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16 October 2014
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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 sore thumb.

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.



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