann ar sheol an fhíodóra agus ar a pháirteanna (!). Is dócha go bhfaighidh tú an leabhar réasúnta deacair, ach más mian leat a bheith in ann smaoineamh as Gaeilge, úsáid a bhaint as na teilgeanacha dúchasacha cainte agus a mbunchiall a thuiscint, caithfidh tú an leabhar seo a léamh agus nótaí cuimsitheacha a bhreacadh síos. Tá blas Chonamara ar stíl an údair, ach san am chéanna tarraingíonn sé ar na canúintí eile freisin le haghaidh ábhair.

An Cabhsa, By Tomás de Bhial. This is a book of idiomatic expressions explained in their context, in sentences which make sense, and with practical advice. If you find the idea of reading Gaeltacht literature intimidating, you might start with this book. The writer was a teacher in the Ring of Waterford Gaeltacht, and the language used is mostly very mainstream, the kind of Munster and Connacht expressions that are widely used even by non-natives.

Tomás de Bhial a chum an ceann seo. Is éard atá sa leabhar seo ná teilgeanacha dúchasacha cainte agus iad mínithe ina gcoimhthéacs, in abairtí a bhfuil ciall cheart iontu, chomh maith le leideanna praiticiúla. Más ábhar scanraidh duit dul i ngleic le litríocht na Gaeltachta, tá súil agam go réiteoidh an leabhar seo an ród romhat beagáinín. Bhi an t-údar ina mhúinteoir i nGaeltacht na Rinne, agus an teanga a úsáidtear sa leabhar tá sí an-chóngarach do phríomhshruth na Gaeilge – teilgeanacha cainte ó Chonnachtaibh nó ón Mumhain atá ann, Gaeilge den chineál a d’fheicfeá ag scríbhneoirí neamhdhúchais chomh maith.

Dea-Chaint John Ghráinne agus a chairde. Collected by Tom Hodgins. This is a book about expressing emotions in idiomatic Irish. This is Ulster Irish pure and unadulterated, and if you want to express your emotions like Séamus Ó Grianna, you need to read this book. However, having read Ó Grianna’s available books as well as other Ulster classics, I was mostly familiar with the material in the book already. This is good news though: it means that you can learn to express emotions in good Irish if you read Gaeltacht literature; and on the other hand, that this book can make that literature more accessible for the learner.

Tom Hodgins a bhailigh. Leabhar é seo a chuirfeas ar do chumas do chuid mothúchán a chur in iúl go nádúrtha trí mheán na Gaeilge dúchasaí. Is í Gaeilge Uladh an chanúint a úsáidtear. Mar sin, más maith leat friotal Shéamuis Uí Ghrianna a chur ar do chuid mothúchán, ní mór duit an leabhar seo a léamh. Ón taobh eile de áfach, caithfidh mé a rá nár tháinig mé ar mhórán rudaí anseo nach raibh ar eolas agam cheana féin, nó bhí mé tar éis mionstaidéar a dhéanamh ar shaothar Uí Ghrianna agus ar na clasaicigh eile ó Chúige Uladh cheana féin. Dea-scéala é sin féin áfach: ciallaíonn sé gur féidir leat friotal na mothúchán a fhoghlaim trí litríocht Gaeltachta a léamh, agus go gcuirfidh an leabhar seo le do thuiscint ar an litríocht sin, más foghlaimeoir thú.

“…mar a déarfá”, by Séan Mac Cionnaith. This is a book of Irish clichés, as the author suggests. This is basically a very good, extensive guide to idiomatic Irish, but regrettably it seems that it was rushed into print. The idiomatic expressions presented sometimes exhibit pre-Caighdeán spelling or archaic grammar (unnecessary dative forms, for instance). Basically, the problem seems to be that the author took the expressions (or at least some of them) as he found them in primary sources, without checking them in standard dictionaries. So, for an old hand such as me who knows the language well, this book is a great help, but I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it for learners. This is deplorable: with some editing this would be a superb book, now it is only a good one. However, the problem of the book is the problem of much Irish publishing in general: you don’t have access to a whole team of expert editors, you must do the work all by yourself. Noting this, the book is quite a tour de force.

