Thoughts On The Irish Language, Plus A Bitesize Irish Album Giveaway

When I was growing up in Ireland my mother and grandmother spoke a form of English, peppered with Irish words. It wasn’t until I moved to America that I came to realize how many expressions escape my lips that are nowhere to be found in the Oxford English dictionary.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stad_Irish_stop_sign.jpg

A “STOP” sign found in the Irish speaking part of Ireland.

Image Credit

When polishing furniture I was always told to put a “snas” on it rather than a shine.  We’d pass the “bainne” around the table, not the milk.  When telling of old wives tales we’d refer to “piseoige” rather than superstitions, and to this day I find it very hard to think of the word superstition.

I learned to speak Irish during my 13 years of schooling in Ireland.  My mother completed her education through Irish, and as children she read many of our bedtime stories in Irish.

When I left Ireland over twenty years ago, I was pretty much fluent in the language.  Alack and alas, I have not used it much since and my vocabulary is disappearing pretty fast.

The only time I used Irish in the past few years was after my triplets were born.  One of my little boys had terrible colic, and the only thing that settled him was a bout of swinging and singing in Mommy’s arms.  Now I am no singer, but when I lilted old Irish tunes he always seemed to settle. I laughed when I read the following quote.  I agree wholeheartedly.

 

“There is no language like the Irish for soothing and quieting.”

- John Millington Synge

 

It saddens me when I realize my children have little knowledge of the language of their forefathers, a beautifully expressive tongue. I remember learning of Pádraig Pearse’s belief that our language is the soul of our country.

“Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam.”

 

“A country without a language is a country without a soul.”

- Pádraig Pearse

 

I would love to revive my own mastery of the Irish language, and start introducing my children to some words.  Since starting this blog I have learned there are some incredible resources for learning Irish on the internet.

 

 The Giveaway:

 

One such program is offered by Bitesize Irish Gaelic, a company established by Eoin Ó Conchúir in 2008, and dedicated to helping people learn the Irish Gaelic language online.  Eoin is a fluent, native Irish speaker.

He has recently created a downloadable album for iTunes and Amazon and has kindly provided me with a copy, so that one lucky reader of Irish American Mom can learn to speak Irish.

The album is just over 2 hours long, contains 16 lessons and is available via download only.

To enter to win, just leave a comment below, in Irish, English or Double Dutch if that’s what suits you.  Let us know why you would like to learn to speak Irish Gaelic.

The last chance to enter is Saturday, December 15th at midnight.  I’ll notify the winners by e-mail and on this website on Sunday the 16th.

If anyone is interested in purchasing the program it is available through iTunes and Amazon.

Bite Size Irish Gaelic also offers other online programs you may wish to investigate.

Best of luck to all the entrants.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

 

 

 

I Could Or I Couldn’t Care Less

The first time I used the phrase “I couldn’t care less” here in the U.S. I got a strange look from my American companion.

“You mean ‘you could care less’,” she corrected me.

“No,” I said “I could NOT care less, meaning I don’t care about the outcome.”

“Oh, over here we say that we could care less,” she explained.

 

 

And so that got me to thinking whether I could or I couldn’t care less.  After examining the statement I decided to stick with the Irish expression.  It just makes more sense to my Irish mind.

You see, if you say you could care less, to me it means you still care more than a little about the situation, which in fact could mount up to an awful lot of concern.

By making the statement in the negative, like we do in Ireland, it means you could not care any less, which to me, means not caring at all.

Now don’t worry.  I won’t start trying to convince anyone my way of saying this expression is correct.  I fully accept it is an American colloquialism and has become generally accepted over time.

But on the other hand, if I annoy my American friends with my expressions of NOT caring less, because you do care less, I couldn’t care less.

And on that note, I am not sure if I could or I couldn’t care less whether you found this little post, about the subtleties of expressions between two different cultures, to be beneficial or not.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

The Irish American Clothing Dictionary

A significant naming difference for clothing items exists between Ireland and America.  It is something I didn’t think twice about before packing my bags to come to America twenty something years ago.

As I threw vests and jumpers into a bag I had no idea I would need to relearn the nomenclature for my wardrobe.

http://www.geograph.ie/photo/1570856

Image Credit

 

Now, as I dress my kids for school each morning it is clearly evident that Mom was not raised in America, and has not studied the Irish-American Clothing Dictionary satisfactorily.

