Maybe you’re familiar with the word, ‘Gaelic’—recognizing it as the native language of Ireland. Even if you’ve never heard it spoken, you may have listened to Gaelic in music as performed by such artists as Celtic Woman or Enya. And if you’ve ever seen it written as it’s being spoken, you probably think the words look nothing like they sound!
In addition to Irish, other variations of Gaelic are Scottish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic—collectively known as Goidelic languages. These, as well as many other languages in the British Isles, share a Celtic heritage. (FYI … if you only know the word ‘Celtic’ from the NBA team, you may be surprised to learn that apart from the Boston variety, the word is properly pronounced with a ‘K’ sound, as in ‘cat.’) The Celts came to these islands from Europe between about 2000 and 400 B.C. which led to the demarcation of Continental Celtic vs. Insular (Island) Celtic. It was from the Insular Celtic that we get the Goidelic as well as the Brythonic (i.e. British, Cornish and Welsh … etc.) dialects.
Celtic, itself, was just one of many languages that sprung from the Indo-European language tree, which seems to have had its roots in Northern India before spreading across Europe. (Here’s an interesting chart.) Along with Gaelic (and English), languages as diverse as Icelandic and Nepali have a common ancestry … which is why so many words sound similar across great expanses of distance and time. Consider: mother (English), mathair (Old Irish), mater (Latin), matar (Sanskrit).
For a time, it seemed that Irish Gaelic would go the way of many other now-dead languages—contributing a few words to the dominant tongue before fading away from disuse. Gaelic mostly managed to withstand Norse and Anglo-Norman incursions (800 – 1100 A.D), but as the Tudor and Stuart royal families began to control Ireland in the 1500s, English increasingly became the official language of government and business (even though most people still spoke Gaelic). By the 1800s, Gaelic was viewed as the language of poor and uneducated and its usage became stigmatized. This poorer population then took a huge hit as 800,000 people died from illnesses related to the Great Irish Famine (1845 – 1852) and from the emigration of about 2,000,000 to the U.S.
However, during the late 19th Century, there arose an academic interest in Gaelic which helped create an impetus for its preservation. The independence of Ireland from England in 1922 also added the imprimatur of nationalistic pride to speaking Gaelic. Today, Irish Gaelic is a mandatory subject in Irish primary and secondary schools, and the government promotes its use as an important way to support a distinct and vibrant Irish culture. According to a 2011 census, about 1.77 million people in the Republic of Ireland now claim the ability to speak Irish-Gaelic (approximately 40% of the population).
So what would you do if you found yourself needing to make a business presentation in the ‘Gaeltacht’ (e.g. a region of Ireland where Gaelic remains the pre-eminent language)? Why, you would call us at Translators-USA, of course! Irish-Gaelic is one of the 150-plus languages covered by our database of 9,000 well-qualified linguists. On your behalf, we could wish your new Irish friends, “Maidin mhaith” (Good morning!) rather than something they’d never actually say like, “barr an maidin” (Top of the morning!) … because at Translators-USA, we know cultures as well as languages. Hope you enjoyed learning more about the Origins of Gaelic… we’re very much looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day and wanted to pay homage to this exciting and dynamic language!