Yu Ming’s Revenge

Irish pops up when you least expect it!

When you study a minority language, you’re always looking for evidence that it still exists out there, beyond the classroom or the immersion course.

With a language such as Irish, which suffers from an identity crisis here in the U.S. (“Don’t you mean Gaelic?”), and which many Americans seem to think is dead, if they know it ever existed at all (“You mean they have their own language?”), it sometimes surprises me when I encounter it at all.

And yet, there it is, popping up when I least expect it.

From Tattoos to T-Shirts

I’ll be the first to admit that most of this “pop-up Irish” is (usually) minimalist, to say the least. It’s things such as spotting the word “fáilte” among other world languages on a “welcome” poster on the door of an elementary school classroom, or the word “uisce” among other words meaning “water” on a decorative fountain.

And sometimes, alas, the Irish that crops up is horrifyingly bad. I mean, have a look at this guy’s T-shirt. And don’t even get me started on the bad Irish tattoos I’ve seen! (Actually, you don’t need to get me “started,” as I often blog about them, and even wrote an entire book dedicated to helping people avoid them!)

But every now and then I’ll get a real surprise, such as the time the person in the visitors’ booth in downtown Santa Cruz greeted me with Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? (“How are you?” in Connacht Irish)* or the time the lady in San Francisco, spotting my An bhfuil Gaeilge agat? (“Do you speak Irish?”) T-shirt, said “Tá neart Gaeilge agam! Is múinteoir Gaeilge mé!” (“I have a lot of Irish! I’m an Irish teacher!”).

These are the encounters you live for, and one unexpected Irish encounter such as these can brighten my entire day! Unfortunately, for most of us, they’re too few and too seldom.

Well, I had one last week, and I’m going to tell you about it, but first…

Yu Ming is Ainm Dom

If you’re an Irish speaker or learner and haven’t seen the wonderful short film Yu Ming is Ainm Dom (“My Name is Yu Ming”), first, have you been living under a rock? And second, you need to see it. Here’s a link: Yu Ming is Ainm Dom.

It’s only about 10 minutes long. Go ahead…I’ll wait. It’s relevant.

Synopsis

Just in case you’re in a hurry (Or you can’t listen to a video because you’re at work. Do have a listen later, though), here’s the basic plot:

Yu Ming is a young Chinese man who becomes bored with his life as a shop worker and decides to relocate. A spin of the globe lands him in Ireland, and a glance at an atlas tells him that the country’s official language is “Gaelic.”

For the next six months he works hard at learning Irish, becoming increasingly more comfortable with the language. Finally the big day comes, and he hops on a plane bound for Dublin.

At first he’s pleased and excited to see the signs in Irish all around the airport, on the busses, etc. Things come crashing down, however, when he realizes that no one understands him when he tries to speak it.

After days of looking for work and trying to get by, poor Yu Ming decides that he doesn’t have very good Irish after all…until a chance meeting with a man in a bar (played by the wonderful Frank Kelly) reveals that he actually has MORE Irish than most people in Ireland, where English, alas, is the majority language.

(It’s a sad commentary on the state of Irish in much of Ireland, but don’t worry…the film has a happy ending!)

Yu Ming’s Revenge

This story is important, not only because it’s a great short film, but also because it made my most recent Irish encounter all the sweeter.

When I’m not speaking in Irish, writing about Irish, dissecting Irish tattoos, or making music, I work as an editor for a market research firm. The people who take part in our survey panels earn points, which they can exchange for PayPal payouts or Amazon gift cards, and one of my jobs is to redeem their points for them.

We have panelists from all over the world, but last week was my first time encountering one from China. This person wanted an Amazon gift card. Unfortunately, the Amazon China website is in…well…Chinese.

Because of the French and Latin I took in high school and college, I can generally manage navigating Amazon in French, Italian, or Spanish, but Chinese is an entirely different story. I didn’t even know where to start!

I opened it in Chrome and tried to use the translate utility to render the page in English, but kept getting the message “Unable to translate this page.”

The layout was also quite different from the Amazon sites I’m more accustomed to, so I couldn’t use that for a guide. I copied blocks of text into Google Translate (see how desperate I was?), but without the page layout, the fragments I got weren’t of much help to me.

Out of frustration, I tried again to use Chrome to translate the page. I got the same message. Then I realized there was a drop-down menu for other languages. I said “I wonder…”. Nah…never happen! But I wonder…”.

Famous last words! Sure enough, I chose “Irish” and the page translated with no problem!

Was it perfect Irish? No. Far from it (you can see an example in the picture above). But it was readable Irish (and, for me, one heck of a lot more readable than the Chinese), and it was such a surprise, I swear they could hear me laughing in China!

Never let anyone tell you that Irish is a “dead” or “useless” language. It’s out there, and we should treasure every opportunity we have to speak or read it.

And somewhere in Connemara, I think, someone named Yu Ming is smiling.

* Venus, the lovely person who runs the information booth in downtown Santa Cruz, has tried to learn basic greetings in as many languages as possible. She saw my harp necklace and guessed that I was Irish. Sure took me by surprise, and she had good pronunciation to boot!


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/

You Know You’ve Been Studying Irish Too Long When…

Fadó, fadó, ar an idirlíon…

Once upon a time, there was a lovely little Irish discussion and translation forum on the internet.

The members of the forum were good friends and, when they weren’t busy doing tattoo translations, discussing the tuiseal ginideach and the modh coinníolach, or dissing the Caighdeán Oifigiúil, they enjoyed playing word games.

Favorite games included Fiche Ceist (“Twenty Questions”) and Raight Inglís Iúsuinn Aighrís Fáinics (“Write English Using Irish Phonics”). These games were educational as well as a lot of fun.

Fiche Ceist, for example, was a great way to sort out the difference between Tá and Is, and Raight Inglís Iúsuinn Aighrís Fáinics really helped new learners get a handle on the Irish spelling system (which is a lot easier than you might think).

One day a member of the forum, having just had an amusing (if a little embarrassing) experience at a Mexican restaurant, invented a new game: “You Know You’ve Been Studying Irish Too Long When…”.

The goal, of course, was to finish the above sentence.

The game was an immediate hit, and the responses ranged from the rueful to the hilarious. Unlike the other games, it wasn’t particular educational, but it was definitely a bonding experience for people learning a minority language.

Just for fun, then (and because we can all use a little bonding), play along! Come on…we’ve all been there! Finish the sentence! Here are some of the best from the archives of The Irish Language Forum:

You Know You’ve Been Studying Irish Too Long When…

You find you have an incredible urge to lenite words following “the,” “my,” and “your,”regardless of what language they’re in.

You run across an English word starting with “ch,” “th” etc., and you find yourself automatically converting it to “root” form.

You realize that “ng” seems like a perfectly logical and normal way to start a word.

English words start to look wrong if they don’t follow the “caol le caol” rule.

You want to look up “lenition” in an English dictionary, and realize after about 10 minutes that the reason you can’t find it is because “lenition” doesn’t begin with an “s” in English.

After spending time looking at a site with songs in Welsh, Manx, Scottish Gaelic or Cornish, you find it a relief to run across a song with “normal looking” (i.e., Irish) words.

You find yourself swearing at other drivers on the freeway and realize the reason they’re giving you baffled looks is they have no idea what you’re saying.

You say “hello” to your neighbor and she gives you a funny look because, in her world, “hello” starts with an “h”…and just who are you calling a “witch,” anyway???

Your idea of a dream vacation changes from a week at Club Med to a week at Oideas Gael.

Your husband wakes you in the middle of the night and says “if you’re going to sing in your sleep, please sing in a language I understand.”

As you’re reading in church, you run across an unfamiliar Hebrew word and, without missing a beat, pronounce it as if it were Irish (I’m fairly certain that “Beth-peor” isn’t supposed to be pronounced the way I said it that morning!)

You read this on Facebook — “I’ve had a very productive day today agus ceapaim go bhfuil beoir nó trí tuillte agam!” and don’t even notice it switches language in the middle of the sentence. (Wait…it switches languages?)

You want to say “thank you” to the nice man who brought you water in the local Mexican restaurant, but when you try to say “gracias!” what comes out of your mouth is “go raibh maith agat!”

A French-speaking friend types a sentence including the phrase “un chat” on her Facebook page and your first, knee-jerk, thought is “Why did she lenite it? ‘Cat’ is masculine!”

You see ‘teach more’ and you think it should be ‘teach mór‘ and then you realize it’s an article on education!  

You’re thinking in Irish, writing in English, and inadvertently post on Facebook in some hybrid form (must be where Hiberno-English came from!). 

You find yourself thinking “‘Wanker?’ I thought it was just the vocative of “‘banker'”.

You mix up languages mid-word! I showed up a bit early for a sean-nós lesson the other day, and the teacher asked me if I’d like a cup of tea. I started to say “No thanks…I’ve got water.” But just as I started to say “water,” my eye fell on my water bottle, and my brain helpfully supplied “uisce.” As my poor brain teetered helplessly between languages, what actually came out of my mouth was “no thanks…I’ve got whiskey!” (I knew I wanted an English word, but grabbed the wrong one out of the air!) I’m sure my poor teacher wondered what I was doing drinking whiskey at 11 a.m.!

You hear someone say, ‘Feck him, hey?’ and wonder what they are looking at.

Dhiú raoid d’fhios ait nórmal spaoi d’ain d’iondair stain duit.

You write relidious instead of religious  

After consuming a delicious Thai meal, you find yourself wondering if you’ve just eaten curaí rua or curaí dearg…or maybe curaí flannbhuí. (You also know you’ve been studying Irish too long when such distinctions keep you up at night!)

You stroll down the beer aisle and decide to pick up a nice bottle of “Stella ar-TISH.”

The people around you, who have never studied the language, know what you’re saying! I was at choir rehearsal the other day and the director said “get out the Batten” (as in “O sing joyfully,” by Adrian Batten). I was having trouble finding it in my folder, and muttered “Ca bhfuil sé…sin í an cheist!” and the person next to me helpfully answered “Orange book, page 70.” (She was texting at the time, so it wasn’t like she was watching me paw through my folder or anything like that).

Later on, my husband and I were at a local Mexican restaurant and a group of young people at the next table were being overly loud and…er…rather inappropriately demonstrative. I nudged hubby and said “Sílim go bhfuil siad ar meisce” and he said “I think you’re right.”

You want to “correct” ceapairí ham to ceapairí haim

You hear a TV ad for the antidepressant “Latuda” and think you’ve just heard “Fá dtaobh de” (and you wonder “Fá dtaobh de céard?”)

You realize you have absently labeled the chainsaw files “beag” and “mór” and your son can’t figure out which is which.

You name your new catCat Eile.”

You want to greet a visitor from France using your high school and college French, but can’t think of a sentence that doesn’t begin with “,” “is,” “an bhfuil” or “an.”

You look up “rithim” in your Irish dictionary because you never can remember how to spell “rhythm” in English.

You try to recall the Our Father or Hail Mary in Latin or French (both of which you’ve studied), but it somehow turns into Irish by the second or third line.

You find yourself taking a close look at people’s tattoos in the hopes of finding one of your translations.

Your daughter says she wants to go to Oakland Kraken Con and your first thought is “they have porn cons now?” 

Your dog responds to “goitse.”

Your Turn!

All of the above (and many more) were supplied by various members of The Irish Language Forum and by erstwhile members of the now-defunct Irish Gaelic Translation Forum (many of whom are one and the same).

Maybe you can think of more! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


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/