Slán, a 2020

Never in my life has this traditional Irish toast been more poignant

The year 2020 has been a rough one for all of us. Some of us have lost loved ones (more than 300,000 in the U.S. alone have died from COVID-19 as of this writing). Some have lost their own health. Many have lost their livelihoods or their homes. Most of us have had to cancel cherished and long-anticipated plans. We’ve all had to adapt to a “new normal,” and many of us have learned that people we once thought of as good and decent have little to no care for others, caring only for their own “FREEEEEE-DUMB.”

Here in my own little part of the world, we’ve dealt with devastating wildfires that drove many of us from our homes and left a good many with no home to return to — and some with loved ones who will never return home at all. We’re mourning the near destruction of an ancient and beloved forest, and we’re still watching the skies nervously for the rain that can cause deadly earth movement in the wake of a wildfire.

Oh yes…let’s not forget “murder hornets.”

No, this is one year I won’t be at all sorry to say goodbye to. To paraphrase a meme currently circulating in Irish language circles, in Ireland it’s traditional to open a door or window on New Year’s Eve to let the old year out — for 2020, we should open all the doors and windows in the hope of getting rid of every last bit of it! I know that I plan to stay up until midnight, by hook or by crook, just so I can throw open the door and scream “good riddance!” when the clock strikes twelve!

Fáilte go 2021

While there’s never a guarantee, I’m holding fast to the hope that the turn of the year heralds better times to come. We now have extremely promising vaccines for COVID-19 and, while the distribution has been slower than promised, still, it IS happening. In the U.S. we’ve elected a new administration that promises to approach the pandemic, as well as the many other ills that threaten both our country and our planet, with the seriousness that they merit. It may not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís

That said, never in my life has this traditional Irish toast been more poignant: “May we be alive at this time again.” Looking back at 2020, this seems less like a toast and more like a prayer.

Here, then, are my hopes and prayers for 2021:

  • May the day come soon when we can all once again walk, work, worship, mingle, embrace, and sing together freely, without fear.
  • May ALL our world leaders finally begin to take seriously the evils that plague our species and our planet, from climate change and racism to poverty and war, as well as the toxic “individualism” that fuels most, if not all, of these ills. Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.
  • And yes — may we all live to see another, brighter, New Year’s Eve.

PS: If you are the creator of the image above, or if you know who the creator is, please contact me so I can give you/them proper credit.

Beannachtaí na Bliana Úir Oraibh go Léir!


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

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(The) Rest in Peace

Of all the translation travesties out there, bad translations on tombstones and memorial markers make me the saddest.

Of all the translation travesties out there, bad translations on tombstones and memorial markers make me the saddest. Someone wanted to honor a loved one or a respected individual with this ingraving, didn’t do adequate research, and now their heartfelt sentiment is a laughing stock on the Internet.

The really sad thing is that this particular translation travesty is all OVER the Internet (not only on this person’s memorial), presented as the way to say “Rest in Peace” in Irish.

I guess I don’t need to tell you that it’s horribly, sadly wrong. But you know me — I’m going to tell you anyway. It’s horribly, sadly wrong.

So what’s wrong with it?

As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post (and from the fact that this is a picture of either a tombstone or some form of memorial marker), whoever commissioned this intended it to say “Rest in Peace.”

Unfortunately, what they have there is not “rest” as in “sleep/repose.” It’s “rest” as in “remainder” (e.g., “I’ll eat the rest of the cookies”).

If that weren’t bad enough, they didn’t even get that right. “The rest” in Irish is “an chuid eile” (literally “the other portion”). Without the definite article “an” (“the”) it’s nonsense. To add insult to injury, “chuid” [sic] is misspelled. Without the definite article, it’s “cuid.”

And then there’s that idiom thing

Wrong word choices and spelling aside, another thing that’s wrong with this is that it’s not how you’d express this sentiment in Irish. Whoever came up with this attempted a direct, word-for-word translation from English, and if you follow this blog you already know that that just does not work.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and again and again): Languages are not codes for one another.

(I stole that line from someone long ago, and I can’t remember who, but it’s a good one, so I think I’ll keep it.)

Word-for-word translations rarely work between languages, especially not when the languages are as grammatically and culturally different as Irish is from English.

To begin with, “síocháin,” which means “peace” as in “the absence of conflict,” while not wrong per se, is probably not the word that would be used to express this sentence in Irish. A more usual choice would be “suaimhneas“– “tranquility/rest/repose.”

In addition, when we wish a particular state or emotion on a person, we don’t say they’re “in” that state, we say that state is “on” them: “Suaimhneas air/uirthi/orthu” (“Peace/rest on him/her/them”).

This brings up yet another point: In many cases, when translating to Irish, you need to know what pronoun to use. Irish loves pronouns, and will happily use them where a verb might be used in English. If you’re speaking of a person or animal you often need to know either the gender (or the preferred pronouns, in the case of a person) to translate correctly.

Air” = “on him”

Uirthi” = “on her”

Orthu” = “on them

A phrase that you will see on Irish tombstones is “Suaimhneas Síoraí Air” or “Go Raibh Suaimhneas Síoraí Air” — “Eternal Rest be Upon Him” (apply correct pronoun as required). This is the closest you can get in Irish to a direct translation of “Rest in Peace.”

Another phrase you’ll see frequently is Ar dheis Dé go Raibh a Anam/a hAnam/a nAnam” — “May his soul/her soul/their souls be at God’s right hand.”

How did it get this way?

When we see a terrible translation such as this, the first impulse is to blame machine translation, which doesn’t handle Irish well at all.

With that in mind, I checked Google “translate” to see what it would make of the English phrase “Rest in Peace.” Depending on the capitalization (Google “translate” is weirdly case-dependent), it returned:

Rest in Peace: No translation

Rest in peace: No translation

rest in peace: scíth a ligean — “to take one’s rest/ease”

I’m guessing that, if machine translation was used to produce this, it wasn’t Google.

