European status for Irish is besides the point

If it’s true that Eilis O’Hanlon has little sympathy left for any project connected with Irish nationalism, this piece nevertheless comes under the heading of harsh but true. She argues that whatever the granting of official status to Irish in the EU, in Ireland, where it really matters, people are slowly abandoning it.

however much noise a small handful of our most vocal citizens may have made in recent months about European Union recognition of Irish, nobody really cares.

Oh, we say we do. If there was a list of issues we considered important, the status of the Irish language in Brussels might be one of the boxes we ticked – assuming, that is, we were allowed to tick as many as we liked.

It would be right up there with better nutritional labelling on supermarket food, more cycle ways, iodine tablets for all in case of nuclear emergency, universal peace and an end to world hunger, on the infinite wish list of things which it would be quite nice to have.

But deep down, we don’t really give a monkey’s about Irish. We only pretend to because it’s one of the things that educated and sophisticated Irish people are now supposed to believe, and because, well, believing in the spiritually-enhancing properties of the Irish language has become a habit we’re much too intellectually lazy to breakout of.

If we really cared about Irish, then we’d do something about it. Like speak it.

  • maca

    I have to say Denny that I find that totally silly, to concentrate on just one language in order to be able to speak it properly. Are you saying Irish people are thick and can’t handle more than one language? Should we stop teaching foreign languages also?
    If your standard of English is poor perhaps it is just your teacher/school to blame. I have met many well educated English lads whose standard of English was no better than my own yet they didn’t have to learn Irish.
    To suggest that one hour per day of Irish affected your English is plain silly, no offence.

  • aonghus

    This theory that the human brain can only cope well with one language is risible.

    Scandanavians (to stay in Europe) have no problem juggling two or three languages. My kids spoke no English for about two years after we came to Ireland, but now juggle Irish, German and English at will.

    All the evidence is, in fact, that those who speak and learn more than one language as children do better in both. It is no accident that irish medium secondary schools are high up in the academic league tables that the press every now and then come up with.
    That is not to say that language teaching and teachers in this country could do with improvement – it certainly could. But I understand the UK and America have at least the same problems.

  • J McConnell

    maca

    I consider the survival of Breton a success because I can actually hear it spoken, *regularly*, by ordinary folk, while going about my business here in western Brittany. I never had that experience anywhere in Ireland (and aoenghus, I was staying in Ballinskelligs in Kerry by the way..).

    Breton is an optional subject in the local schools here. I dont know what the take up rate is but I would not be too surprised if it was in the 10% to 20% range. Which I would also guess would be the take up rate for Irish if students were actually given a choice about taking the subject in Ireland…

    Breton has survived despite massive and sustained attempts by the French central authorities to suppress it. Irish has declined to the point of disappearance despite sustained attempts by the central government to coerce and compel its use.

    I know what conclusion I would draw from these facts.

    Want to hear some Polish in Dublin? Listen to the wait-staff in most coffee shops or restaurants in Dublin talk among themselves. You’ll get to hear some Polish very quickly.

    Even simpler. Get off the DART in Dunleary. Turn left. See the sign for the first coffee shop. Cafe Insomnia. Go in and say hi to all the very nice Polish staff behind the counter. Then take a seat with a cup of their pretty good coffee and listen to the light hearted Polish banter.

    I cannot understand a word of it but I find the experience very relaxing..

  • Denny Boy

    Let me try to explain further.

    My point is that I grew up in a city/country where English had supplanted the original language, Irish. My background is middle class, my parents were well educated, yet the English I heard spoken in the home and elsewhere was inferior to that spoken by our “counterparts” in England. I went on to do a BA and an MA, yet no amount of third-level schooling in English could repair the damage already done. I didn’t even KNOW the damage was there until I began to study grammar in real depth. Only then did I see that the Irish version of spoken English falls down badly on many fronts. And I’m not referring to charming locutions such as “I’m only after me dinner”. I realize I’m crying over spilt milk but I do sometimes wish I’d been brought up and schooled in an environment where, say, a simple preposition was not quite so often confused with a preposition of direction. (And in deference to all sane people here, that’s as far as I’ll venture into the exciting world of grammar.)

    My point is that a native speaker of English of my age (I’m 42) and social class, growing up somewhere in the home counties, would have imbibed such distinctions from an early age – at home, from his peers, at school. Instead I was forced to spend a great deal of time learning a minor language whose vocabularly was as nothing compared to the richness of English.

    My point is that my parents and teachers (and indeed educators and government) might have better served my generation had they channelled their energies into improving the general use of English.

  • Biffo

    Denny Boy

    “Let the Irish concentrate on getting the one language right”

    That would be a dumb move according to the following research, as reported by the BBC.

    “Dr Ellen Bialystok and colleagues at York University assessed the cognitive skills of” bilingual and monolingual people.

    “Half of the volunteers came from Canada and spoke only English. The other half came from India and were fluent in both English and Tamil.

    The volunteers had similar backgrounds in the sense that they were all educated to degree level and were all middle class.

    The researchers found that the people who were fluent in English and Tamil responded faster than those who were fluent in just English. This applied to all age groups.

    The researchers also found that the bilingual volunteers were much less likely to suffer from the mental decline associated with old age.

    “The bilinguals were more efficient at all ages tested and showed a slower rate of decline for some processes with aging,” they said.’

    More at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3794479.stm

    Maybe this is the reason that JMcConnell sounds like a bitter, twisted and senile OAP.

  • J McConnell

    Denny Boy

    You’ll be glad to hear that you are not the only one who has noticed this deficiency in the Irish educational system.

    Even the Dept of Education has noticed.

    The Dept of Education did a study a few years ago trying to find out why Irish eleven years old did so badly on standardized language and language comprehension tests when compared with their peers in other OECD countries.

    Their conclusion. Because so much school time was devoted to teaching (badly) a language with little relevance to a large proportion of the students, not enough resources were left over to teach properly the native language of the vast majority of the students.

    I was surprised by the report on two counts. First that the Dept of Education would actually admit in print that compulsory Irish at primary school level was seriously impeding the education of students. And secondly that 25% of all primary school teaching hours was spent teaching Irish. I’d forgotten just how much of the school day was wasted on those pointless lessons.

  • J McConnell

    Aonghus

    I missed the ref at the end of the press release

    And you obviously did not check out the UCC study which spends a lot of pages doing a comparative study of the attitudes of the university staff compared to the attitudes of the *general* Irish population.

    Its full of lots of interesting numbers on the attitudes of the *general* population.

    I did not move the goalposts. It just seems like you are pretending they are not there…

    If you can find a better academic study (with sources) on the the attitudes of the general Irish population towards the Irish language I would be glad to see it.

  • Denny Boy

    “The other half came from India and were fluent in both English and Tamil.”

    Hmm. I taught in India and don’t recall ever meeting anybody who was truly bilingual. Most spoke and wrote English with varying degrees of proficiency.

    If you wish to put this to the test, do have a look at the fractured syntax of Anita Desai, who grew up speaking German at home and Hindi with her friends.

  • aonghus

    ….

    ….

    That looks like a moved goalpost to me. Why would you place more value in a survey carried out by academics to one carried out by a reputable market research company? And what is the relevance of attitude to your original statement that Irish is dead?

    You personally hear Poles speaking polish, and chinese speaking chinese to other Poles and Chinese. You hear Irish spoken less often simply because Irish speakers are not a separate ethnic group to anglophone Irish.

    Ballinskelligs was barely Irish speaking in 1956, and had its hinterland cut off when the boundaries were drawn, so that there was, for example, no Gaeltacht secondary schoool available.

    Currently, the local people are reorganising to revive Irish as a community language. You will be pleased to hear that the Gaeltacht boundaries are being reviewed taking socio-linguistic factors into consideration
    However, if you want to hear Irish spoken as a community language I suggest a visit to:
    Inir Óirr

    Inis Méain

    Corca Dhuibhne west of An Daingean

    etc.

    Note that I have not claimed anywhere that everything is fine with Irish, merely that your assertion that it is dead is not true.

  • aonghus

    Denny Boy:

    My point is that a native speaker of English of my age (I’m 42) and social class, growing up somewhere in the home counties, would have imbibed such distinctions from an early age

    And therefore any English spoken elsewhere is somehow second rate? I doubt you’ll find many who agree with you on that one.

  • J McConnell

    biffo

    Where did I change my position?

    My position is quite simple.

    While growing up in Ireland I heard very little casual spoken Irish. In fact I only remember hearing Irish spoken conversationally by others on three occasions. And I did not grow up in some West Brit enclave.

    One was bombarded with Irish at school, on Irish TV and radio, and that bizarre phenomenon know as coupla focail-ism. But outside of that one rarely heard a word of normal conversation spoken in Irish. All very strange.

    I visit North Wales, I hear the local speak Welsh. I visit Brittany, I hear the locals speak Breton. I visit a Gaeltacht, I did not hear the locals speak Irish.

