Ireland, Language

Ireland | A Country Without A Language Is A Country Without A Heart

I once participated in a #CultureTrav chat on Twitter and the topic was languages.  We all speak a language in one form or another.  When we learn a new language it helps us communicate and learn about another country’s culture.  Some languages are easier to learn than others and we’re drawn to the musicality of certain languages.  For me French and Italian are like music to my ears ☺  But the chat got me thinking about my own language and my appreciation for it.

Here in Ireland our main language is English despite Irish being the first official language of the state, as stipulated in Article 8 of our Constitution.  Irish is classified as an Indo-European language and has gone through many phases in its ‘lifetime’.  It’s quite a guttural sounding language and there are many ways just to say one thing.  In 2007 Irish became an official EU language, which sadly didn’t gather much attention here.

Irish is only spoken in small pocket areas known as Gealtacht (Gweal-tawkt) areas.  97,000 people live in Gealtacht areas but only 1 in 4 speak Irish on a daily basis.  With the signing in of the Gealtacht Bill in 2012, Gealtacht areas are now based on linguistic criteria instead of geographic area.  Since 2010 a 20 year strategy for the Irish language has been put into place.  One of its aims is to increase the number of families throughout Ireland who use Irish on a daily basis.

There has been a love/hate relationship with learning the Irish language for many generations.  It isn’t an easy language to learn but you would think learning it in school from the age of 4 or 5 that we would be quite proficient in our native language but unfortunately, no.  There has been many debates about how the language is taught.  From my experience there isn’t enough emphasis put on actually speaking the language. There is also the attitude here that we’re not going to use it anyway after we leave school, so what’s the point in learning it.  The exception being if you become a primary school teacher or teach Irish at second or third level education.

I’m not completely fluent in Irish but I could definitely manage if I decided to live in a Gealtacht area.  It saddens me when I think of people from countries like France, Germany, Italy, Spain being obviously fluent in their respective languages plus a little English if not fluent and maybe another language, and we can’t be bothered to build and maintain a level of fluency in our native language.

Basic Irish Words And Phrases

Below are some basic Irish words and phrases:

Fáilte (fall-cha) – Welcome

Dia dhuit (jia guitch) – Hello

Conas a tá tú? (kunas a taw too?) – How are you?

Tá mé go maith (taw may go mah) – I am good

Slán (slawn) – Bye

Le do thoill (lay duh hell) – Please

Go raibh maith agat (go row ma a-gut) – Thank you

According to UNESCO the Irish language is definitely endangered.  So what does that mean for the future of my native language?  Well if it comes to pass that Irish isn’t compulsory on the school curriculum anymore, who knows!  Having said all that, there are many wonderful groups around the country promoting and keeping the Irish language alive.  A language is an integral part of a country’s cultural identity.  There’s a saying in Irish, ‘tíre gan teanga, tíre gan croí’ (cheer gone changa, cheer gone kree).  In English that means, ‘a country without a language is a country without a heart’.  What’s your favourite language?  Is language really an important part of a country’s culture and identity?Marteen Lane (4)

A post about the Irish language and how language is an important part of a country's culture. Is a country without a language a country without a heart? Is language an integral part of a country's identity?

61 thoughts on “Ireland | A Country Without A Language Is A Country Without A Heart”

  1. I agree with you about Italian and French being music to the ears! My second language was French and third is Italian, yet I’ve always been curious about the Irish language. Any idea where this curious linguaphile should start if trying to learn the basics of Irish?

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  2. I think it’s so important to maintain the native language. I’m sorry to hear that it is becoming endangered. There is a similar problem in Okinawa and I am friends with one of the few that can still speak it. She has been trying to teach it to her children in hopes that it won’t become extinct.

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    1. How interesting! Kudos to your friend for passing the language on to her children 😊 There are so many languages on the extinct list!

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      1. Awww, it really does take time. Something will click and it will become easier. Well I don’t have experience learning Spanish but I do hope it will get easier for you.

