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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 30, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

    From bóthar to mótarbhealach

    Pól Ó Muirí

    Not being a native speaker, I am always a learner of Irish. New words for new situations. How many new words have I come across in the past years that never appeared in the Christian Brothers’ little primer, First Steps in Irish: teicneolaíocht; Idirlíon; bogearraí; tionscnamh. They all denote little moments when the contemporary world and its developments stepped into Irish and became part and parcel of the linguistic landscape.

    Sometimes, though, it is the little words that remind you of the biggest changes. That wee word ‘bóthar’ has been a main stay of the language for aeons. The cow track. Who of us, stopped behind a herd of cattle at milking time or wandering sheep on the bóthar, has not heard the clatter of Queen Méabh’s chariot or the dull echo of Táin Bó Cuailgne in our imagination?

    Now we have mótarbhealach, a motor way, a road that has never received the Celtic blessing of splattering cow dung or the drum-roll of sheep droppings. (Not surprising really given that no cow travels at 120 kph.) Still, this mótarbhealach marks a profound change in our lives; we are modern. No longer is the road primarily for the cow; it is for the motor and the machine. Old Ireland is dead and buried – though, happily, the Irish language continues to adapt itself to the linguistic demands of the 21st century.


    • DesJay says:

      (No accents, fada or otherwise! Sorry!!)

      The Irish language continues to descend into patois insignificance, and much of the damage is done by adherents of the language. A grand cailin Conallach reporting on Nuacht once referred to “cuistimeiri ag maishini ATM.” A commentator on a GAA match said “Ta se deachar m’aigne a dheanamh suas, ach ta me ag dul le Ath Cliath inniu…”

      At the airport, we go to “seiceail isteach,” and buses that used to have “suiochain” now have “siochain.”

      Only Irish people could consider such rubbish admirable, even desirable. With corruption in government and business, rampant pedophilia and episcopal cover up–sure what’s a bit of bad grammar after all that?

      Irish is now a code for English, with a splattering of Irish words mixed with English words all arranged according to English syntax and thought processes.

      When a governing party applauds an American comedian in his efforts to promote Irish, and decides that the genetive is superfluous, na bac!

      And God help us, people still talk about plans to revive Irish. The few sparks of gaeilge galanta that remain are buried in slack and ashes. It was well said…we produced a people ignorant in two languages.

    • Ed Turley says:

      Why hasn’t some linguist contrived a more phonetic alphabet, to accommodate those of us wishing to return to the Irish language after decades away?
      Still, it’s good to learn that the vocab has improved since the 1950s!

    • Would not disagree with everything you have said, DJ. TV has certainly developed its own, em, distinctive dialect. However, there is still much Irish – on RnaG – that is as good and as informative as you can find. Heard a first-class debate on RnaG re: Lisbon II, to give one example. Also, there are some first-class contemporary, writers – Titley, Mac Mathúna, Nic Eoin – who are doing great things with the language and a new generation of academics.

    • Daddio D says:

      No fada possible here either… A Phol, ye amadan, it should be Bealach na Gluasteain (or something like that, me Irish is rusty). The trouble with Irish is that it is such an ancient language that there are no words in it for modern paraphernalia. Wheel is Roth, bike is Rothar. Computer? TV? Spaceship? The Irish language doesn’t have words for these… so we invent words for them, using English as a base. Like mótarbhealach (ok, I copied and pasted this word to get the fada in). But why use English at all to invent new words for our old language? Ta shin ana vrownock. Why not use another language? Any suggestions as to which one?

    • Aidan says:

      Of course modern Irish is influenced by English. I am learning Japanese and there is a whole class of Katakana words that derive from foreign languages (mainly English). Is Japanese becoming English because of this? No. Is Japanese adapting with the times yes. Here is an example of a modern Japanese word – “karaoke” derived from the Japanese for empty (kara) and the English word orchestra (spelt as
      okesutora in Japanese). Shortened to karaoke and we have a Japanese word coming partly from English.
      Irish is doing quite a good job coming up with non-English words. Here is a mail I recently wrote to some Dutch colleagues after they told me Irish could not be creating new words:
      “In Dutch:
      De ierse taal heeft geen woorden voor internet, computer, e-mail, website….

      In Irish
      Níl aistriúcháin ag an nGaeilge do focail mar idirlíon, ríomhaire, ríomhpost, suíomh……”

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