    I spent lots of time in Ireland the last year or two, I still hear no one speaking Irish. I do hear lots of people, residents of Ireland, speak lots of foreign languages.

    I read in the census that a large number of people in Dublin claim to speak Irish on a daily basis. The number who claim to speak Irish on a daily basis is much larger than the number of foreign nationals, yet I hear the languages of the foreign nationals, but not the these Irish speakers. Very strange.

    Aonghus tells us that he and a friend are the two people who speaks Irish on the DART. I am intrigued by this information but still wondering what happened to the other 99,998 daily Irish speakers in Dublin.

    So my position is quite simple.

    The policy of compulsory Irish has been a total failure. The number of people who actually speak Irish on a daily basic is maybe 1%. 40,000 max. For the whole country, and mostly at home, it seems. Maybe another 5% are functionally fluent and literate in Irish but really dont use it much despite all their good intentions, or what they say in surveys.

    This is a truly pathetic result after 70 years of forcing every student to study Irish from the moment they start school till the moment they finish.

    Maybe its time for the Irish language zealots to open their ears and listen to which language Irish people are actually speaking in their daily lives. Not what they claim to speak in surveys.

    And then come up with a realistic and viable policy for saving what remains of the Irish language without compulsion or coercion.

  • Denny Boy

    Aongus wrote “And therefore any English spoken elsewhere is somehow second rate?”

    Not at all. Some of the best English I’ve encountered was spoken in America and Canada. I simply wish that the educators of my time had had a better command of the language; I might have been spared a good deal of bother in later life.

  • maca

    JmC
    “I consider the survival of Breton a success because I can actually hear it spoken”

    Well then your criteria for judging the success/failure of the language is seriously flawed. You might have heard more Breton being spoken in the few places you were in but that doesn’t change the figures J.

    “Breton is an optional subject in the local schools here. I dont know what the take up rate is but I would not be too surprised if it was in the 10% to 20% range. Which I would also guess would be the take up rate for Irish if students were actually given a choice about taking the subject in Ireland…”

    And now many schools no longer offer the language. So you end up with this 10-20% being denied the chance to learn the language. Optional? You’re denying them the option.

    “Want to hear some Polish in Dublin?”

    Ok, you asked of Irish before, where is it being spoken, is it just spoken in the home or do speakers just speak amongst themselves, this was part of your argument before saying that Irish was dead. So let me ask you, where is Polish being spoken, in the home? In these few Polish cafes? Or can people live their daily lives through the language?

    p.s. Not hearing the language is proof of nothing as you know.

    Denny
    “yet the English I heard spoken in the home and elsewhere was inferior to that spoken by our “counterparts” in England”

    I have the opposite experience actually.

    “I didn’t even KNOW the damage was there until I began to study grammar in real depth.”

    Yeah, many Irish people possibly don’t have a deep knowledge of grammar, but not many of us need to teach it.
    I worked with many educated English & American people and their English was no better than mine.

    “My point is that my parents and teachers … might have better served my generation had they channelled their energies into improving the general use of English.”

    Probably but not necessarily at the expense of Irish. Why not drop German or French then, which most of us will never use? Or some other subjects? I can list you ten subjects which I never used after school.
    I don’t have an indepth knowledge of English grammar, but then again i’m not going to teach it. The level I have is perfectly fine for the area I work in, which is international business. And the same is likely true of most people. We live in a global world, and increasingly we are dealing with many people who have English as a second language. An indepth knowledge of English grammar won’t help you one iota when dealing with people with broken English from China, Japan, Slovakia or wherever.

  • J McConnell

    > And therefore any English spoken elsewhere is
    > somehow second rate? I doubt you’ll find many who
    > agree with you on that one.

    Actually there are lots of studies, both in the UK and elsewhere, that show a strong correlation between language accent and usage and perceived levels of education.

    A person who speaks with a metropolitan middle class accent and uses grammatically correct forms and usages will be perceived by most people as being more educated that someone who speaks with a regional accent and who uses forms and usages that deviate from those that are generally accepted as grammatically correct.

    This is as true in the US as it is in the UK. And true for all socio-economic groups.

  • Denny Boy

    Maca, if you believe that grammar isn’t important then of course that’s fine. Personally speaking, I do.

    I also resent having had so much of my childhood hours squandered on the ingestion of a moribund language. If that language possessed a half-decent body of literature then fair enough, but I was force-fed Peig Sayers and other reminiscences of representatives of low culture. Nothing wrong with low culture in our postmodern age, you might say, but I’d rather have been reading Hardy; at least I’d have picked up some beautiful language on the way.

    As it is, we Irish are all too willing to entertain poor English: from our writers and public speakers. Look at Bertie for heaven’s sake. He’s an embarrassment. Placed alongside an excellent speaker like Tony Blair, there’s no contest.

  • aonghus

    That is a misrepresentation of what I said. I gave one recent incident where I met an Irish speaking acquaintance. I have met several others and would speak Irish to all of them.

    And there are social occasions where I would be with a group of up to 20 people, all of whom would speak Irish. If you are in Caife Úna or the Duke pub in Duke street this evening you will hear us.

    I see. Linguistic snobbery is admirable when applied to English but is arrogance not to be tolerated when applied to Irish?

  • aonghus

    Ireland does very well on OECD literacy studies, so I’m somewhat perplexed by JMcC comments above.

    PISA Summary Report

    The mean score for Ireland on the combined reading literacy scale …. were higher than the OECD mean. And ranked 5th after Finland. (The pdf is locked, so I can’t just cut and paste the quotes, and I’m too lazy to type it all).

  • maca

    Denny
    “if you believe that grammar isn’t important then of course that’s fine”

    Don’t twist what i said. Obviously grammar is important. But the fact of the matter is you do not need advanced grammar skills to communicate with anybody. Teaching the language is a different matter.
    If you think I am wrong please explain to me, briefly, how advanced grammar skills will benefit us so much?

    “If that language possessed a half-decent body of literature then fair enough”

    I see. And I presume you have actually tried to seek out literature in Irish? I have my doubts.

    “I’d rather have been reading Hardy; at least I’d have picked up some beautiful language on the way.”

    That’s fine, personal preference.
    I’d be just as happy to pick up some “beautiful language” as Gaeilge too.

    “As it is, we Irish are all too willing to entertain poor English: from our writers and public speakers.”

    So our writers have poor English? What writers specifically are you referring to? I’m curious to know.

    “Look at Bertie for heaven’s sake. He’s an embarrassment. Placed alongside an excellent speaker like Tony Blair, there’s no contest.”

    Good thing you didn’t compare to George Bush …

    Of course personally I don’t care how good or bad Berties English is as long as he does his job well. I don’t vote for our public representatives based on how perfect their English is.

    Plus, can you demonstrate how Bertie would be speaking so much better English if he didn’t learn Irish?

    Plus 2: Did Tony Blair not learn languages in school? In fact I think he has fluent French, doesn’t seem to have affected his English too much.

  • maca

    “The mean score for Ireland on the combined reading literacy scale …. were higher than the OECD mean. And ranked 5th after Finland.”

    The Finns always do well. Of course they learn foreign languages from a very young age in school, mainly English & German, some Swedish too.
    It’s pretty much proven world wide, including in good-English speaking Canada, that bilingualism brings many benefits, there’s a lot of information about this on the web … just google it.

  • Denny Boy

    Maca, grammar is more important than you might think. It allows us to communicate clearly and unambiguously – crucial when dealing with global partners.

    Most Irish people have poor grammar, a result of a childhood spent listening and learning English from less than competent speakers. My two preteen boys live in England and attend school in the university town where I teach. Their command of English causes me endless regret that I was deprived of such opportunity.

    Irish writers? There’s John Banville, and more recently Niall Williams and Ronan Bennett, each a producer of exquisite prose and each in complete mastery of the language. If there are any other good contemporary Irish writers then I haven’t come across their work.

    You’re not seriously defending Bertie, are you? Oratory is part of a politician’s job. If he can’t speak well, then he can’t enunciate his policies. I for one don’t vote for mumblers.

  • aonghus

    It should be pointed out that Swedish is a compulsory subject in Finnish schools, since Finland has a significant Swedish speaking minority. There is an example of successful coercion. The problem in Ireland is not that the policy is wrong, but that it is shoddily implemented, if at all.

  • Denny Boy

    Oh, I forgot. Can somebody point me towards the Irish literature I may have missed when at school? Just curious.

  • aonghus

    How about here.

    or here or even here

  • George

    There are a couple of thousand listed here for you Denny.

    Forbhais Droma Dámhgháire by Seán Ó Duinn might be interesting. Haven’t read it myself but I would like to.

  • maca

    Denny
    “grammar is more important than you might think. It allows us to communicate clearly and unambiguously – crucial when dealing with global partners.”

    Again, you don’t need an advanced knowledge of grammar in order to be able to communicate clearly and unambiguously. Quite often the best strategy is just to keep it simple.
    “Global partners” – I deal with global partners on a daily basis, 99% of which have English as a second langage.
    I (with my C in LC English) have often been told that I am much easier to understand than most English or American people they have had to deal with.
    We have to do business with more than just the UK, US, Canada or Australia. More and more we’re dealing with people from the Asia and Eastern Europe, these people generally have good but limited English. An advanced knowledge of grammar won’t help me get the point across any clearer than I already do.

