Words in any language come in and out of fashion.
When is the last time you heard somebody refer to anything as groovy or even had to refer to the now almost obsolete floppy disk? Even the famed cockney rhyming slang is apparently in danger of becoming extinct.
Languages change over time and that’s ok – it’s simply a reflection of the age we live in. But when a change in the words we use to communicate leads to language extinction, that’s when it’s time to become more aware of how we express ourselves vocally.
This is the belief of Irish writer, traveler, documentary-maker and Irish-language activist Manchán Magan.
Magan is calling on all language fans to adopt an endangered Irish word this September and become part of the fight to save the Irish language in his new performance installation “Gaeilge Tamagotchi” as part of Dublin’s Fringe Festival.
Are you willing to be part of the Irish language revival? Become a Gaeilge revolutionary? Magan needs your help. He has collected 4,400 endangered Irish words for members of the general public to adopt, take care of, and most importantly, use, just like the way we all looked after our Tamagotchi on a daily basis in 1996. (Well, for a few hours at least or until we were distracted by Furby.)
sceidhtéir (a capricious muppet) An Gaeilge provides like no other teanga. (via Manchán Magan) @Cabrinid— Anakana Schofield (@AnakanaSchofiel) August 22, 2015
“Gaeilge has been the aural expression of our existence, the linguistic code that reared, informed and animated so many of us for centuries; as a society we are free to cast it aside,” Magan writes for the Irish Times, “but if that is its fate it ought to be done consciously and honorably rather than the shameful, hypocritical way we are doing so at present.”
All of the words Magan has chosen to save are different ways to describe a person and their various traits. Irish has a rich variety of ways in which you can describe a person and their specific qualities using just a single word that cannot be replicated in English. Among the words available for people to take under their wing are toirpín (a small, thickset, lumpen figure), nuallóg (a scut of a guy), sceidhtéir (a capricious muppet), and tamhadán (a lazy good-for-nothing).
Magan’s argument revolves around the uniqueness of all these Irish words. If we allow unique concepts such as these, and subsequently the Irish language as a whole, to go out of fashion, then we lose 4,400 unique and original ways in which a person can be described, never to be used again.
“When you borrow the terminology of another ethnic group it can feel like wearing someone else’s shoes. They don’t quite fit” he writes.
“No, for the absence of Gaeilge isn’t Béarla, the absence of Gaeilge is this: silence.”
Magan speaks about his own experience, as someone who was brought up with Irish, trying to use English phrases in his adult life that feel unnatural leaving his mouth. The truth of it is that in every language there are words, phrasings and concepts that can not be explained in the same way in another language and to lose Irish would be to lose these Irish-specific ideas.
Many languages, Irish included, were originally built around the immediate environment of their users and the way in which the language developed reflects that. There is much about Irish that links directly to our country such as our place names for example.
There are 4,400 words to describe someone in Irish. Manchán Magan wants you to adopt one, and cherish it. http://t.co/yTpJI49hJs— rabble (@wearerabble) August 23, 2015
Is mór an mheabhraíocht é: "Gaeilge tamagotchi".1. gíoplach -big ungainly person.2. díláithreach -displaced person https://t.co/bzcyBtwhzb— limlom (@limlom) August 22, 2015
Magan argues: “The disconnect between language and life in Ireland runs deep. There is something so evocative about calling a stone a cloch. There’s the knowledge that when our ancestors picked up the same stone thousands of years ago, this was the term they too used.”.
“Cloch is the word our people chose, and we’ve been using it ever since. It’s not a stone, not to the people of this island, anyway. Cloch is what it is.”
It should not just be the responsibility of language enthusiasts to preserve these words that link so intrinsically with our geography and history either. Magan believes that if we all took it upon ourselves to save just one endangered word then the seemingly endless uphill struggle of retaining the Irish language will be that bit easier for us all.
All those wishing to adopt will be presented with the word on a special piece of linen designed by Tom de Paor in a public ceremony. “Gaeilge Tamagotchi” will run in Project Arts Center in Dublin between 3.30 pm and 6.30 pm from September 9-12 as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival.
IrishCentral decided to give adoption a shot and we'll be keeping you updated as to how our endangered word is faring. We're now the proud guardians of "adhuantas" meaning "the loneliness of the mountain".
Have you come across a word in Irish or any other language that you could not translate to English? Would you consider integrating this word/phrase into your normal vocabulary? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.