Wednesday, 10 December 2014

I Love It When Languages Make Sense

You'd think this would be obvious, but apparently not to teanga na hÉireann, Gaeilge. I've been studying Irish in school for twelve years and French for four. I even went to a camp and just spoke Irish for three weeks. And yet I still have a better grasp of French.

This could be due to the way Irish is taught in schools, but that's an unpleasant thought so let's investigate another reason:

Irish makes no damn sense,

There is literally no verb "to have". Despite how vital that verb is (e.g. "I have a cold," "I have a cup of tea"), Gaeilge just said feck that and didn't bother (yeah, yeah lazy Irish stereoype).

English and French keep it simple with "to have" and "avoir" (I'll let you guess which is which). But maybe Irish is sending a message about greed: you're going to have to work for your possessions. So you need a whole phrase:

Tá is like "is"; agam is the "me" form of have

Tá buidéal uisce agam - I have a bottle of water.
Bhí cóta dearg aici - She had a red coat.

Whereas in French you have the verb and just conjugate as needed. 

Same sentences:

J'ai une bouteille d'eau.
Elle avait un manteau rouge.

Look at those verbs at the beginning of the sentence right after the subject, just where they should be.

In fairness, French can get annoying with all the conjugations whereas in Irish it's the same in all tenses, it just changes with the person (agam, agat, aige, aici, againn, agaibh, acu). But a verb would be nice, you know? 


Another important verb Irish is missing: to like. There are loads of ways to say you like something - taitníonn sé liom, is maith liom é, bainim taitneamh as (shut up about my grammar), but no verb that means like. The closest thing is maith, but that just means "good". So "Is maith liom é" translates as the simplest version of "I like it." But it really means "It is good with me." More precisely, this: 

Excellent Paint skills, right?

Irish is allllll about phrases. It's very annoying.


Sure, the un/une, le/la/les thing is annoying. But in my thirteenth year of Irish I just learned that Irish also has masculine and feminine nouns that mess with grammar like it wasn't already bad enough. At least French is upfront about it.

I still don't have a clue what the feminine and masculine nouns in Irish do, to be honest, just that feminine adjectives are called aidiachtaí baininscneach. I can't even spell that. 

IV Seanfocail

The dreaded seanfocal. Seanfhocal? Seanfhocail? Look, you can't give out to me about my Irish grammar. It's not a level playing field.

Some Irish seanfhocail are fine. I quite like this one:

Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.

(Translates to "There's no hearth like your own" and means there's no place like home.) At least it makes sense and the words are kind of in the right order.

Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí

isn't too bad either; it's something like "praise the youth and they will come", and it least it has some kind of cause-effect relationship.
Then you have:

Ar scath a chéile a mhaireann na daoine

This means something like "people live in one another's shadow" but come on, it doesn't actually mean that. 

Cad a dhéanfadh mac an chait ach luch a mharú

As far as I can tell, this means "What would the cat's father do but kill mice?" but apparently it means "like father, like son". Jesus. 

There's one we did in school when I was fourteen that I always found hilarious. I can't for the life of me find it now, but it was something like:

Bhí muc i gach mála a bhí ag mo mháthair

Meaning: There was a pig in every bag of my mother's. 

It's interesting (though to be expected) how many of these seanfhocail are agricultural.


I know I'm biased, being a native English speaker, but I think it's reasonable to like languages that keep the same underlying patterns. Look at this.

I like to move it move it dance

Look how lovely and matching they are. 

When you have a two verbs after each other in French, you have to put the second verb in the infinitive (at least so far in the years I've been learning it). In English it's normally the same, although you can do verb + gerund (I like dancing), plus a couple of exceptions. 

I really didn't mean for this to be a post bashing Irish, I just wanted to say how much sense the verb + infinitive rule in French made, but look --

In Irish, the infinitive doesn't exist! 

Come on now.

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