Thursday, October 06, 2005

Gaeilge Inniu

Irish Today (Gaeilge Inniu) is fundamentally changing. Gone are the days when the state was trying to change the national language to Irish. The aim of the Gaelic League has been like communism proved to be great in principle but utterly unworkable and its attempted implementation was in fact detrimental to the state. But also gone are the days that it was seen as a language of backwardness and indeed in some cases is being embraced in the form of Gaelscoils by many of the foward thinking.

The states recognition of Irish is changing. This is due to numerous reasons. One of the reasons may be that the state is now been run by a generation that grow up in the lifetime of the state. Previously many of the leaders from the pre-Haughey era grew up under British Rule. These men were revolutionaries and one of the outlets of this nationalism was the Gaelic League. The literary works that inspired them could not separate Irish speaking from the notion of an independent Irish. Thus when they were in power they enforced Irish education in the belief that it would lead to a utopian Irish nation. This forcing of the language has led to many a Leaving Cert student resenting the language and carrying this resentment into latter life. Why would some politicians not carry some of this resentment as well? Also this countries economic strength comes largely from the English speaking world. The language connection is a large part of this.

Another reason is the large amount of non-Irish now living in this country. They do not speak Irish and are thus excluded from such jobs such as the Garda Siochana and the primary teaching profession. Currently Justice Minister Michael McDowell is trying to bring in legislation to get rid of the Irish language requirement of the Gardai. This is a good step as we need a police force that represents the entire ethic makeup of the state. Without this the minorities could be ghettoised lead to higher crime rates. You only need to look to the North and Los Angles to see how a single ethic group making up the police force doesn’t work. But reading the letter pages of some papers shows that many want Irish to remain a requirement. I can’t see the reasoning behind the need for Irish. Will someone feel that their human rights have been violated when a Garda says “You can’t drink and drive” instead of “ Ni raibh tú ábalta tiomáint agus ól”.

Other areas where Irish language impinges people rights to get jobs is in NUI Galway. The collage is officially the Irish collage of the country where an Irish Proficency test is given to prospective academic staff. Though not compulsory it can be the difference between getting a position and not getting a position. This has been seen in the current case being brought by Dr Pat Morgan against the collage. A former Dean of Science in the collage was refused the position due to failing the Irish exam. An exam she had passed previously. We are trying to create a leading knowledge based country and thus need the best of the best not just the best. When a qualified person is denied for being rusty in a language that is not need to perform her duties we are shooting our selves in the foot. Hopefully the collage goes ahead with plans to change this requirement.

But what of this increased interest in Irish. Some people claim it is due to Hector “as mo bosca” Ó hEochagáin (pictured), the seemingly endless reserve of beautiful female gaeilgeoirí that TG4 seem to find and the evilness of Ros na Run’s Tadhg. But it is deeper then that. With our economic success people have realised that we could do it ourselves. That the Irish people were as able to produce an economically viable country as any other country and therefore our customs, nuances and culture are in no way inferior to any other. And thus our language is not to be dismissed as backward. Another reason is that people have travelled Europe more meeting peoples of different countries. Not only do they speak English but also there own languages. We usually only speak one language. Few of us speak multiple languages and considering we have our own the fact that we don’t speak it is felt by many as embarrassing and a national disgrace.

But these people who on the continent who speak multiple languages spend less time then us learning it. With foreign languages it can be said that the greatest language that needs to learned in the world today is English and as we speak it the need to learn a foreign language has less of an incentive. (check out disillusioned lefty for argument about Chinese). But for a language that everyone learns for about 13 years the level of proficiency is disgraceful.

The oral component of the language is really terrible. When you learn to read English you are already fairly fluent. When you learn to read Irish you have zero knowledge. You are thrown into the world of grammar without knowing the meaning of the word grammar. How many can tell an adjective from a pronoun (everyone is saying “I can”. Well I can’t so I’ll consider that to be the majorities level as well :) ) but you know what is right and wrong just by the sound of the sentence. In Irish by and large most people don’t. You apply the rules you learnt and hope you know them all. Oral Irish needs to become a vastly larger component of Irish being thought in school perhaps even the entire component for the formative years.

But what about the new cúl Irish. Some stations broadcast pop music shows in Irish. Some night clubs like Áras ná Gael in Galway have a lax Irish speaking policy that is popular. Gaelscoileann are now expanding rapidly around the country with people perceiving them to be better and liking there kids to speak Irish. The summer in the Gealtacht is the Irish teenagers right of passage. Everyone now enjoys using Irish (usually poor Irish mixed with English but still) abroad as a sort of secret code so people around you don’t know what they are saying. Maybe if John Woo makes a Windtalkers II it will be Irish speakers not Navajo Native Americans that will be the focus of the movie. Well maybe not.

