When helping my parents clear out their attic, we found many things, one of the was a series of interviews they did with the 5 of us over the years. It was was a list of questions which were part of a parenting course when they had taken part of and had gone on to train and give in various primary schools in the area.
Reading them was like a time capsule and looking back on what our likes were at ages 7 10 and 13 and how we’d changed. My daughter wanted to read over mine and had more then enough fun teasing me about some of the answers. One of which to the question what do you want to be when you grow up my 10 year old self had answered with Polyglot, yes I was all manner of precocious having had a reading age a good few year beyond my actual age.
So I had to explain to my now 11 year old what a polyglot was. Two languages is bilingual, three is trilingual and hyperpolyglot is six or more so polyglot is four/five languages. She asked me why I stopped, that I already had three, English, Irish and Germany that I only needed one more, but it would have to be a real one and not Klingon, and yes smartarsery does run in the family.
That converstaion stuck with me and the notions wouldn’t go away, but there was no way I could take on a brand new language with out brushing up on Irish and German.
She didn’t forget either, so when a notice came home from the school about Irish classes for parents on Wednesday morning she pressed me about it, so I signed up.
This morning I found myself in portacabin classroom which is the parent’s room, with 8 other mothers. Five of use who had been through the Irish school system all having done at between 11 and 13 years of being taught Irish as a subject and four who had not. The other ladies first languages were Filipino, Latvian, Polish and Croatian. Some of them also had a smattering of Russian, our tutor giving the class also spoke Russian so it was interesting class with many cross references.
It started with the very basics of greeting someone. You’d think that would be pretty standard and not controversial right? Not a hope. When Irish was standardised into the modern form taught in school it was done so with a certain bias.
So hello became “Dia duit”, which translate directly to “God be with you”, tricky, is your god is not my god or if you have no god. Then there is the response and children are all taught to reply saying “Dia is Muire duit” “God and Mary with you”, yup Mary mother of Jesus, and if your into out doing the person you can end up with “Dia is Muire is Padrig duit” God, Mary and St Patrick be with you.
The Irish parents didn’t blink an eye at this, but the others questioned it, which reminded me of one of my grandmother’s neighbours, she used to greet him “Dia duit” but he’d always replied “Maidin maith” as he was not a catholic. So thankfully the tutor was happy to deviate from her lesson plan to include “Maidin maith” “Good morning”, “Trathnóna maith” Good afternoon and “Oiche mhaith” Good night.
Which lead into a discussion on gender and Irish nouns. As “Maidin maith” is cos the morning is deemed masculine and it’s “Oiche Mhaith” as the night is feminine. I can’t really recall ever in an Irish class with gendered nouns. Sure it was done in German class but not in 13 years of Irish.
This spun the discussion off into the different sounds of words, and the use of the fada and the tutor had some wonderful examples. That Seán is a name and sean means old. The fada putting the emphasis on that part of the word and changing the vowel sound. So that it can change the word entirely, briste means trousers and bristé means broken, so you end up with “Ta mo briste bristé” my trousers are broken.
And then it was back to the greetings and how are you “Conas atá tú?” and the replies and every answer echos back the question asked, for there is no, yes or no in Irish. There is “sea agus ní hea” but that translates as it is and it’s not.
Which mean we have an echo language that we echo back the words spoken to us so that there’d be hopefully less misunderstanding and not doing that, to not give a full reply would have been considerer ill mannered.
There is no yes or no, but there is a maybe, this I do remember and it was often used by my grandparents, b’fheidir, maybe or more correctly translated as possibly.
So “Is feidir linn” does not mean Yes we can, it translates directly as it is possible for us.
Which is what started this for me, it’s still possible for me to be what I wanted at ten, even with it being a little over two and half decades from when that was an aspiration. When we think in absolutes we can close our selves off to possibilities.
Hopefully this basic class will start to brush away the cobwebs and I can try think more as gaeilge, is feidir liom.