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?