    Ok, must dash. May answer your other points later if I have time…

  • Baluba

    Denny Boy,

    I am a native Irish speaker who learnt English second and I speak perfectly good English.

    I also have a Japanese sister-in-law and many German friends who speak a strange brand of textbook grammar bound English that sounds completely unnatural to the Irish, the Americans, the Aussies and yes, to the English.

    Saying you wish you had learnt English in England that you may speak it properly is a bit funny when I think of my two good mates from Birmingham. Another mate from London. Another mate from Manchester……..who all would not know grammar if you poked them with it!

    As for your comments on Irish literature, I’m afraid you just displayed some cultural and literary ignorance that saddens me.

  • Denny Boy

    Er yes, Aonghus and George, I’m sure that’s all very fascinating, but could you be a little more specific? Had I enquired about French literature would you have directed me to http://www.amazon.fr?

    Perhaps I can make this easier for you (and me). Can you quote me a line or two of Gaelic literature that can stand its own with the work of the greats of Britain, America, Germany, Russia – and indeed France?

    Oh and do be discerning; I teach English literature to some VERY discerning postgraduate students.

    And Baluba, do feel free to haul me out of my “cultural and literary ignorance” by producing some tasty quotes yourself.

  • aonghus

    Very probably, given I know nothing of your tastes. Whom do you consider to be the “greats” of Britain, America, Germany, Russia – and indeed France?

    My discernment is likely to differ from yours, since I don’t teach literature (I’m a software engineer).

  • slackjaw

    I teach English literature to some VERY discerning postgraduate students.

    Then perhaps you (or one of your students) would be able to show us how a quote in Irish or English can stand on its own beside a quote in Russian or French.

  • Denny Boy

    Aonghus wrote: “Very probably, given I know nothing of your tastes. Whom do you consider to be the “greats” of Britain, America, Germany, Russia – and indeed France?”

    Personal taste is not at issue. Woolf, Faulkner, Mann, Tolstoy and Valéry were all considered to be great writers when I was a schoolboy. Still are. Each wrote original, beautiful prose that touched the soul.

    Had Ireland produced their equals, writing in the Irish language? If so, names and quotes please….

  • Baluba

    You teach literature to discerning postgraduate students yet you wish to judge an entire language’s wealth of literature on quotes that I may provide you? Mmm…I’m sure your lectures are enlightening, it seems you are very discerning yourself.

    Feel free to read Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Myles na gCopaleen, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, Séamus Heaney, Breandán Ó hEithir etc etc. Or what about that fellow Yeats who also wrote in Irish?

    What about Somhairle Mac Lean the Scottish Gaelic poet who narrowly missed out on the Nobel Prize for literature.

    It’s odd that many of the great Irish writers of English had such great respect for Irish and also wrote in it (Behan springs to mind too), but that you, a literature lecturer, are so closed and unappreciative.

    And I’m not going to go any further back because you’re obviously a philistine when it comes to oral literature.

    It’s funny how a literature scholar such as yourself can dismiss one of the oldest written languages in the world as redundant in literary terms. I think you are missing out.

    Perhaps you shuld have been more studious in your loathsome Irish classes and then you would be in a position to read it and enjoy the beauty of Irish literature.

    Poor Michael Davitt is turning in his grave.

  • Baluba

    I have to say it makes me laugh to hear a man trying to be a great exponent of the English language, and a postgraduate lecturer too using the term ‘tasty quotes’.

    How perfectly literary and sophisticated your own English is my friend.

  • Denny Boy

    Slackjaw wrote: “Then perhaps you (or one of your students) would be able to show us how a quote in Irish or English can stand on its own beside a quote in Russian or French.”

    Dear slackjaw, isn’t this the reason we have such a lucrative market for translators?

  • Denny Boy

    Baluba wrote: “I have to say it makes me laugh to hear a man trying to be a great exponent of the English language, and a postgraduate lecturer too using the term ‘tasty quotes’.

    How perfectly literary and sophisticated your own English is my friend.”

    You’re confusing the messenger with the message. I don’t claim to be anything but a lecturer. I don’t write for a living (well, nothing apart from my doctoral thesis and a few papers which would hardly be of interest to you).

    Now, are we going to have those tasty quotes or not?

  • Baluba

    Again DB, do you really want to try and judge an entire body of literature on quotes that I may provide? And you are a literature lecturer? If I provide them will you understand them or do you want me to provide them and somehow become a literary translator too? (Not that I have the slightest intention of fulfilling such a ridiculous request).

    I also have studied German literature and I would find it absolutely ridiculous, not to mention disrespectful to that body of literature to, for example, pull out two lines of Faust, Die Blechtrommel, Doktor Murkes Gesammtes Schweigen, Der Tod in Venedig etc etc to justify it as ‘great literature’ or literature superior to another language.

    The request is ridiculous DB, just ridiculous and I fear for your students.

  • Denny Boy

    Apologies, Baluba, I missed your rant the first time round. You’ll no doubt be providing us in due course with a choice line or two from those people you allude to.

    “Or what about that fellow Yeats who also wrote in Irish?”

    WB Yeats? I wasn’t aware he could even speak the language. Do direct me please to that Gaelic work of his. But good that you mention him because he’s a very good example of an Irishman educated in England, who was exposed to a broader English lexicon than he’d have experienced in Sligo and Dublin. His work testifies to this. I think you’ll find that most of the great Irish writers learnt their English abroad.

    And remember: I’m only the messenger :0)

  • Denny Boy

    Baluba wrote: “I also have studied German literature and I would find it absolutely ridiculous, not to mention disrespectful to that body of literature to, for example, pull out two lines of Faust, Die Blechtrommel, Doktor Murkes Gesammtes Schweigen, Der Tod in Venedig etc etc to justify it as ‘great literature’ or literature superior to another language.”

    Here, let me do it for you. This is Mann writing in Der Tod in Venedig, known to us anglophones as Death in Venice:

    “For I must tell you that we artists cannot tread the path of Beauty without Eros keeping company with us and appointing himself as our guide.”

    and

    “With astonishment Aschenbach noticed that the boy was entirely beautiful. His countenance, pale and gracefully reserved, was surrounded by ringlets of honey-colored hair, and with its straight nose, its enchanting mouth, its expression of sweet and divine gravity, it recalled Greek sculpture of the noblest period.”

    (Googled if you must know; a child can do it.)

    As I told slackjaw, this is why we have translators, so that those who can’t speak, say, German can still appreciate great literature. And I said nothing about Irish work having to be “superior to another language”. I wish only to know whether Ireland has produced work in Irish that’s on a par with the work of the international greats.

    Insulting me won’t convince me. Written evidence might.

  • aonghus

    Seosamh Mac Grianna’s An Druma Mór.
    Multilingual Bio here

    Don’t have the quotes to hand, since I don’t have a photographic memory. But I’ll try to come back in a day or two. I had hoped to find some online, but time presses. And I certainly won’t try to translate them. The quotes you gave from Mann cause me concern. Pale shadows of his German prose is what they are, and they were presumably committed by an accomplished translator. I don’t pretend to be one.

  • Denny Boy

    Aonghus wrote: “The quotes you gave from Mann cause me concern. Pale shadows of his German prose is what they are, and they were presumably committed by an accomplished translator.”

    I speak fluent German and have the original to hand. I assure you it’s a very capable translation. I doubt it can be improved upon.

    “Mit Erstaunen bemerkte Aschenbach, daß der Knabe vollkommen schön war. Sein Antlitz, – bleich und anmutig verschlossen, von honigfarbenem Haar umringelt, mit der gerade abfallenden Nase, dem lieblichen Munde, dem Ausdruck von holdem und göttlichem Ernst, erinnerte an griechische Bildwerke aus edelster Zeit…”

    and the translation again:

    “With astonishment Aschenbach noticed that the boy was entirely beautiful. His countenance, pale and gracefully reserved, was surrounded by ringlets of honey-colored hair, and with its straight nose, its enchanting mouth, its expression of sweet and divine gravity, it recalled Greek sculpture of the noblest period.”

    I doubt if Thomas Mann himself could have taken issue with that translation. “Pale shadows”? I think not.

    Translators do us a wonderful service. They afford us access to hidden treasures. The flip-side of course is that they also expose shoddy work for what it is….

  • Biffo

    Denny Boy

    I don’t mean to be personally insulting here. I am reacting to your comments but you do come across as a phony with a big inferiority complex.

    You say you’ve had a lot of bother in your life with grammer. You blame this on your Dublin background, with the result that you can’t speak English properly.

    Perhaps you blame your Dublin background in order to console yourself when the fact is you’ve always lacked the ability and competance to teach language or literature.

    I don’t know if you do lack competance or not. Maybe you are just a moaner who is embarassed by Ireland, Irish accents, and the Irish Language, and you’re just whinging.

