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Irish, the language

| Wednesday, October 5, 2016

I’m about a semester and a half from finishing a supplementary major in Irish language. It’s been a wonderful three years. I’ve had the opportunity to work with professors on anthropological research, study ancient literature, conduct my own research and spend a full 12 months in Ireland.

It’s also been three years full of questions. When I tell someone I’m majoring in English and Irish, there’s almost always a question that follows. “What’s the difference?” “What do you mean by Irish?” “Oh, do you mean Gaelic?” And my personal favorite, “Do you mean the accent?”

As with most things, I have two expectations regarding these kind of questions: For the wider world, I expect and accept these questions as inevitable, and within Notre Dame, I always hope for better and am just slightly disappointed when better does not come.

To be clear, I don’t expect more from Notre Dame students because of any one trait typically attributed to the student body. I don’t expect them to know more about my major because of their intelligence, or because of their commitment to Catholic values. I hope they know more because our mascot is the Fighting Irish.

By virtue of calling ourselves the Fighting Irish, we collectively should know more about what it means to be Irish — beyond the stereotypical images of American St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness and Jameson.

Between the Department of Irish Language and Literature and the Keough-Naughton Institute, the opportunity to explore Ireland and Irish-ness is easily available at Notre Dame. The Dublin study abroad program is one of the most popular and the required Notre Dame class there definitely seeks to ensure that alumni of the program know a little bit about what it really means to be Irish.

But for the general student body, these opportunities might not be convenient — time is limited and we all have to make choices. So here, instead of simply encouraging students to take advantage of those opportunities, I’ll try to answer some common questions.

“What’s the difference between English/Irish?” and “What do you mean by Irish?”

This answer could be complicated, and try to get at the nuances of Irish history as it interacts with English/British history. But for now, in terms of my particular focus of study, I’ll just say I’m actually studying two different languages, English and Irish. When I do study Irish literature written in English (which I do), it’s usually within the English department and involves particular discussion of the colonial situation in Ireland.

“Oh, do you mean Gaelic?”

No. Gaelic is a family of languages — Gaelic could mean I was studying Irish Gaelic or Scots Gaelic or Manx Gaelic. It’s not wrong exactly, but I could as easily say I was studying Anglo-Frisian and mean English or Gallo-Rhaetian and mean French.

“Do you mean the accent?”

I know it’s said the Irish accent is one of the hardest to imitate and I’ve heard plenty of awful ones. Personally, I try never to imitate it because I really can’t do it myself. But even a difficult accent does not usually have a unique undergraduate major. Certainly studies have been done on Hiberno-English and its particulars. But the IRLL department is definitely not devoted to teaching student about “top o’ the mornin’ t’ ya,” which no one really says anyway.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Caelin Miltko

I am a senior English and Irish language major, with a minor in Journalism. I spent the last year abroad in Dublin, Ireland and am currently a Walsh RA living in Pangborn.

Contact Caelin