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  3. This is a very interesting topic. I have been to Ireland several times and don’t believe I have ever heard the Irish language being spoken. Thanks for sharing; this post was a great read.

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    1. If you visit the Gealtacht areas you will but there are only 7 areas out of the whole of Ireland where people speak Irish.

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    1. Yes indeed. We have signs in both English and Irish as well and we have a TV channel and radio station completely dedicated to the Irish language, but we’re still not speaking it enough.

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  4. This is so interesting! I have met Irish people while traveling, who told me that they learnt Irish in school but really don’t speak it very often. I think it sounds like a great language. It can definitely we hard to learn any language and even if you go to the trouble (and many years!) to learn it – you still need to practice or speak regularly to avoid forgetting it. I am conversatioal level in Portuguese and can get by on Spanish but I would love to be fluent! It is really tough when you don’t speak it all the time.

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    1. That’s it Chantell if we don’t practice it we lose it but it’s just so funny and sad at the same time that we have to ‘learn’ our native language. We should be speaking it like we do English.

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  5. I studied abroad in Ireland and I remember speaking with locals about this topic quite often! I think it’s a shame that Ireland doesn’t emphasize keeping Gaelic alive – everyone seems to learn it for school and promptly forget it. There are lots of phrases that are very Irish though, so it definitely seeps into the culture. I’m Arab myself and language plays a huge role in culture! I can’t imagine being able to express myself without some of the words we have (that don’t really translate to English).

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    1. We’ll have to wait and see how the 20 year strategy works out Sally. Yeah because it’s compulsory to learn in school the attitude is let’s just learn it for school so we can get into college and we don’t need it after that so who cares. Oh how cool! Could you share some words? 😊

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      1. Very true. Hmm well we have certain sayings and phrases that make total sense in the cultural context but not in English! For example, there’s a word pronounced “okbbalik” which essentially means “I wish the same upon you too.” It’s commonly said to the single guests at weddings by other people lol. There are lots of phrases and words like this 🙂

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      2. It’s the same with Irish. Some words and phrases don’t translate very well into English. Haha that’s a great word 😊

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  6. Very, very interesting. I find Irish, Scottish and Welsh such tricky languages to listen to. Learning them would be even trickier. Thanks for the explanation here – really enjoyed it.

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    1. As they’re Celtic languages and very closely related that’s understandable. You’re welcome Kerri, glad you enjoyed it 😊

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  7. My favourite language is my native Latvian. I am sure that language is important part of country’s culture and identity. For a small nation like mine it is even more important I think. Thanks for sharing this!

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  8. A Mharteen!

    Conas atá tú? Táim ar ais!!

    I’m back! I took a much needed break and just said I’d pop by and say hello! And I’m so glad I did! Your blog looks AMAZING!!!! I sat on my couch all day Sunday and thought about how amazing it would be to pack up, travel the world, and blog about it and here you are living my dream! Haha! I’m so excited to catch up on your posts and to live vicariously through you and your travelling experiences! Sincere best of luck on your travels! Stay safe chick!

    Is Mise le Meas,

    Iníon Uí B! x

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    1. Aaaagghhhhh oh my dhia!!! Fáilte ar ais Iníon Uí B 😊 Tá áthas an domhain orm! Tá me ar fheabhas agus tú féin? Mar a fheiceann tú rinne mé cúpla athruithe.

      It’s important to take a break sometimes and recharge 😊 I’m so glad you’re back! I can’t wait to read your up coming posts. Awww thank you 😊 Yes I took a notion last March to do a complete rebrand and now I’m a travel blogger 😊 I’ve been writing about Ireland so far and I can’t wait to move to Canada to write about my experiences there 😊

      Eeekkkk so glad you’re back hun 😊

      Is Mise le Meas,
      Iníon Uí Laighn

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Very interesting read. I can relate to this, as I currently live in Barcelona, where they speak Spanish and Catalan. With Catalan considered the official language.The difference is that Catalan is widely spoken and most people would rather speak it than Spanish. I’d like to move to Ireland, hopefully this September to teach, so it would be cool to pick up another language!

