Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
January 5, 2007 12:49 AM   Subscribe

"No spreck-a de Irish, no." When the EU added Irish to its list of 'working languages', most press reports cited the 2002 census in which a third of the population claimed 'an ability' to speak the first official language. Manchán Magan, a broadcaster for Irish-language TG4, decided to put those claims to the test, by travelling across the island speaking nothing but its ancestral tongue -- to shop assistants, tourist information staff, and even phone sex operators.
posted by holgate (72 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I thought the bit about the young man covering his ears was really sad. Clearly there's more than just not understanding going on--like he mentions, there's a stigma, or guilt about the language. Really interesting, thanks for pointing it out.
posted by stray at 1:23 AM on January 5, 2007

Any launguage that can produce this song deserves better treatment. (There's a link to an audio sample to the right of the concluding paragraph).
posted by Clay201 at 1:26 AM on January 5, 2007

I was in Ireland in 96 and we went camping on Cape Clear Island. We'd been told by people in County Cork that it was one of the few places in Ireland where almost everyone still spoke traditional Gaelic. The impression I was given was that the majority of Irish people didn't really understand it, speak it, or pass it onto their children anymore so Cape Clear was an anomaly. That could be totally wrong, but it's what I remember...
posted by miss lynnster at 1:33 AM on January 5, 2007

Oh, I should actually clarify... Irish people DO like to SING trad songs in Gaelic. I guess speaking it on a daily basis is another thing though...?
posted by miss lynnster at 1:35 AM on January 5, 2007

The important thing to note though is that the language is experiencing a resurgence, albeit a painstakingly slow one. In 1996 the language was pretty much at its lowest ebb. In many ways this was due to the way the language was taught in the schools - a compulsory subject taught by rote with emphasis on grammar which naturally led to a poor take-up as a spoken language which has propagated through the generations.

Since '96 though key changes have been made in the government and education bodies thinking of the language with the introduction of TG4 (The Irish Language TV station) and key changes in the way the language is taught - ie as a spoken language from a younger age, and now adding it to the list of working languages of the EU.

As the article rightly points out, children these days have a much better grasp of Irish as a language (even in the English speaking schools) and not as a painful school subject that most take only because they have to. There has been a strong uptake in the membership of Irish clubs, which parents enrol their kids in usually saying "Look, I can't speak the language, but I'd like my kids to."

It's a change that has to happen from the bottom up. The next generation will be better again, because they will have been taught by teachers with a stronger grasp of the language than the previous generation.

So change will come, but it will be slow. But I for one am optimistic!
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:55 AM on January 5, 2007

An awful lot of it had to do with the way it was (is?)taught in schools.
Firstly it's obligatory and the teaching methodology was truly atrocious, the vast majority of us hated the subject, there was nowhere to put it into practice, unless you were able to afford summer camps, the people who taught us were not exactly role models, it was not seen as hip of cool (I'm comparing with some minority celtic languages like Breton for instance where the opposite is the case IMHO).
Also the language that was taught in schools was a kind of made-up LCD of the four main dialects so again it wasn't as straightforward to use on the odd occasion you came across someone who spoke the language.
For years I thought I had no ability with languages as a result. I associate Irish with beatings when we couldn't learn some poem off by heart or we spoke a word of English in class even accidentally.
I had a friend at the age of 16 who was from one of the tiny number of families in my city who were native speakers. She was hip and a bit wild and would chat in Irish liberally lacing the language with swear words in English or the odd English phrase if it fit more easily into the context. I met a lot of trad musicians at that time through her ( Go raibh maith agat a Eibhlin) and the laid-back, easygoing atitude was a complete eye-opener. If I did the same in Irish class I was punished, sometimes quite severely. This was about 25 years ago beginning of the 80's.
Now that I speak 4 other European languages I look back on the wasted opportunities and feel quite angry that I can't speak my own language fluently. I see how Welsh and Breton in particular are taught and spoken and I sincerely hope things have changed in Ireland.
The song Clay201 points to is stunning. The most beautiful love poem in any language is the Lament of Art O Laoire IMHO and I'm at least grateful that I can read it in the original, but still.... OK Rant Over
posted by Wilder at 2:01 AM on January 5, 2007

"Tá brón orm, mar ní mé ábalta ag caint as Gaeilge".
(I'm sorry, but I am unable to speak Irish).

I have a few basic words of the language, but took care to learn that one off, just in case I was ever spoken to with the intent of having a conversation.

