“É sin ráite”?

The Minister for the Gaeltacht, Éamonn Ua Caoimh–yes, I have decided he will get his proper surname back on this site–made a statement recently about a review of the “Official Standard” of the Irish language.

“Cúis mhór áthais dom an togra stairiúil seo a fhógairt ag tús Sheachtain na Gaeilge. Tá teangacha orgánach agus athraíonn said thar na glúinte. Tá sé tábhachtach go bhféadfadh an Caighdeán Oifigiúil freastal ar riachtanais na haoise seo. É sin ráite, tá a fhios agam go ndéanfaidh iad siúd a bhfuil cúram an athbhreithnithe seo orthu cinnte de go mbeidh a gcuid cinntí ciallmhar agus réadúil agus go mbeidh siad dílis do stair is d’oidhreacht shaibhir na Gaeilge mar an teanga liteartha is sine san Eoraip ar an taobh ó thuaidh de na hAlpa.”

For readers who do not know what that means, it was handily translated by Gaelport:

“I am delighted to announce this historic initiative at the beginning of Seachtain na Gaeilge. Languages are organic and change over the generations. It is important that our Official Standard still relates to the needs of the modern age. That said, I know that those charged with this review will ensure that their decisions are sensible and pragmatic and true to the rich history and heritage of Irish as the oldest living literary language in Europe north of the Alps.

One does not know where to begin. If languages are organic, then what is the decidely non-organic “Official Standard” doing in the first place? It was drawn up by committee, and was not the result of any organic development of the Irish language. There is no recognition in this paragraph that the Official Standard was created purely for the Dáil’s translation staff, and was not, at least formally, a standard for the whole of Ireland to use. Is the minister really going to bring the Standard closer to real Irish, or is he sponsoring yet another Caighdeán 2.0 that will not be a living dialect of Irish?

I have no idea what the answer to that will be–I have no plans to use his Caighdeán, whether 1.0 or 2.0 or any other, on this website. But what worried me was the low-grade Irish used by the Minister in his statement.

Feagal Ó Béarra, of the National University of Ireland, Galway, has argued that the Irish language has been going through non-organic change, and that there is now a sharp divergence between traditional Irish and Irish that is heavily influenced by English. What he called “Late Modern Irish” is not traditional Irish at all. I need to be a little bit circumspect, as Feargal later objected to the way his article had been used by others on the Internet–but his long article speaks for itself; it seems he was simply embarrassed his original article had been propagated so widely. He said:

Each generation creates its own version of the language it acquires from the previous generation. People frequently complain that the younger generation does not speak the language as proficiently as their parents’ or grandparents’ generation did. Thus, certain words, phrases, lingo, etc. will be used by one generation, but not by the other. The examples from contemporary Modern Irish are numerous. Everyone has his or her own favourites. I could mention the ubiquitous é sin ráite (based on the English that said, having said that) which has ousted the more traditional and perfectly adequate ina dhiaidh sin féin, mar sin féin, má tá féin, etc.

As he said é sin ráite is ubiquitous, I am sure the Minister would breathlessly rush to claim that this proves the phrase is the product of organic development in Irish. Not so fast–as Feargal says, it is a literal translation from English. That the Minister himself used the phrase in his announcement speaks volumes about the type of modernising and updating that is going to take place in the Caighdeán 2.0. What is the point of it? Beyond a certain point, if you are not going to do it properly, why bother with Irish at all?

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