Landed in Ireland and hunting already!

So after many travels, the flu, and injuring my back, I’ve arrived in west Cork to the village of Béal Átha na Ghaorthaidh (Ballingeary) to stay with my friend Síle Uí Chróinín and her family. I had a day or so in Baile Bhuirne, which is on the main road from Killarney to Cork with Eilís Ní Shúilleabháin but decided since Síle had a larger home, children, dog, and was in a more isolated area it would suit my documentation and language hunting better. I’ve been here two days and the first thing I have to say is that I’ve slept horribly but in a good way. I’ve been only speaking in Irish and so at night when I’m trying to sleep, my brain is processing language like a freaking pinball machine. Phrases, words, questions, thoughts in Irish refuse to shut up. I’m being patient as this is likely a “dusting off” period. I suspect that once it’s all dusted off I’ll likely sleep better. Perhaps some of you have some insight into this with your own experience with language acquisition?

I’ve signed myself up for quite a ride to be in west Cork for three weeks, west Galway (Conamara) for three weeks and out on Tory Island in Donegal for three weeks. I don’t think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew but I will certainly be doing a shite ton of work because if I don’t I will be bored stiff! I’ve decided while in these areas that I’ll focus on three projects aside from just hunting on my own and practicing my language. First, I’ve created a roadmap in standard Irish so while I’m in each area I’ll work on augmenting this roadmap based on the dialects of the area. I’ll document speaking through the game with fluent speakers from these areas as well. Next, I’ll be volunteering and observing in the schools to grasp a better understanding of the curriculum and of the little songs, games, poems, etc. that children pick up here during their eduction, which is all through Irish. Finally, I’ll be collecting songs, stories, vocabulary, experiences of life in these various Gaeltachta to culturally supplement the roadmaps.

I’ve already had some great experiences. I’ve had two very deep conversations about the state of Irish in the west Cork Gaeltacht. These conversations verified what I’ve suspected for many years now and have voiced to my students back in the States; while Irish is thriving in use, it is falling in standard. In particular, Irish is becoming anglicized more specifically in syntax and loan words. Both of my friends have said that it’s worse than they initially suspected. 😦 There are many factors feeding this, non-Irish speakers moving into the area and enrolling in the local school, a falling level of Irish among the teachers, organizations choosing not to use Irish (such as the local Gaelic Athletic Association whose initial aim was to promote hurling and Gaelic football through the Irish language!!!), and a generally weak economy in the area that has non-Irish speakers traveling to the area to work or native speakers moving out of the area to find work. All sad stuff, indeed. I’m sure I will find just as many positive experiences to balance this out (I hope).

I went on an hour long walk with Síle yesterday and we discussed the land and its place names and the stories associated with them. This is a fairly common feature of the language called dinnseanchas. Béal Átha ‘n Ghaorthaidh is located at the confluence of An Bun Síleann and the River Lee (Abhann na Laoi) and the plain on which it’s situated was clear cut to create it (sound familiar to Portland?!?!) so Béal = mouth, Átha = ford, Gaorthaidh = cleared plain of stumps. We worked through the names of trees, plants, moss, streams, etc. and the local lake named after the serpent who was cast from the land by St. Fionnbarra, which formed the pot (source) of the river Lee, which flows through the town of Cork. ALL SORTS OF AMAZING STUFF THAT IS SURE TO MAKE YOU JEALOUS.

More to come later. I’ll try to do a write up each day. Soup is on–anraith le fáil!


Notes from a Novice Language Hunter

7 o’ clock AM. The blinding white rays of sun shoot into my bedroom window like a laser beam. I awake, roll on to my back, and my first thought of the day takes hold. “Is pfiao dgerig e!”, I state.

That is Irish (*not correct Gaeilge spelling), that translates to, “that is a red pen”, and that is just the tip of the iceberg of what I learned about a week ago at my first Language Hunters workshop with a focus on Irish in Aurora, Oregon. I birthed a baby Irish brain in my mind that weekend, and “is pfiao dgerig e” are some of it’s first words. How adorable!

Let’s fast forward to later that same laser beam, sunny day, shall we? It’s 3 o’ clock in the afternoon and I’m attempting to explain to a friend my recent language acquisition.

“Tell me something in Irish!”, he demands excitedly.

“Oh, yeah………. uh.. is…..”, my mind is fumbling over various sounds and I can’t quite recall if any of them are particularly right.

I refrain. My mind is as murky as mud. I couldn’t think of a single thing that I had seemingly mastered over the course of the three day workshop. Nothing.

What’s up with that?!

Why can I fluently ask, “Is this my cup of tea?” in Irish while I’m putting on a pot of water at home, but not even get out, “What is that?” when someone wants to see what I know?

Well, here’s what I can gather. My baby Irish brain may appear to be like a human baby at first glance- cute, simple, accessible, and concrete. But, as I’m initially experiencing with Irish, this baby don’t wanna talk for just anybody. This baby is a little bit stubborn. My baby Irish brain has a mind of it’s own and I can only really get a grasp on it when it decides to “bubble up” according to it’s free will.

It may seem frustrating and a little bizarre, but isn’t that actually how learning works in real life? Outside of a classroom where a target language is regurgitated on demand, genuine learning tends to happen on it’s own time. Think about it this way- as a baby, nobody could get us to really, physically walk before we could do it with no assistance, on our own, right?

The picture is clearer now, but you still have to wonder- What’s up with that?!

Ah, the wonderful world of Language Hunting! I’ll be diving into the deep-end of language game play as I start my Internship. Join me for thoughts on the phenomena of accelerated learning, the craft of Language Hunting and their applications to life.

Until next time,