Dáil Éireann - Volume 602 - 19 May, 2005

Priority Questions. - Irish Language.

  2. Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has proposals to modernise the grammar structures and vocabulary of the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16730/05]

  Éamon Ó Cuív: Responsibility for modernisation of the vocabulary of the Irish language to reflect the creation of new technical terms rests with Foras na Gaeilge under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. This work is ongoing with the assistance of an advisory group of experts, An Coiste Téarmaíochta.

Regarding the grammar of the language, the Deputy will be aware that the caighdeán oifigiúil was last reviewed in 1958. While I have no formulated proposals in this regard, the question of whether there is a need at this point to review the official standard again was raised briefly at the most recent meeting of Fóram na Gaeilge, and Foras na Gaeilge agreed to prepare a paper in that regard. I anticipate that the paper will be discussed at the next meeting of the fóram.

  Mr. O’Shea: I thank the Minister for his reply and look forward to the presentation of the paper. Does the Minister agree it is vital that children learn to speak Irish as early as possible and use it as widely as possible? Does he agree that a [1561] major difficulty for children can be the first letter of various words, because of aspirations, eclipses and prefixes? For example, Éire become tír na hÉireann. Does the Minister agree that any obstacles confronting children using the language must be addressed and that appropriate changes, where deemed necessary in the sense of assisting children in learning the language at that early stage, should be quickly introduced?

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I agree this issue must be looked at. It is very tricky. I come from a long tradition of modernists in this regard and I am often criticised for example for spelling my name “Cuív” because people say there is no “v” in Irish. My view is that modern Irish has a “v”. For example, in this House we regularly used the word “Vótáil”. One could spell it “Bhótáil” but the sensible and modern thing to do is use the “v” instead.

Someone recently wrote to a newspaper criticising the use of “v” in Irish. I asked an Irish scholar who turned up an interesting piece. Apparently, my father was criticised many years ago for using “v” in his name. In his reply, he explained how the litriú simplí came about, because the “cónaighe” and all such forms which would be familiar to people at the beginning of the 20th century were causing chaos to learners. It was difficult to know how to pronounce a word such as “cónaighe” if one did not know the language. In his defence, my father pointed out how this came about, but also pointed out something more interesting. He noted that in the Annals of Inishfallen in 1259 there was a reference to “Corc mac Fínguni í Kymh d’éc Bennact era anmin”, but the spelling for “Caoimh” was “Kymh”. Some people who want me to go back to the older version think it is “Caoimh”, but I am thinking of reverting to “Kymh”.

  Mr. McGinley: No “v”.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: No, but a “k” and a “y” in Irish, which is interesting. Accordingly, there is nothing new in modernisation. There should be simplifications. I do not think one can get rid of the séimhiú totally, nor of the urú. I would prefer not to make judgments which would be better made by experts. One cannot suddenly make non-native speakers out of native speakers because they do not understand the new “speak”.

However, there are great inconsistencies in the caighdeán oifigiúil. For example, we all know that in Munster Irish, one says “bhíos” agus “bhí sibh” agus “bhíomar” agus na rudaí sin ar fad, whereas in Connacht we have the simple version, with which Deputy McGinley is probably familiar, namely “bhí mé”, “bhí tú”, “bhí sé”, “bhí muid”, “bhí sibh” agus “bhí siad”. I could never understand why the caighdeán oifigiúil has “bhí mé”, “bhí tú”, “bhí sé”, “bhíomar”, “bhí sibh” agus “bhí siad”. I do not know why it did not use the foirm scartha gan bhriathar i gcónaí. That is by far the simplest, perfectly grammatical and cor[1562] rect in two of the major dialects, in my understanding. Accordingly it would be a much simpler form to teach a child, so that every verb would be the préamh of the verb, “bhí” nó“tá” nó“bheadh” and so on, with simply “mé”, “tú”, “sé”, “muid”, “sibh” and “siad”.

There is work to be done in this area. I intend to pursue it. As I said, we have raised the issue with Foras na Gaeilge. The board is central to the issue because under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999 it is responsible for An Coiste Téarmaíochta. Clearly it is sensible for the body which now has the official, legal responsibility for téarmaíocht to look also at what I see as the associated issue of grammar and the caighdeán oifigiúil. We must move forward and we cannot freeze the language. I am not a linguist or a great expert in the area but I understand that in many languages, the genitive is not used in the same form in which it was used 100 years ago. That is not unique to Irish, although in certain cases in Irish the change has accelerated.

Certain changes are quite incorrect. A common one which has entered the Irish language is “an asal” and “ar an t-asal”. That is just nonsense. I will not support the bastardisation of the language by the introduction of — I will try not to use unparliamentary language although one can get away with that in Irish easier than in English — non-native forms of speech which are quite inappropriate to the language as spoken. Tá bealach nóáit idir eatarthu agus ba mhaith liom é a fheiceáil ag dul ar aghaidh.