Saturday, February 4, 2012

Learning Irish

My attempts to learn Irish Gaelic are paying off, in that I have finished the eight Pimsleur lessons and feel pretty competent asking someone in Irish if they would like to drink wine or beer at my house. (Heaven help me if they want something besides wine or beer.) I've got a different set of CDs on the way, in a different dialect (not my choice; you take what you can find) so that ultimately my speech will veer from dialect to dialect and any native speaker will decide I'm insane.

I found a used book called Learning Irish, quite a score although I'm struggling with the dense jargon and intensive grammar lessons it contains. I think it's for people who are already linguists, or who are really serious about learning the language. Like, maybe they have to move to really rural Ireland where they will conceivably need to say things like "He hadn't got his glasses on so he shook hands with his sister instead of the bishop" and "I was dreaming again last night about death." (I did not make those up. They're straight from the book.)

From Learning Irish I discovered that my bafflement with what I'm hearing versus what I read has a reason: "Irish can be regarded as having two complete (or nearly complete) sets of consonant sounds" (p. 2). In other words, depending on context, the consonant sounds in Irish shift from one sound to another--similar to the English words 'knife' and 'knives' (/f/ to /v/), but all the time. That is COOL.

To help with my pronunciations, I've been scouring the internet for audio files. There's not a whole lot out there, but what I've found is rather endearingly amateur. One file I listened to this evening was a guy reading out greetings in a monotone, and then halfway through he pauses to cough, giggles sheepishly, and then finishes the list. It's not very helpful, but it made me smile.


Kelly Robinson said...

The phrases in foreign language books can be so bizarre and non-useful sometimes. (When will you need 'The library is full of tar?')

Jealous that you're learning it, though. I'm making a list of 50 things to do by age 50. Maybe I'll add something language related.

K.C. Shaw said...

If you learn Irish, I'll have someone to speak it with. (What if the library IS full of tar? And for some reason when I called 911 the only guy who answers speaks nothing but Irish? I must be prepared!)