A Minority Complex

It goes without saying that an innumerable array of factors go into the making of a person’s worldview. It was not until relatively recently however, that I fully realised the extent to which language has contributed to the shaping of my own.

A couple of weeks ago I came across an English translation of ‘A Rough Guide’, a poem by Welshman Grahame Davies. Never before had I seen myself so clearly in another person’s depiction of themselves. What’s more, never before had I felt so much like a caricature!

'Rough Guide' by Grahame Davies

‘Rough Guide’ by Grahame Davies

It’s not merely that the poet and I share the same sympathies and affinities. I am, embarrassing though it is to admit, guilty of the exact same perverse approach to guide books as he. Last December I was given a gift of The Rough Guide to Languedoc & Roussillon as I was about to travel to the region in the hopes of improving my French. The first thing I did on receiving the book was to scan the contents, locate ‘Language’, skip past ‘French’ (the language I am currently trying to learn!) and dive head first into the section on Occitan and Catalan! Little did I know I was exhibiting the telltale signs of the clichéd minority language speaker.

While we’re on the topic of minority languages and their speakers, I just posted a video on the Indigenous Language Challenge page on Facebook. For my challenge I decided to read one of my favourite Gearóid Mac Lochlainn poems, ‘Aistriúcháin’ (‘Translations’). The poem deals with the frustrations endured by the poet who writes in a minority language. Specifically, Mac Lochlainn is talking about Ireland and the Irish language but I’m sure others will be able to relate. I said I would post a written translation of the poem here in case anyone from the page wanted to make sense of what I was saying!

'Aistriúcháin' by Gearóid Mac Lochlainn. Translated by Frankie Sewell and Gearóid Mac Lochlainn

‘Aistriúcháin’ by Gearóid Mac Lochlainn. Translated by Frankie Sewell and Gearóid Mac Lochlainn

I would encourage anyone who is a speaker of a minoritised language (be you a native speaker or a new speaker, a fluent speaker or a beginner) to take the time and record a short video and upload it to the Indigenous Language Challenge page. The raison d’être of the group is really beautiful so I hope even more people get behind it: “Let’s use this particular group to share all of the language videos to inspire each other to SPEAK our languages. In the spirit of language revitalization, please post videos of yourselves speaking your beautiful Indigenous languages and encourage others to do the same.”

I would be really interested to hear what people make of the above poems. In particular, if you are a speaker of a minoritised language I would love to know what you think. Can you see yourself in anything touched on by either poet?

Also, if anyone can recommend other websites, projects, Facebook groups, etc. where people are trying to bring together speakers or teachers of minority languages then please do leave some information and some links in the comments section below!

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6 thoughts on “A Minority Complex

  1. an ceart ag Gearóid Mac Lochlainn – bíonn an ‘respectful silence’ ann, mar a bheirim air, nuair atá tú ag léamh rud éigin as Gaeilge ag cruinniú Béarla. Mar ní thuigeann siad ach níor mhaith leo ligint orthu nach dtuigeann. Great craic ar fad ar afad!

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  2. Go raibh maith agat, a chara, tá sé seo an-spéisiúil. An rud a gcuirim an spéis is mó ann ná an chaoi a ndéanann nuachainteoirí an cinneadh dul i dtreo na mionteanga fiú agus a fhios acu gur mar seo a bhéas an saol acu má ghlacann siad an teanga sin chucu. An cheist atá agam ná an mbainimid taitneamh eicínt as bheith sa mhionlach/as an streachailt/as an troid síoraí in aghaidh an mórchultúr? Dá mbeadh, abair, an Ghaeilge ag gach éinne in Éirinn, an gcuirfimis an spéis chéanna inti, nó an rachaimis i dtreo ruda eile a mbeadh cabhair uaidh?

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    • An dóigh leat go mbíonn an tuiscint sin ag daoine i gcónaí sula dtugann siad faoi theanga? Go fo-chomhfhiosach fiú? Nílimse róchinnte faoi sin. Ní dóigh liom go raibh agamsa. Ní dóigh liom gur ghlac mé ‘cinneadh’ riamh dul i dtreo na Gaeilge. Ní chreidim gur ábhar mealltach domsa é an Ghaeilge a bheith ina mionteanga. Is cuid de m’fhéiniúlacht í. Sin an fáth gur tábhachtach domsa í, creidim. Ach níl ansin ach mo thuairim agus mo chás féin. Agus gach seans gur ag cur dallamullóg orm féin atáim!

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      • Níl a fhios agam, ach tá mé ag ceapadh go mbainean muid taitneamh eicínt as an troid. Is cuid dár n-oidhreacht agus cuid dár gcultúr an Béarla chomh maith, ach ní chuireann chuile dhuine againn an spéis chéanna inti ná ina litríocht ná ina stair agus a chuirimid i dteanga, litríocht agus stair na Gaeilge. Cén fáth a mbraithimid dlús níos mó leis an nGaeilge? An bhfuil baint b’fhéidir ag cultúr an “underdog” in Éirinn leis seo?

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  3. eointharlear says:
    ‘Thank you very much, my friend, this is very interesting. The thing that interests me most is the way in which new speakers make the decision to take up a minority language, even though they know that this is how life will be if they go with the language. The question I have is do we take some kind of pleasure out of being in the minority/ out of the struggle/ out of the eternal battle against the dominant culture? Say if the Irish language was spoken by everyone in Ireland, would we have the same interest in it, or would we move on to something else that is in need of help?’

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  4. (if you want to practice your French:)

    Salut Ciarán. Je m’appelle Antoine et je suis québécois.
    Je m’intéresse beaucoup à la littérature irlandaise et aux questions linguistiques de nos deux pays. J’adore la poésie de Gearóid et c’est avec intérêt que j’ai lu ses recueils. J’ai d’ailleurs fait une traduction française du poème “Aistriúcháin” il y a un peu plus de trois ans. Je l’avais envoyé à Gearóid et il semblait satisfait du résultat. Voici le lien, peut-être est-ce que cela t’intéresserait.

    http://antoinemalette.com/site/?p=1793

    Merci pour ton post!
    Antoine

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