    It certainly sounds like it…

    “Instead I was forced to spend a great deal of time learning a minor language whose vocabularly was as nothing compared to the richness of English.”

    That is an incredibly stupid statement to make for a man who says he has experience with languages.

    I’d like you to put your money where your mouth is and explain, giving examples, what Irish lacks in comparison with the richness of English.

    Are you claiming to be a fluent Irish speaker? If you weren’t you couldn’t possibly hope to back up such a stupid statement?

    Your problem seems to be that you are a moaner with an irish accent who wants to sound like Prince Charles because of your perception that people will think you are smarter than you actually are.

  • maca

    Jaysus lads, did none of ye see fit to give Sean O Riordain a mention?

  • slackjaw

    Denny Boy,

    Dear slackjaw, isn’t this the reason we have such a lucrative market for translators?

    Lucrative? I wish!

    Thank you for pointing out that translators are there to help us understand and appreciate great works of literature. The problem is, translators aren’t really much use when it comes to explaining us things about the richness of the language from which they are translating. So while I am a big fan of Chekhov, I wouldn’t be able tell you how rich his Russian is compared to Maupassant’s French, and even if I could, I don’t know if it would make any sense trying to explain in English why Chekhov is a better writer of Russian than Maupassant is a writer of French. But I suspect you know this, and may be trying to wind up the more sensitive souls among us.

    Your underlying point appears to that if Irish was as rich a language as other European languages, it would have produced accompanying canonical works of literature. Of course, the first language for most of us here is English, so perhaps the only way we could ever reach some sort of agreement would be to compare English translations of quotations from Irish, French or whatever. But what about someone like Baluba, whose first language is Irish? If I understand you correctly, he should be entitled to judge the richness of English or French is based on how well someone like Evelyn Waugh or Balzac translates into Irish….do you agree? If not, why not?

    As I’m sure you also know, it takes more than just a language to produce ‘great’ works of literature. Patrons, publishers and punters all come in handy, as does leisure time, as well as some sort of an educational environment (Personally I don’t know what I would have done without my governess).

    You point out in one of your previous posts that WB Yeats was a ‘very good example of an Irishman educated in England, who was exposed to a broader English lexicon than he’d have experienced in Sligo and Dublin’. If this is true, and if we are looking for an analogous poet to Yeats in Irish (which is of course impossible, but bear with me), then there would have to be a broadly comparable educational environment for exposure to Irish, which, of course, there wasn’t. So no ‘Irish Coleridge’ or ‘Irish Wordsworth’, but there was no ‘Irish Cambridge’ either.

    Frankly, I blame Da Brits for this. Well not completely, but the fact that there wasn’t really much of a market at The Globe Theatre for aspiring playwrights in Irish sort of meant that the ‘Irish Hamlet’ was never really going to happen. Meanwhile back in Ireland, the majority of Irish speakers didn’t really have time to try and get a play staged around that time, just as a novel in Irish wasn’t really foremost in their minds around the time of the famine. Not much interest from the paying public, see.

    (Oh and by the way, if we’re going to judge Irish works of literature on the basis of how English translations compare with English poems and poems from other languages translated into English, have a butcher’s at The School Bag.)

  • J McConnell

    Biffo

    You are beginning to sound like that description of the well balanced gaeilgore as someone who has a chip on both shoulders…

    Guess what? In the anglophone world the Irish accent and the Irish dialect are both low status signifiers. They are traditionally associated with uneducated manual labourers not educated middle class professionals in both the UK and US. That’s just the way it is.

    Want to get on in the big bad world out there then you better start speaking and writing grammatically correct Anglo / American English, not the mish mash that was acceptable for your Leaving Cert papers. Or that one can hear daily on RTE.

    Have a strong regional accent then you better loose it fast. Because no one outside of Britain or Ireland will understand a word you are saying. Move to Dublin 6 for six months and knock off some of those rough edges…

    Irish literature? Well almost all of it seems to have been written in English…

    The only book written in Irish in the last one hundred and fifty years that’s worth reading in translation is “The Poor Mouth”, and it’s a parody of most of the other books written in Irish during the last one hundred and fifty years..

    Of course English is a much richer language than Irish. English has an immense corpus of some of the finest works in world literature, and modern Irish is, well, the rump end of a peasant oral culture on the cultural fringes of Europe.

    No contest.

    In fact the more I think about it the funnier that even an attempt at a comparison seems.

  • Denny Boy

    Ah, Biffo, I wondered about the long silence following my last post. I thought you’d assembled some gems of Irish literature to show me how wrong I was. I guess not. But while we’re waiting for those gems, let me explain that I have no wish to sound like Prince Charles; people think I’m smart anyway, accent or no accent. I am a simple Dubliner who left that city many years ago, taking with me a number of regrets concerning the education I received there. My principal gripe was that too much emphasis was placed on Irish, and no one has ever been able to justify this to me.

    At school I was told that Peig and An tIolanach were examples of great literature. When I questioned why it was that Irish “literature” when translated into English turned out to be no more moving than “We fed the pigs on Thursday before bringing them to market”, the response was: “Ah, but you see, it’s impossible to translate the Irish into English. You miss the melody of the language.” When I pointed out that the original sounded less melodious to my ears than, say, a passage from a French author we were studying at the time, I was told that the Irish writers were unable to write much more on account of the Penal Laws. The English had robbed the Irish of their language (no doubt in the same way that the English had felled all the trees). And so it went.

    This is what makes me angry. In my schooldays we wasted hour after hour on a language that had a tiny vocabulary and an even tinier corpus of worthwhile books, when we could have been immersing ourselves in the vast body of English literature. We were given two plays of Shakespeare. Two!

    My schoolfriends, Dubliners all, were bright lads, and didn’t need to be told that what we were presented with as great Irish literature was anything but. We read the better English and American novels in private, away from the classroom, and thus educated ourselves. And yes, we thought it risible that the Irish educational system was in the grip of “culchies” who made homophones of “tie”, “toy”, “Thai” and “thigh”. A harsh judgement, I know, but we took no prisoners in those days.

    We keep in touch from time to time and follow the course of Irish education. We’re agreed that the prognosis is not good. Certainly, things have improved a great deal since our day, but children are still being force-fed the Irish language.

    My sons do not speak a word of Irish and have never expressed the slightest interest in the language. Should they do so later on, then I shall encourage them as best I can. But why should they, when knowledge of Irish is unlikely to enrich their lives in any meaningful way?

    Now: let’s have those quotes!

  • maca

    hahahah. What a load of tosh J.

    “In the anglophone world the Irish accent and the Irish dialect are both low status signifiers”

    Bullshit. And anyway who really gives a shit what some narrow minded anglophones think.

    “They are traditionally associated with uneducated manual labourers not educated middle class professionals in both the UK and US.”

    Bullshit again J.

    “That’s just the way it is.”

    No it isn’t. Care to back up your statements … if you can?

    “Want to get on in the big bad world out there then you better start speaking and writing grammatically correct Anglo / American English,”

    Absolute rubbish. For starters the Irish accent is generally easier to understand that the English accent, and definitly easier to understand than the Scottish or Welsh accent. Some American accents are extremely hard to understand if you are not a antice English speaker. Of course if you’d spent some time aborad (in non English speaking countries) you might know this.

    “Have a strong regional accent then you better loose it fast.”

    Same applies to every English speaking country. Doh!

    “Of course English is a much richer language than Irish.”

    Oh do explain knowledgable one.
    You might find it hard to prove considering you don’t speak Irish so i’ll look forward to this one.

    …waiting.

  • maca

    antice = native, bloody speed typing.

  • J McConnell

    Maca

    School holidays started this week so I cannot ask the very nice lady who teaches Breton in my sons school exactly what are the nuances of the availability of Breton language classes in the various departments of Brittany. Whether the situation here in Finistere is different from, say, Morbihan or Ille-et-Villane. Or if Breton is a subject for the Bac. If you are still interested I can get back to you in September..

    When I ran your comment in a previous thread about not hearing all the foreign languages that I have heard spoken in Ireland past several people in Dublin the reaction was uniform. After they had stopped laughing, they all asked – Where does this guy live? And when was the last time he visited Ireland? Ten years ago? And one comment of – Is he deaf?

    So I have a simple proposition. The next time we are both in Dublin lets meet and play a drinking game. Lets walk around the city center along an uncontrived route, as one would travel while going about ones daily business. Every time we hear someone speak one of the foreign languages I have discussed in these threads I will buy you a beverage of your choice at the nearest hostelry. And every time we hear someone speak Irish you can return the favour.

    I am willing to bet that you would be legless within the hour – and at the end of a whole day of trapesing around Dublin I would be as sober as a Pioneer at the end of a novena.

  • Denny Boy

    Good post, slackjaw! Didn’t this thread begin with translations? :0)

    “But what about someone like Baluba, whose first language is Irish? If I understand you correctly, he should be entitled to judge the richness of English or French is based on how well someone like Evelyn Waugh or Balzac translates into Irish….do you agree? If not, why not?”