Manchán (who does make very good documentaries) might not like to read this, but the fact is that like me, most Irish people speak English, were reared in English, work in English-speaking employment and will never use the Irish that was forced on them in their schooldays recreationally - which is a large part of the problem - in Ireland there is no choice to learn Irish. We are required to do so in school, and the syllabus is very dry (or it was 10 years ago, when I finished school). I can actually speak better Spanish and French than I can Irish, most likely because the syllabi in school for those two languages was better than the Irish one.

As an afterthought, I can't find an Irish version of Manchán's site! Interesting.
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:03 AM on January 5, 2007

Good to see TwoWorldReview's optimism, I did notice in Dublin years later lots of parents wanted their children to be educated through Irish, even though they had experiences like mine. Besides the obvious benefits to a child of bi-ingualism I believe they could get extra points for University entrance exams by doing them through Irish (Is that still the case?)
posted by Wilder at 2:05 AM on January 5, 2007

Probably easier to say TomCosgrove "Bron orm, Nil ach cupla focal gaeilge agam" I'm honestly not trying to show off the Cupla focal I have, its just the first phrase is more of a literal translation from English. Even something as simple as dropping the Ta from Ta bron orm, which native speakers do all the time, was forbidden. I also agree with the dry syllbus. In Spanish we were lerning phrases that would seriously assist your chances of scoring, whereas in Irish we were grappling with the Tuisheal Guinedach (genetive).
posted by Wilder at 2:11 AM on January 5, 2007

I guess speaking it on a daily basis is another thing though...?

It’s a very different language from English; the Catalan/Spanish thing of thinking in one and speaking the other doesn’t work. (Scandinavian folks, can you think in Danish/Norwegian/Swedish and speak in English? Or do you have to shift gears, if you get me?) Speaking it brings minimal economic benefit to you, and learning it well is hard if you already speak English, just like with Dutch or Swedish, because the speakers will go for economy of effort in talking to you and use the language you understand.

It’s in a weird niche today. Lots of the country is anti-intellectual, and for most of the adult population, being able to speak Irish is an intellectual foible, a quirk, since its usefulness is minimal as I say above. So it falls victim to anti-intellectualism. Lots of children can speak it, though; I and most of my class could have a conversation in it ten years ago without trouble. Not a particularly articulate conversation, but a conversation, and better than my German was two years ago (I’m good conversation in German today). I can’t now; I can read it, sure, can understand lots, and could recover it much quicker than the average English-speaker could learn it.

But I’ve no interest in the things it would be an advantage for (the Irish civil service, becoming a schoolteacher, living in the Gaeltacht) and I have a lively interest in other things that take the time and committment I would need to get it back. So I'll remain able to summon a sentence together if I clear my mind of everything else for thirty seconds for the next decade at least; if where my interests lie change, then that may change.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:14 AM on January 5, 2007

I believe they could get extra points for University entrance exams by doing them through Irish (Is that still the case?)

As far as I know that's still the case with an additional 10% or 5% of the mark achieved being awarded depending on the subject.
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:14 AM on January 5, 2007

Well, my views are as a total outsider - I moved here to Dublin (from Detroit area) in September 2006 as a Fulbright scholar for the 06-07 academic year. I had actually asked in AskMefi about the coverage of Irish speakers on the island before coming and was surprised that the respondents had underestimated a bit. I occasionally hear Irish spoken in Dublin and of course, as has been mentioned, one of the four television stations is an "all-Irish" channel. I saw an advert for the show mentioned in the FPP but haven't watched it.

I think TG4 may be changing the perception of Irish among young people. Certainly a considerable amount of their programming is aimed at young people as they re-dub lots of cartoons in Irish. You get the kids watching Spongebob in Irish (I watch Spongebob in Irish) and you'll have 'em speaking it in no time! Aifric is a great original Irish show; I might get it on DVD (if it's out on DVD) before leaving. In general, I imagine having the young generation speaking Irish and being proud to learn it, is the best chance of fostering growth of the language.

Plus if you believe David McWilliams sending your kids to gaelscoil is the new yuppie status symbol.
posted by Slothrop at 2:20 AM on January 5, 2007

Spongebob just never seemed quite the same as gaeilge though and yet SuperTed somehow seemed to work just fine.
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:25 AM on January 5, 2007

Wilder, yeah, if I understand it correctly. It wasn’t an amazing deal; you couldn’t get more than 100 points even if you did your exam through Irish, its just if you got a B or a C your points got a boost of 10 or 15. It mostly compensated for the lack of textbooks and teaching material. (Also, ‘besos guapa’ and so on is normal politeness among teenagers in Spain, ‘seriously assist your chances of scoring’ exaggerates it!)
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:28 AM on January 5, 2007

