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an béal bocht

Grrrr. In today's Grauniad, Manchán Magan (whom I have interviewed, and who is extremely nice) writes about his attempt to travel around our native land speaking only as Gaeilge, to the general confusion and, surprisingly, wrath of his (and my) compatriots. No, this isn't what has provoked my growling. What annoyed me was the subhead, in which, despite the fact that Magan refers to the language as 'Irish' throughout the piece, our supposed native language is refered to thus:
Gaelic is the first official language of Ireland, with 25% of the population claiming to speak it. But can that true? To put it to the test, Manchán Magan set off round the country with one self-imposed handicap - to never utter a word of English

Except of course Gaelic isn't the first official language - Irish is. God! I know that lots of people in Britain think that the language is called Gaelic, but they're not going to learn anything by being given inaccurate information.

Interesting piece, though. I was surprised by how hostile people apparently were to Magan's Irish-speaking - it seems very odd that people would get so aggressive when asked for a drink as Gaeilge, and I don't really think it's becasue they're so ashamed of their lack of Irish. But I have no idea whether these reactions are typical or not, as, like most of us, I've never spoken Irish to strangers outside of the Gaeltacht.

Comments

slovobooks
Jan. 5th, 2007 12:27 pm (UTC)
A Pain in the Erse
I am, by most definitions, a native Irish speaker. I could speak Irish before I could speak English as a child, I attended Irish-language schools for both primary and secondary education, and my father actually earned his living speaking Irish, first as a school teacher, and then as one of the very few full-time Irish language news-readers in RTÉ. Despite all this, my family speak English amongst ourselves, and I could pass entire years without needing to speak a single word of Irish.

I feel comfortable putting myself down as an Irish speaker on the census form, even if it is all a bit rusty for the first few minutes, but I strongly suspect that, like the people who mark themselves down as Catholic, despite having no interest or belief in their supposed religion, nor having voluntarily seen the inside of a church (outside the obligatory births, marriages and deaths, and possibly a drunken Midnight Mass or two at Christmas (and don't even get me started on the utter hypocrisy of people insisting on getting married in church when neither of them have a shred of belief between them...)), people who mark themselves down as Irish speakers without having a single word to their name do this out of some sort of romanticized vision of themselves as they'd like to imagine they are, rather than a strict adherence to the facts.

I think the hostility to being spoken to in Irish is the belief that someone is trying to make a point about you, rather than their desire to make a point about themselves. After all, if someone insists on speaking to you in Irish, when you know they must know how to speak English, it's pretty obvious they're doing it to make some sort of point, and most people don't like finding themselves in the middle of a situation they don't understand. And of course there's the fact that most Irish people have a love-hate relationship with the language, and get extremely flustered (and there fore agitated, and defensive) when actually forced to demonstrate their complete and utter inability to put two words together.

One of the interesting things that comes out of people finding out that I can speak Irish is the amount of them that tell me that this must be wonderful, and how much they wish they could speak it too, although, with one single exception in more than perhaps thirty years of being told this, none of them ever do anything about it. This wish to speak it genuinely baffles me, as, as I said, I get no use out of it, and is really no more than an ornamental flourish, interesting but ultimately useless, much like the much vaunted Mahogany Gaspipe. it's all romantic pish, really, and it is my firm belief that the language will eventually finally die out, and should be let do so.

And, oh by god yes, it's is extremely annoying to have people ask if me if I can speak Gaelic.
leedy
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:18 pm (UTC)
Re: A Pain in the Erse
I think the hostility to being spoken to in Irish is the belief that someone is trying to make a point about you, rather than their desire to make a point about themselves. After all, if someone insists on speaking to you in Irish, when you know they must know how to speak English, it's pretty obvious they're doing it to make some sort of point, and most people don't like finding themselves in the middle of a situation they don't understand. And of course there's the fact that most Irish people have a love-hate relationship with the language, and get extremely flustered (and there fore agitated, and defensive) when actually forced to demonstrate their complete and utter inability to put two words together.

I was thinking that too when I was reading the article - I can see how people would interpret it as being some sort of accusation. I also thought it was interesting how many people under- or overestimate their competency in Irish, possibly because they never have that "sink or swim" experience that you get when, eg, speaking French in France. Most people have never had to put their Irish to a meaningful test, apart from the rather unrealistic situation of state exams.

There was a character in an otherwise slightly rubbish RTE comedy show recently who showed up in various situations (being held up at gunpoint, calling the fire brigade, etc.) insisting on being spoken to in the first national language, including the immortal line "Abair leis an lámh, níl an aghaidh ag eisteacht"[1] (I think - excuse possibly dodgy spelling) - kind of a funny take on the same situation.

[1]"Talk to the hand, the face ain't listening."
barsine
Jan. 5th, 2007 07:56 pm (UTC)
Re: A Pain in the Erse
I think the hostility to being spoken to in Irish is the belief that someone is trying to make a point about you, rather than their desire to make a point about themselves. After all, if someone insists on speaking to you in Irish, when you know they must know how to speak English, it's pretty obvious they're doing it to make some sort of point, and most people don't like finding themselves in the middle of a situation they don't understand. And of course there's the fact that most Irish people have a love-hate relationship with the language, and get extremely flustered (and there fore agitated, and defensive) when actually forced to demonstrate their complete and utter inability to put two words together.

I was thinking this too while I read the article. In work we sometimes have to deal with Irish-language bodies, and their complete refusal to speak in English, or supply relatively complex forms in English, gets really frustrating. I think I find it so enraging because I KNOW they can speak English and are just making a point ... maybe I am guilty and ashamed of my lack of language proficiency though, because I never get as agitated about dealing with French companies etc etc
mollydot
Jan. 5th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)
Re: A Pain in the Erse
the utter hypocrisy of people insisting on getting married in church when neither of them have a shred of belief between them

Speaking as one of those hypocrites, I did it because there wasn't yet a non-religious option that's a proper ceremony. I've been to a registry office wedding, and it just wasn't the same. The registrar was giggly, it was over quickly, and you had to hang around almost queuing beforehand. I've also been to a non-religious ceremony in Scotland, and I would have like something like that. I believe we're getting the option of hotels and stately houses, or maybe it's already there, but as far as I'm aware, it wasn't possible two years ago.
I can't guarantee we would have taken that option had it been there, as his family is religious (his uncle said the Mass), but it would have been mooted by me.

My defense was "I'm a cultural Catholic" and also "I never said I wasn't a hypocrite".

Anyway, that's kind of getting off topic, so I'll shut up now.

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