The horrifying thing, though, is if you plug “Chuid Eile i Síocháin” into Google seeking an English translation, it does give you “Rest in Peace.” Even more horrifying is the fact that you can’t change it. It gives you a chance to “offer a better translation,” but not to say “this makes absolutely no sense.

It’s possible someone used a different machine translator to arrive at this. It’s also possible someone asked a friend/relative who grossly misrepresented their facility with the language.

It’s also possible that the person attempted a word-for-word “translation” from an English-Irish dictionary and (predictably) got it wrong. We may never know for sure.

It’s even likely that whoever commissioned this stone found this “translation” on the Internet. There’s a lot of really bad Irish on the Internet, which underscores the lessons to be learned from this and all other bad Irish translation:

Do not — I repeat, DO NOT — attempt to translate from English to Irish yourself unless you’re fluent in the language. Do not simply use something you found on the Internet (or in a book, or in a song, etc.) without verifying it with an expert. Finally, if you’re not using a paid human translator (which you really should do, if possible), make sure at least THREE PEOPLE AGREE, on the correct translation before doing anything permanent with it. Preferably three people from different sources.

I, and the Irish language, will thank you.

P.S.: I don’t know who took the photo above or to whom the memorial is dedicated. If anyone does know who took the picture, please let me know so I can give them credit.


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

Welcome to the World of Welsh!

The Celtic tattoo handbook family has a new member! Here’s a big Irish fáilte to The Welsh Tattoo Handbook!

(Grumble grumble…this is my first time using the new WordPress editor, and I’m not a fan. Come on, WordPress! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!)

Ahem…That said, I have a very happy announcement to make: The Celtic Tattoo Handbook series has a new member! Here’s a big Irish fáilte to the much-anticipated Welsh Tattoo Handbook, the ultimate “think before you ink” guide to using the Welsh language in tattoos, crafts, and jewelry.

Written by fluent Welsh speakers Robert and Meagan Davis and published by Bradan Press of Halifax, Nova Scotia (the same company that publishes The Scottish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook and The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook), this book is much more than a glossary of well-vetted Welsh phrases (though it is that as well).

Like its predecessors, it provides a wealth of information about the language and the people who speak it, including its history and interesting linguistic features, folklore and symbolism associated with Wales, and advice on getting a good translation, should you not find the one you’re looking for in the book itself, or should you need to adapt one of the glossary entries.

There is also a chapter showcasing real Welsh tattoos gone wrong (with detailed information as to WHY they’re wrong) and yes — a fully indexed glossary of Welsh phrases you can use with confidence.

Not just for tattoos

Despite the name, you don’t have to be a tattoo seeker to benefit from, and enjoy, this book. The translations can be used for everything from art projects to T-shirts to tombstones — anything for which you might want a Welsh translation.

In addition, reading about the translation process and getting a feel for how phrases from one language may be expressed very differently in another language is invaluable for any language learner. It’s really a must-have for anyone interested in Wales or in the Welsh language.

You can get The Welsh Tattoo Handbook from Amazon (pretty much everywhere) or Barnes & Noble (in the U.S.), as well as from Nimbus or Chapters Indigo (in Canada). Alternatively, you can ask your local bookseller to order it for you, or even to stock it (a great way to support both a minority language and local booksellers!)

On this auspicious occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little bit about Welsh, for readers who may be less familiar with it, and about the Celtic languages in general.

But first, there’s something you really, really need to know:

It’s “Welsh,” not “Welsh Gaelic”

Please, engrave this on the inside of your eyelids if that’s what it takes. I can’t begin to count the number of times someone’s said something like this to me:

“My cousin speaks Welsh Gaelic.”

“Do you speak Welsh Gaelic?”

“I want to speak Welsh Gaelic!”

No, they don’t. No, I don’t. And no, you can’t. Do you know why?

It’s very simple: Welsh is not a Gaelic language.

Repeating for those in the back:

Welsh is not a Gaelic Language

In other words, there’s no such thing as “Welsh Gaelic.” Welsh is a Celtic language, yes indeed…but not Gaelic.

Celtic does not (necessarily) mean Gaelic

There appears to be a great deal of confusion surrounding the terms “Celtic” and “Gaelic.” Some people think they’re synonyms (they’re not). Some people seem to associate both terms exclusively with Ireland and Scotland (it’s broader than that). So here’s a brief rundown:

We get the word “Celt” from the Greek “Keltoi,” which the Greeks used to define a loosely affiliated group of European tribes that shared similar cultural and linguistic features.

From a linguistic standpoint, “Celtic” refers to a family of Indo-European languages that descended from an ancestor known as “Proto-Celtic” and share similar characteristics. These languages as we currently know them are Irish (Gaeilge), Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), Manx (Gaelg), Welsh (Cymraeg), Cornish (Kernewek), and Breton (Brezhoneg).

One family, two branches

There are two distinct branches that make up the Insular Celtic language family (that is, the Celtic languages of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, and Man, and of the Brittany region of France): The Q-Celtic or Goidelic (Gaelic) branch and the P-Celtic or Brythonic (British) branch. Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx belong to the Goidelic branch, and are the only languages that can rightly be called “Gaelic.”

In fact, one term in Irish for an Irish person is Gael.

Welsh, on the other hand, belongs to the Brythonic branch, along with Breton and Cornish.

Family resemblance

I mentioned above that the Celtic languages share similar characteristics. Some of these include a verb-subject-object (VSO) structure, initial mutations (i.e., changes that happen to the beginnings of words in certain grammatical circumstances), and conjugated pronouns.

They also all have a tendency to be more “wordy” than English, which is why short, pithy English sayings are often longer and less punchy when translated.

But similarities do not a single language make, and it doesn’t take a degree in linguistics to see that, while there are similarities, there are also significant differences. Consider the popular tattoo translation request “Dance as if no one is watching” (taken from the respective tattoo handbooks):

Irish: Déan damhsa amhail is nach bhfuil éinne ag féachaint

Welsh: Dawnsier fel pe bai neb yn gwylio

You don’t have to speak either language to figure out that those will sound as different from each other as they look!

