It’s quite funny to find myself returning to Sruth na Maoile (Sea of Moyle), that stretch of water between Ireland and Scotland, which in my imagination is the gentle, fluid border between Irish and Scottish Gaelic. I return to this liminal space in my mind from the other side this time, from Scotland, and Scottish Gaelic. I am looking back towards the shores of my native land and Gaeilge — my native, but alas not my mother, tongue.
I originally set up a blog and social media accounts called “Sruth na Maoile” back in 2010 so that I could share my experience with others as I learned Scottish Gaelic as an Irish speaker. Though that stretch of water between Ireland and Scotland is only about 12 miles from shore to shore, Irish and Scottish Gaelic had become quite isolated from one another, with Irish and Scots occasionally crossing the linguistic border to find a strangely familiar and yet intriguingly exotic doppelganger. (Of course, there has always been movement of people between the two countries, for work or trade, especially between the northern counties of Ireland and the west of Scotland.) The two communities seem to have become estranged from one another, probably as a result of centuries of political interference (I’ll say no more!), but through the likes of social media, exchange programmes and cultural projects, communication between the two communities is more flowing and there is more of an awareness of each others’ languages and shared culture.
People are always asking me, “Is there much of a difference between the two?” I usually answer “There is and there isn’t…” Pronunciation is noticeably different; it can be hard for Irish speakers, for example, to pronounce Scottish Gaelic words without the blas or accent of their own Gaelic. Syntax is pretty much the same except for certain constructions; i.e. “Is múinteoir é” (Irish) vs “‘S e tidsear/teagasgair a th’ ann” (Scottish), “He is a teacher”. Some words are the same, but the majority of familiar words are “false friends”. Take for example, craobh. Craobh in Irish means “branch”, wheras craobh in Scottish means “tree”. (The pronunciation of the [ao] is very different too! In Irish it’s more of a [ee] sound, whereas in Scottish it’s more of a [oo], but more on that another time…) Then some words are wildly different, for example freisin/fosta in Irish vs cuideachd in Scottish, meaning “too, also”.
But there is a swishing in my brain when I go from one language to the other, the flowing currents of Sruth na Maoile wash words from one language up onto the shore of the other. This happened more so while I was learning Scottish, as I journeyed from Ireland’s shores to Scotland and got soaked by waves from both sides!
I have been living in Scotland for nearly 5 years now, and I speak Scottish pretty much everyday. My friends are pretty much all Gaelic speakers, and my day-job is with a Gaelic organisation. Though there is a big Irish community in Glasgow (some friends of mine call Glasgow the capital of Donegal!), and though there are Irish language events organised by Conradh na Gaeilge here (incidently, the first craobh to be founded outside of Ireland!), I find it hard to use my Irish on a regular basis. Twitter is in particular a fantastic online Gaeltacht, so I try to use my Irish online and with friends of mine. To be honest, I have begun speak Irish to myself, and to write more frequently in Irish. The current of Irish is hitting the shores of Alba in my mind more and more…
So here I am, from the other side, about to re-embark on a linguistic journey through Sruth na Maoile — so I can remind myself of my Irish, I will post blogs with phrases and geeky observations from each language. The next installments will be numbered as wee digests. I hope you will enjoy them! (If you’re a language geek like me, I’m sure you will!)