You may have noticed during your stay here in Dublin that Irish Gaelic is printed on all the street signs and buses. Irish plays an important historic and cultural role in Ireland, so to help you get more acquainted with the country and its people, I’ve interviewed one of my professors who is fluent in Irish about the Irish language!
One of the first things I asked my professor, Francis, was about the pronunciation of Irish words. Francis explained that many words in Irish have actually developed to drop sounds. This is why words like Dun Laoghaire (dun lee-ry) don’t sound out all the individual vowels and consonants. While hundreds of years ago each letter might have been pronounced, over time the words have evolved into the simplified version we hear today.
Another interesting aspect of Irish pronunciation is that the pronunciation changes depending on what vowel comes after each consonant. For example, in the phrase “man of the house”, fear an ti, the ‘t’ is very crisp and pronounced. However, in the word bull, an tarbh, the ‘t’ is much softer. All of this means that Irish ends up pretty complicated to pronounce!
Next I spoke to Francis about the grammar of Irish, and he explained that it is actually similar to the romantic languages. In fact, much like Latin, Irish has several cases and declensions. It also assigns a gender to each noun, which means that all the subjects must agree with the gender as well as the case. Finally, another unique fact about Irish grammar is that the verb always comes first. Because of this, people who grew up with Irish as their first language sometimes speak English with the same grammar and sentence structure that they would have in Irish.
Next, I talked to Francis about Irish language culture. He explained to me that at the moment there are seven areas which have been designated by the state as speaking Irish as their first language. Even so, less than 85,000 people actually speak Irish as their first language, and as a whole the language is on the decline. While Irish did used to be the first language of the people, in the 19th century it went out of fashion because people used to associate it with poverty.
While Irish may be on the decline, it is still an important part of Ireland’s history and culture. It colors the personalities of the people, and it tells the story of Ireland’s religious ties and other historical events.
Now to prepare you for your visit to Dublin, here are a few simple phrases to impress all your friends with!
Next week I’ll be writing about the hit Broadway musical Once, which has come to Dublin for the summer. See you then!