The Celtic languages make for fascinating study, and if you’re interested (you’re interested in at least one, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, right?), a web search will net way more scholarly information than I can provide here. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

So we’ve spoken a bit about what Welsh is NOT. Now let’s talk about something far more interesting: what it IS. Here are some interesting facts about the Welsh language:

A vibrant, living language

Welsh is the most widely spoken Celtic language, with more than 500,000 speakers, and the Welsh government has a goal of one million speakers by the year 2050. It is the only Celtic language not classified as “threatened.”

It is one of the national languages of Wales, and is also spoken by a small number of people in Patagonia, in Argentina, the result of a migration of Welsh people to the region in the 1800s. Patagonian Welsh, though influenced by Spanish, is understandable to Welsh speakers in Wales, and is considered a distinct dialect of the Welsh language.

Speaking of dialects, Welsh has two primary dialects: North Walian and South Walian. It also has a formal, literary form that differs significantly from the everyday, spoken form of the language.

And speaking of literature, Welsh has a wealth of it, extending back into the Bardic tradition. Welsh poetry, with its distinctive structure, alliteration, and “vowel harmony” is a particularly rich source for meaningful tattoo translations.

Oh, and another literary note: J.R.R. Tolkien was very taken with Welsh, and based one of his Elvish languages on it (sadly, he wasn’t a fan of Irish, but nobody’s perfect).

While Welsh, like the other Celtic languages, uses the same Latin letters as English does (minus J,K,Q,V, and X), it uses them differently (as do the other Celtic languages), and an English speaker cannot presume to know how a Welsh word is pronounced by applying English phonics.

Another interesting fact about Welsh orthography is that it makes extensive use of the letters “w” and “y” to represent vowel sounds (something that becomes abundantly obvious the more you look at phrases in the language). It also has a number of cases in which a double consonant represents a single sound and is considered to be a single letter.

Buy the book

There is so, so much more to this fascinating, musical language than I can begin to cover here. If you have any interest in the Celtic languages, whether you’re looking for a tattoo translation or not, it belongs in your library.

And if you ARE looking for a Welsh tattoo translation, all I can say is what are you waiting for?


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

Live, Love, Huh?!

This language isn’t a toy for you to use to make yourself feel “special” or “unique.” Take the time to get it right.

Haigh, a chairde!

I’ve been racking my brains lately, trying to thing of something to write about after six months of COVID hiatus. Adjusting to working from home  (yes, I have a day job), and dealing with the stress, worry, and day-to-day concerns really took their toll on the creative process.

Then, two days ago, I opened up Facebook and there, right in front of me, was this gem of a bad Irish tattoo, shared to my page by a friend (Thanks, Máire Uí Brádaigh! Facebook friends rock!)

Woo hoo! Problem solved! Writer’s block broken!

A common (i.e., overdone) request

Ever since I began learning Irish, in  2004, “Live Laugh Love” or some variant thereof (some want “Live Love Laugh” or “Laugh Live Love”) has been the single most common tattoo translation request among women.

(Seriously, if you’re looking for something original, this ain’t it)

Why they want it in Irish I have no idea, but want it they do. If my experience is any indicator, there must be hundreds of women with some version of this permanently marked on their skin in Irish — the lucky/smart ones in good Irish. The others, not so much. Three guesses as to which this person is.

Suffice it to say that what she has on her back is NOT “Live Laugh Love” — in “Gaelic” or in any other language.

(By the way, if you’re curious, the single most common tattoo translation among men is some variation on “None but God may judge me/Only God can judge me.” Dudes can be unoriginal too.)

So what does it REALLY say? “Live…?”

So if it doesn’t say “Live Laugh Love,” what does it say? Let’s start with the first word: Beo.

English is full of words that are spelled the same way but that sound different and have different meanings (the technical name for these is “heteronyms”). “Live” is a prime example. If you pronounce it to rhyme with “give” it is a verb meaning, depending on context, “exist,” “survive,” “enjoy/experience life,” etc.

If you pronounce it to rhyme with “hive,” however, it is an adjective meaning “alive” or “living” (for example “live bait,” i.e., bait that is alive).

When people with a limited understanding of how languages work attempt to do their own translations (note: this is a very bad idea), they tend to forget this tiny detail. You can read more about this in another blog post I wrote a while back: “It’s a Long Life with a Bad Tattoo.

To put it simply, our tattooed friend grabbed the wrong one. “Beo” means “Alive.”

The laughing stud horse?

The second word (really a non-word) is causing a great deal of hilarity on the Irish-speaking internet because, at first glance, it looks like the “translator” intended to write “stud horse.”

Fortunately (I guess), she kind of missed the mark there, as the word for a stud horse is Graíre and what she has there is “Gráire.” The presence (or lack) and placement of an accent mark makes a huge difference in Irish. Put it in the wrong place, leave it out, or put it in when it isn’t called for, and you have a different word.

For more on this: Are You a Fada-less Child?

So the sort-of good news is that she doesn’t have “stud horse.” The bad news is she has nothing at all. “Gráire” isn’t a word in Irish.

It’s likely the person was aiming for “Gáire” — “Laughter/a Laugh.” What she has, though, is nonsense.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped people from making jokes about “Alive Shergar Love” (Americans feel free to substitute “Secretariat” for “Shergar”).

And then there’s grá

As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day (well, an analog one anyway!). Grá” does indeed mean “love,” but it’s a noun, not a verb.

There is a verb “love” in Irish — gráigh — but it’s rarely used. A more usual way of telling someone to love would be tabhair grá : “give love.”

How does this happen?

There are lots of different ways that this kind of mis-translation can happen. One of the most common is a misguided attempt to do a word-for-word translation using a dictionary.