Also, Holgate, I’m not sure where TS Eliot channelling a Volksdeutsche from Lithuania is relevant? Some of the best scholars of Gaelic out there are German-speakers, sure, but ...
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:39 AM on January 5, 2007

Always hated the language when I was forced to learn it at school. It sounds like someone coughing up a chess piece.
posted by Mrs.Doyle at 2:45 AM on January 5, 2007

"Also, Holgate, I’m not sure where TS Eliot channelling a Volksdeutsche from Lithuania is relevant? Some of the best scholars of Gaelic out there are German-speakers, sure, but ...
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:39 AM PST on January 5"

perhaps he thought the headline was gaelic, not german?
posted by kolophon at 3:09 AM on January 5, 2007

How absolutely absurd that Irish is an official EU language, meaning that translators must always be on hand, important documents must be translated, etc... for a language that 3% of the population use. All so that the EU can flush 3.5 million euros down the toilet every year.
posted by Ljubljana at 3:10 AM on January 5, 2007

My wife has very good Irish, being a schoolteacher, and has kept my standard much better than it would have been as we tend to speak Irish to each other a bit when we go away on holidays, when we want to have discussions we don't want other people to understand ("This hotel is awful! I prefer the one down the road" etc.)
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 3:13 AM on January 5, 2007

Ljubljana, I’ve read and heard that the Irish government will be doing the funding for that (which, not paying Irish taxes, I heartily endorse ;-), but I can’t find a reference right now. Any of the other Paddies know more?
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 3:15 AM on January 5, 2007

Great post. I clicked on the first link because I was bored (no offense to the Irish here, but not particularly any of my "areas of interest"), and then I couldn't stop myself from reading every single thing linked.
I'm from a family which mostly "lost" our culture (although great whopping bits of it surface at annoying moments far too often), and preserving an awareness of one's culture is, IMO, really neat. I applaud all of the Irish who have worked to preserve a really interesting language.
Yes, I speak as one who is pretty much completely uninterested in Irish issues... other than futbol, which I have almost gotten punched over by an Irishman is a pub in Jyväskylä, Finland....
Again, this post is, in a word, fantastic! Thank you holgate.
posted by eparchos at 3:22 AM on January 5, 2007

Aidan: This link says that it will be done by German, British and Dutch taxpayers until Ireland becomes a net payer. Not sure if it's accurate.
posted by Ljubljana at 3:25 AM on January 5, 2007

From the Irish Independent June 2005 -

Although the European taxpayer must pay for the cost of Irish, the Spanish government will pay for the more limited rights afforded to Basque, Catalan and Galician.
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:29 AM on January 5, 2007

Yes, this is what we need! Let's convince people to speak different languages so it can be even harder for people from different areas and cultures to communicate. Because if anyone needs to introduce more cultural barriers, it's Ireland and the UK.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:48 AM on January 5, 2007

Okay, it seemed like everyone thought Ireland would be a net contributor from 2007 onwards, but after a decision in 2005 that won’t be the case until closer to 2012.

Because if anyone needs to introduce more cultural barriers, it's Ireland and the UK.

I’m reminded of stories of Northern Ireland politicians-slash-paramilitaries where both sides were working and negotiating with other politicians in Britain and preferred to talk among themselves (even to those in the other community) in their free time, to talking to the locals.

It’s not culture that’s the problem, it’s the particularly stupid local excesses of nationalism. The Romantics and the 19th century have a lot to answer for.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 4:15 AM on January 5, 2007

TwoWordReview: SuperTed was originally in Welsh, so it might translate better.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:55 AM on January 5, 2007

SuperTed was originally in Welsh, so it might translate better.

Ya learn something new every day!!
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:02 AM on January 5, 2007

Aidan, your syllabus was clearly lacking if it only stretched to Besos Guapa!!
The anti-intellectualism menioned was a definite factor. Kids going to the Gaelscoil in my working-class neighbourhood (actually non-working class with 50% adult male unemployment at that time) were routinely mocked, bullied etc., more than average.
My own theory is that linguistic diversity is as important to us culturally as genetic diversity is to our health. Speaking Irish is only a cultural barrier if people make you feel bad because you can't, and I can honestly say that has never happened to me.
There are Ulster Unionists who speak fluent Irish, although I know that is exceptional.
As for funding it does seem a bit daft tht Irish qualifies as an official language while the far more widely spoken Catalan does not, but other political realities have allowed that to be the case.
Other minority languages in the EU are helped by the charter though.
posted by Wilder at 5:05 AM on January 5, 2007