Seán Mac Cionnaith a scríobh. Cnuasach cliséanna Gaeilge atá ann, mar a deir an t-údar. Go bunúsach is iontach cuimsitheach an treoirleabhar é don duine a bhfuil Gaeilge dhúchasach ag teastáil uaidh ach uaireanta feictear duit go ndeachaigh an leabhar i gcló gan an snas deireanach a fháil, Na teilgeanacha cainte sa leabhar, ó am go ham d’aithneofá litriú na ré réamh-Chaighdeánaí orthu, sin nó lorg na seanghramadaí (tuiseal tabharthach mar shampla, áit nach bhfuil gá leis an bhfoirm a thuilleadh). Is é an phríomhfhadhb dar liom ná gur phioc an t-údar na teilgeanacha cainte (cuid acu ar a laghad) leis mar a fuair sé sna bunfhoinsí iad, gan iad a sheiceáil sna foclóirí caighdeánacha. Mar sin is mór an chabhair atá sa leabhar seo dom féin, ós duine de na seanfhondúirí mé, ach ní féidir liom é a mholadh do na foghlaimeoirí gan chuntar. Is mór an trua é, nó dá ndéanfaí tuilleadh eagarthóireachta ar an leabhar, bheadh sé thar barr ar fad – níl sé ach go maith faoi láthair.  Tríd is tríd áfach is é an phríomhfhadhb atá ag an leabhar seo ná fadhb na foilsitheoireachta Gaeilge go ginearálta: níl teacht agat ar fhoireann eagarthóirí seanchleachta agus caithfidh tú iomlán na hoibre a dhéanamh ar do leontaí féin. Le taobshúil air sin, is móréacht é an leabhar seo.

Cora Cainte as Tír Chonaillby Seán Mac Maoláin. This book is another reissued one from the good old days, and the language is pure Donegal Irish, as the title suggests. It is a list of words followed by explanations or usage examples, all in Irish. The reissued version uses a standard spelling which sometimes seems less than well suitable to how the words are pronounced in Donegal. However, the book is a good guide to Ulster Irish for those who only know the Caighdeán.

Ba é Seán Mac Maoláin a chuir an leabhar seo i dtoll le chéile. Atheagrán eile é ar sheanleabhar maith, agus is í Gaeilge Thír Chonaill an chanúint sa leabhar seo, mar is léir ón teideal. Liosta focal é, agus míniúcháin nó samplai úsáide i ngach iontráil, as Gaeilge amháin. An litriú a úsáidtear san atheagrán seo tá sé chomh gar don Chaighdeán is nach bhfuil sé chomh hoiriúnach céanna d’fhuaimniú na canúna. San am chéanna is maith an treoir atá ann dóibh siúd nach bhfuil ach an Caighdeán acu agus iad ag iarraidh ciall a bhaint as canúint Uladh.

I guess you miss Ceart nó Mícheart, by Seán Ó Ruadháin, here. The next blog post is my old review of that very book. (Only in Irish, I am afraid.)

Is dócha go bhfuil sibh ag crothnú Ceart nó Mícheart le Seán Ó Ruadháin anseoSa chéad bhlagmhír eile tá mo sheanléirmheas ar an leabhar áirithe sin.

Main Difficulties

I don’t suggest it is easy to learn good Irish. Not being a native speaker of English, my idea of what is difficult in Irish is obviously different from that of most learners, but speaking of purely practical difficulties, I’d like to note the following:

  • The dialectal differences, of course. People often exaggerate them, especially those people who try to find any convenient excuse not to learn Irish. However, they are there, and they complicate the acquisition of Irish. There is a recognized linguistic, or sociolinguistic, phenomenon called schizoglossia. In a schizoglossic situation, you don’t know which kind of language you should see as exemplary and normative, and you have this feeling that whatever you say, it will be wrong according to some norm. This phenomenon especially concerns diaspora minorities, for whom the language they habitually speak will be full of borrowings from the local language, but who at the same time often find the linguistic changes in the old country vulgar and distasteful. Analogies with Irish should be obvious; in a way, the Irish-speakers are a diaspora in their own country.
  • The abundance of bad examples. Publicly displayed Irish in Ireland is often plain wrong, and when it is not grammatically incorrect, it is too obviously translated from English. For instance, the dead word rochtain is far too often used as a catch-all for all the meanings of the English word access. However, it should be limited to where a special term is called for (accessing a computer network, for instance), instead of calling every door an “access” to the building. Of course, the ultimate problem here is the stupid way how English nowadays tries to express the most everyday things with Latinate abstractions, and then people translating into Irish but without much idea of how Irish really works think that they need a special Irish word for every hard word in English, instead of translating the highfalutin’ English into plain and intelligible Irish.
  • Bad teaching materials. It is very good that people use Learning Irish, because it is vintage Gaeltacht Irish. But as my little spies have told me, it does occur that reading materials for schools often intentionally depart from acceptable Irish, using instead their own pidgin. An example of this is a (printed and officially distributed) book which consequently used past tense instead of habitual past tense. This is so wrong that it should be punishable with death. If children haven’t been taught the habitual past yet, there are grammatically legal workarounds (for example using the conditional instead – there are dialects where conditional has ousted the habitual past – as well as the expression ba ghnách le [duine] [rud] a dhéanamh: bhíodh sé ag obair ansin = ba ghnách leis a bheith ag obair ansin “he used to work there”). But learning materials should never include anything grammatically incorrect.
  • Bad cultural priorities. We are constantly told to admire “modernist” authors who are no native speakers and whose “modernist experimentation” is just a way to conceal the fact that – to put it brutally – they couldn’t write anything near Gaeltacht Irish to save their lives. At the same time, there are excellent writers of popular fiction whose novels have never been reprinted since their first publication back in the fifties or sixties. In the nineties, Cló Iar-Chonnacht rediscovered and reprinted Máire Nic Artáin, which is a linguistically superb novel about a Catholic girl falling in love with a Protestant boy in Belfast. When I read it for the first time, I was completely lost for words: how was it possible that such a book hadn’t been reprinted for almost forty years, while everybody had been kvetching about how there are no books for young people in the language? For Chrissake, if people like me read Joan Lingard’s Kevin and Sadie novels with interest in Finland when young, how is it possible that young Irish people wouldn’t read Máire Nic Artáin? And it’s not the only example. Seán Ó Mulláin’s swashbuckling historical novels about the Ryan family are still waiting to be reprinted. So is Mícheál Ó hOdhráin’s Cine Cróga.

Should you learn a particular dialect?

Should you learn a particular dialect of Irish and stick to it? Many learners make a point of doing so, but I have certain reservations about it. To start with, for some marginal dialects there is very little material available, and all there is is contaminated with unacceptable anglicisms typical of what we call terminal speakers (a terminal speaker, “cainteoir foirceanta” in Irish, is a native speaker who does not speak the language on a regular basis and isn’t sure about the correct language anymore). Thus, dialect enthusiasts run the risk of incorporating what is definitely “bad Irish”. Moreover, there is what I call petty dialect enthusiasm. Petty dialect enthusiasm means that you make a big fuss about using the words and inflectional forms of a particular dialect, while using heavily English-influenced syntax (again, for those not familiar with the slang of my trade, the term”syntax” means “how words depend on each other in a sentence”).

It is my impression that syntax is the key to the difference between “that dreadful school Irish” and that mythologically perfect Gaeltacht Irish which you can only learn sitting at the feet of some distinguished Gamaliel in a druidic-bardic hedge school. The reason why “standard Irish” is so disliked is the fact that it is all too often paired with poor syntax and heavy English influence. The reason why new terms are disliked is the fact that you only meet them in the context of poor syntax and heavy English influence. Myself, I have spoken with Gaeltacht people in an Irish that is very near to standard Irish, with a pronunciation based essentially on the standard one introduced in Focloir Poca and Focloir Scoile. They were quite happy with the kind of Irish I spoke to them, and said that it sounded like Gaeltacht Irish, but not of any particular Gaeltacht.

Thus, it is possible to use standard Irish in a way that is acceptable to the native speakers. And I am afraid it is possible to use faux-dialectal Irish in a way that is as hair-raising as the worst standard Irish. However, focusing on one dialect is not a bad idea – although not as an end in itself, but rather as a way to good Irish in a more inclusive sense. I became known as an enthusiast of Ulster Irish, but before that I studied Connemara and Blasket Irish quite extensively, and this is precisely why I got so fanatical about Ulster: it was a new kind of Irish,which really had a taste and feel of its own. By starting with one dialect and learning it thoroughly, you can develop an appreciation of all dialects, and enrich your Irish by picking up  new words and expressions as you go.