Friday, January 5, 2007

In search of the young Gaelgoirí rebels:

Here, thanks to the original Irish Times column from January 5 (via in turn the daily digest of Irish language-related material I subscribe to) and Carrie of The Blanket's alerting me to the thread on the same column, is my post to the contentious Slugger O'Toole list, which I presume comes straight outta Béal Feirste féin. That link at the end brings you right back here!

As a first-generation Irish American (aka John Murphy, dull name) and a lifelong learner of Irish, thanks for drawing me out of lurking.

I am terribly tongue-tied to say even the basic niceties ‘as Gaeilge,’ and feel very inferior after so many learners’ attempts after a century of Gaeilgoiri have been ridiculed (GMRA, “bhrea lá“‘s & An Béal Bocht!!!) I prefer to strengthen a basic reading knowledge-- since I have no one to speak Irish to and can’t attend the single session for learners in my city. Do you in with some Irish however vaguely recalled tend to recognise it more and feel more at ease with it when it’s spoken, or when it’s written? I also sense the whole issue brings up much guilt and resentment for millions within Ireland. (I also wonder how the growing numbers of foreign-born residents regard Irish.)

After classes in Irish for years, do folks recall more readily now the memory of Irish phrases and words as once recited? As with our ability to remember annoying advertising jingles and horrible pop songs from the 70s, is this knack more enduring than the passive reading ability that fades with time? Or vice-versa?

Could Mangan’s hearers not have expected to be put on the spot? Were they taken aback by Irish in the mouth of a stranger, accustomed as any Irish natives are to queries in English from native-speakers as well as many international tourists? My hunch is that in the tourist economy that serves as the nexus for any exchanges Irish-speaking natives have with outsiders, Irish used by outsiders today often triggers suspicion. This use of Irish by the “intruder” often threatens the in-group solidarity. Irish itself serves increasingly as a community or familial barrier. So, I wonder if Mangan’s listeners when confronted with a sudden burst in Irish tend to fall back automatically into this defensive, rather than welcoming, stance? Sad, but logical.

Another take on travelling about the Gaeltachtai in search of speakers was written about by Steve Fallon a few years ago. In the Lonely Planet (Melbourne, 2002) paperback (he is an editor and travel writer for the firm) “Home with Alice”, the Bostonian Fallon studies at An Cheathrú Rua at the NUIG-affiliated summer session. Then (the chronology’s rather obscured), he visits the expected places in search of Irish speakers with whom he can test his emerging fluency. He also interviews experts on the state of the language.

Dáil Bia café on Kildare St is one place he visits. There he relaxes among Irish speakers in a comfortable urban setting. Similar places on Harcourt St (ok, but a hipper crowd than Kildare) and Dawson (dismal and deserted) are compared. An Rinn promises speakers but Fallon finds only tourists and signs in English for second-home buyers. His Gaeltachtai quest is more depressing than inspiring. Unfortunately, Fallon inexplicably fails to visit Belfast.

By the way, I’m preparing a conference paper this month. It examines a half-dozen accounts of experiences in Ireland by American learners of Irish. It applies Michael Cronin’s arguments in his “Irish in the New Century” (Cois Life, 2005). If you have any suggestions, kindly let me know off-list (or on if you deem it relevant).

Pamela Petro, in “Travels in an Old Tongue,” did the same trick that Fallon tries and Mangan repeats-- but through Welsh as an American learner. (HarperCollins-Flamingo, 1998; British paperback.) She spun it out with a twist: she visited Welsh speakers abroad, theorizing that if she tried to speak only her learner’s Welsh, that in foreign countries the reversion by her and the Welsh-speakers to English would be countered, as fewer of them presumably would fall back on English. Therefore, she too could avoid English as a safety net. While the reality often turned out differently, it’s an intriguing experiment that caroms off of Mangan’s. (Her book also made me thankful that I aspired to Irish-- it’s still easier than Welsh!)

I envy youse for being able to see Mangan’s show!

(P.S. I reviewed Petro and Fallon’s books on the Amazon US site, among many other titles-- some of which analyze in English the Irish language. For example, recently James McCloskey’s “Voices Silenced?”, Fionntán de Brún’s “Belfast & the Irish Language” or Diarmait Mac Gíolla Chriost’s “The Irish Language in Ireland”. The latter, a dense scholarly study, incorporates recent census and survey data on NI uses of Irish. How Irish itself is represented in English literature and culture is one of my research interests.)

Posted by Seaghán Ó Murchú on Jan 05, 2007 @ 09:58 PM

1 comment:

Roseanne said...

Bain triall as - b'fhéidir go bhfeicfidh tú an clár ansin.
Try - you might find the prog there.
Also déan cuardach ar - tá cúpla blúiríní ansin.

Ádh mór.