As shown by most people from the Gaeltacht it is possible to be fluent in both English and Irish. We need to embrace that as a model for the rest of the country. Economically we need an English speaking country. Culturally we need the Irish language. We can have both. Maybe even the increase in people language abilities could aid students learning of other foreign languages and give student a much need additional skill a foreign language.

12 comments:

Caitlin said...

Well said, really enjoyed that, a nice read.

Simon said...

thanks :)

Kevin said...

As did I, for such a long article, it kept my attention. I disagree that we "need" Irish culturally, but yes, it would be nice.

EWI said...

"Another reason is the large amount of non-Irish now living in this country. They do not speak Irish and are thus excluded from such jobs such as the Garda Siochana and the primary teaching profession. Currently Justice Minister Michael McDowell is trying to bring in legislation to get rid of the Irish language requirement of the Gardai."

A bigger problem is that a large number don't speak English well (or at all). Presumably Herr McDowell has thought of that, too.

garryg said...

yes thats all good and well but Ireland is reaching a point where have more fluent manderian speakers than Irish.

maca said...

Good post Simon.

Personally I love the Irish language, even though it was crammed down my throat for 13 odd years and even though I speak feck all of it, I still love it and value it. I consider it a part of my identity and one of the (if not THE) most important parts of our culture.
Where Irish could fit in well is as a second language. Do your business through English but be comfortable enough with irish to use it in your personal life.
Of course, we really need to look at education because it sucks. We need more Irish medium schools & Irish medium units in English language schools. Kids love languages, and they learn them so easily (I have proof at home, a fully bilingual child - English/Finnish) so why not exploit that. All languages are a gift, Irish too.

phdbird said...

Simon, cén chaoí a bhfuil tú? I'm writing an essay at the moment comparing the status of Welsh and Irish. I came accross some interesting statistics (if statistics can ever be interesting!). The 2002 census was the first census to ask how often people use Irish. While only 339,541 people speak Irish daily and 155,039 speak Irish weekly, 1.57 million can actually speak Irish! Yeah, I know that's everyone who ever had Irish rammed down their throat. But there aren't one and a half million Mandarin speakers in Ireland as far as I'm aware of. Over in Wales, Welsh went from a dying language to one which is fast becoming the first language of the country. The reason for this seems to be the pre-schooling given. As you pointed out, Irish grammar is hard to learn and has been badly taught for years. Bilingual kids aren't taught grammar - they will just instinctively know both languages. Many people of our generation may be too scarred to be fluent Irish speakers but if they have a positive attitude towards Irish and encourage Naíonraí and Gaelscoilleanna we could have a real revival over here, like the one in Wales.

phdbird said...

Simon, cén chaoí a bhfuil tú? I'm writing an essay at the moment comparing the status of Welsh and Irish. I came accross some interesting statistics (if statistics can ever be interesting!). The 2002 census was the first census to ask how often people use Irish. While only 339,541 people speak Irish daily and 155,039 speak Irish weekly, 1.57 million can actually speak Irish! Yeah, I know that's everyone who ever had Irish rammed down their throat. But there aren't one and a half million Mandarin speakers in Ireland as far as I'm aware of. Over in Wales, Welsh went from a dying language to one which is fast becoming the first language of the country. The reason for this seems to be the pre-schooling given. As you pointed out, Irish grammar is hard to learn and has been badly taught for years. Bilingual kids aren't taught grammar - they will just instinctively know both languages. Many people of our generation may be too scarred to be fluent Irish speakers but if they have a positive attitude towards Irish and encourage Naíonraí and Gaelscoilleanna we could have a real revival over here, like the one in Wales.

Mo Dhuine said...

Good post, have to say I enjoyed it.

"Economically we need an English speaking country. Culturally we need the Irish language."

Well said ;) bullaí fir

Rita said...

"Will someone feel that their human rights have been violated when a Garda says “You can’t drink and drive” instead of “ Ni raibh tú ábalta tiomáint agus ól”."

Not sure what you meant by this because the translation- with regard to its grammar and tense is incorrect. The proper translation would read something like: "Ní féidir leat bheith ag tiomáint agus ól alcol"
Is trua mór é go mbíonn saineolaithe ag tagairt don Ghaeilge agus ag tabhairt amach faoin nGaeilge gan an t-eolas ceart a bheith acu ar an teanga.!

Paddy (honest), Liverpool said...

Nice comment about the standards of Irish being taught in schools, but judging by your spelling, English 'int dat gud eeder'

Dara O rourke said...

Good read,but Paddy is right Simon:nil an bearla ceart!Our language skills not great,despite our literary image/pretensions.