Monthly Archives: March 2016

Speak Irish to me

The Irish language, like its people, has suffered greatly.

It has been used and abused by many: British colonialists, by the Catholic Church, and by Irish revolutionaries. The first two discouraged its use, associating it with poverty and primitive wildness. The latter co-opted the language as its primary symbol of nationhood and struggle against oppression.

When Ireland finally gained a degree of independence in 1922, its government brought Irish back into the schoolrooms.

Dublin Street Sign with names in both English and Irish. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

Dublin Street Sign with names in both English and Irish. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

This podcast episode talks to three people who studied Irish in the years since independence: Patrick’s father who was taught Irish “by the nuns” in the 1930s and 40s; linguist Jim McCloskey, who fell in love with the language in the 1970s when he went on language summer schools in Ireland’s Irish-speaking regions; and Iarla O’Halloran, who spoke Irish at home, then forgot much of it at school, only to pick it up again in the less formal settings of pubs and clubs of his college years.

“I was surprised by how much of it was actually stored within me, how much of came out when I wasn’t nervous to speak it,” says O’Halloran.

An Irish nationalist poster from 1913.

“There were expressions that I picked up [from Irish speakers] that I found hilarious. They’ll all sexual … .Just hearing how the lads from Connemara, when they would see a good-looking woman on the street, how they would describe it. … It was hearing laddish banter that made me realize that the language could be a bit more than I thought it was.”

We also hear from a research project at UC-Santa Cruz that is documenting Irish pronunciation with the help of ultrasound imagery.

Podcast Contents

0:10 My father learned Irish in a new nation.

1:42 “There was an enormous psychological resistance to learning the language”

2:20 The beginnings of Irish.

4:10 The crucial initial moment in the decline of Irish.

5:20 How the Catholic Church helped the colonial government drive the language to the fringes of society.

6:30 “A generation has to come to believe that their language is a burden.”

8:10 The Gaelic revival.

9:50 Jim McCloskey summers in a Gaeltacht, an Irish-speaking region.

13:10 Iarla O’Halloran grew up initially speaking Irish.

14:35 “There was an ideological aspect” to the Irish language curriculum in schools.

16:30 Iarla discovers idiomatic, scatalogical Irish. (Irish has a ton of wonderful expressions.)

Galt Barber playing his fiddle at his SAnta Cruz, CA,  home. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

Galt Barber playing his fiddle at his SAnta Cruz, CA, home. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

17:45 The support of the diaspora.

18:05 The Barber family, an American family of distant Irish ancestry speaks Irish at home.

19:00 Jaye Padgett explains the consonant pronunciation project that he’s working on with colleagues at UC-Santa Cruz and University College, Dublin.

Linguist Jaye Padgett wearing the head frame used to stabilize an ultrasound camera. Padgett and colleagues at UC-Santa Cruz and University College Dublin are documenting Irish consonant formation. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

Linguist Jaye Padgett wearing the head frame used to stabilize an ultrasound camera. Padgett and colleagues at UC-Santa Cruz and University College Dublin are documenting Irish consonant formation. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

21:50 Language purists message to the new urban Irish: don’t mess with the language.

22:50 A new perspective: the role of Irish in the global context of the loss of linguistic diversity.

27:10 Patrick’s father’s regrets.

Music heard in the podcast

0:00 “Dramamine” by Podington Bear

6:00 “Interference” by Hugo Paquette

11:05 “Coinleach Glas an Fhómhair” by Róisín Elsafty

14:52 “The Mussels” by Osvaldo Cibils

20:42 “Calm” by Alexander Boyes

24:00 Stiofán Ó Fearaíl sings an Irish language version of the Aviici song, “Wake Me Up” The video features students at the Coláiste Lurga in Indreabhán, County Galway.

A big thanks to Jim McCloskey and Doug McKnight for their help with this podcast.

Listen above or at iTunes.

The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook .

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Is bilingual better?

In this week’s World in Words podcast, we consider the so-called bilingual advantage.

The benefits of speaking two languages were barely researched until the 1960s. Now, hardly a month goes by without the publication of a new inquiry into the bilingual brain. One of the most influential of these studies found that bilinguals were more adept at staving off memory loss and other effects of the ageing brain. Researchers have also found other evidence of cognitive improvements among speakers of more than one language.

There has been pushback from scholars who don’t trust the methodology of these studies, or have been unable to reproduce the results, resulting in a nasty academic standoff.

Bilingual ticket (Michael Gumtau via Flickr)

Bilingual ticket (Michael Gumtau via Flickr)

There is also the occasional study that claims that speaking more than one language may actually be a disadvantage.

So in the podcast, we checked out some opinion, both informed and uninformed. We also report from a couple of bilingual frontlines: places where there is both support for and resistance to bilingualism in their communities.

Podcast Contents

0:00 In Dunstable, UK, a long-time resident views the influx of bilingual immigrants as an economic threat to monolingual locals.

4:30 Ari Daniel tells Patrick about the connection between what’s going on in the womb of a pregnant woman and the Australian soap opera, “Neighbours.”

6:00 What happens when you repeatedly play a soundfile that says “Tatata tatatata tatata” in the presence of a pregnant mother in her third trimester.

8:45 “By the time a baby is born, they are not an inexperienced listener.”

9:30 A study out of Vancouver, BC, seeks to discover whether babies at birth can differentiate between languages.

11:10 The parents realize “their babies’ interest in the world around them and is interested in learning from the first moments in life.” Read more about the Ari Daniel’s reporting on in utero language acquisition studies here.

12:10 Should Patrick award himself a gold star because he is raising his daughter to be bilingual? Does she have a bilingual edge?

13:25 Patrick and Nina talk bilingualism across continents and 11 time zones.

15:00 Patrick talks about the trilingual schools of Friesland in the Netherlands.

16:15 Nina notices the Hawaiian language all over Hawaii, but how many fluent speakers are there?

18:15 Patrick is a celebrity in Friesland.

19:00 Nina is mesmerized by the ocean. Will she ever come back?

Listen above or at iTunes.

The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook .

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