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Celtic Studies with Dr. Ranke de Vries (Ep. 49)

Celtic Studies

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:

Click the audio player above, and you’ll get to hear:

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.

Bitesize Irish Gaelic YouTube Channel 1

Mentioned in the show

International Congress of Celtic Studies

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.

Lebor na hUidre

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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11 thoughts on “Celtic Studies with Dr. Ranke de Vries (Ep. 49)”

  1. It’s interesting what she says about “Gaelic” being pronounced with a long “ay” in Canada… although Canadian Gaelic is definitely closer to Scottish than Irish, we sometimes think of it as being a little more Irish because (as far as I know) the fadas still go both ways.

  2. Tapadh leibh airson an t-episode seo, chord e rium gu leor. Thanks a tonne for this episode, I really enjoyed it! As a Gaidhlig-speaker, I hear a lot about Canadian Gaelic and what’s going on with the language there, particularly as I’m in Australia so we hear as much about Canada as about Scotland. It’s interesting to hear about the situation there from an Irish perspective… Gu raibh math agaibh a-rithist, a Eoin agus a Ranke.

  3. As Ranke said there’s NO EVIDENCE of any other race in Ireland before the Irish.the Irish may well have been in Ireland for thousands of years.The nonsense about an unknown race predating the Irish in Ireland is peddled by the English(notorious liars!) who think it justifies the Germanic hordes invading Ireland and raping and murdering the Irish and robbing us of our language and forcing us to speak English for 800 years!

  4. Brian James MacLeod

    Mo chreach ‘s a thàinig, nach mise a th’ air mo mhaslachadh gum bhrògan, chaidh rudeigin bun-os-cionn leis a sin, tha eagal orm, tá brón orm! Sorry about that minor cerebral belch, I didn’t think my posted comments were going anywhere, so I posted it twice: or we could say I did that on purpose, to place added emphasis on my previous comments. In any case, by all means do a follow-up piece with Ranke, and this time ask her about one of her favourite pasttimes, which is singing. She has the most incredible singing voice I have heard in quite some time, and she put it to good use in some of our courses with her, especially that marvelous first-year Irish course. She does a stunning version of the “Newry Boat Song” and “Bean Pháidín”, as she has demonstrated both in our Irish classes and at our “Taighean Cèilidh” on campus. I do a Gaelic-language cultural program, “An t-Òran Sìth-bhuan”, on our campus radio station (www.radiocfxu.ca , “93.3FM, The Fox”), featuring Gaelic song, music and bàrdachd – including my own – and I will be inviting Ranke into the studio this coming year to do a special program with her, highlighting her singing. She was a regular contributor to the traditional sessions in her local pub in Drogheda when she was doing her doctorate in Trinity College. I already had a wonderfully talented local girl, a clársach player who studied in Castle Connell with Janet Harbison, in the studio last year for a special program featuring her harp music, and I’m certain Ranke’s voice will be a worthy addition in that vein. Agus le sin, fàgaidh mi mo bheannachd agaibh, go raibh míle maith agaibh, slán go fóill!

  5. Brian James MacLeod

    Cad é mar atá tú, a Ranke, a chara, tá súil agam go bhfuil saol maith leat na laethanta seo….agus a-bharrachd air sin, nach taitneach leam do chluinntinn air an làraich-lìn seo! Chì mi ‘n ceann cola-deug thu air àrainn an oilthigh. Nice to hear you on this fascinating website, Ranke, see you in a couple of weeks. I am a third-year student in a BA Honours program at Saint Francis Xavier, a native of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a fluent Scottish Gaelic speaker and published Gaelic poet, and I can say without reserve that my professor, Ranke, has been a godsend for our faculty, and makes Celtc studies an unadulterated pleasure.

  6. Brian James MacLeod

    Nach taitneach leam do chluinntinn a-rithisd air an làraich-lìn seo, a Ranke, agus tha fiughair agam mar-thà rid fhaicinn ‘sna cùrsaichean ùra am bliadhna. Gabhaidh gach rud cur air dòigh gun duilgheadas sam bith, a-rèir coltais! Nice to hear you again on this podcast, Ranke, see you on campus in a couple of weeks. I am a third-year student in a BA Honours program in Celtic Studies at Saint Francis Xavier, a native of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a fluent Scottish Gaelic speaker and published Gaelic poet, and I can say without reserve that Ranke has been a godsend for our faculty, and makes the pursuit of all facets of Celtic studies a pleasure.

  7. Terrific episode, I really enjoyed that! Really fascinating to hear about Celtic Studies and the ancient history of the language and the mysteries around it.

    1. Hi Almog,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, it is always interesting to hear about the history of the language.

      We are glad to hear that you have enjoyed the episode.

      Le meas,

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