(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.

Oh, What an Idiom!

Translation is both an art and a science, and it takes more than you might realize to get a correct translation.

dul gorm censored (1)

Definition of idiom (Thank you, Webster!)

1an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself, either grammatically (such as no, it wasn’t me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as ride herd on for “supervise”).

2athe language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class :DIALECT

bthe syntacticalgrammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language.

It’s not a bug, it’s a feature

Idioms are so much a part of our language — of ANY language — that it can be hard for learners or translation seekers to understand that they may not make sense when translated directly into another language.

We deal with idioms day after day, though we may not be aware of them. Consider these:

  • You take a bath
  • You make money
  • It’s raining cats and dogs

You don’t think about these phrases…they’re just part of how you speak. To you they sound perfectly logical. But imagine how they sound to a learner of your language:

  • You’re removing a bathtub from one place to another
  • You’re printing your own money
  • Dogs and cats are literally falling from the sky

A challenge for would-be translators

Many pitfalls await for people who try to do their own translations without actually knowing the language into which they’re translating. Assuming that idioms can translate literally across languages is one of the most common.

While this can be true for any language, the further you get from familiar English structures and culture, the less likely it is that your idiom will make any sense at all once “translated.”

This is what happened with the shirt on the poor fellow in the photo above (His face and his Twitter handle are obscured to save him from embarrassment, as I doubt he’s the originator of this mistake. It’s been going around the internet for quite a while. He looks sad because he’s just learned that his shirt is wrong).

Whoever “translated” the words on his shirt assumed that the common American English slogan “Go [sports team]” could be expressed literally in Irish.

By now, I probably don’t have to tell you that this is not the case.

Just go

There are two problems here, and the first (and most fundamental) issue is one of idiom.

What the shirt is intended to say is “Go Blue” — a slogan you’ll hear shouted enthusiastically at games by students and alumni of the University of Michigan (whose color is, of course, blue).

Irish has a couple of words that mean “go,” depending on context. The one used here is the verb téigh (Yes, I know that nothing on that shirt looks like “téigh.” More on that in a moment). Another common one is imigh.

Between the two of them, they encompass most of the usual uses of “go” (téigh is more of a general-use “go,” while imigh is more “go” as in “leave/depart”): “Go home,” “Go away,” “Let’s go to grandma’s,” “The road goes ever on,” “Does this bus go to Dublin?” “I go to work every day,” etc., etc.

And, of course, there’s always this one:

an bhfuil cead agam 2

Neither of them, however, is used as a rallying cry.

When you want to express something like this in Irish, you use the word abú, which means, roughly, “onward.” And it comes AFTER whatever you’re cheering for.

GORM ABÚ!!!! GO BLUE!!!!

A matter of grammar

The other issue with this “translation” is that, even if “Go Blue” could have been rendered using the verb téigh, the “translator” chose the wrong form of the verb.

Dul is a form known as the “verbal noun,” which, depending on context, corresponds to the infinitive (“to go”) or the present participle (“going”).

Ba mhaith liom dul abhaile: I would like to go home.

Tá mé ag dul abhaile: I am going home.

What was wanted is the imperative — the form of the verb that is used for giving an order or direction.

In Irish, the root form of the verb is the singular imperative, so to tell one person or entity to “go,” you’d simply use téigh.  For multiple people or entities, you’d use téigí. A sports team is a singular entity, so even if this could have been translated literally, the verb form should have been téigh, not dul.

Téigh abhaile: Go home.

The point of all of this

The point of this (and of other similar posts in this blog) isn’t to ridicule the University of Michigan or other groups/individuals who make these very public mistakes. It’s to emphasize the fact that, if you don’t speak a language, you can’t translate into it. You can’t even verify a translation given to you by someone else.

That’s why you absolutely must verify your sources. Check, re-check, and then check again. Even if you get a translation from a close friend or family member, get it verified. Get a minimum of three RELIABLE sources in agreement before proceeding.