It would be handy if languages worked that way (All you’d have to do is memorize a bunch of vocabulary and bingo! You’d have another language!). Unfortunately for would-be translators, they don’t.

Aside from such pitfalls as the aforementioned heteronyms, the fact is that different languages just work differently. Some examples:

English: Thank you

Irish: Go raibh maith agat (literally “may there be good to-you”)

English: I love you

Irish: Tá grá agam duit (literally “Is love at-me to-you”)

Here’s a pretty classic (and horrifying on many levels) example of what can happen when someone attempts a translation using a dictionary: Even Racists Got the Blues.

Sometimes this happens because someone asks a friend or family member who misrepresents his or her level of Irish. Sadly, this happens way more often than it should. The reality is that true fluency in Irish is rare, even in Ireland, and people who are truly fluent are often reluctant to do this kind of translation for various reasons.

So how DO you say it?

As I mentioned above, this is an extremely common tattoo translation request, and various Irish forums have struggled with the best way to express it.

To express it using verbs is kind of awkward, and can be ambiguous. Irish isn’t English. “Simple” translations often aren’t all that simple.

What I usually suggest is to use nouns:

Beatha Gáire Grá — Life Laughter Love

Show some respect

It’s OK to want a tattoo in Irish. Just , whatever you do, please have enough respect for the language and the culture to get it right. Spend the time and, if necessary, spend the money to get a solid translation. This language isn’t a toy for you to use to make yourself feel “special” or “unique.”

If you need help, drop me a line in the comments below and I can give you some guidance.

Le meas,

GG


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

Lá ‘le Pádraig Sona Daoibh!

There’s nothing at all normal about this St. Patrick’s Day.

A chairde,

It’s a crazy, different time in which we find ourselves! There’s nothing at all normal about this St. Patrick’s Day.

I don’t know how things are where you are, but I’m guessing not too different from where I am. Lock down. Pubs closed. Parades and masses canceled. Future events in doubt. Maybe you’re sitting home, as I am, wondering if you’ll even have a job a few weeks from now.

But you know what? It’s still St. Patrick’s Day! Lá ‘le Pádraig! It’s our day! I don’t know about you, but I’m going to celebrate in every way I can!

Green is definitely in my future tomorrow, even if I don’t have anywhere to wear it but in front of my computer. There’s a shot of Jameson’s waiting for a toast tomorrow evening. And, because it works out that I WILL be at home tomorrow, I will sing Óró ‘sé do bheatha abhaile tomorrow at noon with all the rest of you who will be doing so around the globe!

And, of course, there’s this song, without which St. Patrick’s Day never seems quite complete.

Dochas Linn Naomh Pádraig

Have a wonderful day tomorrow, a chairdeGo mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís.

Le grá,

GG


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

St. Patrick’s Day and being Irish in the time of COVID-19

Right now, I can’t focus on things that divide us.

So, a chairde, this is not the post I thought I would be sharing today.

For the past several weeks I’ve been working on a post on what it means to say “I’m Irish.” It’s something several friends on both sides of the question have asked me to address — why it is that Irish-Americans insist on referring to themselves as “Irish.”

It’s something that really bothers some people, and a culture clash that seemed ripe for the sharing near St. Patrick’s Day. I get it. I’ve been working on it with the goal of publishing today, and I have to say that, as of yesterday morning, I was no more than three paragraphs short of giving it a final proof and hitting “publish.”

But in the end I couldn’t do it. Because, while there are valid arguments on both sides (“My grandfather came from Ireland!” “You’re not Irish, you’re American! Deal with it!”), right now, I can’t make myself focus on things that divide us.

So much has changed

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two weeks since the reality of the coronavirus exploded here in Northern California. Within 48 hours we went from “This is something we should maybe be worried about” to out-and-out panic. The reality of what was happening in China, Iran, and Italy suddenly became our reality (yeah…sometimes we’re a little slow on the uptake).

Now Italy is on lockdown. Ireland is on lockdown. Parts of the U.S. are “containment areas.” Our government tells us that our friends from Europe are no longer welcome here. Resorts here on the California Central Coast have turned into quarantine wards.

A little thing, but…

In the light of all this, it seems that the question of who is entitled to call themselves “Irish” is a pretty minor thing, as is the widespread cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Parades, masses, sessions…those can be rescheduled, yes? Semantics and identity can be debated another day.

At the same time these minor things are the things that really hit us where we live, right? Somehow it’s a lot easier to accept the the Dow plummeting that it is to come to grips with the cancellation of seasonal festivities. That makes it personal.

And, while it’s undeniably an issue, let’s be honest: In the face of all this, does the question of who says “I’m Irish” really matter?

What has the Irish language ever done for you?

A few days ago, a friend asked me what value I’ve found in learning Irish. And I have to say, there’s been one heck of a lot.

There’s the satisfaction of learning a new language, which is pretty amazing, when you think of it. Another way to communicate. To a wordsmith, there is no greater joy.

There’s the connection to a culture that has drawn me from the time I was a teenager and first fell in love with Irish traditional music. I can’t begin to explain to you just how much that has meant to me. It’s a connection to my soul.

And yes…there’s the tremendous satisfaction of confounding telemarketers! (“I’m sorry ma’am. No one here speaks Chinese.” Somewhere in Connemara, Yu Ming is laughing!)

But, in the final analysis, the greatest gift Irish has given me is you.

The community I’ve found through Irish is easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Some of you are singers, some of you are poets or teachers, some of you are learners, some of you are fluent, or even native speakers. Some of you have no interest in learning the language at all, but have come into my life through Irish music. You come from the U.S. and Canada, from Germany and from England and from Brazil and from Japan, and, of course (where else?) from Ireland.

And in realizing this, I also realized that, in the face of this worldwide challenge, the last thing I wanted to focus on is something that divides us. It doesn’t matter what “Irish” means. What really matters is who we are, and what we have in common.

So what will you do on St. Patrick’s Day?

