Irish: The Language that Refused to Die

If you’ve been following our blogs, you know that, of course, the Irish language (sometimes called “Irish Gaelic”) is far from dead. It still exists as the daily language of people in the regions known as Gaeltachtaí (mostly in the western parts of Ireland).

It’s also spoken in pockets throughout the country, as well as being taught in schools, and being actively learned by adults worldwide.

And if you read Saturday’s post, “The Irish You Already Know (Yes, You Do!),” you know that Irish has left an indelible mark on English . In fact, despite English’s best efforts, Irish is not only alive itself as a language, it’s had a pretty enduring impact on English as a language as well.

Hiberno-English

One of the areas in which this impact is most clearly seen is in Hiberno-English, i.e., the English dialect spoken in Ireland. Far from just being a collection of “accents,” Hiberno-English is English that has been heavily influenced by Gaelic modes of expression and pronunciation.

Below are some of the more obvious ways in which the Irish language has left its influence on Hiberno-English. Bear in mind that Ireland is a big island, and local dialects differ, so what may hold true for one part of the country may not hold true for another.

Pronunciation of “th”

 

The Irish language doesn’t have sounds corresponding to the voiced (“then/there”) or unvoiced (“thick/thin”) “th” as it’s found in English. Because of that, in some parts of the country, substituting “d” for voiced “th” and “t” for unvoiced “th” is the norm.

Use of the habitual tense

 

If you’re learning Irish, you may have encountered this already: Irish uses different forms of the verb “to be” depending on whether something is happening right now (present tense) or happens on a regular basis (habitual present). For example:

Tá mé i nGaillimh: I’m in Galway

Bím i nGaillimh gach maidin: I’m in Galway every morning.

For the second sentence, many Hiberno-English speakers would say:

I do be in Galway every morning.

This is a direct importation of the habitual present into English.

Yes/No

 

It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that Irish doesn’t have words for “yes” and “no.” You answer “yes/no” questions by restating the verb used in the question in its positive form for “yes” or its negative form for “no.”

The tendency to avoid simple “yes/no” answers has come into Hiberno-English as well. For example, if you ask:

Is that yours?

You are likely to hear:

It is.

Or…

It isn’t.

Even if the words “yes” or “no” are included, they’re rarely used by themselves. You’re more likely to hear:

Yes, it is.

Or…

No, it isn’t.

Than a flat “yes” or “no.”

And more about questions and answers

 

One thing you may notice in some areas is the lack of a rising intonation at the end of a question. This most likely comes from the fact that, in Irish, a question is indicated by the form of the verb chosen, not by intonation.

After

 

This is a Hiberno-English construction that often confuses people from outside of Ireland (as evidenced by the number of writers who use it incorrectly). You’ll often hear Irish people saying thing such as:

I’m after doing my homework.

“After,” in this sense, is used in the same sense as “I have” or “I’ve just” in English — something you’ve finished doing — and it comes directly from the Irish construction tar éis:

Tá mé tar éis m’obair bhaile a dhéanamh: I’ve done my homework (literally “I am after my homework to do”).

“After” is also used in Hiberno-English to mean “behind” or “as you go/leave.” This comes from the Irish construction “i ndhiaidh“:

Múch an solas i do dhiaidh/Turn the light off after you/Turn the light off as you leave.

Irish words in day-to-day conversation

 

Even among Irish people who don’t use Irish as a day-to-day language, some Irish words are widely used and understood. Some of these include:

Amadán (sometimes Anglicized in spelling to “omadaun”): idiot/fool

Gob (from the Irish word meaning “beak”): as in “Hold your gob!” (shut your mouth!) or “that gobshite!” (I’ll let you work out the meaning for that one on your own!).

Gansey (from the Irish geansaí): a jumper or sweater.

And that’s only scraping the surface! A great many Irish words are in daily use throughout the country, especially those that describe government, such as taoiseach (prime minister), dáil (parliament), and uachtarán (president).

Still alive and kicking!

These are only a few examples of how the Irish language has flavored the English spoken in Ireland.

For a language that came very close to being entirely extinguished, it’s nice to know that it’s had such an influence, even among people who don’t speak it fluently.

Guess you just can’t keep a good language down!

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Comments

  1. Gearóid Ó hAnnaidh says:

    Asked if the Irish language was dying, the greatest Irish language prose writer in the 20th Century, the late Máirtín Ó Cadhain replied: ‘Yes, it has been dying for over 400 years.’

    From: http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=78081

  2. Audrey Nickel says:

    Great comeback!

  3. redic says:

    Its really first time to know about Irish merry ..
    Thanks ..

    • Crystyna says:

      Ok, so what does that mean ?
      “Its really first time to know about Irish Merry..”(I’m an Aussie & i have no idea what you just said!)
      I would probably guess that you’re saying:
      It’s the first time i’ve heard about Irish Merry, but, If i am correct then what is Irish Merry ?

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