Translation is both an art and a science, and it takes more than you might realize to get a correct translation.

New year, new price

Inflation affects the best of us…even translators. The price for both The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook and The Scottish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook will be going up sometime this month. If you’ve been thinking about buying a copy of one or both of them, act now! Both books are available from Amazon and from Barnes & Noble, or from your local bookstore via special order.


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.

A Cautionary Tale, or What to Buy Your Celtic-Loving Loved Ones for Christmas

Or for Hanukkah. Or for Yule. Or just because. Because friends don’t let friends get bad tattoos!

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time, a young man decided to honor his heritage by getting a tattoo in the language of his people…

Alas, he put his faith in the internet and the results were, shall we say, less than optimal.

I really wish this were a fairy tale!

Truth in Advertising

The video above may be an advertisement (in fact, it’s a promotional video by my publisher, Bradan Press, filmed in a real tattoo studio and at a Nova Scotia kitchen party) but the situation it portrays is all too real.

There is a significant interest in tattoos, engravings, cards, and other such things in the languages of the Celtic lands. In the nearly 15 years that I’ve been learning Irish, I’ve seen literally thousands of requests for tattoo translations, and almost as many requests for translations for artwork, cards, T-shirts, etc.

And that’s just in Irish. Heaven knows how may translation requests go out every day for Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, or Breton.

What’s really frightening, though, is that for every person who has requested a translation, whether from a forum, from a professional translator, or from an individual, there are many more who just do an internet search, or make the mistake of relying on Google “Translate.” And many of those translations, though hideously bad, end up permanently inked on someone’s skin.

(Not to mention in my blog. Here are just a few tattoo travesties I’ve written about in recent years: It’s A Long Life With A Bad TattooThe Great Soulmate DebateBig Sister’s Big Mistake: Four Mistakes in Two Words).

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Celtic Tattoo Handbook Series

Two years ago I was approached by Celtic-themed Canadian publisher Bradan Press about writing The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook as a companion to The Scottish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook, which had been published the previous year.

It was exciting, working with friends who are native speakers, as well as two professional Irish-language editors, to come up with the best, most authentic, translations for the most commonly requested tattoo words and phrases.

It was even more exciting to have the opportunity to educate people a bit about the language and about the translation process, which is much less simple than you might imagine! Sometimes I look at the book, open it and read the first chapters, and hope that it’s encouraged people to learn more about this language that I love.

Not Just for Tattoos

Although both books target tattoo seekers, both are also valuable for people who use, or would like to use, these languages in their artwork, as well as for such things as family reunion T-shirts, grave markers, and other such purposes (Fun Fact: After tattoos, inscriptions for grave markers/tombstones are the most commonly sought after Irish translations!).

Beyond these, both books are great for people who have an interest in or are learning these languages, as they supply not only common phrases, but also basic facts about the languages and the people who speak them (yes, both are living languages).

If you have friends or family members who are interested in the Celtic languages, or in tattoos, or in both, these books make great stocking stuffers!

Act Now!

I’ve always wanted to say that! (I think I was a infomercial narrator in a previous life!)

But seriously…don’t delay. Both books will increase in price in 2019, so if you want them, or know someone who would like to (or should) have them, now’s the time to buy!

And There’s More! Here’s to a Happy New Year!

I did mention that this is a series, right? Well, it takes more than two to make a series, and I’m happy to announce that the next two books in the series will be available in spring, 2019!

The Welsh Tattoo Handbook is one of the books that will be coming out next year. Welsh, a Celtic language that is spoken in Wales and in parts of Argentina, is a member of a different branch of the Celtic language family: The Brythonic Branch.

The Scots Tattoo Handbook is the first of the series to address a language that is spoken in a Celtic country, but is not itself a Celtic language. Scots is a Germanic language spoken in the Scottish lowlands and in Northern Ireland (If you’ve ever sung “Auld Lang Syne,” or read any poem by Robert Burns, you’re familiar with it). While some may argue whether Scots is a language distinct from English or a dialect of English, it is distinctive enough to merit its own book, and should interest anyone who has a love for Scotland!

