No, I don’t mean the play by Brian Friel (although if you do get the chance to ever see/read that play, please do. Or indeed anything by Brian Friel) I mean translating language, words, from one language to another. And specifically, from English to Irish.
Speaking to the gods in their own language, or at least in the language you think is theirs, can be an offering in and of itself. For those of us following the Irish deities, this means Irish. And there’s a lot of us that started out speaking English. Even those of us who are Irish generally start out with English most of the time as well. And there’s differences in the language. There’s differences in thinking, in philosophy, in syntax, in grammar… Things that aren’t necessarily obvious when you’re learning a language. And I’m going to use some examples I’ve seen around the place (and by place I meant internet) over the years and explain why double checking is important.
So, I think the one that has come around so so often in the last few years is the time someone decided to translate Blue Lives Matter as “Gorm Chónaí Ábhar”. Now technically in Irish, blue = gorm; conaí = lives; ábhar = matter. but…..
In Irish, in preceding generations, an fear dubh (technically translates as the black man) was used for the devil. (Or at least this was my experience with my grandparents) So those words were taken plus there’s a rumour/ thought/ hypothesis coming from linguists that actually it comes from the Viking words for black people (which mean blue people because the first ones they met wore a lot of blue clothing. Either way, the Irish for black man is fear gorm (technically meaning blue man). So there’s the first problem.
The second word “chónaí” does mean lives, but it means lives as in I live here. Táim i mo chónaí in Éireann means I live in Ireland. Lives in this context (blue lives matter) would be saol. Equally, as ye may have noticed in the previous paragraph, in Irish the noun comes first and the adjective second. So, it would need to be saol gorm not gorm saol.
Finally we come to “ábhar”. Ábhar means matter as in stuff. Things. Subject. That sort of matter. As in “Cén ábhar a thóg tú ar scoil?” (which subjects did you study at school?) That sort of thing. Matters as in ” blue lives matter” is an entirely different concept in Irish. The closest concept would be “important” or “of worth”.
Coming from all that, one way of saying “blue lives matter” in Irish would be is fiú iad saolta gorma. Now, ye’ll notice that the words “saol” and “gorm” have changed there and that’s cos in Irish, words change according to case and number. So because we’re saying lives, plural, saol goes to saolta and that forces gorm to gorma.
Now for someone of my politics (which would be fairly liberal and left wing to say the least) the irony of someone trying to say “blue lives matter”, a phrase that came up to support the police in opposition to the black lives matter movement, and coming up with something as twisted and backwards as this is fairly amusing. It’s not so bad on a T-shirt, but I’ve seen tattoos of this.
The second one I’m looking at is from a Yasmine Galenorn books where she translates Land of Brilliant Apples as Talamh Lonrach Oll. OK, she never claims it’s Irish, so I’m not really going for her here. It’s just being used as an example. First off, “talamh” does mean land, but it’s land as in ground, or earth. Land as in country, area is tír. Again we come to the whole adjectives changing spelling with cases and being in the reverse order (plus the Irish for apple is úll, not oll) So Land of the Brilliant Apples would be more like Tír na hÚlla Lonracha rather than Talamch Lonrach oll.
Now here’s the thing. No one, deities included, can expect you to become fluent overnight in any language. And frankly, if they do, they can bloody well teach you overnight 🙂 That’s not what I’m about here, not about shaming. This is about raising awareness that using Google Translate or other online translators for spiritual or tattoos or anything permanent or important – double check it. Triple check. Tie in with a native speaker or someone who is at least on their way to fluent. Use Google Translate and then translate what they give you back into the original language. Try each word on it’s own and again as a phrase. Run the answers you get by someone who knows the language.
For the record, I don’t consider myself fluent in Irish. I learned Irish in school, as do most people going through the Irish school system. I love the language so I use it as much as I can and I had parents who could afford to send me to Irish college for 3 weeks in the summer (for 5 years on the trot!) I got to use and speak the language as a living language and learn to appreciate the differences and things to think about. There’s nothing quite as surprising the first time you realised you dreamt in different language to what you’re used to 🙂
But, there are many topics I can’t converse with as Gaeilge. I’m an engineer, I don’t have the Irish terms for much of my daily business conversation. Speaking about politics, world affairs, etc is probably beyond my comfortable Irish. But I use what I have.
And that’s important. The gods appreciate whatever our best is. But if it’s something important, if it’s something permanent – remember, the syntax, grammar and structure is NOT the same as in English. (and possibly not whatever your native language is). Learning Irish is a great way to honour the Irish pantheon, and they will appreciate it, but remember our magic is a magic of language and poetry and words – be careful what you say!!