Opinion: Brush dancing, Intimidation And The Parallel Universe – Why I Speak Irish
Outside of Seachtain na Gaeilge, (which actually lasts over a fortnight!), there are 50 other long weeks of the year where some people use the language regularly. It’s not just a tool for intimidating others (though that hasn’t grown tiresome yet).
My use of Irish is professional, and more pertinently social. The language, for all of its flaws, connotations and bad publicity, is a positive part of my identity. I am a ‘non-native’ speaker, and though it is my second language, I don’t ever remember it not being a part of my life. That isn’t to say that learning Irish isn’t without its challenges, but once you master the tough stuff, the socio-cultural significance, sheer beauty of its idioms and hilarious phrases would woo the pants off the least romantic among us.
The foremost reason that springs to mind are my friends (I can hear you puking through cyberspace!). Most of my closest friends speak Irish, many of whom I’ve met through Irish events, media and education. They’re a mad old bunch; they succeed in contradicting the usual caricature of the Irish-speaker. We don’t spend much time discussing the classical texts of the eighteenth century, nor do we berate others for not speaking Irish. We do, however, attend events where dancing with a sweeping brush is a competitive skill, and I challenge you not to have fun doing that.
As an avid reader, I have access to a parallel universe of literature through Irish. My life would be duller without the sharp wit of Flann O’Brien’s satirical journalism and prose. Unaware of the lyrical mastery of Máirtín Ó Díreáin and Máirtín Ó Cadhain, my mind would be less nourished. What is lost in translation is irreplaceable to those in love with language.
Successful second-language acquisition means I can grasp the nature of other languages easier. I am comfortable with the technicality of syntax, semantics and I’m not intimidated by tenses that don’t exist in English. This is one area where the ‘non-native’ trumps the native, while it’s not easily achieved, it’s worth the toil.
With language comes culture. With minority language comes an appreciation for minority cultures, and a slightly different perception of society as a whole. Language isn’t just words strung together to make meaning; in fact, according to certain linguists, language does not only reflect reality but rather creates reality. Therefore, an Irish-speaker’s reality is set slightly apart from those who don’t speak the language. I realise the same could be said of a serial killer, but that’s neither here nor there.
While none of these reasons are essential to living, they’re a welcome, fulfilling and enlightening presence in my version of reality.