There’s no doubt that this year is going to be way different from other years. St. Patrick’s Day’s celebrations have been canceled from Dublin to New York!

I don’t know what you will do on March 17, but here’s what I will do:

I will reach out to my friends around the world, and rejoice in this language we share.

I will sing and make music, because that’s what I do.

I will hold my loved ones close.

I will walk outside and revel in the beauty that surrounds me.

And I will pray that next year we will look back on this time as something we got through together.

Is sibhse mo mhuintir. Is sibhse mo chroí. Is sibhse amhrán m’anama.

Le meas is le grá,

GG

* The featured image in this post was taken in Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal, in July, 2008. Glen Head and a dramatic Donegal sunset.


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

March Madness

St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and ridiculously bad Irish T-shirts, memes, and posters are cropping up everywhere.

Ah, spring! Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and ridiculously bad Irish T-shirts, memes, and posters are cropping up everywhere.

I’m not talking about the offensive, racist stuff one sees at this time of year, though there’s certainly plenty of that (Repeating for those in the back of the class: Things that portray Irish people as drunks, as always spoiling for a fight, as country bumpkins, or as leprechauns are OFFENSIVE. Just don’t do it. Please.)

This is also the season when even people who don’t speak, or plan to learn, Irish seem to like to trot out the cúpla focal, even if it’s the painfully anglicized “Erin go Bragh”*

The shirt pictured came across my desk recently, shared by my friend and fellow Gaeilge geek Michael von Siegel, and it’s just so egregiously awful, I have to dissect it.

* This phrase is a corruption of “Éire go brách” or, as they say it in Munster, “Éirinn go brách.”

But what does it mean?

Short answer: It means absolutely nothing. It’s an ungrammatical mess. But what we really want to know is what the designer intended for it to say, right?

As nearly as I can tell, what was intended was “Kiss me I’m Irish and you are beautiful.” News flash: That’s not what it says.

If we want to get literal (and why not?), what it LITERALLY says is “Kiss ME I the Irish language and are you beautiful [?]” (I added the question mark because somehow it seemed even dumber without it).

So, what’s wrong with it?

Let’s start with the first phrase: Póg mise:

Póg does mean “kiss,” and can be used either as a noun or as a verb, so initially it doesn’t look like there’s too much wrong here. Technically you CAN say “póg mé” (we’ll deal with mise in a moment). It’s grammatically sound enough. There’s only one problem:

That’s not how an Irish speaker would normally say “kiss me.”

A very important facet of learning a language is understanding that, even if something is in the dictionary and/or is grammatically correct, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s actually something a speaker of that language would say.

Irish as a language leans more toward noun phrases for this kind of expression. To an Irish speaker, “póg mé,” while understandable, sounds rather rude and abrupt. It’s a command, not a friendly invitation, and it just doesn’t feel natural in this context.

So how would an Irish speaker say “kiss me”? The usual approach would be something along the lines of tabhair póg dom” — give me a kiss.

Another strange aspect of this phrase is the use of the emphatic form of  (“me/I”): mise.

When Irish speakers want to emphasize a word, instead saying it more loudly or forcefully, they use what’s called an “emphatic form,” which usually involves adding the suffix -se or -sa. Some words change more significantly, though, and mé is one of them. So, essentially what we have here is “ME” rather than “me” (Or, to sum the whole phrase up, “Kiss ME (dammit!) not that person over there!”)

Tarzan meets the Irish language

Moving on to the next phrase: Mé Gaeilge. 

This phrase has so much wrong with it, it’s hard to know where to start. It even took me a couple of moments to realize that the “designer” meant mé to go with the second line of text, it’s just that weird.

As I mentioned above, mé means “me/I,” so it’s clear, upon reflection, that the designer was going for “I’m Irish.” Aside from the Tarzan-esque nature of this phrase (note the lack of a verb: “Me/I Irish”), this is absolutely NOT the way you would say “I am [something].”

If you’re an Irish learner, or if you happened to read my most recent grammar post, I Am, or Copulating in Irish (yes, it’s a bit cheeky), you already know that the way you say “I am [something]” in Irish is with that little semi-verb known as “the copula”:

Is  _________ mé:  I am ___________

That’s bad enough, but the thing that has Irish speakers rolling in the aisles (or perhaps just rolling their eyes) is that Gaeilge doesn’t mean “Irish” as in “an Irish person.” It’s the name of the Irish language. And no…you can’t just swap them out for each other.

If you’re speaking of an Irish person, you would either use Éireannach or Gael (Éireannach would be understood more as someone actually FROM Ireland — an Irish citizen — whereas Gael can be used to denote Irish heritage).

So, if you want to say “I’m Irish” you have two choices:

Is Éireannach mé

Is Gael mé

Are you beautiful? (asking for a friend)

The third and final phrase on this shirt — agus an bhfuil tú go hálainn — actually gets two things right. Agus does mean “and,” and go hálainn does mean “beautiful.” Even a broken clock is right two times a day.

The problem is with the form of the verb used. An bhfuil is an interrogative, or “question,” form of the verb bí/tá (“to be”). Unlike English, which simply switches word order and uses a rising inflection to ask a question, Irish uses a specialized verb form.

English: Are you beautiful? You are beautiful!

Irish: An bhfuil tú go hálainn? Tá tú go hálainn!

Putting it all together

So, putting this all together, how would you say “Kiss me, I’m Irish, and You’re Beautiful” in Irish?

Tabhair póg dom, is Éireannach/Gael mé, agus tá tú go hálainn

As with any language, there can be many different ways to say a particular thing, but this is pretty straightforward, and will be widely understood.

So how did it get this way?

There are many, many roads to a bad translation, and it can often be difficult figuring out exactly which one led to any particular catastrophe.

Some methods would-be translators try include pulling words out of an Irish dictionary and plugging them into English syntax; asking a “friend” or relative who claims to know Irish (but really doesn’t); using something from a book, song, or piece of jewelry without verifying it first; or trying machine translation. All of these are recipes for disaster.

