Saturday, July 23, 2011

Notes from the Gaeltacht

If anyone has been wondering about the recent lack of posts, be aware that I’ve been in the middle of another summer language course, again in Ireland, this time for a living language that actually makes sense to study here: Irish. Oh yeah.

When my brain settles down a bit I might write something more interesting. For now I’ll just throw out some brief anecdotes from the Gaeltacht:

The Irish for “I’m sorry” is Tá brón orm, which literally translates as “There is sadness upon me.” I find it a lovely image.

The Irish for “Hello” is Dia dhuit, which means “God be with you.” As the Irish never like to be shown up in anything, even a greeting, the proper response is Dia ‘s Muire dhuit, “God and Mary be with you.” If more greetings are required afterwards, it continues Dia ‘s Muire dhuit is Pádraig, Dia ‘s Muire dhuit is Pádraig is Bríd, and Dia ‘s Muire dhuit is Pádraig is Bríd is Colmcille. I’m not sure what you do after using up the major Irish saints.

As the weather is generally terrible (a dhiabhail! – “Oh the devil!), one cannot comment on the rare beautiful day without inserting a buíochas le Dia! (“Thanks be to God!”) for good measure to avoid jinxing it. I imagine this involves a good healthy combination of devotion, superstition, and thoughtless convention, but it’s fun for a stranger to the language for sure.

A person with dark hair (like me) is called a dubh (“black”) person. To describe a person of African ancestry, on the other hand, they would use the word gorm (“blue”). Having always found the terms “black,” “white,” “red,” and “yellow” to describe skin color to be a bit ludicrous, I find this extremity almost delightful.

And, most illuminating for my fourth summer in Ireland, the Irish language does not have the words “yes” or “no.” The general rule seems to be: Ask a simple question, get a long-winded response. This also seems to explain the almost universal difficulty the Irish seem to have for committing to or refusing anything.

That’s all for tonight, but until next time always remember, Is minic a gheibhean beal oscailt diog dunta! (“An open mouth often catches a closed fist!”), a good reminder for people of any culture!

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