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Dropping Biodiversity and the Irish Language

Biodiversity and the Irish Language

Let me frank about the Irish language and the bigger picture of biodiversity. Usually, I’m Eoin, but today I’ll be Frank.

Am I being Frank enough?

It’s all connected. It would be ludicrous to deny that the Irish language is in danger. It would be absurd to think that your children’s children will live in the same world you currently do.

Irish Language Word Biodiversity

Manchán Mangan is an interesting dude. You could easily brand him as a “travel journalist”. He lives in a house made of straw bales.

And he’s “preserving the Irish language one word at a time“.

I listened to him describe this on Irish radio. His idea is that if he meets you he gives you an endangered Irish word to love an protect. You become the guardian of that word.

The reason is that the Irish language is losing many a lovely word that its speakers had to describe the world around them.

I’ll be Frank again. As an Irish language speaker in Ireland, I probably have 10% of the vocabulary that an Irish speaker had 2,000 years ago. Maybe 3%.

Here are words I wanted to use in Irish lately, but just didn’t have it coming to mind:

  • “joke”
  • “immersion”
  • “precaution”

Love it or hate it, urban Irish is a reduced form of the Irish language, and it is what I speak.

2 Million Speakers… of Slovene

I was in Slovenia during this summer. That’s the country of my wife Saša.

During a meal with family friends, I used a little bit of Slovene language. One Slovene business man told me:

Don’t be stupid trying to learn the Slovene language. We’re a tiny country. We only have 2 million speakers. Just speak English to us.

Guess what? The Irish language probably has 30,000 daily speakers or less. That’s a CRAZY low number. It’s at the point of sheer endangerment.

A million people “speak” Irish, but a fraction of them could understand a native Irish Gaelic speaker in a conversation.

Reality? Depressing?

For every reader of an article like this one, there will be often a person who says “don’t look at the negative side, you’re ruining the language, it’s not constructive”.

I’m not so sure. The points above are reality. If you don’t agree with one of them, it might be an argument of semantics. Or you might be simply fooling yourself.

If you don’t agree with the current reality of the language of your ancestors, you can live in a bubble of rose-tinted glasses.

Wolves and Bears and Elks

A really short time ago (let’s say 14,000 years ago), Ireland was under glaciers and ice. It was the last ice age.

Really soon after that, the ice cleared. Funnily enough, humans were just at that time becoming agricultural.

7,000 years ago the first humans arrived in Ireland for the first time ever. It was a land of trees and birds and insects. There were surely no “fields”.

Wolves roamed the land. Bears roamed Ireland. Elks (deer) with massive antlers walked around. Eagles soared overhead.

They were killed and made extinct. The trees were cleared (some blame the British for this, but that’s a huge over-simplification of what us humans have done to the land of Ireland).

So What?

Let me emphasise once again: this article is about bringing our conversation about the Irish language and Irish culture to reality.

This is not meant to be negative. It’s meant to WAKE YOU UP as to the seriousness of the situation. The Irish language is one little symptom of a global trend.

So what? Do you give up and except brittle mono-culturism? Nope, not at all.

Here’s where you step in. Be a little part of your culture’s biodiversity. Do make the Irish language part of your daily life. Do be aware that Earth’s human population is moving towards mono-culturism. That’s not important, what is much more important is to be aware that Earth’s natural biodiveristy has shrunk, and we’re the cause. We haven’t seen the beginning of it, and we haven’t seen the end of it.

What Stoics like Seneca would tell us is that it’s not actually so important what’s happening around us. Death is much closer to each of us than being drowned in a flood caused by an overly-energetic climate, for example. The only thing that matters is what you control. That that comes down to how you think every day. It comes down to that little thing you can do today to expose yourself to the Irish language.

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12 thoughts on “Dropping Biodiversity and the Irish Language”

  1. I am the first in my family in four generations to speak at least some Irish Gaelic on a daily basis after having left Donegal in 1859 for America..In nature there are cycles to all things, a natural ebb and flow. For me it started with the death of my father and a sign on the wall of an Irish themed bar in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The bar had a sign in the back which read “Pog mo thoin” and so with encouragement from Eoin and this web site and a slew of internet sources (tg4, rte, blas) my kids hear me saying things to them like beidh cúimach. Slainte!

  2. After three weeks in ‘na Gaeltachtaí’ (the Gaeltachts) in Inis Oírr and Dún na nGall (Donegal) for the first time to learn Gaeilge (Irish), I see both the enormous value and the tragic demise of the language even in these areas. In the community of Inis Oírr you can find native people speaking Irish if you look for it but I haven’t heard much in the Donegal Gaeltacht outside the school. You can find fragments of it outside na Gaeltachtaí throughout Ireland if you look hard enough but Eoin (Frank) is right, it would be diminished. Another thing I’ve noticed is that irish people have a much easier time picking it up than the rest of us … besides learning something in 13 years at school, they live amongst Irish idiom and culture and have the accent. I still think if enough people in Ireland held regular ‘bad Irish parties/gatherings’ where everyone spoke what ever irish they had and didn’t get hung up on the grammar or the ‘idea’ that they can’t speak it, then they could have fun with it and start to learn how to bring it into their everyday life. And the grammar would come… as much as English grammar does to everyday speakers. It’s a choice! Pure and simple. In three weeks I can now construct basic sentences as Gaeilge and am getting a handle of propositional pronouns and irregular verbs… and I’m Australian! I didn’t grow up with anything associated with the language like irish people have. Choose irish!!! And choose it everyday, especially if you are irish.

  3. You are a great ambassador of Irish Gaelic Eoin and the best teacher ever.
    I’m Belgian, my native tongue is Dutch, but ever since I visited Ireland in 2013 I felt I had to start learning at least a little of your beautifull language and fortunately I stumbled upon your course roaming the internet. I have no Irish speakers around me with whom to practice but I continue to listen to the lessons in my car and Irish has become part of my everyday routine.
    Thank you for this article and please keep up the good work.


    1. Hi Mia,

      That is great to hear 🙂

      Thank you for posting your comment.

      It is great that you have implemented Irish Gaelic as part of your daily routine.

      Are you planning a trip to Ireland any time soon?

      Le meas,

  4. Matthieu Camilleri

    My heart goes out to all Irish speakers. I am a native speaker of Maltese, English being my second language. Maltese is also a minority world language. While our language is strong in Malta (it is spoken by most Maltese people), it is quickly being eroded by ‘pigeon’ or Anglo-Maltese.
    I am always in awe of the beauty of Irish. I love listening to songs in Irish on youtube, and also had the pleasure to listen to the language in the Gaeltacht of the Dingle Peninsula and Inis Oir. So fond was I of Irish, that I managed to grasp the chorus of the song Suil a Ruin (with a Maltese accent, of course!)
    I honestly hope that your beautiful language lives on, at least in the Gaeltacht.

    All the best from your Maltese supporter! 🙂

  5. i LOVE this article!!! and i’m so grateful for what you’re doing! i can’t wait till my summer crazy traveling/teaching schedule is done and i can settle into september with your courses!!