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Gavin (
Posted on Friday, August 02, 2002 - 07:57 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I have recently posted about a problem I had with the many differences between the Irish dialects, and it got me to thinking...

What do the good people who post here have to say about the great debate over the creation of an "Official Irish" or "Standard Irish." That's right, one form of Irish (I refrain from using dialect to attempt objective perspective) that would be spoken (phonetics), written (grammar), and generally acknowleged as Irish.

Some people right off the bat might argue that there is already one Irish, but these individuals have obviously never heard my father who is from Donegal, speak to my mother who is from Mayo. Don't try to tell me they are speaking the same may be two dialects, but people who don't know Irish's history would never know that and would never be able to associate them as being the same language.

Now I have been doing a great deal of reading on the subject and I feel I am for the most part aware of the many shades of modern opinion.

I want to know how the people here feel about the subject. After all, we are the chosen few who have the passion and desire to learn and premote a language that even some Irish refuse to learn and speak. Here native Irish and people from around the world such as myself come to express their opinions and stories and it is here where the debate must continue if we are to take steps to resolving this issue for the future of the Irish language.


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James (
Posted on Friday, August 02, 2002 - 10:59 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Never one to run from controversy, let me throw in my 2 cents worth.

First, I'd like to have a clearer description of what sets "standard" Irish apart from the other "Irishes". This has yet to be made clear to me.

Secondly, I'd like to know if we are debating an issue of dialects and an ensuing protectionist approach to a preferred dialect or is it deeper than that?

As it stands, with the limited information that I have, I'd say "who gives a flip!" Learn something that can be understood. Some Irish is better than no Irish, especially given its current state as a spoken language.

I do, however, reserve the right to change my position if the answers to my above questions reveal facts and factors that, as yet, are unclear to me.

Le meas,


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Ó Dúill ( -
Posted on Saturday, August 03, 2002 - 02:09 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

That "some Irish who refuse to learn and speak" are a very very small minority. Alot cant speak it due to the way the language was taught in the past, while with others its a social and economic problem,
le meas,

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James (
Posted on Saturday, August 03, 2002 - 03:17 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

A Cholm,

Can you give me an insider's opinion of "standard" Irish? As I stated earlier, I'm just not sure I get the issue. Are we talking about an argument over pronuciation or colloquiallisms (sp?) or is it deeper than that.

I'd be very interested in the Irish view of "standard" Irish.

Le meas,


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Gavin (
Posted on Saturday, August 03, 2002 - 04:29 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Sorry for taking so long to respond...for now let us speak about the different dialects. I am not hinting towards a "preferred" dialect. But I would like to know how you feel about the different dialects and how they compare with each other.

I have always felt that language is the greatest creation the human mind will ever achive. With out it nothing as we know it would exist. Thus, I have spent a great many years studying it. And what I am about to say may anger many linguists, as it did my college professors, in that I believe the term dialect is misleading.

The dialects of the north, west, and south are to my belief not the same language. The reason I say this is that they have developed over the years into seperate representations of a language that was almost lost. They have taken there own paths if you will into the modern day, and are therefore comparable to Coke and Pepsi: "They may both be brownish, sweet, and fizzy, but they're not the samething."

So when I say "standard" I am referring to a concept of an Irish that would be uniform in both pronounciation and grammar regardless of where it is spoken.


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Seosamh ( -
Posted on Saturday, August 03, 2002 - 08:41 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

There used to be a continuum of speech in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man that was comparable to that in many parts of the world. Everything to the west of the Norway's border with Swedish is called Norwegian and everything within Sweden, Swedish. The political boundary was as convenient a place as any to divide the two languages from each other. But Bo Almquist, the expert on Irish folklore, grew up in Sweden near the border and wrote in Béal Oideas (68) that when he was a boy during WWII refugees came from across the border in Norway and that he was intrigued that what they spoke was nearer to what he spoke than was the Swedish of the radio, schools, etc.

In medieval times, there must have been a great deal of diversity in the Gaelic realms but anyone who learned to read and write, from the south of Kerry to Sutherland in Scotland, learned the same, exact standard language. It's ironic that some people get so become so fanatic in favor of the Irish dialects when Irish may have been the first European language to develop a standard.

Basically, the people who put together the Official Standard for Irish in the late 1940s tried to put together a single set of rules for grammar and syntax (and separately later for spelling) that would not go beyond the actual range of grammar and syntax in the dialects. The language, afterall, is a somewhat elastic range of speech and normally speakers of any language tend strongly to accept as natural anything that falls within that range. Because of the isolation of the Irish-speaking areas from each other, actual instances of deviation from very local subdialects had become scarce. The Official Standard was attacked by people whose perception was that it went too far and was artificial, because they just didn't encounter people who speech as anything but local, local, local. I think though that the standard's authors were just building on fifty years of language revival and basing their judgment on trends they were actually seeing. (There was also a lot of horse-trading going on, from what I can gather, with Ulster speakers at a disadvantage.) When I see (or rather hear) native speakers moderate their Irish for use with people outside their areas, it tends in the direction of the standard (but never goes the whole route). Of course, they are familiar with standard Irish but some of it just happens naturally, I think.

Be a bit flexible with the language and avoid judgmentalism (not to mention fanaticism). I was just describing Northwest Mayo Irish as the best there is and praising southern Donegal Irish as well (It's different from Mayo, being on the other side of a dialectal divide, but still fairly close). Learn whatever makes sense for you and gradually get used to how others speak. Treat the language as a whole (grit your teeth if necessary). Consider the standard, perhaps, and the new vocabulary (definitely) as a more formal speech register, the dialects as home talk. Those of you with Gaeltacht relatives should count your blessings and stick to the dialects (even if they laugh at your learning their local speech, I think they'll get used to it).

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Gavin (
Posted on Saturday, August 03, 2002 - 10:48 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Seosamh great points...

How about this then, would people here agree that Irish is a language where sounds are critical to understanding what is actually being said. I mean I know this goes without saying for all language, but I believe it is even more so with languages such as Irish were there are a number of homophones that are only distinguised by their spellings.

I have studied some Asian languages such as Japanese, and Korean where words like hana can mean one, book, or flower. Now I bring this up for a reason because in these languages this word may have multiple meanings but their is only one possible combination of letters which can signify this pronounciation and these Irish this is not the case.

The written standard was created sometime in the 1940's...bravo! By far the most aggressive attempt at standardizing, but in my opinion it concentrated on only half the problem and in Irish's case the wrong half. For simpletons like myself a language can be broken down into two parts: speaking and writing.

Historically Irish was never really a written language. Like the languages of the Native Americans it was passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. One can argue all they want about Ogham, Runes, and the writings of the Christian monastaries, but before one does remember that Ogham being the oldest of these methods came about sometime around the 3rd century or so some say. (actually the origins of ogham is controversial) Anyway, the point remains the same that only certain classes of society would learn how to read and write.

So that leaves us with the other half of the problem speaking. It has been said that one could walk across Ireland and not really notice a difference in the language. Try that today...I dare you! I think that if Ireland really wants to make something happen then people are going to have to get together and start creating some stricter guidelines governing the pronunciation of the language. I know this isn't what people want to hear...I know this certainly isn't what people want to do. But it is my opinion that it should at least be debated, and not by some group of know-it-alls, but rather by anyone and everyone.

Now as Seosamh so beautifully brought up, and by the way I was waiting for someone to do it, that in the 1940's a step was taken I believe in that direction. I feel now may be the time to take, or at least talk, about another one.


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Ó Dúill ( -
Posted on Saturday, August 10, 2002 - 05:38 am:   Edit Post Print Post

I just felt the need to reply to Gavins comments.
Me, well, being only a student and a poor one at that ceapaim go haontfidís (litriú?) mo mhúinteoirí liom ar chaoi ar bith learned Irish (which consisted of Connaught and Ulster with a splattering of Munster for good measure.) at school. We were never told there was differences. To us it was just Irish. Only now at 17 am i getting to encounter the differences between the three groups and in turn picking up the Munster tounge.
From what i can see from my texts is that the differences fall into three catogries 1. phonetics; 2. grammar; and 3. vocab and proverbial sayings.
Also Connaught and Ulster seem to be quite similar in the first two catogories while munster is apart. However in the last catogory they all differ.
For me personally standard Irish is Connaught/Ulster while Munster is that long lost cousin.
Please please correct me if im wrong and sorry in advance, just a personal opinion draw from experience as James asked me so kindly.
le meas gach uile dhuine,

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Gavin (
Posted on Saturday, August 10, 2002 - 02:41 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

The Irish language has these differences becuase it has grown up on its own. And I think some people here will agree with me when I say this is to be expected.

It is comparable to the different Spanish speaking states. They Spanish crown kept its territories separated so that they could not unite and revolt in great numbers. And because these states were isolated from each other they were able to "evolve" if you will, into their modern day forms. Now taking into account that native languages had a major impact on the language on a local scal, Spanish for the most part has remained Spanish. So one would think that communications between two Spanish speaking states would be easy but this is not the case. One example I will point out is when a friend of mine who was born and raised in Mexico City came with me to Puerto Rico. He was to be our translator but he nearly went out of his head trying to make heads or tails out of what the locals were saying. Another example is a foreign exchange student I met from Brazil who spoke both Spanish and Port. She was often quoted saying in our spanish class, "this is how to do it, but this is how they do it." (meaning Mexico)

Now that I have rambled on and on the point of my story is this: The Irish language is at the very core of Irish identity. Wouldn't it be nice to have one form of the Irish language that would reflect all of Ireland. I feel that many people might be more drawn to Irish if they knew that the language they are learning is going to be spoken in all parts of Ireland no matter where they visit or live.


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Dennis Leyden ( -
Posted on Saturday, August 10, 2002 - 04:18 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

My understanding of Italy is that much the same divisions existed before unification and continue to exist today. The difference is that the Italians seem to have devised an interesting compromise -- in the more formal part of life (mainstream newspapers, business, schools, etc.) they use a common structure and pronunciation (Tuscan language pronounced like a Roman would - Lingua tuscana nella bocca romana). In large part this was probably due to the political and cultural dominance of these two regions. But in more familiar interactions, people fall back on regional dialects. Indeed, the Neapolitan dialect is quite difficult if all you know is "standard" Italian. But my sense is most people know the "standard" so that there is a form of common discourse while preserving "family" differences.

Whether Ireland should, can, or wants to do that, I don't know, and not being an Irishman (though I am of Irish descent), I wouldn't presume to tell the Irish what to do. But I do find the Italian compromise interesting. I also wonder whether some of that is happening through the promulgation of such books as the Ó Sé & Sheils "Teach Yourself Irish" text which, at least according to one recent post, is a bit of an invented structure and not natural to any particular area. My guess is that if such a strategy were to succeed, it would need a concerted effort by the schools and a concerted effort by the government to explain why such a policy is being adopted and that its intent is not to eliminate the variety that makes the language so rich. Whether such a policy would have sufficient support I don't know. But given the frustrations I have read about concerning the current manner of teaching Irish in the schools, it wouldn't surprise me if such a proposal were greeted with scepticism.

Ach is leor é sin! Is eacnamaí mé, ní teangeolaí!


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Gavin (
Posted on Saturday, August 10, 2002 - 06:23 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

A Dennis,

I never knew that about Italian, I know a great deal about Italic Languages in general but not so much as to the finer details.

It is a funny thing about how Ireland teaches Irish. My family from there take the same stand that I have seen so many Irish do in that they feel that nothing is wrong with the way they are teaching the language. And like you, I am not from Ireland so I really do not have much say in it. Nor should I, after all I am not Irish. But I have many pen pals from Ireland all learning Irish in their local schools, and between the ten of them I can not recall them ever saying a good thing about it. As one girl said, "they make us learn it to be Irish, but never outside of class do I use it, and why should I now?" Her words not mine. One boy said, "tis fine we should learn it side by side to be patriots and all, but then why not make Irish the primary tounge if it tis so frigg'n important we should be knowing it?"