Often when we see something like this, the first impulse is to blame it on Google Translate (or, as we sometimes call it, “Google Trashlate”) or some other form of machine translation, and with some justification. Machine translation has an abysmal record with the Irish language, and it hasn’t improved much, if at all, since I wrote this post for Bitesize Irish back in 2012.

Given that, one of the first things I do when I’m trying to work out where a bad translation came from is try to replicate it in Google Translate.

This is actually easier said than done, as Google is both case- and punctuation-sensitive, and can deliver vastly different results based on how you capitalize or punctuate your request.

Google also is inconsistent in back-translating. You can enter, for example, a phrase in English and get one Irish “translation” (for better or for worse), but often, if you try to check your result by entering the Irish translation and seeking a translation back to English, you’ll get something very different.

Here are some of the attempts I made with this phrase:

Kiss me I’m Irish and you’re beautiful: Póg mise Tá mé Éireannach agus tá tú go hálainn

Kiss me, I’m Irish and you’re beautiful: Póg dom, is Gaelainn mé agus tá tú go hálainn

Kiss me, I’m Irish, and  you’re beautiful! Póg dom, is Éireannach me, agus tá tú go hálainn!

All of these have serious errors in them, but none of them replicates the errors on the T-shirt. When I enter the phrase exactly as it appears on the shirt, however — Póg Mise mé Gaeilge agus an bhfuil tú go hálainn, and ask Google to translate it to English, it does return “Kiss me I am Irish and you are beautiful.”

Given that, and given that the sites that manufacture such shirts and similar items often do use machine translation, I’m willing to bet that this is the culprit, even though I can’t reproduce the error going from English to Irish. Maybe you’ll have better luck!

Bonus mistake

If the bad translation weren’t enough, the symbol in the middle of the shirt is not a shamrock. Shamrocks have three leaves. Yes, always. Four-leafed clovers are thought of as lucky in many countries because of their rarity, but they have no particular association with Ireland, and are not an Irish symbol.

Summing it all up

I don’t want to discourage anyone from using Irish, on St. Patrick’s Day or any other day. It’s a great way to show your connection to the culture, IF you do it properly, and with respect for the language.

Some options for getting a good translation (or verifying one you’ve found) include:

  • Find a professional translator. A Google search can help with this (be sure to use the parameters “Irish language” or “Gaeilge,” not just “Irish”), but do your due diligence. Get references.
  • Visit an Irish Language forum. The one I usually recommend is the Irish Language Forum (ILF). Old school forums work better for this kind of thing, because it’s easier to keep track of the process, and to tell who the more expert people are. Remember the very important “Rule of Threes”: Wait to proceed with a translation until at least three people from that site agree.
  • Don’t use anything you’ve found in a book, in a song/poem, or on-line without verifying it first. A forum is a good place to do that as well. You don’t want to end up like this poor guy.
  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use Google Translate or any other machine translation app. Trust me, it will not go well.

Most important of all, approach the language with curiosity and respect. It’s a fascinating language, and learning even a little bit of it is a wonderful way to celebrate your Irish heritage.

Le meas,

GG

P.S.: Yes, the heading above the pictured shirt is wrong too, and by now you can probably figure out why!


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

“I am,” or Copulating in Irish

If you’re new to Irish, you may be wondering if The Geeky Gaeilgeoir has been hacked by a porn site (Don’t worry. It hasn’t)

Ha ha…made you look! If you’re new to Irish, you may be wondering if The Geeky Gaeilgeoir has been hacked by a porn site (Don’t worry. It hasn’t). If you’ve been studying Irish for a while, you’re most likely either giggling or rolling your eyes (it’s an old, old joke). This post is not X-rated, or even R-rated (though some of the language I’ve heard from people trying to sort out this subject would definitely earn an R rating!). It has to do with one of the most fundamental aspects of Irish (or pretty much any language) — the correct use of what is, in English, the verb “To Be.”

Two “To Be’s” (and They Aren’t Synonyms)

Irish has two verbs that correspond to the English “to be” — bí (the present tense, tá, is more commonly encountered by beginners, so I’ll use that to refer to this verb from here on out) and “the copula” —  is (pronounced to rhyme with “kiss,’ not as “iz” or “ish”). The thing is, they aren’t interchangeable. Each has its own function, and using one when the other is called for is a serious grammar mistake (often referred to by learners as a “tá sé fear” error — TSF for short — for reasons that will, hopefully, become clear further on). Figuring out when to use the copula and when to use can drive beginners a little bit crazy, and the way it’s usually taught doesn’t often help. We’ll talk about that in a second, but first…

What’s a copula?

“Copula” may sound a little like some kind of disease, but it’s actually just a grammatical term for what is sometimes called a “linking verb.” Here’s what Webster has to say about it:

Definition of linking verb

a word or expression (such as a form of be, become, feel, or seem) that links a subject with its predicate
It is related to the words “couple” and — yes — “copulate.” In Irish, “is” is the only copula, and it has a very specialized function, as we’ll see here in a bit. It’s really not as scary as it seems at first. (But if you want to refer to it as “that copulating copula,” be my guest. It’s been called worse.)

Permanent vs. Impermanent

Typically, when new learners are first introduced to this concept, they are told to use is when talking about things that are permanent and tá when talking about things that are impermanent. Unfortunately, this explanation breaks down pretty quickly. I was chatting with an advanced beginner at the San Francisco Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta (Irish immersion weekend) some years back, when the subject of vegetarianism came up. I gave her the word for vegetarian (feoilséantóir — literally “meat denier”) and asked if she could use it in a sentence (always teaching!). She hesitated for a second and then said “I guess it would be “Tá mé feoilséantóir,” because I haven’t always been a vegetarian and I might not be one forever, so it’s not a permanent state.” Unfortunately, the practice of teaching the copula as something used to indicate a permanent state is a set-up for exactly this kind of mistake. You can’t say “Tá mé feoilséantóir.” It’s a TSF error. You say “Is feoilséantóir mé.” (I do have to say, for the record, that there ARE times when you would use “ta” to describe a new, transitory, or future state, but that requires a special construction using “i” — “in” — that I won’t go into here. Maybe in a later post.) When you think about it, there is very little about people, animals, or things that is truly permanent. “The tree is tall” — until it’s been topped. “John is alive” — until he’s dead. In addition there are things that are, more or less, permanent — for example “She is smart” or “Donegal is beautiful” (it is!) — for which we wouldn’t use the copula, at least not in this kind of simple construction. So clearly this isn’t a very useful distinction.

