Monday, August 13, 2012

Brush Up Your Irish with Katie and Seán Bán: Part 1 of 3

One of the many super dividends from Katie Taylor winning her gold medal was the opportunity for Seán Bán Breathnach to remind the nation of the inherent beauty of their own language. SBB’s commentary after Katie was announced winner of the fight has, in that awful modern expression, gone viral and people seem to be enjoying the emotion of it without actually knowing what the great man is saying.

So I thought I’d have a crack at transcribing, translating and commenting on the commentary, in the hope that it might help people who are trying to learn some Irish. This is slightly risky on my part, as verbatim commentary isn’t always correct in syntax or grammar. My own Irish really isn’t that great and there were parts of the thing I couldn’t quite make out myself but maybe we can use those flaws to our advantage too, and gain courage in the attempt. Seo chugainn anois - here we go.

Agus chomh ciúin - deich pointe in aghaigh a naoi - [béiceáil] Katie Taylor! Katie Taylor, seaimpín na hEorpa, seaimpín an domhain agus seaimpín Olympics anseo!
And so quiet – ten points to nine – [shouting] Katie Taylor! Katie Taylor, champion of Europe, champion of the world and Olympic Champion here!

SBB gets the score wrong at the start, but he’ll correct it later. Not that it matters – the detail is secondary to the achievement.

From the point of view of grammar, here we see the first occurrence of that notorious beast from under the bed that terrified your childhood but that gives Irish so much of its flavour, the tuiseal ginideach, or genitive case. English uses “of” to show possession. Irish doesn’t, but changes the word that’s being possessed instead. This is the tuiseal ginideach. So if “scoil” is school, school bus becomes “bus scoile” – bus of school.

Grammatically, changing a word according to its grammatical purpose in a sentence is called inflection. There are five tuisil in Irish, as there are in Latin. There are six in Ancient Greek, seven in Polish. The difficulty arises because English isn’t an inflected language – there’s nothing to equate it to. Also, the other tuisil don’t do an awful lot in Irish, and that’s what gives the tuiseal ginideach its Macavity the Mystery Cat air of omnipotence.

In the commentary, Europe is “an Eoraip,” but champion of Europe is “seaimpín na hEorpa.” World is “domhan,” champion of the world is “seaimpín an domhain.” There are a set of rules that govern this, and once you know them it’s really not that frightening at all.

Tá sé buaite ag Katie Taylor - a leithéid de thaispeántas arís, sa triú babhta sin. Tá sí fhéin agus Daide agus Billy, agus fear Georgia, tá siad ag baint barróige dá chéile.
It’s won by Katie Taylor – what a performance again, in that third round. She herself, and Daddy, and Billy, and the man from Georgia, they’re hugging each other.

There are two words here that I don’t recognise, so I’ve put in what I think are their nearest equivalents in the justly notorious Official Standard. “Buaite” is the verbal adjective form of the verb “buaigh,” to win, and there are those who will give you a fight that “Buaigh” itself not a right verb at all. We would not be Irish if we didn’t fight amongst ourselves.

The other word I’m guessing is “leithéid,” as in the likes of, the kind of – “ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann,” their likes will not be seen again. SBB seems to be saying “léide” here, which may be a Conamara equivalent of “leithéid.” It’s dialect – some people are thick about dialect in Irish and how everything should conform to the standard. That’s ok in textbooks but in actual living languages you must have dialect. To opponents of dialect, there are three words that crush all argument – Cheryl Cole, pet.

We also see our friend the tuiseal ginideach in this extract and one of the interesting points of Irish idiom. A verb in English that ends in –ing is called a participle – coming, going, and so on. In Irish, the giveaway is “ag” – “ag teacht,” “ag imeacht.” Where it gets interesting is if there’s a noun after the participle.

In English, we say we’re doing something. In Irish, we say we’re doing of something – that’s the difference. We don’t play football – we play of football, “ag imirt peile,” rather than “ag imirt peil.”

“Barróg” is the Irish for hug, but hug doesn’t exist as a verb in Irish. Therefore, Seán says collecting hugs - “ag baint barróige” literally translates as collecting hugs. It’s the way the Gael rolls.

End of Part One. More tomorrow - tuilleadh ar maidin.