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.

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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.

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St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Millions of people around the world today are drinking Guinness and wearing green, even if they’re not of recent Irish heritage. As usual I forgot to wear anything green, though I did have a pint of Guinness and a whiskey. Though the Guinness wasn’t great, probably due to the journey from Dublin to Liège. Continue reading

They’re all racist, aren’t they?

But the Irish are racist, aren’t they? (internet commenter, 2016)

I don’t mean to be racist, but the Poles are the racist f**kers on the planet. (idiot who won’t be named, 2000)

Recently, I came across the first sentence above, somewhere deep in the comments section of an article I’ve long since forgotten about. I was surprised, as I didn’t consider myself to be racist, nor did the majority of my compatriots seem to be. Reading on, things were cleared up a little.

I came to realise that the person was referring to a belief that Irish-Americans are racist. Which let me off the hook, but then I remembered that the article was about an Irish actor, as in, from Ireland, so the person was not only indulging in wild generalisations, but also conflating being Irish-American with being Irish. There was a whole heap of confusion going on. 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