Nouns vs. Adjectives

At one point, when I was an intermediate learner, I overheard a teacher working with beginners offering this distinction:

“Use is when describing something using a noun. Use  when describing something using an adjective.”

This distinction actually worked pretty well for me for quite a while, because it’s more or less true: If  you want to say “X is [noun]” you use the copula and if you want to say “X is [adjective]” you use . Easy peasy, right? It broke down in practice, however, when I started teaching beginners myself. Aside from the fact that I often had to explain the grammatical terms, there are too many instances for which this distinction is just too broad. For example, what if you have a sentence that includes both a noun AND an adjective (“He is a tall man,” for example)? What about tá sentences that don’t include an adjective (“Tá an madadh ag ithe”: The dog is eating.  “Tá an pláta ar an tábla“: the plate is on the table”)? Maybe they even include an adverb (“Tá an madadh ag ithe go mall”: The dog is eating slowly)! And what about those “is” idioms indicating likes and preferences that are often among the first phrases we learn (“Is maith liom tae”: I like tea. “Is breá liom fíon dearg”: I love red wine)? In this case, there are adjectives (“maith”: “good” and “breá“: “fine”) directly following the copula.

Tell it Like it is (or Tell Us What it is)

Here’s the method I finally settled on for teaching about the difference, and it holds up pretty well:
  • If you want to say something ABOUT something or someone, use tá.
  • If you want to say WHAT something or someone IS, use the copula.
You use tá say what something or someone is like: its appearance, its state or condition, its location, what it’s doing, etc. Some examples: Tá an madadh dubh: The dog is black. Tá an múinteoir ard dáthúil: The teacher is tall and handsome. Tá Máire sa chistin: Maire is in the kitchen. Tá na daoine ag rith: The people are running. You use is to say what someone or something IS. Some examples: Is madadh dubh é sin: That IS a black dog. Is cócaire í Máire: Máire IS a cook. Is é Seán an múinteoir: Seán IS the teacher. Is iad na daoine atá ag rith: They ARE the people who are running. (If you like grammatical terminology, these are called “identification” and “classification” sentences). You also use the copula in certain basic set phrases, mostly having to do with likes, dislikes, and preferences (there are a few others as well, but you’ll pick those up as you go along): Is maith liom: I like Is breá liom: I love (as in “I love New York,” not as in “I love you, my darling”) Is fearr liom: I prefer Is fuath liom: I hate Is cuma liom: I don’t care There are more of these set expressions, but these are the ones you’re most likely to encounter early on. It’s not really all that hard at all now, is it?

Is that all there is to it?

Of course, this isn’t the entire story. For instance, both verbs have negative forms, interrogative forms, a past tense, and a conditional mode. Tá also has a continuous mode and a future tense (Is doesn’t need a conditional mode, and doesn’t have a future tense, which is when that special construction using “in” that I mentioned above will come in handy). But this WILL help you sort out the basic nuts and bolts of when to use tá and when to use the copula, and will help you build the foundation upon which everything else having to do with the verb “to be” in Irish will be built. With enough practice, you’ll soon be copulating with the best of them! (Oh, stop rolling your eyes!)

In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

The Modest Preposition

The humble preposition plays a vital role in the Irish language

A while back, I wrote a Facebook post lamenting the loss of the preposition “from” in the phrase “to graduate from college.” Apparently, in increasingly common usage, one no longer graduates from college, one “graduates college.” (There are lots of reasons why this oddly truncated phrase doesn’t work, which I’ll let Grammar Girl describe in detail. To me it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.).

This led to a discussion about prepositions in general, with predictable side trips into regionalisms/colloquialisms, prescriptivism vs. descriptivism, language evolution (or devolution), etc., but what it all boiled down to was that prepositions are little words and, in English at least, are sometimes easily tossed aside.

(That said, I’ll challenge anyone who defends “graduate college” to explain why he doesn’t also “go school” or “sleep night”).

Me being me (yes, the geek is back!), this got me thinking about the vital role the humble preposition plays in the Irish language.

Little Word, Big Job

First let’s talk about the basic function of a preposition. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:

Prepositions show direction, location, or time, or introduce an object. They are usually followed by an object—a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. The most common prepositions are little and very common:

at, by, for, from, in, of, on, to, with

Further…

Prepositions typically show how the noun, noun phrase, or pronoun is related to another word in the sentence.

a friend of mine

the dress with the stripes

hit by a ball

no one except me

That’s a lot of work for a bunch of small words!

And how they work can vary greatly from country to country and from region to region, as this article demonstrates:

Prepositions: The super-handy and horribly confusing widgets of language, by James Harbeck.

Still, useful and perplexing as they are in English, prepositions take on a whole new job when it comes to Irish. They can take the place of verbs.

Let me explain

Perhaps the above needs a little explanation. It’s not that Irish doesn’t have verbs. Irish has plenty of verbs, and conjugating them drives new learners crazy (Though I’m not sure why. Irish verb construction is really very simple. More on that in another post).

English, however, is much more reliant on verbs to convey meaning. We have a dedicated verb for just about every conceivable action. Give us a concept and we can verb it (see what I did there?).

Irish, on the other hand, often favors a preposition, supported by some form of the verb “to be” to convey the same concepts. For example, in English we have (verbs in bold):

  • Seán has a new car
  • Máire is sick
  • Gráinne loves chocolate
  • Síle loves Sinéad
  • Éamonn hates tomatoes

The same sentences in Irish (verbs underlined; prepositions in bold):

  • carr nua ag Seán. (Literally “Is car new at Seán”)
  • tinneas ar Mháire (Literally “Is sickness on Máire”)
  • Is maith le Gráinne seacláid (Literally “Is good with Gráinne chocolate”)
  • grá ag Síle do Shinéad (Literally “Is love at Síle for Sinéad”)
  • Is fuath le Éamonn trátaí (Literally “Is hatred with Éamonn tomatoes”)

“Tá” and “Is” are both words that correspond to the verb “to be” in English (they’re not used interchangeably, but that also is a subject for another post…or maybe a book…or perhaps a small library).

But wait…there’s more!

An interesting thing about Irish prepositions (and a feature of Celtic languages in general) is that they have a special affinity with another class of small words that begins with “P” — pronouns. Irish conjugates prepositions by joining them with pronouns, in a form that is formally called a “prepositional pronoun.”

Knowing how prepositional pronouns work is integral to learning and speaking Irish (unless you want to sound like Tarzan).

Meet the pronouns

You probably remember from school that a pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun (which saves us from having to say such things as “Audrey drives Audrey’s car to Audrey’s office every morning. Audrey gets out of Audrey’s car and unlocks the door to Audrey’s office and then goes to Audrey’s desk and checks Audrey’s email” which would be a pretty tedious and cumbersome way to talk, you have to admit).

These are the pronouns in English:

I/me
You
He/him
She/her
We/us
They/them
It

These are the pronouns in Irish:


Tú/thú
Sé/é
Sí/í
Muid or sinn (“sinn” is primarily used in Munster)
Sibh
Siad/iad

Because all nouns in Irish, animate or inanimate, have grammatical gender, Irish doesn’t have an equivalent of the neuter inanimate pronoun “it.” Also, unlike contemporary English, Irish has singular and plural forms of “you”: tú/thú for singular and sibh for plural.

Putting it all together

In Irish, you can’t just put a pronoun next to a preposition. You must combine the two into a “prepositional pronoun.” For example, you can’t say:

Ag mé

You have to say:

Agam

Here’s the full conjugation of “ag” (“at):

Agam (“at me”)
Agat (“at you” – singular)
Aige (“at him”)
Aici (“at her”)
Againn (“at us”)
Agaibh (“at you” – plural)
Acu (“at them”)

Here are the sentences I used earlier, each with one noun replaced with a prepositional pronoun:

  • carr nua aige(Literally “Is car new at him,” i.e., “He has a new car”)
  • tinneas uirthi (Literally “Is sickness on her,” i.e., “She is sick”)
  • Is maith léi seacláid (Literally “Is good with her chocolate,” i.e., “She likes chocolate”)
  • grá ag Síle di (Literally “Is love at Síle for her,”i.e., “Síle loves her”). Or, if you want to replace both nouns: Tá grá aici di (Literally “Is love at her for her”).
  • Is fuath leis trátaí (Literally “Is hatred with him tomatoes,” i.e., “He hates tomatoes”)

What this all comes down to is that, when translating many common phrases from English to Irish, you need to know at least three things:

1) Is this an instance that requires a preposition rather than a dedicated verb?
2) If so, which preposition is required?
3) If I want to use a pronoun, how does that pronoun combine with the preposition?

(There are actually a few more things you have to know, such as “how does the preposition affect a word that follows it?” but we’ll deal with that somewhere/time down the road).

Bad news for wannabe translators

There are myriad reasons why a person who isn’t reasonably fluent in Irish (or in any other language not their own) shouldn’t attempt translations for anything permanent or public. This is one of the biggies. Idioms involving prepositions and prepositional pronouns are integral to the language. There’s just no getting around that. And if you don’t know how to use them, you’re going to get it wrong — guaranteed.

And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times YOU CANNOT RELY ON GOOGLE TRANSLATE. Seriously. Just don’t. If you need an example or two of how just how badly Google handles Irish, check out this post I wrote for Bitesize Irish a few years back:

Bitesize Irish – Irish Translators

I’m sorry to say it hasn’t improved much in the intervening seven-plus years.

Translator’s bane, learner’s boon

If you’re learning Irish, or contemplating doing so (maybe as a New Year’s resolution!), this may seem a bit daunting. Don’t let it worry you.

The fact that these idioms are so integral to Irish means that you will begin encountering them from your earliest lessons, and the more common ones will become familiar very, very quickly. These include the kinds of sentences you will use over and over again, such as:

  • Those involving possessions
  • Those involving physical attributes
  • Those involving desires, likes, and dislikes
  • Those involving health/physical condition

It won’t take you long to begin to get a feel for the patterns. And when you need help, this is one case in which your favorite dictionary can be really useful.

Most dictionaries, whether print or on-line, have extensive entries on prepositions, which will not only give you the prepositional pronoun forms, but lots of examples of usage. Here’s an example from Teanglann.ie:

Ag (at) in Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla

You’ll get it — I promise! And faster than you might think.

The Geek is back!

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around for a while (You have noticed, haven’t you? Please tell me you noticed! Actually, if you haven’t, don’t tell me!). Adjusting to working full time after 20+ years of working from home, as well as dealing with some health issues, put a cramp in my style for a bit.

I’m back now, though, and I made two resolutions for 2020:

  1. To get this post finished and posted by the end of New Year’s Day (nailed it!)
  2. To write more frequently in 2020 (I’m aiming for publishing fortnightly, if possible. Hold me to it!)

If you think of something you’d like me to write about regarding Irish and/or translation, please let me know! You can say it in the comments below or message me via WordPress.

Athbhliain faoi rath is faoi mhaise daoibh! (A lovely and prosperous New Year to you all!)

Le meas, GG


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.