For example, my little girl was looking for her “jumper”.  Now any American mom will immediately know this to be a sleeveless dress worn over a blouse.  But alack and alas, nothing is that simple in our house.  I started directing her to her sweater.

She called down the stairs in exasperation:

“I wasn’t looking for my sweater, Mom.  I want my jumper.”

“Oh, you mean your pinafore,” I replied trying to search the recesses of my foggy brain for the words in that illusive Irish-American clothing dictionary.

“What’s a pinafore?” she questioned me.  “I need my jumper.  You live in America now, Mom.”

So let me explain our dilemma as best I can.

In Ireland a jumper is a pinafore and a sweater is a jumper.  A buttoned sweater is a cardigan, and overalls are dungarees.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilamont/4297759367/in/photostream/

Image Courtesy Of Ian Lamont – www.ilamont.com

Image Credit

The confusion only gets worse when I try to help one of my boys get dressed.  In the winter I tell him to put a vest under his jumper to keep warm, meaning to put an undershirt under his sweater for insulation.

You see, in Ireland a vest is a waistcoat and an undershirt is a vest.  A jogging suit is a track suit, and sneakers are runners.

Are you as confused as I am at this stage of my story?

Befuddlement deepens when I do my little girl’s hair.  I pin up her tresses with clips instead of berets, and try to hold her pony tail with a bobbin rather than a hair elastic.  I tell her to brush her fringe out of her eyes, as opposed to her bangs, and then, to add insult to injury, I try to plait her hair rather than braid it.

Luckily my little ones are pretty bilingual when it comes to clothing talk.  If they had not mastered the linguistics of both cultures, who knows what state they would be in when they walk out the door to school.

For anyone interested, here is my clothing dictionary in two columns.  If you can think of any other clothing anomalies between both countries, please just let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to add them to the list.

American Word           Irish Word

sneakers =  runners

jumper = pinafore

sweater = jumper

overalls = dungarees

vest = waistcoat

undershirt = vest

pants = trousers

skort = divided skirt

underpants = pants/knickers

knickers = bloomers

jogging suit = track suit

beret = clip

hair tie or elastic = bobbin

bangs = fringe

braids = plaits

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Irish – A Language Without Words For ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

Irish, the primary official language of Ireland has been spoken on the island for over 2500 years.  Its sentence structure and syntax are very different from that of the English language.  One striking distinction is the lack of words for “yes” and “no” in Irish.

This probably sounds very strange to any English speaking person.  How can you have a conversation without these seemingly all important words?

So how do you answer a question in Irish?  This is usually done by answering with the verb, either affirmatively or negatively.  Here are some examples:

 

An dtuigeann tú?: Do you understand?

 

 

Tuigim: Yes – or truly you are saying “I understand”.

Ni thuigim: No – the exact translation is “I don’t understand”

 

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/renaissancechambara/4604071067/in/photostream/Image Credit

Ar mhaith leat uisce?:  Would you like water?

 

 

Ba mhaith liom: Yes or literally “I would like”

Níor mhaith liom: No or literally “I wouldn’t like”

When some people are learning Irish they mistakenly apply the words “sea” and “ní hea” for the words “yes” and “no.”  These are only used to answer a question like this:

An é an doras?: Is that the door?

 

Is é (sea) or ní hé:  Yes or no – literally  meaning “it is” or “it isn’t”. 

 

 

Today most people in Ireland speak English, learning it at home, and only learning Irish at school.  However despite adopting the English language, many Irish people still seldom use the words”yes” and “no” when answering a question, even in English.  This is particularly noticeable in rural Ireland.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/4536149424/Image Credit

This lack of use of these succinct little English words might be noticed by tourists when browsing in small country shops.  You might, for example, ask a shopkeeper if she has a particular product or brand in stock.  It is highly unlikely that you will get a simple “yes” as an answer.  More than likely you will hear a response such as:

“Let me see, now”

or

“I do, of course.”

or

“We have loads of them.”

or

“I’m afraid not.”

 

If you ever get the “I’m afraid not response”, it will generally be followed by a quick, “but I have such and such, which is just as good, if not better.”