"As far as I know that's still the case with an additional 10% or 5% of the mark achieved being awarded depending on the subject.
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:14 AM PST on January 5 "

This is probably only of interest to people living in Ireland, I sat my leaving certificate through Irish. The system for giving extra points works on a sliding scale. So if you get 80 percent in a test, you will get 10 percent of the remaining points ie. 2 percent extra. That means if you are doing well academically anyway, the reward doesn't count for much, however if you are getting 40 percent you would be given an extra 6 percent for sitting the exam through Irish.
posted by seaweed at 5:07 AM on January 5, 2007

Wilder, no aprendí castellano en irlanda. Comencé aquí, en Berlín, hace un año y si, sé otras cosas que ‘besos guapa’ :-) . ¿Qué has aprendido exactamente de ‘phrases that would seriously assist your chances of scoring’ en tu escuela? Me interesan.

kolophon, I hope not! That would indicate no exposure to German, Irish or the contents of the article.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 5:37 AM on January 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Scandinavian folks, can you think in Danish/Norwegian/Swedish and speak in English? Or do you have to shift gears, if you get me?)
I (Norwegian) juggle both Norwegian and English in my head at the same time, unless I'm immersed in English (am with English-speakers or reading something long), then I start to think in English.

I also posess a basic grasp of Latvian, but I am not able to think in it yet. I think in Norwegian and have to make an effort mentally to translate.
posted by Harald74 at 6:36 AM on January 5, 2007

We have been speaking it for 2,500 years, right up until the British decided it would be easier to govern us if we spoke their language (and then outlawed the use of Gaelic in schools) in the 19th century.

That's a bit misleading. English has been spoken in Ireland for many centuries, too. It isn't all that surprising that Gaelic is unwelcome in Dublin, because English has been dominant there for a very long time. The place, if I recall correctly, was built by the Danes, who presumably spoke Danish: they were only overthrown in 1014, and in 1172 the English arrived - which suggests a fairly brief reign for Gaelic. In the rest of Ireland, it's true, English didn't strike root very deeply at that stage, and in spite of the Statutes of Kilkenny (1366), which tried to reinforce it, I believe it had largely faded again by the end of the Middle Ages, only coming back in strength with Cromwell's unwelcome intervention - but Dublin was different: there it remained the dominant language right up to the present day.

There's no real reason, therefore, why patriotic Irish people should feel under pressure to speak Gaelic. Like it or not, English is part of the historic Irish heritage too. We should shed the myth about Victorian schoolteachers wiping out Gaelic singlehanded.
posted by Phanx at 6:41 AM on January 5, 2007

Great post—thanks, holgate! I found Manchán's article moving and enlightening; I had no idea that there was a revival among the young, and it cheers me up immensely:
I was rapidly approaching a point of despair when some children came on the line. I found they spoke clear and fluent Irish in a new and modern urban dialect. They told me how they spoke the language all the time, as did all their friends. They loved it, and they were outraged that I could suggest it was dead. These were the children of the new Gaelscoileanna - the all-Irish schools that are springing up throughout the country in increasing numbers every year...
Also, Holgate, I’m not sure where TS Eliot channelling a Volksdeutsche from Lithuania is relevant? Some of the best scholars of Gaelic out there are German-speakers, sure, but ...

Huh. I thought it was brilliant, funny, and apropos. Different strokes, I guess. (Note: The speaker is a woman from part of the Russian Empire but she speaks German rather than Russian. Very different situation, sure, but a clever parallel. I think you're being too literal.)
posted by languagehat at 6:50 AM on January 5, 2007

We have a similar kind of situation in Wales.

Roughly a third of the population - a million people - can speak Welsh, or claim to be able to speak Welsh, but no-one I know actually speaks anything other than English in their normal day-to-day life.

That said, the Welsh language is on the rise. I believe all students have to take Welsh classes until they're 16 (I had the option of dropping it when I was 14) and entirely Welsh schools are on the rise.

Plus, we've had a Welsh language TV channel for a few decades now, knocking out great shows like Superted!
posted by afx237vi at 6:52 AM on January 5, 2007

It isn't all that surprising that Gaelic is unwelcome in Dublin, because English has been dominant there for a very long time. The place, if I recall correctly, was built by the Danes, who presumably spoke Danish: they were only overthrown in 1014, and in 1172 the English arrived - which suggests a fairly brief reign for Gaelic.

So by that logic, German should be spoken and the surrounding local languages deprecated in Tallinn, Riga, and all the cities of Eastern Europe founded and inhabited mainly by Germans right up until WWI. History is not destiny.
posted by languagehat at 6:53 AM on January 5, 2007

even phone sex operators

Did he try male prostitutes? Then he could get a gay lick in Gaelic.
posted by jonmc at 7:03 AM on January 5, 2007

languagehat, I'm not saying that any language should be spoken anywhere, still less that any should be deprecated or its speakers receive an unfriendly reception. Just trying to enhance the historical perspective and suggest that no-one need feel bad about not speaking Gaelic.

The flaws in an historical comparison of Dublin with Tallinn and Riga are surely obvious. All I can say is that if the population of Riga had been largely German-speaking for several centuries, and still was, then I would not find it surprising that German was still widely spoken. I would not blame an influx of 19th century schoolmasters. And the citizens would have no reason to feel bad about not speaking Gaelic.
posted by Phanx at 7:24 AM on January 5, 2007

The flaws in an historical comparison of Dublin with Tallinn and Riga are surely obvious.

Well, yeah, as I already said. But the flaws in using the historical record of oppression of Irish-speakers as a reason to feel good about not bothering with Irish should also be obvious. I just don't think indifference to Irish needs any cheerleading, whereas Irish itself can still use it.
posted by languagehat at 7:54 AM on January 5, 2007

As someone who is 1/2 Catalan, I very much support people speaking their 'native' languages. I don't speak Catalan at all though, (although had I grown up in Catalunya and not the UK, I'm sure I would have perfect Catalan) so it's more a case of do as I say, rather than do as I do. I fully support Catalan being an official EU language, and I think that it is appropriate that Irish is too, even though the 25% statistic is an exaggeration. It seems as though the younger generation may be able such a figure a reality in the future...
posted by ob at 8:05 AM on January 5, 2007

Maybe I missed it, but where would an american best learn Irish? Any recommendations?
posted by Dantien at 8:50 AM on January 5, 2007

Just to look at Phanx' argument for a second, Danish, Norman French and then English was the dominant language of power in Dublin, English was never routinely spoken by the majority in Dublin until well into the 18th century. I'm not sure where to find the data to back this up as I have been out of Ireland for some time.
@Dantien my Spanish friend from Burgos went to an Irish camp in Ros a Mhi (Sp?), somewhere near Galway for a couple of years every summer. Two US friends learned it in Dublin, you can get some info here
@Aiden, well yo tuve una profe muy maja de Valladolid y nos eseno a decir "Que tio mas bueno" de una manera muy subtil (claro, cuando ya se habia pasado el tio)! Vaya exito que tuvimos con eso!
Need to find Spanish characters on this new laptop!
posted by Wilder at 9:26 AM on January 5, 2007

Huh. Half of my fam is from Cape Breton over here in North America, which used to have a very strong Gaelic speaking community (both Scots and Irish). My last relative who spoke it as his mother tongue only died about fifteen years ago (albeit at 70+). Even now, there's still a school on the island that teaches Gaelic (and a bunch of other twee neo-Celtic crap like bagpipe playing) and you can find Gaelic here and there all over the island.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:31 AM on January 5, 2007

That was an hilarious article, and more hopeful by the end than it seemed at the beginning. (I laughed out loud when he revealed where the Irish-speaking pub was.)

Dantien: I swear I read about a gaelscoil based in the US (perhaps a summer camp), but I can't find it now. I may have been reading about Irish-Americans sending their kids back to a gaelscoil in Ireland, though.

History is not destiny.

Well, no, languagehat, but I think his point -- illustrated quite well by Magan -- is that Dublin is quite different from the rest of Ireland. My point would be that language is not identity. It's really telling and speaks to this exact point that Irish has become an official EU language when only 1 in 30 of the Irish people really speak it. Basically, this seems like a sop, a bending over backwards the other way to prove that Europe is not a colonizing power that will lead to homogeneity of culture and language, even though the most widely spoken second language in almost all the EU is surely English. (Of course, it might have been French, or German, or even Latin, once.) It pleases more than the Irish to pretend that this is not so, after all.

I for one have never strictly been pulled in by the flag-waving for minority languages. No doubt for every unremitting rebel who was hanged for speaking it in the wrong place at the wrong time, there were two traders who took up English because it was good for business. Even today we have a majority of Hispanics in the US who favor speaking English! It isn't about identity for them. It probably wasn't so for every Irish speaker who switched to English, either -- or more likely spoke it a little more than his parents, and after three or four generations you had a family that spoke English most of the time.

