Three Bold Predications for the Irish Language (Ep. 39)

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The future of the Irish language is unsure and controversial. Hear our three long-term predictions for the Irish language.

What you’ll hear

  • The Connemara dialect will dominate, because of TG4 television station being based there (there are three main dialects of Irish Gaelic)
  • The general Irish language accent will change, gravitating towards the English language, because of non-native speakers speaking it
  • The language will drastically simplify, losing many of its word mutations. And this, arguably, is already happening.

Mentioned in the show

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Comments

  1. roibeard says:

    those are some depressing predictions! regarding predictions 2 & 3: the future of the language will be determined by those who haven’t learnt to speak it properly? i hope not.

    • It’s an unusual situation – the number of people who have learned the language while not being toddlers vastly outweigh the number of native speakers who use it daily.

      I wouldn’t treat it as depressing, more like the fact that times are changing.

    • Kaylan says:

      Unfortunately, that’s the way of it. That’s kind of how English (amongst many other languages) came to be as it is now, actually! It was from people who didn’t speak it natively that it lost things like gender, etc. since the foreigners simplified it or added other things (such as continuous tense, and asking ”Do you like…?” (what is ”do” here, eh?), etc) or changed things a bit like plurals and passed that way of speaking on to their kids.
      Wish I had the original source for this on hand to give you. It was interesting read…

      • Roibeard says:

        Was it John McWhorter’s book? That was a fascinating read.

        You have an interesting point but all of those changes to English came about from prolonged contact (trade, intermarriage, etc) between native speakers of English (or Anglo-saxon, or whatever) and speakers of other languages. And those changes evolved so that they two groups could communicate together, work together, live together, etc. To use your analogy it would have to involve a group of non-Irish-speakers moving to the Gaeltacht, marrying people in the Gaeltacht, and then having their language leave a lasting influence on the Gaeilge of the Gaeltacht through their descendents. Whereas in the situation were looking at here the changes take place almost entirely outside of the native-Irish-speaking communities (hopefully).

        • Seumas MacUisdean says:

          In the life of languages though this happens a lot.

          Only a fool thinks the Hebrew of Israeli today would even be intelligible to their own ancestors 2000+ years ago. A changing language is IMHO a sign of linguistic vitality and longevity, Irish is determined not to give up the ghost. In Chaucers day I’m sure people complained about his renditions of English with all its new French oddities, but look how it worked out for English. Yes the old Saxonish parts changed, but so did the Anglo-Saxons.

          The Irish and Ireland of today would be unrecognizable to Bryan Boru, and the England of today would be also unrecognizable to Alfred the Great. The changes to me reflect the changes of Ireland. Its not a rural country as much as it was under English rule, or in the days of Bryan Boru. From what I’ve read, Irish is developing more Urban nature, with more Urban speakers.

          IMHO this is a good thing.

  2. Great podcast! Just shared this on Google+. Thanks, Eoin!

    • Thanks for sharing Brian. How goes the book?

      • Thanks for asking! Two years on and our e-book is still at the top of our category on Amazon.com. I certainly can’t complain!

        How goes your site? I’ve been enjoying your podcasts and I plan to share them more often on Google+ to help spread the word. In fact, I encourage anyone who likes your podcasts/website/videos to spread the word on social media. It really helps raise awareness for the language and your site!

  3. Jennifer says:

    My prediction would be the 1st one. On the 2nd one i myself if i am around a native Irish speaker. My accent will automatically will change from English to Irish accent on its own. The 3rd one would be those who did not take their time to speak it properly.

  4. Dennis Maney says:

    I agree with Roibeard. Those are some sobering predictions. However, I personally feel the things that make the language difficult to learn are what make the language worth learning. I truly hope those who choose to change it are in the minority.

    • Dennis Maney says:

      I’m currently reading the book “The Irish Language (An Ghaeilge) ” by David Greene. He mirrors your thoughts on #2 and #3 and he wrote a great little book in explaining why and how it was already happening. It’s only about 80 pages but a great read on this exact subject.

    • Caoimhín says:

      I share your feelings, Dennis. I’m interested in the language because it isn’t so simplistic, but there are plenty of things to discover. But I’m a grammar freak, and most other people are not, so I’m afaid that Eoin is right.

      What I find most troubling personally is the second one. Even if you really want to learn the real thing, it’s hard to do (and already now, not only in the future). Most of the resources you can find in the internet, and even the teacher when I stayed in the Gaeltacht for a week, teach you that Englishy accent.

