Thursday, 16 April 2015

Why Are Irish-Language Stories so Bad?

We finished a really annoying short story in Irish today, so I'm going to vent my frustration by generalizing an entire group of people (the writers of these stories), but it's okay because they're of my nationality. Let's go.

Irish stories are awful. Not the ones written in English, like Yeats and James Joyce, but Irish-language authors. In my experience. Any Irish story we've read for school has been boring, stereotypical and/or plotless, and I'm going to try to explain why.

1. Paucity of Examples

What a fancy word.

But yeah, the fact is that while (using the US as an example because their books would mostly be English and because of convenient stats, let's not lie to ourselves) over 3 million books were published in the US last year, while - although I couldn't find stats on published Irish-language books - I found all of two Irish-language publishers. 

Since there are so few Irish-language books published, there's less good stuff. Remember, there are plenty of bad books in English too, they're just drowned out. Irish is constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel. 

2. Market

About 1% of the approximately 4 million Irish people speak Irish fluently, though most can understand a little (the cúpla focail imparted by school). Why would a good writer with any sense for business ever bother writing in Irish when the potential market is so incredibly small? Other writers and publishers have to worry about getting the hundreds of millions of English speakers to read their books through advertisers, whereas Irish-language writers have to deal with the fact that most people can't read their books untranslated. 

Publishers have to think about their bottom line, and they're unlikely to take a chance on a book with such small potential.

That has to be massively demotivating, and narrows the field of writers to those who don't particularly care for mainstream success, which links in with ...

3. Culchies

Irish-language stories are almost always about huge, stereotypical culchies (country people), the kind who'd find leprechauns in their porridge. The Gaeltacht is pretty low on technology and industry, so writers from there talk about really old-fashioned things. Also, with the diminished popularity of Irish, a lot of the writers are old so the books are even less relevant to young people. I've never seen an Irish-language science fiction novel. It's always just dramas. 

The Irish language itself is geared towards this, with few words about technology or modern life and most just seanfhocail, old sayings that don't make any sense now, like "Praise the children and they will come" (Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí). 

4. Lack of Mentoring/Inspiration

Writers must read. For plot and character, but also for language. But because there are so few Irish-language stories, people who might write these stories are discouraged from doing so because they can't get the experience they need. So they either make bad books, or none at all (contributing to the lack of books - it's self-perpetuating).

It's certainly not for lack of national talent, as evident from the above examples (Yeats and Joyce - I'm sure there are more I can't think of right now). Look, it's not something I'm too upset about, because I don't particularly care for Irish. But I needed a way to express my frustration with how incredibly boring school Irish stories are. 

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