The Irish are known as having the gift of gab. Praying, cursing, exclaiming, exhorting all blather and blarney, chat and craic in ways the rest of the world can only hope to imitate. But does this come from a nation of skilled talkers? Or were these talkers raised in a rich linguistic history, just dying to be talked about?
Maybe a part of this comes from being surrounded by people of simple and overly polite language? Let the Brits have a chin wag and the French trod a dull staircase wit. The Irish are gregarious, prone to speaking grandly with a uniquely vulgar eloquence and many Irish can use the spoken word as handily as a nurse with a needle, seeing that it stings or keeping it painless on a whim.
The style of speech heard from the Irish is rooted in Gaelic. Gaelic is still spoken here and there but the relevant kind is Gaeilge or Irish Gaelic. It’s a recognized language of the European Union as well as being the national and first official language of Ireland, still being spoken by an estimated 1.77 million people worldwide. Most of these are found in an Gaeltacht, the governmentally recognized areas where a majority still speak and do business with it.
Irish Gaelic is a language big on phrases, not built for a quick word but laying an elaborate structure to support so much more. Many common answers add on to the question asked. A basic greeting would translate as: God to you, to which you would respond:God and Mary to you. It’s rich with lyrical formality.
One cause of this, other than love of good talk, could be a lack of simpler words such as yes or no. Instead, a gaelic response would positively or negatively rephrase the question. This leads to longer answers and more involved conversation. This bubbles up in modern Irish speech patterns.
Part of that is Irish modesty, enjoying cutting wit and playful humor, never taking themselves too seriously. Both come from years of authoritarian rule, the modesty to keep yourself humble while a quick witted humor reminds everyone else that they don’t stand above you.
But above all else, what the Irish have, more than anything is craic. Good craic, craic that’s mighty, evenings spent searching for it. What is craic? It’s gossip, news, humor, fun and sheer good times all rolled together. It doesn’t translate simply into other languages but if you’re of the right mood and blessed with good company, you may just find some.
Most surprising of all may be gaelic’s lack of actual swears. This may be hard to believe for Pogues fans. There are elaborate curses, curse of the seven snotty orphans be upon you is a particular favorite, but much of the attempts at cruder language aren’t as sharp in the original tongue. There is no shortage of colorful language in modern conversation but that’s mostly for good fun.
The Irish use a rich, wild language, prizing conversation and socializing, with words quick and sharp but wrapped affectionately so no one needs to be hurt. If you ever have the opportunity to see a true Irishman or woman hold court, enjoy, for the craic’s mighty. Sit back, and just listen to a master at work.