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  10. I really hope that the Irish language doesn’t die out altogether! I took a semester of lessons at the Irish Cultural Center in NYC when I was a teenager, but I only remember a few phrases. The pronunciation is hard but I like the way it sounds. I speak English and French fluently, but I know the only reason my French is good is because I use it every day at my job. It’s hard to become fluent without daily practice with native speakers!

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    1. Yup the pronunciation of some words is definitely hard. That’s the only way to get proficient is to practice speaking it but when so few people do it isn’t easy.

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    1. I love them too! Such interesting topics 😊 Oh excellent! Well download the duolingo app. They added Irish last year to the list of languages and it’s free 😊

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  11. Interesting post, didn’t realize only 1 out 4 speak Irish.. it is sad to hear that Ireland is finding it hard to keep Gaelic alive. We speak Tamil, an Indian language but don’t do enough to make the kids speak it. This post inspired me to try to change that.

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    1. The 1 out of 4 is within the Irish speaking areas. So about 44,ooo out of over 4 million speak Irish on a daily basis. I’m so glad this has inspired you to make your children speak Tamil 😊

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  12. This was a very good informative post. I haven’t been to Ireland yet but I live in England so I know a few Irish words, like cheers for example (no idea how it’s written down, I only know to pronounce it, haha)

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  13. Marteen,
    Thank you for this informative post. It is sad that Irish language is not being used commonly and enough is not being done to promote it. In my opinion, language has a lot of cultural dimensions that cannot be replaced. The literature, the local usages, the local customs and beliefs etc.. are interlinked with language. I speak 5 Indian languages and as much as I can explain the details of one culture, the nuances can be expressed clearly in that specific language. I hope Irish language remains and more initiatives are taken to revive and nurture local languages.

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  14. I truly wish that United States schools focused more on helping students learn multiple languages. Even though we were required to take a couple courses, it wasn’t nearly enough to learn another language fluently. Ireland was one of my favorite countries I’ve visited thus far and I hope the country finds a way to keep the language strong!

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    1. Oh it is, it’s quite an ancient language. We learn in school from age 5 to 18. It sounds silly to even say learn as it’s our native language. There are also private classes too. There was a time when Irish people weren’t allowed to speak Irish, they had to learn to speak English.

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  15. Dia dhuit! I hate that Irish as a language has become endangered. And I think it’s important for families to use it as a way to communicate at home. I hope that it gets more widely used again. I only know English but really want to become better at speaking Spanish. In the United States, I wish we put more of an emphasis on learning another language, especially Spanish, because I grew up around many fellow peers who spoke Spanish. So it would be a great opportunity to work on speaking it on a daily basis with people who are fluent.

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  16. I think language is definitely an important part of a country’s identity and have always had trouble learning new ones. When traveling, I try to pick up a few basic words but had an extremely hard time in Iceland and think Irish may be challenging to pronounce as well.

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  17. I can’t even find a good reason not to learn a second language, especially if it’s your native language (given the opportunity, of course). My native language is Croatian, I studied Spanish at the University, learned English and German at school, and am currently learning Italian- such a beautiful language! I feel like learning a foreign language is a never-ending process. I wish I could speak (or at least read) much more, it’s so rewarding being able to read a book in its original language, or to share a couple of words with a native speaker. Irish sounds like an ancient language, like a chant to me. Beautiful that you are able to communicate in Irish!

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  18. Language is an important part of a country’s identity. This reminds me of the United States, where many of the Native American language have been lost or nearly lost because they are not spoken anymore. I have heard that Irish is a difficult language to learn.

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  19. I don’t have a favorite language, and took a handful during my school days (US) and unfortunately didn’t retain much. I’ve been to Ireland a couple of times and as an outsider, I appreciated the dual signs and that you can hear Gaelic being spoken in some areas. Thanks for sharing some sayings at the end of the post!

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    1. It’s difficult to retain if it’s not being used. Yes, I love the dual signs we have in Irish and it’s great that it’s being kept alive in some areas 😊

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