Usually any response is followed by a story or a few questions about why you might need the particular item.  Maybe the shopkeeper might seem overly inquisitive to the non-Irish national, but all that is happening is the obligatory banter that is needed to start up a grand old conversation.

The Irish dislike those simple words “yes” and “no”.  They are way too short and to the point.  A plain negative “no” would be just too pointed, giving the impression that the shopkeeper is not in the least bit interested in a good old chat, when you can be certain that a chin wag is always on the cards in Ireland.

Words like “yes” and “no” are too polarizing, too stagnant for the Irish.  What kind of a chat can you start with such “useless” little words?

And so, when the Irish started speaking English, they decided not to use words like “yes” and “no” that do nothing to stimulate a good conversation.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Why The Irish Love A Bit Of Craic!

“How’s the craic?” is a friendly greeting used throughout Ireland.  Heard in pubs, on street corners, and even in people’s homes, it is a question of extreme importance to most Irishmen.

Unfortunately the word is pronounced just like the English word “crack”, giving rise to potential awkward misunderstandings for tourists, especially those unaccustomed to an Irish turn of phrase.  It is used so prolifically, I often wonder if tourists sometimes think the country is teeming with drug addicts, searching high and low in every pub and meeting place for a bit of “craic”.

Irish ceol - fiddlerPhoto Credit

The most straightforward definition of the word is fun or enjoyment, but the true meaning encompasses something far greater than just a bit of fun.  True craic requires lively conversation and good times, in the best of company.  Craic is usually associated with Irish pubs, but alcohol is not a necessary ingredient, to experience the social essence of craic.  Music, on the other hand, is widely known to enhance the craic.

A speaker’s meaning, when using the word craic, is totally dependent on phrasing.  Here are some examples of its usage, with my best efforts at American English translation:

How’s the craic? / What’s the craic? / Any craic?  = How are you?  How are you doing? Any gossip?

Craic agus ceol = Fun and music

We had great craic last night = We had great fun last night.

She’s great craic altogether = She is great fun and great company.

The craic was mighty / The craic was ninety = The fun was brilliant.

 Sign for ceol 's craicPhoto Credit

At this point in my little story I planned to talk about the Gaelic origin and ancient meaning of this versatile, little word. To my great dismay, once I did some very basic research, I discovered I may have been under a grand illusion about its true origin.

My first port of call, like so many internet researchers of today, was Wikipedia.  After reading just a few paragraphs, my ancient, craic-filled dreams were shattered.

According to Wikipedia, the word was borrowed from the English term ‘wisecrack’, meaning joke, as late as the mid-20th century, merely ten or twenty years before my birth.  Newspaper articles from the 1950’s used the word, but spelled it ‘crack’.  Not until the 1960’s was the Gaelicized version of the word ‘craic’ first seen.  That’s the decade of my birth, so the Irish claim on the word may only be as old as I am.  I don’t know if the ‘craic’ should feel young, or I should feel old.

Then to make matters worse, a language expert Diarmaid Ó Muirithe (Dermot Murray in English), is quoted as saying “crack as craic sets my teeth on edge”. In this Wikipedia article, it is even suggested the Irish Tourist Board and Irish pub owner’s are creating a stereotypical Irishness, by over-utilization of the word.

Dingle, Co. KerryPhoto Credit

I paused for a while, to try to get my head around why we have all gone crackers over ‘craic’.  It is part of everyday language, a word spoken throughout Ireland.  It has become an integral part of modern Irish culture.

Then, I thought to myself, why can’t the Irish language claim a new word, proving to the world it is alive and well, evolving and changing just like English.  The Oxford English dictionary has added new words like blog, FYI, threequel, cyberslacking and many, many more.

So what’s all this fuss about adding ‘craic’ to the Irish dictionary, Irish-English dictionary, or wherever it is we record the terminology of our crazy spoken language?

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law”, and oh boy, do the Irish claim possession of  ‘craic’.

Into the bargain another saying supports our claim:  “If you don’t use it, you lose it”.  The Irish have no intention of ever losing this precious new word, through lack of usage.

New York Irish PubPhoto Credit

So use it we shall, across Ireland and throughout the world, even if we risk arrest by a New York cop, when inquiring about the craic in some Irish American bar.  But let’s face it, after so many years of Irish immigration to the Big Apple, most members of the NYPD are, by this time, fairly wise to the ‘craic’.

 

Slan agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom