Sometimes when you're learning a language you can get hung up on being
grammatically correct, or learning more and more new words. All of that
is very important, of course, but sometimes it means we don't pay enough
attention to things like pronunciation or the subtle little differences
between languages. Many of these things we hardly even notice, but a native
speaker spots them a mile off, and they can be the difference between
sounding like the real thing and sounding a bit stilted. When we hear
native speakers of Spanish saying things like "I came to Ireland
on a big sheep" we know that what they should be saying is 'ship'.
But Spanish speakers find it very hard to distinguish between 'ee' and
'i'. For them, it's a subtle difference. For us, it stands out like a
And the same can be said about the different ways in which Irish and
English lay emphasis on things. You often hear people say things like
Ní hé sin mo chóta, or Beidh an chóisir inár
dteach. That sounds very strange in Irish and it happens because the speaker
is thinking of English sentences like 'That's not my coat' or 'The party
will be in our house' (and not in anyone else's). It's very common, unfortunately.
You even hear it on Irish TV and radio programmes - but not on 'Blas'
of course. 'Our reporter spoke to the family' becomes Labhair ár
dtuairisceoir leis an teaghlach. It's a strange thing about the English
language that it has no way to express emphasis in writing. It all depends
on your voice: 'your brother' her money' and so on. When English speakers
have to express something like that in writing, they usually put the emphasised
word in italics, but Irish has it's own way of doing things.
In Irish we simply add a suffix to the word we want to emphasise, and
we don't really raise our voice at all. Ní hé sin mo chóta-sa
and so on. Sa is a common suffix - Mo chóta-sa, do chóta-sa.
You'd also use sa when you're talking to more than one person bhur dteachsa.
San is used with the third person - a chóta-san (his coat) and
a cóta-san (her coat) and 'their house' would be a dteachsan. If
the emphasised word ends in a slender consonant, that is, if the last
vowel is an 'e' or an 'i', sa becomes se: Do chathaoir-se and so on. That
one isn't so important in the spoken language. You'll hear Donegal people
say do chathaoir-sa as if it was broad. But if you're going to be writing
Irish, remember to use se. That just leaves one more - the first person
plural, where the suffix is na or ne. If you have problems remembering
them just think of something more familiar - the emphatic forms of the
personal pronouns - mise, tusa, eisean, ise, muidne, sibhse and iadsan.
They all use the same suffixes. So try to avoid saying things like mo
charr and do gheansaí and keep an ear out for it in other people's
speech. You'll notice how strange it sounds when Irish has it's own way
of doing it.
There's more than one way to skin a cat, of course. I heard someone recently
protesting about the Labour Government in Britain going to war in Iraq.
The speaker was a Labour supporter and said that it wasn't right for our
party to do such things: Níor cheart go mbeadh ár bpáirtí
ag déanamh rudaí mar sin. Now we know that sounds a bit
off, for reasons we've explained, but ár bpáirtí-ne
isn't much better. Most people would say Níor cheart go mbeadh
an páirtí is againne ag déanamh rudaí mar
sin. You hear the same thing when people are talking about relatives.
Dónall is againne, Síle is agaibhse and so on. Like a lot
of aspects of language it's hard to lay down hard and fast rules for when
this structure is used. Keep an ear out for it and for examples of what
we covered tonight. Half the trick with learning a language is simply
being aware of how it works.
to basic grammar advice
to Beginners Blas