Fun Facts about the Irish Language

May 7th, 2013

Irish is a fun language with a lot of interesting “quirks.” Here are just a few to spark some interest.

Irish is the Name

The name of the language is simply “Irish,” the same way we speak “English.” The Irish name for itself is Gaelige. You can call it Gaelic, but that risks confusion with Scottish Gaelic, which is more often called simply Gaelic.

No No

One of the more interesting aspects of Irish is that there is literally no word for “yes” or “no” in the language. They simply don’t exist. In order to express agreement or a negative, you have to use the verb form. So, for example, if someone asked you in Irish whether you’d had breakfast, you can’t say “Yes!” you would have to say “I’ve had my breakfast” or some variation on that.

Verb First

Irish is an unusual language in that it’s word order is Verb-Subject-Object. In English we might say “I saw a cow,” but in Irish it would be “Saw I a cow.”

Both the lack of “no” and “yes” and the word order shows up when Irish speakers switch to English, creating some very quaint and lovely turns of phrase – and also giving us a sure giveaway that someone is actually an Irish speaker!

Irish Complexity

Irish has a lot of complex rules. For example, there are different words for numbers depending on whether you’re counting humans, dates and time, or counting non-humans. The beginning of words changes depending on where it appears in the sentence and what pronouns or possessives are used in conjunction with it.

However, if you’re starting to worry about just how crazy and complicated learning Irish is, consider this: There are only 11 irregular verbs in Irish – the rest are all very consistent, so once you learn the rules, you’re more or less set. By way of comparison, English has over a hundred irregular verbs, and that only counts the ones that still get used.

Irish is still spoken throughout Ireland, though not nearly as widely as English. You’ll have some trouble if you try to speak Irish on a trip to Ireland – you’ll find other speakers, but not necessarily in every situation you’d like. Still, it’s a musical, grand language with a lot of history – and, as we just saw, a lot of fun.

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