Nollaig Mhaith, agus Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise Daoibh!

Whatever holiday you celebrate, and whatever language you speak (or want to speak), I wish all my readers and your families and friends happy holidays and a lovely and blessed New Year! See you in 2019! (My New Year’s resolution is to write more!)

Is mise, le meas,

The Geeky Gaeilgeoir


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.

A Song for St. Patrick

I get it. I really do. But could you please tone it down a little?

On March 17, people throughout the world, Irish or not, will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. There will be green beer, green bagels, and shamrocks everywhere (or sometimes, mistakenly, four-leafed clovers. Take note, folks…the shamrock only has three leaves!).

Some people will don t-shirts with stereotypical and offensive slogans and images on them, get pissing drunk, sing maudlin American music hall songs, scarf down corned beef and cabbage (an American tradition, by the way, not an Irish one), and somehow persuade themselves that they are celebrating Irish culture.

I get it

I get it. I really do. Cultural festivals are fun. One of the nice things about our multicultural society is that we can learn about and enjoy aspects of other cultures.

So if you want to wear green on March 17, lift a glass of Guinness or two, or even if you just have to slake your passionate craving for corned beef and cabbage, by all means, do so! Fun is fun, after all!

But please…do tone it down a bit! Stereotypes are never OK.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Except for in some of the big cities, Irish observance of St. Patrick’s Day is very different from what you’ll find here in the U.S. There may be a parade. Perhaps a few more people will drop into the pub. The religious folks will go to Mass. But green fountains? Nah. Green beer? Certainly not! (how can you even drink that?)

St. Patrick was, after all, a bishop. He is known as the apostle of Ireland. While bishops weren’t quite as rigid back in the day, I doubt he would have been terribly impressed by some of the celebrations that go on in his name today.

My favorite St. Patrick’s Day song

There’s a hymn to St. Patrick that is a particular favorite of mine. We sing it every year at the Irish Mass in Mountain View, California, on the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m not suggesting you go to Mass (well, unless you want to!), and you may not be terribly religious (If at all. You don’t have to be religious, or Christian, to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day), but I hope you enjoy this particular aspect of cultural appreciation. Never miss the opportunity to sing in Irish…that’s my motto!

I’ll leave you with the words, a translation, and a recording. And, of course, a happy St. Patrick’s Day! Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh go léir!

Véarsa 1:

Dóchas linn Naomh Pádraig, aspal mór na hÉireann.

Ainm oirdhearc gléigeal, solas mór an tsaoil é.

D’fhill le soiscéal grá dúinn, ainneoin blianta ‘ngéibheann,

Grá mór Mhac na Páirte d’fuascail cách ón daorbhroid.

Véarsa 2:

Sléibhte, gleannta, maighe, ‘s bailte mór na hÉireann,

Ghlán sé iad go deo dúinn, míle glóir dár naomh dhil.

Iarr’mid ort, a Phádraig, guí orainn na Gaela,

Dia linn lá ‘gus oíche, ‘s Pádraig aspal Éireann.

Verse 1:

Our hope is St. Patrick, great apostle of Ireland.

A renowned and pure/bright name; a great light to the world.

He returned to us with the gospel of love, despite years of bondage.

The great love of God’s beloved son that freed all from slavery.

Verse 2:

Mountains, glens, plains, and great cities of Ireland,

He purified them for us forever; great glory to our dear saint.

We implore you, O Patrick, to pray for us, the Gael.

God with us day and night, and Patrick Ireland’s apostle.

(Note: Verse 1 repeats at the end in the recording above)

Éire go Brách!


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.

O Say, Can You Say…?

Irish pronunciation: You can learn it. You CAN crack the code. And I’m going to tell you how.