And today English spreads even without conquest, which must seem like a double whammy. But as I said, it's a fiction that the EU as a whole promulgates both for individual and collective national identity purposes.
posted by dhartung at 10:12 AM on January 5, 2007

two thumbs up for this post and mr. magan's hilarious account. speaking irish is obviously "outside the pale" for dublin, the city where that expression originated.
posted by bruce at 10:21 AM on January 5, 2007

I found a charming, funny little short film called "Yu Ming is Ainm Dom" ("My Name is Yu Ming"), about a young man in China who, bored with his shop clerk's life, spins a globe, points at it at random and lands on Ireland. He decides to learn the "official language" and heads off to Dublin ... and hijinks ensue.

"An bhfuil tusa ag labhairt liomsa?!" ... that cracked me up!

Those of you who are "Father Ted" fans might recognise one of the cast as well.
posted by chuq at 10:31 AM on January 5, 2007

I haven't got any data either, Wilder. I've been smugly assuming that the fact that languagehat hadn't challenged my facts must mean they were correct :)

The best evidence I can come up with at the moment is the last paragraph here, scarcely authoritative I know. Of course at the end of the day it doesn't matter that much whether the English-speaking goes back two or seven hundred years
posted by Phanx at 10:45 AM on January 5, 2007

Chuq - I'd heard of that film before but hadn't seen it, cheers!
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:01 AM on January 5, 2007

I think his point -- illustrated quite well by Magan -- is that Dublin is quite different from the rest of Ireland. My point would be that language is not identity.

Sure, agreed. I'm not particularly arguing with Phanx, just pointing out that it's a little superfluous to be using historical data to justify an indifference that does not seem to be looking for or in need of justification. If English were under threat in Dublin from an influx of militant Irish-speakers, then yeah, it would make sense to point out that it was not historically an Irish-speaking city.
posted by languagehat at 11:02 AM on January 5, 2007

Professional curiousity: does anyone have any links to resources about how they're making the shift from dry, ugly, grammar-focused teaching methods to treating Gaelic as a "living language" in Ireland? I teach English in China, and despite an almost universal demand in the form of stodgy bosses and constant competence tests, English-language education in China is hampered by education methods so "dead-copy hard-back" (as the local saying goes) that you can't help but wonder if the Education Ministry isn't playing the world's largest practical joke. Things are getting better, but the system is still...ew. So if anyone's got any good links on how the Irish are reforming their system, I'll take 'em.
posted by saysthis at 11:16 AM on January 5, 2007

This is great, I just took a class in learning Gaelic. It's not too difficult to learn but like many other languages, certain letters are pronounced differently so it can be challenging at times. The Yu Ming video is awesome, thanks so much for that. There's a great DVD series produced by RTE, Turas Teanga. Funniest bit is the Loved Locked Away, a fake Gaelic reality show. The current trend for some areas in Ireland is to teach Gaelic as the first language and English as secondary, though it's mostly done by the smaller towns.
posted by Meaney at 11:21 AM on January 5, 2007

Did I miss a memo? I thought calling Gaelic "Irish" was cause for one to be cored like an apple with a broken Guiness bottle. And man, don't let my mother hear you calling a brogue an "accent".
posted by Eideteker at 11:35 AM on January 5, 2007

Here's the 2002 census results pertaining to the Irish language (2006 data not fully available yet). Some interesting tables and while Dublin does fare lower than other it's not that much lower than say the Midlands (37% compared to 41%). Of course this is the 42% of the country who say of themselves that they speak (or can at least read) the language so overall ability may vary wildly!

To back up my own point up above about the children though the breakdown by age shows the 10-19 year olds at 60-65% with a sharp decline to the 30-40% range thereafter.

I'm sure there's a much better analysis somewhere on the Central Statistics Office's website
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:36 AM on January 5, 2007

I thought calling Gaelic "Irish" was cause for one to be cored like an apple with a broken Guiness bottle.

"Irish" is the accepted term in English; "Gaelic" tends to be reserved for Scots Gaelic. (See the discussion in the Wikipedia article.)
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on January 5, 2007

Late to chime in on my own post, but I didn't want to guide things too much. It's fascinating that the tendency across the English-speaking world to claim a greater Irishness than they can honestly draw upon extends to Ireland itself.

But it also raises question about the status of minority languages, especially ones that are tied to national identity. If you can't get accurate figures on language use, because people's national pride encourages them to claim not just fluency but an active usage, then perhaps you're going about promotion the wrong way: a minority language should be like a vintage car that gets restored to be driven, rather than locked in a garage. And from what people have said here, TG4 and the new school approach recognise that.