    Of course I agree! Good writing is ALWAYS translatable, and a translator who contends it’s not should seek other employment. We are at a point in history where translation is coming into its own and this can only be for the good.

  • maca

    JMcC
    “I cannot ask the very nice lady … availability of Breton language”

    Well one can easily check the internet and read of the schools dropping Breton…

    “When I ran your comment…”

    Gas. But somehow I doubt it. There aren’t Polish cafes all over the country J. And to say you haven’t heard Irish in Ireland is equally laughable. Are you deaf?

    “The next time we are both in Dublin lets meet and play a drinking game”

    Sure, take your pick, Polish or Latvian?

    Care to answer my 11:02, if you are able?

    Denny
    “Good writing is ALWAYS translatable,”

    Though, OBVIOUSLY, quite a lot can be lost in translation. As we all know.

  • J McConnell

    J McConnell,

    Hello again,

    “You are beginning to sound like .. someone who has a chip on both shoulders…”

    Funny, that’s the way you sound to me. You actually sound like you’ve got a grudge against a language. That would require a deep seam of bitterness and resentment.

    “Want to get on in the big bad world out there then you better start speaking and writing grammatically correct Anglo / American English”

    So, Eminem made his money by making himself sound like an upper class twit.

    “..not the mish mash that was acceptable for your Leaving Cert papers.”

    We don’t do Leaving Cert in NI. I benefited from a British grammer school education. We didn’t get taught “mish-mash”. Our education didn’t leave us with a sense of self-loathing. But I feel your pain, it must be difficult.

    “Have a strong regional accent then you better loose it fast. Because no one outside of Britain or Ireland will understand a word you are saying. Move to Dublin 6 for six months and knock off some of those rough edges…”

    I worked in the USA some years ago, yeah, I realised I had to modify my speech within 1 minute of arriving there in order to make myself understood, it wasn’t a problem, I found the level.

    Very curious, where did you think I was from? You seem to have placed me in the Republic of Ireland but outside Dublin. Did you read my comments in a broad imaginary accent?

    Also the Dublin accent, it’s a distintive irish accent, does that not contradict your previous advice.

    “Of course English is a much richer language than Irish.”

    If it is you’ll be able to demonstrate how it is. Give me examples that contrast the richness of English compared to the poverty of Irish. You must have something in mind.

    English has an immense corpus of some of the finest works in world literature…”

    Of course it has, so does Chinese, French, German, Russian, Italian, Scots etc etc, so what?

    ” and modern Irish is, well, the rump end of a peasant oral culture on the cultural fringes of Europe.”

    Actually it’s an Indo-European language, just like English.

  • Biffo

    J McConnell,

    Hello again,

    “You are beginning to sound like .. someone who has a chip on both shoulders…”

    Funny, that’s the way you sound to me. You actually sound like you’ve got a grudge against a language. That would require a deep seam of bitterness and resentment.

    “Want to get on in the big bad world out there then you better start speaking and writing grammatically correct Anglo / American English”

    So, Eminem made his money by making himself sound like an upper class twit.

    “..not the mish mash that was acceptable for your Leaving Cert papers.”

    We don’t do Leaving Cert in NI. I benefited from a British grammer school education. We didn’t get taught “mish-mash”. Our education didn’t leave us with a sense of self-loathing. But I feel your pain, it must be difficult.

    “Have a strong regional accent then you better loose it fast. Because no one outside of Britain or Ireland will understand a word you are saying. Move to Dublin 6 for six months and knock off some of those rough edges…”

    I worked in the USA some years ago, yeah, I realised I had to modify my speech within 1 minute of arriving there in order to make myself understood, it wasn’t a problem, I found the level.

    Very curious, where did you think I was from? You seem to have placed me in the Republic of Ireland but outside Dublin. Did you read my comments in a broad imaginary accent?

    Also the Dublin accent, it’s a distintive irish accent, does that not contradict your previous advice.

    “Of course English is a much richer language than Irish.”

    If it is you’ll be able to demonstrate how it is. Give me examples that contrast the richness of English compared to the poverty of Irish. You must have something in mind.

    English has an immense corpus of some of the finest works in world literature…”

    Of course it has, so does Chinese, French, German, Russian, Italian, Scots etc etc, so what?

    ” and modern Irish is, well, the rump end of a peasant oral culture on the cultural fringes of Europe.”

    Actually it’s an Indo-European language, just like English.

  • Denny Boy

    Maca wrote: “Though, OBVIOUSLY, quite a lot can be lost in translation. As we all know.”

    I for one do not know. An example please?

  • Biffo

    Sorry, I ballsed up there.

  • Biffo

    Maca

    “Though, OBVIOUSLY, quite a lot can be lost in translation. As we all know.”

    Nice one!

  • maca

    Denny
    I’m sure you do, if you’re honest. It’s the way languages work. What do you do when you translate something from one language to another? You can’t translate literally obviously, you have to translate while preserving the meaning of the original as much as possible. But there’s more to it than just meaning, it’s also the way something is said, the words used can convery more that just meaning and that can be hard to translate.
    Your someone who seems to appreciate good literature, i’m sure anything you read can be expressed in many different ways while preserving the meaning. No doubt you can understand this.

  • maca

    Your = you’re, it’s late here.

  • J McConnell

    now now maca, you are starting to loose it.

    There I was offering to buy you a drink, and you were abusing me all the time.

    So you talk to non-native English speakers during the course of you work, good for you. So you live in a country where most of the people speak English better as a second language than most people in Ireland (and large parts of the UK) can speak English as a first language. Again, good for you.

    Well I lived for many years in a city where the majority of my neighbors were not native English speakers. Were maybe a third of the people one came into contact with while going about ones business had minimal or no English.

    I’ve worked for many years in a industry were the majority of my co-workers came from a total more than three dozen countries, most of whom were not native English speakers.

    I’ve heard every permutation of accent and degree of fluency possible, and I’ve witness much misunderstanding and confusion among people attempting to communicate in English. Guess what? I’ve found that the anglophone accents that non-native speakers have the most problems with are – strong Irish and Scottish accents.

    This whole speaking better English than the English myth is just another load of b.s the Irish feed themselves.

    Has it never crossed your mind that maybe these people were just being polite when they complimented your English?

    There are not too many Scots in the Bay Area but there are lots of Irish, who are, guess what, working in construction or in pubs. Not too many middle class Irish professional make it out there. Maybe they are all on the East Coast…

    Socio-cultural stereotypes come from somewhere, you know. Maybe if the millions of emigrants to the US and UK over the last 150 years had gone into accountancy or chartered surveying, rather than construction and blue collar jobs, the Irish in the US and UK would not have such a strong stereotypical association with manual labour and blue collar jobs.

    Again, just an observation.

  • Biffo

    Denny Boy

    “people think I’m smart anyway, accent or no accent.”

    I don’t know why people would think that, you haven’t said anything remotely smart. You just sound conceited, and, if i may be so bold, full of sh*t.

    “In my schooldays we wasted hour after hour on a language that had a tiny vocabulary ..”

    No language has a tiny vocabulary, language by it’s nature gives a person the ability to express any idea they can conceive or descride any object they can conceive. No language has any more or less ability to do this. You make extravagant claims for yourself, but you seem to be unable to understand what the fundamental nature of language is.

    By the way, I never promised to name any great works of irish literature, see Slackjaw’s comments. He said it better than I could.

    “And yes, we thought it risible that the Irish educational system was in the grip of “culchies” who made homophones of “tie”, “toy”, “Thai” and “thigh”. A harsh judgement, I know, but we took no prisoners in those days.”

    Hopefully the culchies gave you all the boot up the arse that you all richly deserved.

    (see they way I had to use the “you all” to express the “you plural” concept so that you understood that I was talking about all you “bright lads” and not just you in particular.”

    Where’s your tiny vocabulary now? Irish has two words and a clear distinction, where English has only one and no distinction.

    I don’t subscribe to your bullshit school of comparative linguitics, but it is an interesting aside to your claims of a tiny vocabulary.

  • The Beach Tree

    What is lost in translation?

    Well, puns, just for example.

    The intelligence, and menace, of the pun in shakespeare’s Hamlet-

    ‘a little more than kin, and less than kind’

    is completely lost in translation to most languages.

    In losing that pun we lose already a flavour of the hero, and the antagonism he feels.

    In the english translation of ‘the poor mouth’, the particularly witty bilingual pun on the english word ‘sir’ and a much ruder irish homynym is lost so thoroughly, that the english translation requires a footnote to explain it.

  • Biffo

    Right boys, I’m off to read An tOileanach. I’m on chapter 3 and I’m dying to find out what happens.

    Imagine living on an island surrounded by ignorant pigs. Anyway..

    Good night

  • Denny Boy

    Hello, I’m back. Had an interesting email from one of my students who’d been following our little exchange. He’s willing to bet hard currency on your not being able to produce a noteworthy passage from Irish literature.