I fear it may be a lost will continue as it has which really isnt so bad if you think about it. People, especially the Irish, can be for a lack of better words and not to offend someone, "a wee bit stubborn."


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Aonghus ( -
Posted on Wednesday, August 14, 2002 - 08:10 am:   Edit Post Print Post

isn't it the case that the Italian compromise just "happened" rather than a deliberate choice being made?

i.e. the spread of the standard is driven by the media and official communication, rather than by education?

After all, the position of dialects is the same in England, the US, Germany, and so on....

I think the biggest problem we have in Ireland is that we have focussed solely on the education system as the vehicle of revival, whereas we need to be focussing on the media - tv, radio, books, and also on government and other services being provided in Irish to those who want them.

I believe Radio na Gaeltachta's broadcasts have gone a long way to making the dialects mutually intelligible to speakers of the language (although I will confess to struggling with Ulster irish).

More quality programs on TG4 and on the other TV channels will do more to promote Irish than any clever school curriculum.

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Seosamh Mac Bhloscaidh ( -
Posted on Wednesday, August 14, 2002 - 11:58 am:   Edit Post Print Post


Bhí a lán le rá agat i ndiaidh duit mo phíosa thuas a léamh. Tá brón orm nár lean mé ar aghaidh leis an chomhrá. Ní raibh mórán ama agam -- bhí mé ag goideadh ama ó mo chuid oibre nuair a scríobh mé an méid a d'fhág mé ar an fóram seo le déanaí.

Ceapaim go bhfuil sé suimiúil go ndearna tú staidéar ar theangacha Áiseacha. Rinne mé léann Áiseach ag an ollscoil agus mar sin de rinne mé staidéar ar an tSínis agus ar an tSeapáinis. (Duine eile a bhíonn páirteach anseo, rinne sé léann Áiseach chomh maith -- an Hiondúis agus an tSanscrait ina chás-sa féin.)

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Bryan maloney (
Posted on Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - 04:30 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

In Italy, Tuscan became the basis for standard Italian because the rulers of Tuscany ended up dominating much of the peninsula for a while. The basis of standard Hochdeutsch is essentially the dialect spoken by Martin Luther. English was standardized on the basis of similar historical accidents. At no time was there a formation of a "committee" to standardize the language in question. Instead, there was more of a blind bumbling into the standard.

In the case of Irish, what happened is that at the very period wherein there was a large cultural push towards developing standard "national" forms of European languages, the Powers that Be had determined that Irish should simply be exterminated. Thus, we come to the 20th century and Irish is promoted again. Since the 20th century is the Era of the Committee _non pareil_...

Of course, unlike the more commonly spoken languages, Irish did not have the great driving force behind the natural process language standardization: People of several different dialects who felt a need to communicate with each other in the language. There was no money in it, no military imperative (never underestimate the way having a large army can force language standardization), no political impetus. Thus, the "standard" we have today (like what I'm starting to learn in a local class).

Oh, and as for the claim that Irish "was never really a written language"--this claim is no less true for the Scandinavian languages, for the Slavic languages, and even for English! English did not adopt any form of writing significantly earlier than did Irish. Likewise, literacy in English was no more widespread for most of history than was literacy in Irish.

As for imposing "strict" guides on pronunciation--daft! What maintains "standard" pronunciation in a country in the modern era is not something dimwitted set of proscriptions but a widespread and popular set of media outlets that all use roughtly the same standard. If you will note, you don't find some sort of national "English Committee" forcing this to happen, either.

And even for all of that, you won't get standard pronunciation. Not in any language.

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Laighneach ( -
Posted on Sunday, November 10, 2002 - 10:51 am:   Edit Post Print Post

From what I've read on the subject the bardic standard language(which was a standard agreed between all the schools, not a standard forced on a wave of conquest) that was composed in the decline of the monastic era is one of the, if not the oldest standard in a modern european vernacular, certainly older than standard english, especially when you consider that english was downtrodden as an underclass langauge from 1066 until well into the 1300's, when it was suppressed by Norman-French.

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