      If a simplified grammar gains some acceptance, I can always opt out and still learn the language as it is spoken today – there are enough written resources for the current rules. But with the pronunciation, it’s almost impossible to do that when you only ever hear “bad” examples.

  5. Shane says:

    Eoin what a thought provoking and interesting podcast. Both sides of my family came from the north and the south and as far back as I can trace in the census records nobody put down in the official record that they spoke Irish.I was born and brought up in the UK. I am learning it now because as you say it is a beautiful language and it’s about time in my family someone made the effort! I think what you are describing is the natural tendency of all languages to develop and adapt to modern usage. If languages don’t do that they become irrelevant and eventually die. In my view this is a small price to pay to keep and important part of Irish culture alive.

    • Marlene says:

      I completely agree Shane! Well put. I also think that if all of us were able to go back far enough in our lineage we would find lots of heritage surprises. After learning much of the Irish history I feel like Scotland, Ireland, and England are very much a melting pot much how America is viewed today. I feel like if you’re any one of the three one should be learning the Gael-language of any kind. Though really genetics will open doors for years to come, and perhaps tons of languages will be revived in that renewing of interest. Languages morph, move, and weave. I don’t think any language is really totally “lost” people just morphed it to what worked for trade, industry, and survival. I know that historians DON’T know what language was written in books in Ancient Ireland since the books were destroyed, but suffice to say Gaeilge is probably the product of morphing. And beautiful it is at that. Like the phoenix from ashes perhaps. Though it is sad to hear Eoin’s thoughts that in a modern world like today 30,000 people aren’t enough to keep the native accent alive. I think that is probably the only thing I really don’t agree with. Globalization will preserve more than we realize. Or maybe that is just me being completely optimistic.

    • Ana bitesize says:

      Hi Shane,

      We are glad to hear that you are taking the effort to learn the language. If you ever have any questions regarding Irish Gaelic, we will gladly assist you 🙂

    • Roibeard says:

      Obviously the Irish language has changed and evolved over the centuries but I think what’s troubling about this situation now is that the language is not changing or evolving natually on its own. Learners of the language, due to their greater numbers, are setting (or re-setting) the standard, rather than native speakers. Eoin is right in that it’s an unusual situation…

  6. Marlene says:

    I normally read everyone’s comments down the page while thinking of how to structure my own in case I agree or disagree with other people’s comments and don’t want to be redundant. This time, I must say, I will write my own thoughts beforehand. Eoin, I generally agree with your comments lest to mention I had no idea that the Connemara dialect would be the one proposed to dominate. From what I can tell, most of what is taught here in the States is the Northern Ulster dialect. Imagine the surprise of both my self and another man from (your) Muenster region when I was doing a practice group reading and the main dialect I had learned was Muenster (I started with Rosetta Stone). He was so wonderfully delighted, very old in age (in his 80s) and absolutely loved to tell me how much he loved my Muenster dialect styled voice. I’ve found in the classes in San Francisco, if I ask, I will get the Muenster way to say things on top of the normally taught Ulster with sprinklings of Connemara. Perhaps because Ulster and Connemara have much more in common I’ve not had to ask to hear the differences between those two, they are always provided. Or perhaps it’s because my local teacher (native Irish speaker) learned in the Ulster area where she is from. And/or perhaps it’s because our main book is ‘Progress in Irish’. I’ve had to write the Muenster in it. My teacher thinks of Connemara and Ulster, but I noticed she addresses me directly to make sure I take note of the Muenster she is directly mainly to me. I gravitate to Muenster for two (major) reasons. It was the first dialect I learned. And it is the closest to English in pronunciation and has more roots in Latin … which ultimately shares more of a relation to English than the origins of Gaeilge. I am genuinely surprised that more people of native speaking English do not lean more toward the Muenster dialect because it sounds more like English compared to the other dialects to me (as we move toward Scotland I tease we get really “weee-uuhh-jeee” sounds that don’t exist in the Irish South – particularly at the end of words). I am currently listening to some of the Easy Irish podcasts (as well as relistening to every one of yours!) where I am regularly comparing their Ulster dialect to your Muenster. AND I must add, I listen to tons of shows on TG4 with a particular set of ongoing favorites (Ros na Run!!!!) and am glad you have explained what dialect they mostly use. I figured it was Connemara because I knew it wasn’t Ulster and I knew it wasn’t Muenster, but once someone told me they tend to throw in “near Galway or near Dublin city accents” which made me want to tear my hair out … what another set of accents to figure out?!!? This is not even the tip of all the comments I could really make on this podcast … and I’ve only addressed one of your points specifically. Oh my, I’m not trying to write a book, but I’ve been doing so much study as Gaeilge lately that I’ve got an absolute ton in my head! You are right on about borrowed English words, and I too, believe that will only increase. Languages are living, just as we are. They morph, change, and yes, some get lost forever much like organisms get out competed and go extinct. For a long time people thought Irish was a dead language. We’ve shown it can adapt. Would a dead language have their own word for ‘High Definition’? But it has also morphed of recent years. A toaster used to be in Irish “aran roastadora” but now if you look in a dictionary it is simply “toastadora” (I have old and new Irish dictionaries). But did that follow English’s migration of saying “tiny oven” or “toaster oven” to a more compact “toaster” depending on size and function? Or did the language just migrate because people always shorten language? I am to I’m, just as Ta me, to Taim. (Sorry don’t have fadas on this keyboard). I’m not so much a grammar freak because I’m naturally good with language (I think) but I am a language word freak … where did it come from? How did it migrate? How will it migrate? And can I end this with telling you how much I despise the fact that the word Selfie made it into the English dictionary? Um, what I hate even more? I’ve actually started occasionally using the word.

