Thursday, November 8, 2012

English as a Foreign Language

As we are in an English-speaking country, you would think that language would not be an issue here. But I think sometimes I have an easier time of it in France. The Irish (Gaelic) is of course a huge mystery to us, and since so many of the place names are derived from the Irish, we're often at a loss.

For example, if I want to get to Dun Laughaire, I might ask, "Which direction to Dun LOW-gair?"

The kind Irishman in the tweed cap looks at me quizzically.

I try again, slightly louder of course, because as all Americans know, speaking louder makes us more easily understood. “Dun LAO-jair?," I venture. "Don Low-HAIR?  Dun LOG-hair?”

He walks over to see where I'm pointing on the map. “Aah! Dune Leary!” And then proceeds to give me directions I can't understand anyway.

It’s not just the accent. Or the spelling. Sometimes, it simply doesn’t seem like English at all. Of course, sometimes it isn’t English. Many of the names are given in Gaelic, such as “An dInbhear Mor,” which, according to my trusty guidebook, means Great Estuary. I sound this out as “An DIN-bare MORE” though it is, as I’m sure you have already astutely guessed, actually called “Arklow.” I feel so slow.

In Tipperary, you will find a little town called “An tAonach.” And I’m sure if you were driving along wanting directions, you wouldn’t think of calling that“Nena” either, so don’t laugh. Sure sometimes they write it as “Nenagh,” but how is a non-Irishperson to realize that’s even referring to the same place? Guidebooks, maps, and signs don't always list the towns in the same language.

By the way, according to my Irish friends, nobody actually says, “Top o’ the mornin’ to you!” except the leprechaun from Lucky Charms which are, I’m sure you’re aware, magically delicious but absolutely not Irish. Nobody says “Faith and Beghorah!” either, though I have heard quite a few “Jesus, Mary, and Josephs!” In trying to sound like a native, I am told I hit it dead on about once out of every, oh, 40,000 attempts. The other 39,999 times, I sound more like Apu, the Indian Kwik-E-Mart owner from the Simpsons.

Language difficulties aside, we're having a bit of the craic over here. That’s pronounced “crack”, and it doesn’t mean we’re smoking any form of cocaine. Rather, that’s the Irish way for saying we’re having a rip-roarin', grand ole’ time.


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