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Tá Gaeilge ag an Éireannach, Tá Béarla ag an Sasanach

I enjoy learning about languages. I have studied many other than English, but I am not fluent in any of them. Currently I am studying Irish. Mainly because my Mom was interested because her grandson (my nephew) is half-Irish and speaks some Irish because his father is a teacher of the Irish language. I am also interested because of the folklore and culture involved, and it is a way to connect with my Irish ancestors and their worldview and values. I am still researching, but one of my Irish family connections on my father's side was to Cork and migration to American due to the potato famine of the 1840s. My mother's Irish side I am still researching.

A friend of mine remarked he didn't know there was such a thing as the Irish language. He thought they just spoke English "with a funny accent." Which got me to thinking about English again, and its relation to Irish. I have ancestors from both peoples. I did the National Geographic's Genographic Project test, and my genetics connect my father's male line to the Basques and the Cro-Magnon; that is the male line which is also connected to the area of Glastonbury as well, so there might even be a pre-Celt connection in that line to megalithic England. We don't know what languages were spoken in the British Isles 4000 or more years ago before the Celtic/IndoEuropean migrations. Perhaps ones related to Basque in some way, but we really don't know. We do know there is evidence at Dartmoor in Devon for human occupation from just after the retreat of the glacial ice in about 6000 B.C.

By the time of Jesus (first century AD, Anno Domini "Year of Our Lord" = 0-100), there was a language family called Celtic, with languages that were spoken across Europe, in France, parts of Germany, and over into the British Isles (Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, etc.).

The huge Indo-European language family, which includes families like Celtic, Germanic, Romance, and other languages, had spread across Europe by around 5000-6000 BC. Different sources vary in the dates as usual. They even have some languages in India in that family. Sanskrit is Indo-European.

Irish is one of the Celtic languages. Some people call it Gaelic but that is really the form which was spoken in Scotland. There are some politics and issues of identity involved here. Another Celtic language is Welsh. When the Romans invaded Britain, it was inhabited by Celts called Britons. They lived in tribes and were ruled by chiefs. They spoke a Celtic language called Briton. They were Iron Age people. I have Welsh, Scot, Irish Celtic-derived surnames in my genealogy, on both sides.

The Romans went into Britain under Julius Caesar about 50 years before Jesus was born, but they didn't really return and conquer Britain until a few years after Jesus' death. Then much of what is now England became part of the Roman Empire, but Scotland, Wales, and Ireland remained Celtic. The Romans spoke Latin. This remained the way things were for several hundred years. The Britons still spoke Celtic Briton language but were learning Latin as well. But when the Roman Empire began its decline, the Romans left England in the 400s. That's when the Saxon invasion began.

English is a language from the Germanic family. Others in the Germanic family are German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian. You might remember from school that English came from Middle English (used in the Canterbury Tales) and before that it was Old English (used in Beowulf). Old English was the language spoken by the Saxons (Anglo-Saxon) who invaded England from mainland Europe. The Saxons invaded England from the northern European mainland when the Romans left England in the 5th century (around AD 400-500). They took over the lands that Rome had in England. My English ancestors I have so far traced to the areas of Somerset (where Glastonbury is located) and Devon, which borders Cornwall; these are in southwest England.

This is when "England" and "English" was born, with the Germanic Anglo-Saxon invasion. There was no English or England before 500 AD. To compare, in 500 AD in the United States, the Indians in the east were building Mounds and in the southwest, they were living in pithouses (no cliff dwellings or Anasazi yet). But the Maya were building their stone temples in Mexico. My Native American ancestors of the Ioway, Otoe, Omaha and others had not differentiated into those tribes yet, and were still part of the Hopewell Woodland Moundbuilder cultures.

I won't go into all the English history, but here's the outline from the Celtic period onward:

1. Celtic languages spoken in Britain (England, Scotland, Wales), Ireland, etc. to AD 1

2. Roman invasion and settlements in Britain (AD 1 to 400) -Celtic and Latin spoken in this part of the Roman Empire

3. Romans leave and Anglo-Saxon invasion, and creation of "England"/English (400-1066); Viking and Danish attacks and settlements in England (500-1000); this is the "Dark Ages"

4. 1066 - Battle of Hastings - Normans (French) invade under William the Conqueror and conquer England and rule the English; Anglo-Norman displaces Old English and evolves into Middle English (1100-1500)

5. Modern English begins around AD 1500, and soon thereafter the colonization of America begins as well. My Somerset line is in Virginia by 1700, in the county Isle of Wight on Indian Creek. The connections of language are fascinating, both with the "Indian" creek connection and the "Wight" connection. A Wight is a land spirit in the Saxon tradition.

So, see the English are really kind of like Americans in that they were a melting pot of various peoples, languages, and cultures: Celtic, Roman/Latin, Anglo-Saxon/Germanic, Norse/Scandinavian, and Norman-French. English as a language developed for a thousand years, from 500 to 1500.

Back to Irish-- Irish kept their Celtic identity and language, as they were never fully conquered like England or included as part of the British until the 1600s, and officially became part of the United Kingdom (Great Britain and Ireland) in 1801. The Irish were always fighting for their independence from Britain. There were wars and the IRA etc which resulted in the political split between Northern Ireland (which is still tied to England) and the Republic of Ireland of today.

The Irish language is the official language of the Republic of Ireland, but not everyone there speaks it. Mostly there are little areas where Irish remains the daily language.

Here is a part of a poem in Irish we have to memorize:

"Tá Gaeilge ag an Éireannach,
Tá Béarla ag an Sasanach"

which is translated as
"Irishmen speak Irish,
Englishmen speak English"

But what it REALLY means is

"Irishmen speak Irish,
Saxons speak gibberish"!!

My Irish/Celtic and Saxon/English ancestors have a good time with all this back-and-forth! And those who were there before the Celts or the Saxons are standing still in the shadows of the megaliths and in the deep caves painting their bison and aurochs...

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Interesting post considering

Interesting post considering that Irish was always obligatory when I went to school and that in turn had the effect of turning so many people away from it. It still is obligatory and it is not unusual for people to try to find a way out of having to do Irish for exam purposes in school. I think the way you are studying the language is wonderful because you are doing it for reasons unrelated to exams and points.

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Thanks Mary :-) I have

Thanks Mary :-) I have looked a lot of times at Irish but it looked too difficult to me. I didn't understand the grammar at all, and the spelling is so different from the sounds it represents in many cases (at least to a nonspeaker it seems that way!)

I doubt I will ever get to go to Ireland, but it feels kind of cool to be able to say things my ancestors would have said! 

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Have you read The Story of English

Hi Lance,

The Story of English by Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil is the companion guide to a PBS series on English. It ran in the early 1990s I think. It is not on the PBS which is too bad - I thought I was going to give you a link to a series with an online exhibit.

I like the book despite some of its dated references to contemporary America like Dallas. The maps are well-done in the book. I read a little bit every day.

I wish I had had this book in high school when I did a term paper on the history of the English language....

French is my second language and I speak and read Spanish for work quite a bit. I have studied Italian and Portuguese by myself and studied Japanese and Chinese in college.

I'm going to look up a book I read to recommend you called How to Learn any Language I think it is. This book is the absolute best guide I have ever read on how to speak a foreign tongue. I have to go through my reading list.


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Found it!

Hi Lance,

Your personal reference librarian here...

The book is called How to Learn any Language by Barry Farber.

Have fun!