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The Daltaí Boards » Archive: 1999-2004 » 2000 (January-June) » Does language define culture? « Previous Next »

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Caravat (spider-wi053.proxy.aol.com - 205.188.197.43)
Posted on Tuesday, January 04, 2000 - 11:35 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Hi all,
For some time now, I've been involved in a debate about the Irish language, other Celtic languages, and the Irish identity. It involves a well known Celtic language activist and his assertion that, since strictly speaking, the term "Celtic" was created by a Welsh Linguist specifically to define speakers of Celtic languages, people who do *not* speak a Celtic language, but who live in Celtic countries, are in no way Celtic. This of course would include English-speakers, born, raised and living in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
I understand the importance of the language and its place in Irish culture, however, I feel it's a bit ridiculous to say that, for example, an Irish speaker who is playing hurling is a Celt playing a traditional Celtic game, while his first cousin who is an English-speaker is a kind of non-Celtic Englishman playing at being Celtic. Yet I am being told that in the opinion of most Irish language activists, (and people in the Gaeltacht) this is the case. I have never heard this expressed before from either family or friends from Ireland, although it appears to be the opinion held by members of the Celtic League.
Am I really "English" or "Germanic" if I'm Irish but speak only English? In your opinion, is English-speaking Irish culture totally and completely non-Celtic??? I'm curious to hear what you think. Thanks.
slán,
Sean

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Seosamh (2cust73.tnt11.nyc3.da.uu.net - 63.23.133.201)
Posted on Wednesday, January 05, 2000 - 01:28 am:   Edit Post Print Post

I think your acquaintance has a one-dimensional view of a complicated, sticky question. William Jones may have laid out the Celtic languages as a family, but the term 'Celtic' comes from Latin Celtae, which in turn comes from Greek Keltoí. Two thousand years ago both Celts and outsiders recognized a cultural and linguistic commonality that characterized the Celts.

You can't take away a language without huge cultural loss. Travellers who were neither Irish nor English commented in the 1700s on the difference between English- and Irish-speaking Ireland, and at least one (French) remarked on how similar the English speakers were to the English. That was probably superficial (the observation or the English customs or both).

The Irish themselves recognized the loss to their identity and reclaimed large amounts of the culture, but I really wonder how much continuity was lost. I can't read Irish literature written prior to the shift to English and not think that basic elements of the Gaelic outlook were lost or survived by the skin of the teeth. What would Micheál Ó Cléirigh have thought of the anglicized pale of 1790 (or later!)? The Irish poets of that century were traumatized by the change.

There are English-speaking areas today that are noted for being strongly Irish in culture (like south Armagh). But as you mentioned Gaeltacht people sometimes regard English-speaking Ireland as a very different society. They call it the Galltacht, after all. How much of the difference has to do with modernization, not ethnicity?

Everyone in the country is Irish, and most Celtic to some extent (even the handful of ones 'playing at being' Anglo). But it's a cultural stew. And 'Celtic' and 'Irish' aren't identical terms. It's a question of keeping worthwhile links to the past. I hope that the process that began when Irish started putting the O's and M(a)c's back in their names continues. People should read more writing in Irish (or in English translation), especially from that enormous 'lost' period before the Gaelic Revival began. Barúlacha eile?

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Seosamh (2cust19.tnt11.nyc3.da.uu.net - 63.23.133.147)
Posted on Thursday, January 06, 2000 - 01:21 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Ar scríobh mé an focal deireannach fán ábhar seo??

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Dennis King (donncha.ndip.eskimo.net - 207.54.13.247)
Posted on Thursday, January 06, 2000 - 04:59 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Is féidir gur scríobh! Ní féidir liom an ráiteas gur "complicated, sticky question" atá ann a bhréagnú in aon chor, agus más mar sin atá sé, b'fhearr liomsa gan mo ladar féin a chur ann. Tá mé sásta an teanga a úsáid lá ar bith den tseachtain, ach tá mé bréan de na díospóireachtaí uilig i mBéarla faoi chiniúint na teanga, faoina gaol ceart le Gaeilge na hAlban, faoina ainm ceart i mBéarla (Irish nó Gaelic), etc. etc. B'fhearrr liom ligean orm gur teanga normálta í agus neamhaird a thabhairt ar an gcuid eile! :-)

Dennis

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Aonghus
Posted on Friday, January 07, 2000 - 02:35 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Amen!
Tá ceist na féiniúlachta fíor chásta.

Identity and culture is tied up with language, but not exclusively. I am wary of equating Irish with "Gaelic, Christian, Nationalist"

But I do believe that being able to speak Irish gives better access to the roots of the culture.

And I would agree with Seamus and Dennis

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Jonas (ronja.multi.fi - 194.234.151.28)
Posted on Friday, January 07, 2000 - 12:05 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Dár liom go bhfuil an cheist seo ana-chásta, nuair atáimid ag labhairt faoin nGalltacht. There's no doubt that an Irish-speaking Irishman is a celt (of course). I myself speak Irish (and Welsh in particular), but being born a Finn I could hardly call myself a Celt. As an outsider being able to communicte with both Irish- and Englishspeakers, I wouldn't put to much emphasis on the language. The people I know in Galway are very Celtic indeed, some of them are Gaeltacht Irish-speakers, some of them can't understand a word of Irish. The people in Dublin, whether Irishspeaking or Englishspeaking, are much more international, so I don't think that language is the only crucial factor in Ireland.
In Wales, on the other hand, I think that there's a huge difference between the Welsh-speaking population and the English-speaking, and I would indeed be reluctant to call some of the welshmen I've met Celts (they all came from the anglicized north-east), while all the welsh-speakers that I've met have very much in common with my friends in the west and soutywest of Ireland

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Sean
Posted on Tuesday, March 28, 2000 - 12:14 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Thank you for all your responses. I showed to some of the people I've been debating this issue with, and unfortunately, it didn't have any impact at all. Its sad how often people actually ignore what Irish people have to say about their own culture.
Thanks again and take care,
Sean

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williamfuller ( - 199.80.100.23)
Posted on Saturday, April 01, 2000 - 09:59 am:   Edit Post Print Post

a chairde: Dia daoibh, ach Ta me ag scriobh roinnt focla as Bearla anois: Seems like a well-considered discussion and I'm delight at the use of "Anglo" by Seosamh. My one use of such word has been occasionally applied in referring to the present-day Anglo-Saxon. Any errors in my message are readily blamed on this Sasanach computer. ... Beannacht De ar an obair.

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