There were a few moments in the videos where I thought Magan was, well, being a bit prickish, but I don't know if he could have proved his point otherwise without making people uncomfortable. I do love his attitude to the school-age speakers, though: it cuts off at the knees the complaints of any pedants that the linguistic inventiveness coming out the gaelscoil playground is corrupting the purity of Irish, or some similar rubbish. (My Irish friends at college in the mid-90s had good 'school fluency', and found it most useful when they wanted to tell each other things in front of the anglophones.)

(Yes, the title was just a broad allusion to the dynamics of linguistic and cultural identity. And I couldn't think of anything else, though 'Neither profitable nor popular' now comes to me.)
posted by holgate at 11:45 AM on January 5, 2007

My friend forwarded me this link. The article aligns up nicely with my own experiences. I'm an American living in Boston who's spent many a summer studying Irish in the Gaeltacht of Connemara.

Speaking Irish in a bank in Spiddel, the teller commented that she didn't speak Irish, "although I suppose there are some around here who do." Not the response I was expecting.

In Galway I had two polar extremes: a woman in the Jury hotel who was ecstatic that I spoke Irish and a women bartender in the Blue Note who asked if I were "showing off".

Even in Carraroe, if some of the natives, at An Chistin, for example, think you speak English, they'll speak to you in English, even if you persist in speaking Irish. Although many are tolerant of learners, I suspect many who live there just want to go about their day and don't always have the patience to wait for a learner to get out what they're saying.

One year they were stuck, however. There was a group from Spain who only spoke Irish and Catalan. So they were stuck with the Irish.

It's often a bewildering world for a learner. You try your best to improve your skills but are sometimes met with hostility. And there are many signs which are simply written incorrectly. Missing fadas, added fadas, etc. A wheel rating open mike acts in the Front Room of Dublin says "go an mhaith" instead of "go han mhaith". (I'm sure someone will post that this is a dialectical variation. *grin*) I'm not sure if fadas work on this thing, but there's a restaurant in Galway that instead of saying "ceadúnas di" for drinking license, they put a fada over the e and make it 100.

Anyway, I'm a DJ on WHRB, 95.3 fm and since 2002 have been doing Celtic music marathons where I define Celtic music as any music sung in a Celtic language. In just over a week I'll be exploring the music of Brittany and the language of Breton.

My website is here:

I think I may set up a myspace at some point.

Thanks for listening. In the meantime I'm going to forward the article link to my Irish-speaking friends.
posted by Kit at 11:54 AM on January 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I thought calling Gaelic "Irish" was cause for one to be cored like an apple with a broken Guiness bottle.

I've never met a real Irish person who calls it "Gaelic" or Gaeilge (unless speaking Irish I suppose). But I can't remember the last time I saw an Irish person drinking bottled guinness either ....

Whoever mentioned above the TG4 programming (Aifric, Spongebob, Ros na Run, etc) is dead on. I've just come back from a month at home and was amazed at how watchable TG4 is now, especially compared with a lot of the crap on RTE.

I'd love to know if there are any changes in how it's taught now, especially given the huge immigrant population. I'm only 29 but my Irish experience was definitely on the painful side of things - Peig, rote learning, an incredibly daunting honours Leaving syllabus versus other subjects, etc.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:59 AM on January 5, 2007

pseudoepinephrine, it might interest you to know that the Cape Breton piping style is thought by some to be closer to the original tradition than the current Approved Scottish version. If you asked me for an antidote to twee neo-Celtic Crap, the first place I'd point you to would be Scottish or Irish piping.

There are also those of us who think that various ethnic musical traditions make a nice change from the onslaught of homogenized commercial Pop music. Speaking of preserving minority cultural identities and all...
posted by sneebler at 12:07 PM on January 5, 2007

Peig is long gone thanks be to jaysus! It wouldn't have been too long after you did your leaving that it was taken off the syllabus. The main change really is in the english speaking primary schools. Essentially Irish is taught through 'éisteacht' (listening) and 'comhrá' (conversation) only until second class when the student is taught reading aswell, and the rules of grammar don't come in until much later. (I'm not sure if second class lines up with second grade in the states).

