Dialects, Language Change, Death and Revival
The fall of the Roman Empire, beautifully depicted by Thomas Cole, evokes the destruction of a civilisation, the loss of a culture and the beginning of the slow death of a language. Is this what happens when all languages die? In this episode of the TEFL show we explore the topics of death and revival of languages, dialect versus ‘official’ language, prestige varieties and language change and diversity.
“As one language is born, another dies. According to Ethnologue, of the (roughly) 6,909 languages which are spoken in the world today, 3,000 of these are spoken by fewer than one thousand people and are in severe danger of extinction. When a language dies, an extremely valuable part of the cultural inheritance of humanity is lost. We may struggle to preserve them, and record them for posterity, but are we merely putting off the inevitable?”
Irrecoverable loss of human knowledge & culture. Is this what happens when languages die? -An artist’s depiction of the Great Library of Alexandria in its heyday.
Language Revival: Irish is experiencing a huge surge in popularity but much more work needs to be done if the language is to be brought back as the first language of everyday communication. Statistics and image from the 2011 census.
Language and identity: Is it important to preserve the language and cultural heritage of an island for posterity? Natália Danzmann, originally from Portugal but who lives in the Gaeltacht na nDéise and has become fluent in Irish, singing a well known sean-nós called Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile by Pádraig Ó Mileadha. Ó Mileadha wrote the song while feeling lonesome about his beloved homeland of Sliabh gCua in West Waterford while living as an immigrant in South Wales. Here is a photograph from the Comeragh mountains near his birthplace, the landscape which inspired the song and music.
A glacial lake, Coumshingaun, in the Comeragh mountains, West Waterford, Ireland, near the birthplace of Pádraig Ó Mileadha. Photo: ‘The view over Coumshingaun Lake’ by Mario Macrory
Here are the lyrics of that beautiful sean-nós (first in Irish):
A Shliabh geal gCua na Féile, is fada uait i gcéin mé
Im’ shuí cois cuan im’aonar go tréithlag faoi bhrón
An tuile bhuí ar thaobh díom ‘dir mé ‘gus tír mo chléibhe
Is a Sliabh geal gCua na Féile nach géar é mo sceol
Dá mbeinnse i measc mo ghaolta i Sceithín glas na séimhfhear
Nuair a scaipeann teas na gréine ó spéir gheal gan smál
Nó dá mbeinnse ansiúd fé’n réaltáin nuair a thiteann drúcht ar fhéar ann
A Shliabh geal gCua nár dhréic sin dá mb’fhéidir é a fháil
‘S é mo léan nach bhfuair mé tógaint le léann is mórchuid eolais
I nGaoluinn uasal cheolmhar ba sheolta mo bhéal
Ó do thabharfainn cuairt thar sáile is do thabharfainn bua thar bharr chugat
Mar a Shliabh geal gCua ba bhreá liom thú ardú fé réim
Mo ghrása thall na nDéise, ‘dir bhánta, ghleannta is sléibhte
Ó shnámhas anall thar tréanmhuir táim tréithlag gan brí
Ach ó b’áil le Dia mé ‘ghlaoch as, mo shlánsa siar go hÉirinn
Agus slán le Sliabh na Féile le saorghean óm’ chroí
(And in English:)
O bright Sliabh gCua of the welcomes,
You are far from me, my home,
As I sit I am weak with sorrow,
Here by this sea alone;
The golden tide just by me
Is twixt me and my heart’s land,
O bright Sliabh gCua of the welcomes,
My story is not so grand.
Were I among my own folk,
Kindly men in Skeheens green,
Where the heat of the sun is scattered
From a sky of flawless sheen;
Oh, were I now beneath the stars
As dew falls on grass there,
Oh, you bright Sliabh gCua,
‘Twould be an gift so rare!
Oh, I am sad that I wasn’t reared
With learning and with art,
In the noble melodious Irish tongue
My mouth would have its part;
And I would go back across the sea,
And I would give you pride,
And I would love to see, Sliabh gCua,
Your fame go worldwide!
There is my love, the Decies,
Every meadow, hill and vale,
Since I came o’er the mighty sea
I have grown weak and pale;
But since God Himself has called me here,
My greetings go back home,
Back to that hill of welcomes,
From my heart, with love alone!
Here is the link to Robert William McCaul’s article on dialects, language change and revival:
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