In the 14+ years I’ve been learning Irish, I’ve noticed that, among learners (including myself), there’s a particular pattern of what I call “freakoutage” — i.e., things that make you clutch your hair and moan “Oh no! I’ll never learn this!”

It’s a very particular pattern, and it goes like this:

  • Freaking out about pronunciation
  • Freaking out about dialects
  • Freaking out about the use of tá vs. is.
  • Freaking out about how to answer “yes/no” questions
  • Freaking out about Irish verbs in general
  • Freaking out about certain verb forms

And it’s not just beginners! Far from it! In fact, I was once part of a class of advanced learners — people who can chat fairly comfortably on a wide variety of topics — who froze in wide-eyed, open-mouthed horror when the teacher cheerfully suggested “Let’s practice the modh coinníollach!

(The modh coinníolach is the conditional verb form — would, could, should, etc. — and for some reason that I really don’t understand it strikes terror into the hearts of Irish learners everywhere).

At some point I hope to talk about each of these in this blog, but for right now, let’s start with the most basic.

The elephant in the room: pronunciation

Once you’ve cracked the code, it can be hard to believe that you ever struggled with Irish pronunciation.

For an absolute beginner, however, the first time you look at an Irish word and then hear it pronounced (and realize that nothing that came out of the speaker’s mouth sounded remotely as you’d assumed it would), the prospect of actually learning to speak the language can seem pretty overwhelming.

The truth is that Irish spelling and pronunciation are surprisingly regular, particularly when compared with English (the language that gives us “through,” “though,” and “tough,” to name just a few of English’s inconsistencies!).

You can learn it. You CAN crack the code. And I’m going to tell you how.

First, forget all you think you know

Usually the first thing I hear when I pronounce an Irish word for someone is “How can that possibly make those sounds?” 

People tend to assume that letters have more or less absolute values, and that, perhaps with a few exceptions, they should sound more or less in one language as they do in another.

Language learners learn fairly quickly that that’s not always the case. Some letters and letter combinations in Irish sound like their counterparts in English, but many do not. Sometimes the difference is subtle and sometimes it’s quite marked.

Irish words also often seem to have more letters than they could possibly need.  One reason for this is an Irish spelling convention that dictates that a vowel on one side of a consonant or consonant combination must be matched with a vowel of the same type on the other side.

This rule is referred to as caol le caol agus leathan le leathan (“slender with slender and broad with broad”).  The “slender” vowels are i and e, and the broad vowels are a, o, and u. Often, when you find three vowels together in Irish, one of them is there simply to satisfy this spelling rule.

Add this to the fact that consonants and consonant combinations often make very different sounds to their counterparts in English, and you can find just about everything you know about spelling turned upside down.

If you go in without the expectation that things will “sound like they’re spelled” (a phrase I’ve come to hate, as they DO sound like they’re spelled…if you speak Irish! English is not the arbiter of the alphabet!), you’ll have an easier time right from the start.

Next: Forget Phonetics

It is so very tempting, when you hear an Irish word, to write it out using English phonics, or to ask the teacher to do so for you. So it may come as a surprise to you when I say that this is one of the WORST things you can do if you truly want to learn to read Irish as written.

There are a lot of reasons why writing things out “phonetically” is a bad idea. Here are just a few of them:

  • The sounds of Irish cannot be accurately represented by English phonics.* Consider the word gaoth (wind) for example. When people attempt to write it with English phonics, it usually gets set down as “gwee.” The problem is, while there is a sound in there that sounds a little like an English “w,” it’s not precisely equivalent. You can hear it pronounced in the three major dialects here:

    Gaoth
  • Phonetic renderings impose an extra step between your ear, your eye, your mind, and your mouth. When you use English phonics to describe Irish sounds, you’re not really learning to associate the sounds with the Irish spelling, which can make learning to read and pronounce Irish doubly difficult.
  • Phonetic renderings can quickly become a crutch. I’ve known several people who never have learned to pronounce Irish as written, even after years of study, because they haven’t been able wean themselves off their English phonetic renderings (and at least one guy who claims it’s “impossible” to learn how to pronounce Irish as written and is trying to promote a new, English-based Irish spelling system. How sad is that?).

