May 1, 2013 | Irish
The first question: what to call it?
In recent months, when I have told people I will be studying Irish, I have gotten some confused looks.
An Irish Bar in Midtown. I believe the name means ‘Land of Youth.’
“Do you mean Gaelic?” I have been asked. Another question I have gotten is: “What’s the difference between that and Gaelic?”
I was pretty sure “Irish” was the best term to describe my language-learning intention, but have not been well equipped to explain the terminology, so that’s where I will start now.
The language is referred to in three ways in English: “Irish,” “Irish Gaelic,” or just “Gaelic.”
Gaelic is ambiguous, because there are three main versions of Gaelic. One is Scottish Gaelic, and one is Irish Gaelic, both of them living languages. The third is Manx Gaelic, spoken historically on the Isle of Man. The last native speaker of it died in 1974, but I have read it is being revived.
Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic are closely related. I gather that a speaker of a Scottish Gaelic dialect and a speaker of an Irish Gaelic dialect would not at first necessarily understand each other, but that, if not, mutual intelligibility could be achieved without too much effort.
At Barnes & Noble a few weeks back I almost bought a book on Gaelic, but then I noticed that the writer was from Scotland. I put the book back on the shelf, which I think was the correct choice given my wish to learn the Irish language. I imagine I am not the only would-be Irish student to be confused about language-learning materials in this way.
Anyway, if you are talking to someone outside Ireland, the easiest way to make clear what language you are studying is to use the term “Irish Gaelic,” but I have read that that’s really just to help people who don’t realize “Irish” can describe a language. People in Ireland would normally refer to just “Irish.”
I am open to corrections on any of these points, but this is what I have gathered to date on the question of terminology.
From here on out I will refer to the language as “Irish.”