    • Hi Marlene, a chara,

      > How did it migrate? How will it migrate?

      interesting questions. I don’t know if phrases mutated on their own in the Irish language. But the change in the English language of phrases might indeed have pulled along their Irish language counterparts.

      Eoin

  7. Marlene says:

    Oh and the other thing I’ve been studying in detail in my free time is Irish history. I recently finished an in depth Norman invasion study (800 – 1300) and am moving on to Ancient Irish history (1000 bce to about 500 ad). What I fear is that I may be interested in studying OLD IRISH before I’ve even begun to master the latest Irish!

  8. Pádraig Mc Nally says:

    Three bold predictions about what the future might hold for the Irish language. We have had the disasterous decline of the gaeltacht areas since The Great Famine. We have the gradual encroachment of English throughout our country, to the detriment of our native culture. A new challenge to the Gaeltachtaí now appears in the form of the Urban Irish phenomenon. The Gaeltachtaí seem to be fragile and they might slowly get swamped linguistically by the non native speakers. Beidh le feiceáil. These are interesting times for thr Irish language and it seems that change is inevitable. Pádraig

  9. Seumas MacUisdean says:

    I think we can only wait and see what the future holds for Irish, or any of the celtic languages for that matter. Things are fairly grim, and even a tad stormy but the six surviving celtic languages may yet have a future.

    https://youtu.be/2E-K9-GCJOk <— a video on the development of so called "Urban Irish."

    A dialectic Pidgin? well now its a Creole and in another generation if this organic thing takes off it might become a new, modern, urban and sophisticated Irish. The big concern though is that speakers of this plausibly emerging dialect and Gaeltacht is somewhat antagonistic with the two peoples often speaking to each other in English as (http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/schism-fears-for-gaeilgeoir%C3%AD-1.1269494) points out. By all census date Irish is making a bit of a recovery. The ideal situation is that the growth of the pidgin via second language speakers whom are raising their children IN the language as a first language means this new generation's creole can meet with the Gaeltacht and grow further through the Gaelscoil.

    Another distinct possibility is that it could become a completely new language but I doubt it. The Gaeltacht decline is certainly a sign of a transition. The new speakers and their children are effectively going to change the language. But, this isn't Bryan Boru's Ireland anymore. Whatever the nature of Irish is, I see all this as a sign that it has a health and a vitality that might make it a shining light to emulate as Irish's sisters in the Celtic language family struggle to find their own way. Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Manx, Bretons, Cornish, I think all might make somewhat of modest recoveries and one hopeful sign is that the Irish might have found a way.

  10. Michael MacFaden says:

    Hi Eoin,

    Good podcast.

    BTW, the city in New York State called http://www.cityofpoughkeepsie.com/ the way I’ve heard it pronounced is pough-kip-see, it has been a major IBM manufacturing/development site for decades. There’s even a street here in San Jose California named after it near another IBM facility..

    Mike

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