What’s the Difference Between a Language and a Dialect?

You might have noticed yesterday that when I mentioned the word bairn, I referred to its use in both Scots and Scottish English. And you might have asked yourself: what’s the difference?

I’m not an expert, and not going to go into all the details, but suffice it to say that they’re quite distinct. Continue reading

A Tale of Three Translations

I was watching the news yesterday, and there was a story about the stone in the image above, which features the lyrics of the song “Galway Bay” in English, Latin, Irish, and French. It was erected, appropriately enough, in my hometown of Galway last year, overlooking Galway Bay, as part of a poetry trail featuring similar plaques with translations of works by different Irish writers. Funnily, I wasn’t really aware of the content of the plaque until yesterday, even though for most of last year I lived very close to it, and in fact passed it practically every day. I had seen it alright, but in my defence, I was usually cycling, driving, or running, so never really stopped to look at it, and there are many little cultural markers like that around the city, so you do kind of get used to them.


The offending plaque, as it is now, in storage

Anyway, the issue with the plaque was with the Irish-language translation. A few months after it was erected, An Coimisinéir Teanga (the Language Commissioner) received a complaint about the quality of the Irish translation, which suggested that it didn’t capture the spirit of the original English-language lyrics. In a report, An Coimisinéir stated that there were approximately 40 errors in the 20 lines of the Irish version. I found this quite shocking, so had a look at the lyrics myself.

Continue reading

Doing Dutch with Duolingo: Klomp!

I feel like it’s been ages since I started using Duolingo, but it’s really become part of my daily routine. The only real gap was last week when I was on holiday last week. Overall, things are still going ok, but I’m beginning  to feel much more like a typical learner of English feels, and my complaints are really starting to mirror theirs. Continue reading

“I see you took the name of the town. What was your father’s name? “

Following on from yesterday’s look at mispronunciations (and “mispronunciations”) by native speakers, I want to look specifically at how we often pronounce surnames differently, specifically surnames from other languages. I thought about this after watching The Godfather Part II recently, and noticing the way the character Senator Geary pronounces the surname Corleone*. Notice how it changes in the clip below (contains salty language!): Continue reading

Cultural Cringe

Have you ever heard one of your compatriots say something and thought to yourself, embarrassed, Oh my God, that’s so Irish/American/Indian/English etc? If so, you may be suffering from cultural cringe.

Oxford English Dictionary: The view that one’s own national culture is inferior to the cultures of other countries

Coined by Australian writer A.A Phillips in the 1950s, the term is often discussed in reference to (post)colonial societies, to demonstrate how a culture can internalise its colonisers’ view of it as inferior. Cultural cringe can often manifest itself as a reaction against the language or dialect of one’s culture. A common example would be someone who hates to hear certain colloquial terms from their region. Have you ever changed your accent, to avoid it’s “regional” sound? Made sure to pronounce your g’s, when perhaps your parents didn’t? Sometimes it’s a pragmatic decision to fit in in a new environment, sometimes it’s an unconscious, gradual process, but sometimes it’s because you don’t want people to know where you’re from, or at least to think you’re a stereotypical representative of there. Continue reading

How do You be Doing?

When does English sound like jazz?

When you’re Irish.

When I was a younger man I thought nothing of talking about my habits and routines in such terms:

I do be going to the park regularly.

I do be often working on Saturdays. 

If I were to translate that into more standard English, it would be:

I go to the park regularly.

I often work on Saturdays.

These latter sentences are in the present simple tense, which we use to talk about routines, habits, and general truths. So why would I choose a more convoluted form instead of something more… simple? Well, you can’t change where you’re born. Such a structure (I do be +-ing), while not so common anymore, was a common part of Irish English (or Hiberno-English). Continue reading