When did the Irish language cross into Ireland? What was there before it? Was “Celtic” spoken across Europe? How much did the Irish language change over the centuries? Those are only a few of the questions I had for Dr Ranke de Vries.
Ranke holds the Ben Alder Chair of Celtic Studies at St Francis Xavier University, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. Ranke holds a Ph.D. in Early Irish from Trinity College, Dublin.
What you’ll hear:
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The classification of modern Celtic languages
- Check out our video Irish vs Gaelic for an overview.
- There’s Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic (from Isle of Mann) in one grouping.
- Another grouping includes Welsh, Breton (in Brittany, France), and Cornish (in Cornwall, English).
- There were many other variants of Celtic languages that stretched across Europe down to Turkey. Those languages are now well-dead, and people have studied to track where they were in Europe.
The Irish language has changed over the ages.
- “Early Irish” covers several phases of the Irish language, starting at about 600 A.D.
- Ranke’s speaks how the language changed over time, with a general trend of its grammar simplifying over time.
Scottish Gaelic is still spoken in parts of Canada
- In schools in Nova Scotia, including Antigonish, hundreds of kids are learning the language.
Mentioned in the show
It takes place every four years. In 2015, it took place in Glasgow, Scotland.
There are several hundred lectures there to choose from.
Right now, there’s a lot of work in e-hummanities and digitisation: original manuscripts are being digitized, which means that researchers can study them now across the world in detail.
Dating of Irish language manuscripts
One challenge is the dating of manuscripts. It’s often hard to tell when a manuscript was written.
It might have been copied and change inadvertently over the ages.
And texts in a manuscript may span hundreds of years.
Is Irish going to simplify?
Ranke doesn’t draw any hard opinion, but does point out that Irish has been simplifying grammatically over the ages.
Noticeably, there were many more cases in use in Early Irish.
What was spoken in Ireland before the Irish language appeared?
Dr. Peter Schrijver has studied this topic, and has written on it.
There in fact a term for it: Goidelic substrate hypothesis (on Wikipedia).
There are some Early Irish words that appear quite ‘un-Celtic’, which may indeed be remnants of words that were spoken in Ireland before the time of the Celts.
This is an old manuscript held at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, which Ranke got to study.
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Eoin had lots of questions for Ranke in this episode! And now is your chance. For the first couple of weeks after this episode is published, comments are open for you to reply below. Ask your question (as long as the comments are open).
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