    His reasoning? “Give me any nationality, Portuguese say, and I’ll go to Google and key in ‘Portuguese literature’. Within seconds I have a name, in this case Jose Saramago. Within minutes I have a quote: ‘Perhaps it is the language that chooses the writers it needs, making use of them so that each might express a tiny part of what it is.’ Can’t the same be done with Irish writers?”

    A fair point, I’d have thought. Perhaps J McConnell is correct when he writes:

    “Irish literature? Well almost all of it seems to have been written in English…

    “The only book written in Irish in the last one hundred and fifty years that’s worth reading in translation is “The Poor Mouth”, and it’s a parody of most of the other books written in Irish during the last one hundred and fifty years.”

    In the absence of evidence to the contrary…

    As regards translation, I believe I demonstrated with that quote of Thomas Mann how accurate it can be. The Beach Tree, would you so kind as to produce evidence to support your claims regarding punning and Shakespeare? I’m afraid it isn’t enough to say that something is “completely lost in translation to most languages”.

  • maca

    JMcC
    “So you talk to non-native English speakers during the course of you work”

    More accuratly 99%+ of the people I work/communicate with are non-English speakers

    “you live in a country where most of the people speak English better as a second language than most people in Ireland”

    ?? Maybe your own English isn’t so good if that’s how you understood it.

    “Well I lived for many years … had minimal or no English.”

    So pretty much the same as me.

    “I’ve worked for many years in a industry were the majority of my co-workers came from a total more than three dozen countries, most of whom were not native English speakers.”

    So pretty much the same as me.

    “I’ve heard every permutation of accent and degree of fluency possible”

    I’m inclined to not believe that actually.

    “I’ve found that the anglophone accents that non-native speakers have the most problems with are – strong Irish and Scottish accents.”

    strong Irish and Scottish accents, of course. A strong accent from anywhere is difficult to understand.

    “This whole speaking better English than the English myth is just another load of b.s the Irish feed themselves.”

    I’ve never heard anyone saying that.

    “Has it never crossed your mind that maybe these people were just being polite when they complimented your English?”

    They weren’t complimenting my English, they were comparing how easy/difficult it is to understand the various English accents.
    And they would often look to me to clarify what someone else had said.

    “Not too many middle class Irish professional make it out there. Maybe they are all on the East Coast…”

    Well most of the Irish lads that I know out here are middle class professionals. Maybe we just hang in different circles.

    p.s. The previous unanswered point…

    “Of course English is a much richer language than Irish.”
    “Oh do explain knowledgable one.
    You might find it hard to prove considering you don’t speak Irish so i’ll look forward to this one.”

    Are you able to answer?

  • J McConnell

    — Biffo

    Actually I had pegged you as a Nordie quite a while ago. Thanks for the confirmation.

    So you really have not a clue what Denny Boy or I are talking about.

    — To the others

    A quick survey.

    Hands up all those who actually learnt Irish courtesy of the Republic of Irelands Dept of Education “we’ll beat this dead language into ungrateful little bastards one way or another” policy?

    I know that there is a least one, maca. And no aonghus, you dont count. You learnt it at home.

    Now all you foreigners out there (because thats what you all are in the eyes of the vast majority of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland – read the surveys). How many of you learnt Irish because of a genuine love of other languages and cultures? And how many of you learnt the language because it is vital part of your national self identification and political beliefs?

    So far I’ve read little evidence of the “beauty of the language brigade” but lots of the de-facto “how dare you question my political and national self identity” brigade.

  • maca

    Wrt the Shakespeare discussion, on a related note at the 2006 World Shakespeare Congress in Brisbane one of the topics to be discussed will be the translation of Willys work … in case anyone is interested …

  • maca

    JMcC
    1. Care to answer the previous point about English being a much richer language than Irish? If you are able???

    2. I’m afrid you pegged me wrong. I don’t know of any such policy in Ireland.
    I did however study Irish in school because, like all other subjects, it was on the curriculum.
    I did also study the language after I had left school because I like & value the language.
    How does that fit in with your survey?

  • J McConnell

    Baluba

    Just checked out your great writers in Irish list and my reaction is – eh?

    That’s it.

    With the exception of Heaney and O’Nolan all are obscure literary non-entities.

    And Heaney and O’Nolan mostly wrote in English.

    Talk about small fish in a very very small pond.

    Sorry, a small bunch of poets, memoirists and short-story writers, no matter what their literary merit, does not constitute an world important literary tradition.

    Now lets make a short list of important Irish writers who wrote in English. Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, etc etc etc.

    I could go on and on with the list but the sheer one-sidedness of the list of important Irish writers who wrote in English, against your list of ‘important’ writers in the Irish language makes the whole exercise ludicrous.

  • slackjaw

    J McConnell

    Now all you foreigners out there (because thats what you all are in the eyes of the vast majority of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland – read the surveys).

    Are people from the North considered foreigners? If so, that would include me then.

    How many of you learnt Irish because of a genuine love of other languages and cultures?

    It was compulsory at secondary school until age 14, then you could choose to study it further. I chose to study it to GCSE level and I suppose I chose it because I liked learning new languages. Other cultures? Not so sure about that one…

    And how many of you learnt the language because it is vital part of your national self identification and political beliefs?

    I posted my own thoughts on learning Irish at my own site a few days ago.

  • aonghus

    This discussion has gone way off the original topic. I think perhaps we can take it that there are plenty of people who would care if Irish died, and plenty of others who are dying for a chance to dance at the wake of Irish, and that the broad majority don’t care much about any subject. I have no desire to continue chasing JMcConnell’s ever shifting straw men, especially as when the crú is on the tairne, he decides my opinions don’t count because (shock horror) I actually speak the language he claims is dead.

    On the subject of literature, I haven’t got the time to do Denny Boy’s research for him, even if I had the inclination. I also speak fluent German, and stand over my comment that the English translation does not do justice to Mann’s prose. And I do not claim to be a literary translator, and would not attempt to translate excellent Irish into excellent English.

    Since Denny speaks German, I offer this site which has Irish and some German versions of several contempary Irish poets.

    Not to mention this google on literature+irish+language which those interested may peruse at will.

    As a parting note, Heinrich Böll considered an tOiléanach worth translating into German, although he had to work from a poor English translation.

  • Biffo

    J McConnell

    “Actually I had pegged you as a Nordie quite a while ago. Thanks for the confirmation.”

    You’re welcome

    “So you really have not a clue what Denny Boy or I are talking about.”

    Probably not, but then it is all a bit incoherent. I note that both myself and Maca challenged you on some of the more blatent nonsense you posted and you didn’t bother to get back to us.

    If you’d have stuck to a coherent argument about why there shouldn’t be compulsory Irish then I’d have sympathy for you.

    But all you are saying here is that Irish is an inferior language with a “tiny vocabulary”. It’s just a nonsense argument that you wouldn’t be able to sustain.

  • Denny Boy

    Aonghus wrote: “On the subject of literature, I haven’t got the time to do Denny Boy’s research for him, even if I had the inclination.”

    No one’s asking you to. My point was, and remains, that when at school I was given to understand that hour after hour wasted on Irish was in fact justified, as a knowledge of the language would allow me to read some wonderful literature in the original. If you agree with my teacher then the burden of proof is on you.

    “I also speak fluent German, and stand over my comment that the English translation does not do justice to Mann’s prose.”

    It’s practically word for word, Aonghus! If you speak fluent German then you’d know this. If anything the translator has slightly IMPROVED Mann’s text by rendering “dem lieblichen Munde” as “its enchanting mouth”. “Lovely” would have sufficed.

    “And I do not claim to be a literary translator, and would not attempt to translate excellent Irish into excellent English.”

    Once again, I have only your word – and the word of my teachers – that the Irish is excellent, that it can stand its own with the literature of, say, the United States. Odd that it can’t bear the light of day on Slugger O’Toole.

    Believe it or not, I’m keeping an open mind on this. I should like to believe that those 13 years of Irish lessons were not entirely wasted.

    “As a parting note, Heinrich Böll considered an tOiléanach worth translating into German, although he had to work from a poor English translation.”

    Sorry, this makes it a work of literature? And what do you mean by “poor”? If memory serves, the book was written in very simple language, language a child could translate (and that is precisely what we were tasked to do as children).

    I do hope you’re not using the same ploy you used with the Mann translation, Aonghus, and that when you or someone else FINALLY come with a line or two of Irish “literature” in translation you can say: “Ah, but the translation is but a pale shadow of the original.”

    If translations are as suspect as you try to make out then I’ll just have to chuck out my Turgenev and Tolstoy. Or perhaps we pought to insist that the publishers of translated books insert a caution message in the preface: “The following is a pale shadow of the original.”

  • aonghus

    An tOiléanach was not on any school course that I know of. Anyone who thinks the language in it is simple is misled. I mentioned Böll translation because he considered it literature. Literature is your profession, not mine.