In the Irish speaking schools (more common these days apparently) they are started on the other aspects earlier as they already have a good basis in the language through speaking it all day long.
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:10 PM on January 5, 2007

Derail, but Kit, please consider attending the next Boston meetup.
posted by Eideteker at 12:14 PM on January 5, 2007

In case anyone else was wondering: Peig.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:55 PM on January 5, 2007

I notice these days that the Green Isle is getting greener. Delightful ulcerations resembling buds pit the branches of our trees, clumpy daffodils can be seen on the upland lawn. Spring is coming and every decent girl is thinking of that new Spring costume. Time will run on smoother till Favonius re-inspire the frozen Meade and clothe in fresh attire the lily and rose that have nor sown nor spun. Curse it, my mind races back to my Heidelberg days. Sonya and Lili. And Magda. And Ernst Schmutz, Georg Geier, Theodor Winkleman, Efrem Zimbalist, Otto Grün. And the accordion player Kurt Schachmann. And Doktor Oreille, descendant of Irish princes. Ich hab' mein Herz/ in Heidelberg verloren/ in einer lauen/ Sommernacht/ Ich war verliebt/ bis über beide/ Ohren/ und wie ein Röslein/hatt'/ Ihr Mund gelächt or something humpty tumpty tumpty tumpty tumpty mein Herz it schlägt am Neckarstrand. A very beautiful student melody. Beer and music and midnight swims in the Neckar. Chats in erse with Kun O'Meyer and John Marquess ... Alas, those chimes. Und als wir nahmen/ Abschied vor den Toren/ beim letzten Küss, da hab' Ich Klar erkannt/ dass Ich mein Herz/ in Heidelberg verloren/ MEIN HERZ/ es schlägt am Neck-ar-strand! Tumpty tumpty tum.

The Plain People of Ireland: Isn't the German very like the Irish? Very guttural and so on?

Myself: Yes.

The Plain People of Ireland: People say that the German language and the Irish language is very guttural tongues.

Myself: Yes.

The Plain People of Ireland: The sounds is all guttural do you understand.

Myself. Yes.

The Plain People of Ireland: Very guttural languages the pair of them the Gaelic and the German.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:02 PM on January 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

God I love Flann O'Brien.
posted by languagehat at 1:10 PM on January 5, 2007

Anyway, I'm a DJ on WHRB, 95.3 fm and since 2002 have been doing Celtic music marathons where I define Celtic music as any music sung in a Celtic language. In just over a week I'll be exploring the music of Brittany and the language of Breton.

That's cool, but you should definitely do a Welsh show too! I can't speak it, but I love listening to bands like Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and the Super Furry Animals, who record a lot of music in the Welsh language..
posted by afx237vi at 1:21 PM on January 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I did it for you, LH.

Myles na Gopaleen would have had something to say about this, that's for sure.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:56 PM on January 5, 2007

And it probably would have been "A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?"
posted by languagehat at 2:07 PM on January 5, 2007

The Myles na Gopaleen columns written in English with Irish orthography are a true delight for anyone who takes the time to learn the pronunciations.

I understand the EU's motivation, because it's tied up with the idea that the Union empowers regions that haven't always done well within the state framework. The Irish case is different, because it's not like Wales, a region with a minority language -- apologies to Plaid Cymru, you know what I mean -- but a small nation with an official first language that's not the de facto first language.
posted by holgate at 2:12 PM on January 5, 2007

Ah, Jesus, I hadn't ever noticed “Kun O'Meyer” before in that piece. That is awesome! Prost, leute, zum Wohl!
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2007

I don't remember Dublin history that well, but yes, I think it was settled by Danes (speaking a language not that different from Old English, my anglo-saxonist roommate says they might have understood each other), then by Normans and yet more English over the centuries. Maybe not as Anglo as southern Scotland, but I wouldn't be surprised if the vast majority in Dublin in the 17th or 18th century spoke English. (That would be before active programs against Irish).
posted by jb at 3:10 PM on January 5, 2007

Should have read the wikipedia link - it's got a better memory than I do. Yep, Dublin was the area of English-speaking Catholics.

That said, the rudeness is incomprehensible and inexcusable. Toronto has never exactly been French (not for a very long time, and even then it was only a small fort), but if someone came up to me speaking French I would make an attempt to understand them. It's our other official language, and
posted by jb at 3:28 PM on January 5, 2007

I love the BBC. Anyone looking for entry-level Irish lessons, check this out -- I've been listening as I read this post, and it's quite good:
posted by at 3:59 PM on January 5, 2007

Sorry to get to this so late. There was quite a bit of interest in the rhithfro (Welsh language blogosphere) when this story appeared, not least because we had a very similar program on S4C last year.

holgate: There were a few moments in the videos where I thought Magan was, well, being a bit prickish, but I don't know if he could have proved his point otherwise without making people uncomfortable.

It depends on what point he was most interested in making. If it was "lots of non-Irish speakers have a chip on the shoulder about the language" he did a good job. Had he been serious about simply travelling and interacting in Irish only, he could have copied a bit more of the Welsh program, and tried putting people at their ease, instead of intimidating them.
posted by ceiriog at 8:26 AM on January 9, 2007

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