Monday, March 5, 2007

Why am I learning Irish?

I posted this last week on my Yahoo Learning Irish Group [LI] working its way through the rather dreadfully written textbook by Michael Ó Siadhail [OS] that takes Cois Fharraige [CF] dialect of Connacht Irish as its basis. This already tripped me up the other day when on a tape I heard "floor" and thought "orlar," which is CF, rather than the answer in standard form, "urlar." Of such nuances localisms and regionalisms and stereotypes are made. The group asked why its members were taking the trouble to do what we do. Nobody so far has responded to my somewhat bold musings. I guess I am outspoken despite my deceptively mild manner. Touch of my iconoclastic side tearing down the plastic Paddy. By the way, watching a hideous caricatured Guinness ad the other day (I hate the new campaign with the Victorian clip art fierce mustachioed men (ahoy LLT & CBHers) . Sub-Terry Gilliamish. Well, they say at the end to drink wisely or some b.s. added only to avoid litigation during the "St. Patrick's Day SEASON. " Like Christmas, March 17th's no longer a day but a whole feckin' season of conviviality, consumerism, and consummations devoutly to be wished.

Dia dhaoibh a chairde!

I am writing this on my lunch break far from a dictionary, thus the Bearla [and lack of fadaí accents in the part below due to my lack of keyboard settings]. Since Steven had asked for responses about learning Irish, and mine sent a month ago on this thread never appeared here, a summary:

My [birth--added here] mother went to Scoil Fhursa in Bothar na Tra, or Salthill, adjacent to Galway city-- she grew up speaking Irish and in fact Salthill is less a hour's walk from the border of the Conamara Gaeltacht at Bearna, although now due to yuppification and wealthy suburbanites Bearna, not to mention Cois Fharraighe, is in danger of being swamped into greater Galway city via the purchasing by non-Irish speakers, in and outside Ireland but especially from EU, in setting up holiday homes. It reminds me of the transformation of the Canaries or parts of the Spanish coast by British ex-pats and retirees. Intriguing examples of a changing Europe, but not so hopeful when it comes to keeping a community basis for minority languages to be fostered. While all those wonderful folks who raise their children with and keep themselves daily active speaking Irish constitute in urban areas a counter to the weakened rural base for the language, this may it seems to me bring Irish in our generation into a realm like Klingon, Elvish, Latin, or Esperanto-- a chosen and rich alternative but not one that will ever be adapted by the majority, remaining an avocation, a willed expression of an alternative, a sort of "" real-world community set up to give us a way to enter in and out of linguistic hobbies, fantasized roles we play. Agree or disagree?

Increasingly I fear that it's up to us on the Net to make nonetheless the cyber-community that will wind up continuing to work with the remnants of the Gaeltacht and in the urban and suburban areas throughout the island that keep Irish alive in pockets within an multicultural Ireland-- the prospects for Irish also are complicated now by a non-native English-speaking contingent; how will appeals to heritage and national identity work for the Chinese, Latvians, and Nigerians? Lots more Poles than native Irish speakers now. How are Americans choosing to learn Irish as adults different than those Irish-born who are "forced" to study it in school? My interest in these social and cultural issues has led to my expanding research into how Irish as learned by Americans is regarded within the larger Irish society within English-dominant culture; I have a paper coming out on this topic soon. As Michael Cronin, translation theorist, says: the fate of Irish will be decided in this 21st c. by those who speak not native Irish but all of us who know English. A complex and scary scenario.

A bit academic, sure. But I suppose we on this list need to be aware of the social patterns underlying any romanticized holdovers dreaming of an idealized Irish west coast with merry farmers totally living "as gaeilge." I plan to study Irish during a break there and pick up more of the "blas." But I am very nervous about doing so. I only wish the NUIG program in An Cheathru Rua fit into my teaching schedule in summers--it does not. Reading Steve Fallon's "Home with Alice: travels in Gaelic Ireland" (Melbourne: Daily Planet, 2002) is highly recommended to LI listees as a memoir and meditation on this Bostonian coming to terms with his family's Western Irish heritage and its "duchas" through the threatened condition of the present Irish language.

My Ph.D. is in medieval English literature; the abysmal job market prevents me from teaching this! Yet, I have never found learning languages easy; I speak Spanish, know Latin, Old English, Middle English, and how Hebrew and NT Greek hang together. But, Irish is truly the most difficult tongue; it resists my attempts to wrap my mouth around its sounds, its grammatical quirks defy easy recall, and while I can pick up vocabulary best of all, it's a poor showing when it comes to trying to think in. say to myself, or write easy statements!

Earlier on this list some formidable autodidactic linguists displayed their skills. I lack these, and am but at a pre-schooler's level. I stumbled ahead to LI CH 15 a few months ago, so I am on hiatus. I do the Stenson supplements but these often error-ridden in the keys and examples do not always give me the help I need.

I did read beginner's novelettes such as An Tobar by Ruadhri O Baille or his Dunmharu ar an Dart; I am a lurker on the Urscealta list going through the Paloma thrillers. A children's simplified edition of Fr O Laoghaire's classic tale Seadna utterly challenged me, dictionary in hand, however. It's humbling to learn Irish, and it does not get easier. Still, lists like this keep me focused better. I do not like learning in class settings as I get tense and do better on my own-- but I do want to read more than say it; speaking or writing it I find rather non-essential although I force myself to spend hours on each lesson with rendering the LI writing exercises into Irish, which I like far less than translating from Irish proper. I wonder about others' preferences?

Finally, I would like to hear from others on this list about their wishes for learning Irish and how they see themselves fitting into the actual and virtual communities of "gaeilgoiri."

Le dea-ghui, John L Murphy/ Seaghan O Murchu. Los Angeles/ Cathair na nAingeal i gCalifornia, SAM.

P.S. You may have heard about the debate in Spiddal/ An Spideal about set-asides of new homes for those promising to speak Irish and pass it on. This sort of capitulation to anglicization I suppose gets me in the gut, and for about twenty-odd years on-and-off I have struggled with Irish. As my mother and I separated when I was young, I suppose my longing to know Irish is symbolic?

P.P.S. I began actually with a bit of LI and OS at the very first UCLA extension course in Irish in 1989; this gave me a sampling of "Irish how she's spoke," but my interest has always been in a basic reading knowledge as I have no one to speak to where I live in Los Angeles! There's only one class regularly held in all of this vast city, and work-commute-traffic-family duties prevents me from attending. The Net's a godsend...

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