* Someone here is bound to mention IPA. Yes, the International Phonetic Alphabet is capable of representing pretty much any sound. It also takes just about as much time to to learn as Irish phonics, and presents the same problem as using English phonetics when it comes to putting a barrier between you and the written language. Save the IPA for another day.

See it; hear it; say it

So how do you learn to pronounce written Irish? The answer is so simple you’re going to think I’m pulling your leg. So simple, and yet so vital:

  • You see the word or phrase
  • You listen to a recording of the word or phrase
  • You say the word or phrase

What you need to do is establish a link between the word as it appears, the word as it sounds, and the word as it’s said. There is absolutely no substitute for this kind of practice if you want to learn to read Irish as written.

Don’t sit there and think to yourself “How can this possibly be pronounced like that?” Just accept that it is and learn it. It really is just that simple, and you’ll be surprised at just how quickly it works.

Of course, there are details

They say the devil is in the details, and if you want this method to work well for you, you need to give that devil his due. If you go about this randomly, at best it will take much longer to learn and at worst you may find yourself so confused that you give up.

Here are a few words of advice:

  • If you don’t have a teacher, pick ONE self-teaching method that has both a written and an aural component and stick with that one until you’ve finished it. This is important advice for learning Irish in general, and especially important if you want to get a solid grasp on how to read it as written. Don’t worry about dialects at this point. You’re just trying to get the basics, without confusing yourself too much. Once you’ve got those down, you can adjust your pronunciation as needed. I list several good resources in my blog post “Beyond Duolingo.”
  • If you do have a teacher, ask him or her if you can make a recording of vocabulary words and phrases/sentences from the unit you’re working on.
  • For now, avoid YouTube “pronunciation” videos. Yes, all of them (unless, of course, they’re part of the self-teaching method you’re using or of the program your teacher is using). Some of them are good, some are “meh,” and some are outright horrible. You don’t want to confuse yourself, and you certainly don’t want to establish bad habits right from the start! Those videos can wait until you’re a little farther along.
  • Practice daily, or more frequently if possible. Spend at least a few minutes every day working with your recordings. Look at the word or phrase you’re learning while you play the recording and again while you try to emulate the recording. See it; hear it; say it. Some self-learning programs, such as “Enjoy Irish!,” even have apps available for your phone, so you can spend a few minutes practicing during your lunch break (or on the bus or train if you don’t mind people looking at you funny!).
  • Every so often, reverse the order: Look at the word or phrase first, try to say it, and then compare what you said to the recording. This will allow you to assess your progress. When you get to the point where you’re pronouncing things correctly most of the time, and it’s just a matter of refining pronunciation rather than trying to work out how all the letters sound, you’ll know you’ve cracked the code.

Practice makes perfect

It may be a cliché, but it’s true nevertheless. If you work like this a little each day, pronunciation of written Irish will come to you more quickly than you may have dreamed possible when you first began.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, get a good learning method (if you don’t have one already) and start practicing!

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh!

Happy Learning!

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.

Irish Tattoos That Make Us Cringe

It’s March, and St. Patrick’s Day is in the air! To celebrate, my publisher and I have put up a “Bad Tattoo” post on Bored Panda.

It’s a promotion for the book, of course, but it’s also a great antidote for all the kitsch that comes our way at this time of year.

It may seem surprising, but reading and doing tattoo translations can actually be a good way to learn basic Irish-language concepts, including sentence structure, idiom, and the use of articles and the genitive case.

And if schadenfreude is your thing, looking at these particular tattoo “translations” will definitely scratch that itch!

Enjoy, and if you’re so inclined, please share! The world needs more exposure to Irish and fewer bad Irish tattoos!

Erin Go Wut?! Real-Life Irish Tattoos That Make Us Cringe

Happy March!

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.

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/

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.