Tomhas na Teanga

Bealtaine/Meitheamh 2005



Dia daoibh!   Hello, y’all!  Tá an t-earrach ann! [tah un taar (a like in at) okh o(w) n]  It’s Spring!  Buíochas le Dia! [Bwee a khus luh D(j)ee uh]  Thank God!  Spring being a time of renewal and new life, I’m going to cover the topic of  language revival this time.


Ireland is not the only country with language ‘issues,’ by any means!  It is unique in that the Irish language is the oldest surviving vernacular language in Europe (not counting Greek).  It has the richest literary tradition outside of the classical languages.  So it is a pearl of great price.


There are other countries, even in Europe, which have minority languages.  The Basques in Spain and the Bretons in France are examples.  The EU has set up The European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (they have a bureau for everything) (in Irish, An Biúró Eorpach do Theangacha Neamhfhorleathana) to help preserve and encourage these languages, Irish included.  They encourage contact between the groups to share their experiences and they also provide some funding.  There is a generally positive attitude towards language preservation in the EU.


The Irish language has never died out, and so saying that the language movement is a revival movement is not totally accurate.  We are not attempting to bring a dead language back to life – we are imparting new life to an endangered language.


Other countries have had success with this.  An extreme case is Israel.  Hebrew was not used as a spoken language, except for reading the scriptures and in prayers.  It did not have modern vocabulary.  With the founding of the state of  Israel, and people coming from all over the world to live there, a decision was made to revive the Hebrew language and make it the common language of the country.  This has been hugely successful.  As in Irish, new words have been developed for modern concepts.  Hebrew is now a vital successful language, because of the commitment of the Israeli people.

Another example of language revival is in Norway.  Along with Swedish and Danish, this is one of the descendants of Old Norse.  Norway was controlled for a long time by Denmark, and the language became much more like theirs.  Similar to Ireland, the more native language remained in the isolated areas.  Once Norway became independent, there was a push to revive the original dialects and move toward the truer Norwegian language. 

As in many countries all over the world, Norway has a standard written language, and then there are the local languages.  This is true of big language countries like Germany and Italy, too.  Many countries have more than one official language, like Canada and Finland.  And in theory at least, Ireland!  Two or three isn’t so bad, in fact it is very positive.  Of course, there are extreme cases.  India has between 15 and 2,000, depending on your definition of language vs. dialect!  English is also their lingua franca.  Through history, many languages have served this function, and yet the local languages survive.  Today, because of mass media, many more languages are disappearing than ever before.  But it is not inevitable, necessary, or desirable.  It is a choice, especially in wealthy countries, like Ireland now is.

Some may think that Irish is at a particular disadvantage because there are several dialects.  But German has many, many dialects, and seems to be doing quite well!  Ireland has adopted a Standard Irish (an Caighdeán Oifigiúil), which is used in much publishing, but is not as widely adopted as the standards are in say Italy or Germany.  Having a standard does not mean that local dialects are to be discarded.  They have not been in other countries.

The major factor in successful language revitalization is national pride and the appreciation of a distinct cultural identity.  Community and community support are also critical.  This is why so many of us learn Irish, even though we do not live in Ireland.  And this kind of pride and appreciation is contagious!  Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam (teer gon tanga, teer gon an om) – A country without a language (is) ag country with no soul.

Speaking of  enlivening the language…it’s time for the shameless self promotion!  As you know, I published a book of poetry in Irish and English last Summer, ‘An File ar Buile’ (available at all online booksellers, or bookstores via the distributor Ingram, or from directly).  I had it in mind from the beginning to record all of the poems, in Irish, so that people could hear the poems as well as read them.  I have done this.  And since some of them are song parodies, I also have made a CD of the songs, along with a lot of other (mostly funny) music.  These are ‘An File ar Buile’ (a double CD of the poems in Irish) and ‘Cleas Amhrán.’  Both are available at .  If you go to that website and search for ‘Neachtain’ you will find both, and there are many samples to listen to.

Thosaigh mé an colún seo trí bliana ó shin!  I started this column three years ago!  Tá gach ceann ar an idirlíon ag fós.  They’re all still on the internet at…

Gach dara mí, scríobhaim píosa ag bun an cholúin seo as Gaeilge.  Níl a fhios agam an mbíonn daoine á léamh, ach sílim go mbíonn cúpla duine, ar aon nós.  Is minic nach mbíonn baint ar bith idir an píosa beag seo agus an t-alt ar fad.  Ní bhíonn anseo ach píosa siamsaíochta, agus deis chun cleachtadh a dhéanamh le pé Gaeilge atá ag gach duine.  Tá súil agam go mbaineann sibh taitneamh as.

Is breá an rud é go bhfuil suim ag an AOH sa teanga, agus go dtugtar an deis seo domsa rud beag a dhéanamh ar a son.  Táim buíoch don eagarthóir agus don AOH as seo.  Má tá Gaeilge réasúnta maith agatsa, bain triail as rud beag éigin a scríobh do nuachtlitir do rannóige féin.  Cá bhfios nach mbeadh suim ag daoine ann!