    Lieblich, by the way, does not mean lovely.
    see here

  • Biffo

    Denny Boy

    “I do hope you’re not using the same ploy you used with the Mann translation, Aonghus, and that when you or someone else FINALLY come with a line or two of Irish “literature” in translation you can say: “Ah, but the translation is but a pale shadow of the original.”

    This one, or along these lines, from a great work of literature, the poor mouth:

    “Ní mise a bhí ag an gafta leis an scaifte…”.

    My translation is. “It wasn’t me at the gate with the crowd…”

    If you try to translate it into English the dialect jokes gets lost completely.

    I read it in the original, later in English, it was a heavy-handed but quite funny joke in the original. It didn’t work in the English translation.

    Nothing new in that. If you don’t think things can’t be lost in translation, then you takling through your arse. You are unlikely to be who you say you are.

    Now, how about answering some of the questions I posed you? Let’s establish your bona fides.

  • aonghus

    Here is a bibliography for you, Denny

    A Bibliography Of Modern Gaelic Literature In Translation. Since you are a lecturer, one presumes you have access to a good library, and will be able to get some at least of the works concerned.

  • Betty Boo

    “If anything the translator has slightly IMPROVED Mann’s text by rendering “dem lieblichen Munde” as “its enchanting mouth”. “Lovely” would have sufficed.”

    Either your German or your English is insufficient.
    But that just shows you.

  • J McConnell

    maca

    But I thought you said you lived in Finland?

    When my brother went to college in Finland he found no need to learn any Finnish as all the Finns he came across spoke perfect English. When he later moved to Italy he had to pick up a working knowledge of Italian pretty fast as it was a very different situation there.

    Living in Finland is very different linguistic kettle of fish from living a melting pot city like San Francisco.

    I’d be interested to discover exactly which of my arguments are straw arguments.

    Like me to give a more precise definition of dead language?

    Like me to explain in detail why a language like Irish, a language of peasants filtered by pedants, has little or no cultural attraction for me?

    Like me to explain in detail why I find no need to define my nationality by the shibboleths of failed 19’the century cultural nationalism that raised the language of a culturally and economically backward minority to the defining element of nationality?

    Have n’t you noticed that my problem is with the policy of compulsory and coercive Irish, of which the Dingle signs are a perfect example.

    If want to chat in Irish among yourselves, that’s fine by me. If you can persuade the government to pour hundreds of millions of euros per years into the various Irish language bureaucracies and pork-barrels, that’s fine by me too. But if you want to pretend that the Irish language is alive and kicking, that one can easily hear it spoken in the four corners of Ireland, or that there has been a material improvement in the number or competency of speakers over the last 30 years, or that it is a hearth language and not a public discourse language, then I am afraid I’ll have to disagree with you there.

  • aonghus

    I was referring to your imputing opinions to me which I do not hold.
    See Definition number 2.

    You ignore pertinent points I bring up, or else you claim that my opinion “doesn’t count” because I speak Irish. Your sense of identity or shibboleths are of no concern to me.

  • Biffo

    “Like me to explain in detail why a language like Irish, a language of peasants filtered by pedants, has little or no cultural attraction for me?”

    Explain in detail what a “peasant language filtered by pedants.” is and name the other examples apart from Irish.

  • maca

    JMcC
    “But I thought you said you lived in Finland?”
    Indeed I do.
    Many Finns have very good English, but many have little or no English. Like any country really.

    “Living in Finland is very different linguistic kettle of fish from living a melting pot city like San Francisco.”

    Probably. Doesn’t change anything though. My experiences with non-English speakers is not confined to just Finland.

    Anyway before you start with your definitions and explanations can you go back and answer the point about ‘language richness’. Alternatively an acknowledgement that you were bullshitting would suffice 🙂

  • J McConnell

    I decided to see if we could clear up this whole, English v Irish, which is the ‘richer’, argument by comparing what’s on offer in this year Leaving Cert syllabus.

    I am working on the assumption that the Dept of Education would try to offer us the best of what was available in the Irish language corpus, and though somewhat half-hearted in it’s attitude toward English, would at least offer a reasonable selection of the better works in English.

    We can find the Honors Irish syllabus here

    http://www.skoool.ie/homeworkzone_sc.asp?id=2642

    Its kind of sad actually. It really is as weak as I remember it. Just look at the prose selection. Not great works of world literature standard here.

    The Honors English syllabus is here

    http://www.skoool.ie/homeworkzone_sc.asp?id=3162

    A lot more middle brow than it was twenty five years ago but still a reasonable selection of the great and the good.

    I wonder do they still use those wonderful prose, short-story and poetry anthologies we had for Leaving Cert English? The certainly helped wile away many hours of mind-numbingly boring classes and were a nice introduction to a lot of very good literature.

  • J McConnell

    aonghus

    Could you point out exactly where I used straw man arguments. Maybe I did not explain myself clearly enough.

    I only time I remember making statements that your opinion was not relevant was with regard to how people were exposed to the Irish language. Your exposure to the language was in a home environment, so I assumed it was completely natural and effortless.

    This is in great contrast with the large majority of Irish people whose main exposure to the Irish language was purely in a school environment. Even though you went through the same regime as all of us your experience would have been very different from the rest of us. By being brought up in an Irish speaking environment you already had a huge built-in advantage in dealing with the syllabus, and unlike almost all the rest of us, you went home to more positive reinforcement in the Irish language.

    So I am not too surprised that you cannot really relate to people like me who had a very different experience of the Irish language.

  • J McConnell

    Biffo

    The “peasant language filtered by pedants” statement refers to the way standardised modern Irish a.ka. Dept of Education Irish, a.k.a Civil Service Irish was created by a committee of Irish language experts from the various rural dialects.

    Other languages with a similar history. Well Nynorsk comes immediately to mind.

  • Baluba

    Anyone fancy translating ‘the peasants are revolting’ into any language at all and keeping the double meaning?

    Can anyone translate ‘faightear gach laoch in aisce’ and maintain the cultural idiom? And no ‘age conquers all’ as it is most often translated has not even any resemblance of maintaining the integrity of the original.

    This thread has decended into nonsense and, I suspect, a healthy dose of cac bó or bs (and no the translation into Irish is not cac tairbh).

    It is incredibly sad that an alleged literature teacher’s main proof that there is no worth in Irish literature is that when you ‘google’ it, not much happens. Go to a library in Ireland. Whether google provides info or not is neither proof nor evidence of a language’s literary worth.

    The following piece comes to mind reading this thread.

    Tá cime romham,
    Tá cime i mo dhiaidh,
    Is mé féin ina lár,
    I mo chime mar chách.

    It seems there are one or two ‘cimí’ on this thread.

    I’m damned if I’m going to attempt a translation of it, but hey, maybe Google will save us…

  • Baluba

    Jesus J McC,

    If you actually believe that any kind of Civil Service exists on this island you’re even more out of touch than I thought.

    Oh for the day when we move towards a central dialect…

    And by the way, the amount of literature in one language compared to another has no bearing on the worth of the language at all. At a rough guess, 99.999% of what is printed in English (including a lot of bloggery) is worthless pulp.

    Maybe that’s why some Irish oral literary geniuses thought that ‘paper would mute my words, steal their nuances and take the life’s breath out of them’.

  • Baluba

    of course that should have read ‘any sort of civil service Irish’, but maybe the other suffices too…

  • Baluba

    Oh my God! Will the pretence never end? Even Microsoft haven’t realised that Irish is a dead language!!!!

  • barnshee

    As I said elswhere the money would be far better spent improving the command of English-right across the Island. I am fed up being gibbered at in Limerick,Dublin and west Tyrone to name but a few. No it wasn`t Irish it was a barely comprehensible slabber of speech.

    I sent two Swedes (friends) to Dunloy (they were big into megalifs). On their return they described some difficulty in finding the cairn in question. I expressed surprise and asked why they had not stopped and asked for directions.
    We did they replied -unfortunately the person did not speak english. –Education anyone?

  • Biffo

    J McConnell,

    “The “peasant language filtered by pedants” statement refers to the way standardised modern Irish a.ka. Dept of Education Irish, a.k.a Civil Service Irish was created by a committee of Irish language experts from the various rural dialects.

    Well why didn’t you just say you were talking about the Official Standard version and not Irish in general?

  • George

    Barnshee,
    “We did they replied -unfortunately the person did not speak english. –Education anyone?”

    These people are educated, as educated as anywhere else in the world, they just don’t speak what you would call the Queen’s English.

    Believe it or not, you don’t have to sound English to be educated. Maybe if you and your pals were more linguistically lithe then there wouldn’t be a comprehension issue.

    The ignorant always expect others to bend to their world view, the enlightened bend to comprehend. You seem proud to fit into the former category.

    This is a display of desperate linguistic snobbery, like when they provide subtitles of Arabs or people from India speaking English because the audience is too ignorant to learn.

  • J McConnell

    biffo

    > Well why didn’t you just say you were talking
    > about the Official Standard version and
    > not Irish in general?

    Because, guess what, that’s what they teach in schools. When most people in the South talk about Irish they mean the language they learnt at school. Not Munster Irish or Connaught Irish or any of the other native dialects.

