After arriving in Montreal I decided to go to Irish language classes. I’m referring to the native language of Ireland which is ‘gaeilge.’ Not how to speak English slang in an Irish accent, “Tell yer man to stop givin’ out. Great craic like so it is. Get a caravan for me ma in periwinkle blue. Watch the dags.” Irish is a protected European language and one I’m actually fairly proficient in, as I spent a lot of time with my West Cork family growing up and also spent time in the gaeltacht areas where Irish is in everyday usage. My foray into Irish language classes was more to do with finding likeminded people. Whilst not a dying language gaelige is somewhat endangered, limited mostly to the declining gaeltacht areas mainly on the west coast of the island.
As it happens, I would have been better served taking lessons in Québécois. As it happens Québécois French is similar to French, in the same way Irish gaeilge is similar to Scottish gaelic. They’re effectively of the same genus, but it’s like comparing a German Shepherd to a Husky. They may look similar but the differences can be profound. In essence, languages like animals can be broken up into categories and sub-categories. A man and women may not appear similar, but they’re extremely similar when compared to a monkey. A man and a monkey are nigh on identical when compared to a dog, but a man and a dog are more closely aligned when compared to a shark.
French is a romance language and shares characteristics with other central European Romance languages which have evolved from Latin such as: Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese.
English is Germanic, as is Dutch and by result of colonialism Afrikaan, Swedish, Norwegian, Dane.
Irish shares characteristics with Celtic languages such as French gallic, Welsh, Scottish and the natively deceased Manx language. You can however find some commonalities with English if you know where to look (just showing off).
I find whereas French is quite formal, Québécois is much more idiomatic and certainly takes quite a bit getting used to as a result. Infact the idioms make it more difficult than speaking say, Spanish and then going to Catalonia. As at least the format of the languages in how they’re spoken are basically the same.
I find language a pretty fascinating topic. It’s interesting how much of an impact language has on how you think. This is why languages like Irish and others further afield were suppressed by English colonialists. It wasn’t simply a case of convenience, but an act of cultural defenestration enacted against natives. Including changing names/surnames. My own family name in Irish is Laighin, from Laigin. The Laigin were a population group of early Ireland. The name is actually an ethnonym denoting a distinct ethnic group. The Laigin also give name to the province of Leinster, which in Irish is actually Cúige Laighean (pronounced cooga layan) Literally, ‘Fifth of the Laigin.’ The Laigin are by virtue are also highly prevalent in the early cycles of Irish mythology, some of the oldest recorded on the planet.
The rebirth of my interest in the Irish language in the last few years was to do with reading stories and poems in their original form which as is often the case, do not carry over well when translated into another language. Again, Irish poetry and literature are amongst some of the earliest recorded. Thus, it is not simply a language that is endangered, it is a massive amount of cultural and literary history too. This is why I strongly believe in participation in the language and have such an interest in its perseveration.
There was debate during the Irish revival at the turn of the last century about its continued usage which I believe is quite pertinent, however not for the reasons set out. The great Irish writer James Joyce briefly studied Irish under Padraig Pearse the leader of the Easter Rising. However, Joyce who would go on ironically to be perhaps the greatest proponent of the English language of all time, found the Gaelic League’s revival of the language to be essentially ‘backward.’ I think he was essentially correct. There is and certainly in the case of the Gaelic League was very much a prevalent conservative instinct. Although I do believe it was well intentioned, I believe the same conservative instinct is prevalent in the well-intentioned people who are trying to preserve and save the language to this day. For a language to survive it must be allowed to evolve and grow. We’ve seen this with the English language which is almost distinctly unrecognisable from the time of Shakespeare. I recently watched Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender, anyone unfamiliar with the play may have felt like they were by virtue thrown into watching a foreign film. Evolution is healthy for language.
Joyce as he demonstrated with his later works was anything but backward looking with regards to language. Ulysses and particularly Finnegans Wake are imbued with linguistic inventiveness, playfulness and creativity. Joyce in Finnegans Wake in essence opted to invent his own language which was based around puns, English, Irish, Greek, Latin and drunken rambling. Far from being frustrating and unreadable, these are the works of someone having a laugh. My experience in Montreal furthers my conviction, that rather than being an frustrating exercise in unraveling idiomatic French or wishing for more formal syntax, it is beautiful to see a language thriving. Irish language enthusiasts and revivalists would do well to learn from theses examples. It is best not to be conservative when it comes to the rules of a language. A language lives and dies by its efficiency and ease of usage. Then the languages possibilities which aren’t finite may again wake [terrible, don’t care].