Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Irish Ears are Smiling

Me, a clumsy beginner, vs. Glen Hansard's dozen years of school Irish as revealed at the Oscars. Whose command of "thank you" is better in the country's (if not ours or precious few of its millions of residents, as we all know) "first official" language? I had remarked on the Come Back Horslips guestbook in a thread run by Lee Templeton about the Oscars as she watched it, I guess, laptop in lap, on 25 February: I add that Glen spoke in Irish. He may have used the singular rather than plural 2nd person-- the two pronouns do sound similar to my narrowback ears-- but he did distinctly also add in his speech: "go raibh mile maith agat [agaibh?].

I wondered which it was. If it was "agat," I wondered, why address thousands at the Kodak Theatre and millions-- despite declining ratings-- worldwide, in the singular?
Shouldn't he have used "agaibh," the proper plural form of address? I deferred to the Irish-born as customary in such matters, figuring he must have known best. But, in the March 3, 2008, New York Times, buried in the business & media section, to my surprise, Orla O'Sullivan's "An Irish Salute at the Oscars Pains Some Ears" on the Frame's faux-pas that I excerpt here. Turns out I'm right, he's wrong after all.

For some Irish people who watched the Oscars last week, pride was tinged with shame when their countryman won the Academy Award for best song — and promptly botched an attempt to say “thank you” in his nation’s native tongue.

Glen Hansard, a native of Dublin who won for the song “Falling Slowly” from the Irish independent movie “Once,” tried in his acceptance speech to say “thanks a million” in Irish, the ancient Celtic language known to Americans as Gaelic.

But, in addressing the thousands of Academy members who had voted for him and the many millions of people worldwide watching on TV, Mr. Hansard said “thank you” using the singular form. That would be similar to addressing the French with “merci à toi,” rather than “merci à vous.”

Considering that Irish schoolchildren must take at least 12 years of Gaelic, it’s not as if he never had the chance to learn.

“He said, ‘Go raibh míle, míle, maith agat,’ but he should have said ‘agaibh’ ” as the final word, said Mary Haslam, a native of Limerick who teaches French at New York University. “I was cringing a bit because I’m a language teacher, but nobody seems to have picked up on that.”

(The phrase is pronounced — roughly — “guh rev meela meela maw uh-got,” or, in the plural, “uh-gwiv.”)

[...The Irish Film Board/ Bord Scannán na hÉireann didn't care, as they funded "Once."...]

An effort to poll readers about the incident on irishgaelictranslator.com drew few responses, suggesting that many viewers hadn’t perceived a gaffe. In a discussion group, one visitor argued that Mr. Hansard “was talking to the academy, which is singular.”

Given how bewildering Gaelic words can look to people raised exclusively on English, many Irish people are willing to award points for effort. “I wouldn’t be too hard on him.” said Ms. Haslam. Several people who left comments on the Gaelic translator site invoked a popular Irish saying that translates roughly to: “Better broken Irish than perfect English.”

An Irish Salute at the Oscars Pains Some Ears


Anonymous said...

I would reckon that even those of his age who were schooled in Irish would revert to lazy Irish in such a situation if it wasn't something they were using everyday. It's the same as Ta Failte Romhat being accepted as the "You're Welcome" response, even though it too is incorrect, being a direct translation of the English words rather than the proper Irish meaning (a phrase which I have trouble recalling but I am sure you may know!). What I see with the use of Irish in the English mainstream is a blending of the two; lazy Irish might be the best description but some aspects of the language just don't meld well with the modern environment (Dia Dhuit, how are you?)

- Carrie

Anonymous said...

There was Irish at the Oscars. That was an achievement and he deserves credit for it. He left school at 13 but thought enough of his language and had enough pride in it to use it. That makes him better than many scholars of the language would have been if they had been thrust in that spotlight. He has sung songs in the language. Can we not be grateful? I would argue that it was fine to use 'Go raibh maith agat.' He could have been talking to God or fate or karma or the collective group. Language is not static. It evolves. Thankfully we are not restricted by the cumbersome rules of Christian Brothers who butchered the language with a dreadful system of writing not clearly based on the phonetic sounds.
Can we get over the tendency to split hairs and just use the language ar son Dé?