  • J McConnell

    baluba

    I must be a lot older than you (or else you are another of those Nordies unfamiliar with the strange ways of South) because the term Civil Service Irish was a term I heard on more than one occasion while growing up.

    If I remember the story correctly if you did really really well in your Honors Leaving Cert Irish there was some fairly cushy jobs translating all those riveting government documents from English to Irish. But they had to be translated into a very particular form of Irish. It had to be both legally precise and bureaucratically correct.

    Any differences between the English and Irish versions could give years of employment to the legal profession, or end a previously high flying civil service career.

    And that is what I understood to be Civil Service Irish.

  • Biffo

    “or else you are another of those Nordies unfamiliar with the strange ways of South”

    On the evidence above we seem to be better informed about you than you are about us.

  • maca

    JMcC
    “I decided to see if we could clear up this whole, English v Irish, which is the ‘richer’, argument by comparing what’s on offer in this year Leaving Cert syllabus.”

    Are you actually serious J? Nah, you must be taking the piss. Don’t make yourself look like a bigger fool.

  • Denny Boy

    Evening all. What, STILL no examples of literary Irish writing? What can it all mean? You do know I’ve money riding on this, don’t you?

    Sorry, Aonghus, on two counts. I must have been confusing An t-Iolanach with Peig. Easy mistake after so many years. They’re both set on the Blaskets aren’t they? The day-to-day lives of simple fisher folk? (Mine eye glazeth over at the memory of those riveting tales.)

    But no doubt you’ll be providing us in due course with a sample or two of this far from simple language…

    Sorry on the second count, but “lieblich” does indeed mean “lovely”. That page you pointed me to actually says so! It’s number 9 from the top. It also offers “charming” as a possibility, and this is close (in its original definition and usage) to “enchanting”. The only way of obtaining a closer translation of that passage would be to adopt the German syntax, and that would be downright silly.

    And why are we arguing about this at all? [Denny heaves a sigh] I suppose that were I to translate “I am a dog. My name is Spot,” as “Ich bin ein Hund. Mein Name ist Spot” somebody here would take issue with that.

    Biffo, I have a policy of not entering discussion with people who use personal insults instead of arguments. But since you’re so determined to defend the Irish language, come what may, just this once I’ll make an exception…

    You say: “If you don’t think things can’t be lost in translation, then you takling through your arse.”

    I said nothing of the sort. Maca wrote: “Though, OBVIOUSLY, quite a lot can be lost in translation. As we all know.”

    to which I responded: “I for one do not know.”

    If “quite a lot” can indeed be lost in translation then why do we continue to translate? Certainly SOMETHING may be lost from time to time, but that is not the same as saying quite a lot can be lost.

    Of course puns and other pieces of wordplay are difficult (at times) to translate, yet a good translator will usually (though not always) find a way. Why otherwise would so many translations of Ulysses exist?

    You quoted a line from The Poor Mouth. I read it in English. If you wish to consider it literature, fair enough; for me it was a humorous little book along the lines of Spike Milligan’s Puckoon.

    “Ní mise a bhí ag an gafta leis an scaifte…”.

    Your translation is: “It wasn’t me at the gate with the crowd…”

    You say: “If you try to translate it into English the dialect jokes gets lost completely. I read it in the original, later in English, it was a heavy-handed but quite funny joke in the original. It didn’t work in the English translation.”

    I don’t know the context so I’m working in the dark here, but does it depend on “gafta” being a near-rhyme of “scaifte”? If so, did you consider “gate/spate”? Just a thought. I’m no translator either but I assure you that a good one will explore every possibility.

    Puns do work across a surprisingly large number of languages. For instance, somebody wondered if it’s possible to translate “the peasants are revolting”. Of course it is. The Dutch might say: “de boeren veroorzaken onlust”. I say “might” because I’m neither a native speaker nor a translator and no doubt have overlooked a more “voor de hand liggende” translation.

    I seem to recall your taking offence at my description of the Irish vocabulary as being “tiny” compared to that of English (the greatest language the world has ever seen, whether you like it or not). Can you honestly say that this isn’t accurate?

    Consider the facts. The OED lists 615,000 words, Webster offers 450,000. This isn’t taking into account the millions of scientific terms out there (and in daily use in laboratories, factories and science faculties around the globe). There are 200,000 English words in common use. German comes in second with 185,000, while French speakers and writers use only 100,000. How does Irish measure up against those world languages?

    J McConnell wrote: “Sorry, a small bunch of poets, memoirists and short-story writers, no matter what their literary merit, does not constitute an world important literary tradition.”

    To which I can add that the small bunch are given a disproportionate amount of notice and acclaim for their work. I attribute this in part to post-colonial guilt, and the feel-good factor present when larger nations “recognize” the work of ethnic minorities or small nations. I sometimes think that a surefire way for a mediocre poet to succeed is to write in Irish, but perhaps that’s the cynic in me speaking.

    Well, I can’t say much more on these issues without repeating myself, so I’ll sign off. I’ll look in again from time to time to check for those quotes.

  • J McConnell

    maca

    OK. As you are such a brilliant student of comparative linguistics and literature….

    Tell us why the Irish language is so much superior to the English language.

    And please explain to us lesser minds why the majority of your fellow citizens are too stupid to realize this. After all they have had more than seventy years to discover the error of their ways.

    Tell us all about all the great works of world literary genius that are written in the Irish language that all us English speaker are too ignorant and stupid to have heard of.

    Tell us were we can find all the special sections in foreign book stores of great works of literature written in Irish in local translation. Works that transcend the unique condition of the Irish language cultural world-view and communicate to other cultures that overwhelming superior and sophisticated experience of life, the universe and the human condition that can only be truly expressed in the Irish language.

    I’m going up to Paris next week, give me a reading list of all these great work of literature written in Irish and I’ll look for the French translations.

  • J McConnell

    Biffo

    > “or else you are another of those Nordies
    > unfamiliar with the strange ways of South”
    >
    > On the evidence above we seem to be better
    > informed about you than you are about us.

    Actually I was just double checking…

    Baluba said earlier that he was a native speaker but somehow a lot of his postings sounded a bit more like Norn Iron than the Free State gaeilgore he claimed to be.

  • Biffo

    J McConnell

    You got the quote, stop putting down a great work of literature, no need for that, you leave yourself open to the charge of Philistine.

    You got the untranslatable pun, but it passed right over your head, you didn’t know enough dialect Irish to get it and your own, perfectly correct, English translation couldn’t get it across. Lost in translation indeed.

    OK, English is the greatest language in the world because it’s got so many words they can’t be counted.

    That’s like me saying Chinese is better than English because it’s got thousands of characters, whereas English has only got 26 letters.

    Denny we know you are no English lit lecturer, you are a bullshitter posting nonsense on a website.

    I’m am almost sorry that you won’t be sharing your thoughts with us anymore. It’s been entertaining.

    What will you bullshit about next?

  • Biffo

    J McConnell, apologies that should have read
    Denny Boy

    (assuming you are not one and the same person)

  • maca

    JMcC
    “Tell us why the Irish language is so much superior to the English language.”

    Did I say it was? Care to highlight where I might have even suggested such a thing?
    You stated that “Of course English is a much richer language than Irish”, I want you to back up that claim. So far you’ve been unable to do so.

  • Biffo

    Maca,

    “I want you to back up that claim”

    Of course he can’t, he’ll resort to the “English has 650,000 words, Irish has only XXXX?” nonsense.

    The logical outcome of which – that Sheakespeare used only 30,000 so his works would have greatly benefitted by using an additional 300,000 medical, legal and scientific terms

    (a lot of them latin derived anyway, which gives him the option of arguing that the Book of Kells was written in English)

    These boys talk more shit than you’d want to deal with in a lifetime.

  • J McConnell

    maca

    Of course English is a much richer language than Irish

    It’s got an immense and deep literary tradition. The Irish language does not.

    It would take many years to work ones way through the English literary canon. The Irish language literary cannon looks like it would fill a few wet Sundays.

    The English language has got a very large and expressive vocabulary and rich palette of literary idioms. Irish seems to be great if you are some rural type insulting your neighbour.

    The English language opens up to me a huge universe of cultural and historical experiences covering large swaths of history and most areas of the world.

    The Irish language opens up to me the world of the miserable farmer and a bunch of profoundly provincial minor poets.

    The English language opens up to me the cultures of the other English speaking cultures, the UK, US, Canada, Australia, NZ, South Africa, India, West Indies, Nigeria, etc. etc. etc. whose literature I can read and appreciate in its native language and , at least for first five countries, seem to be able to carve out their own distinct national self-identity with needing the prop of their own separate language.

    The Irish language limits me to a narrow, inward looking reactionary culture that seems to be obsessed with its own victimhood.

    With the English language I can communicate with many hundreds of millions of people all over the world. With the Irish language I can communicate exclusively with, well, nobody probably. Are there any monoglot Irish speakers left in Ireland?