The Power of Language: Irish and Chinese

I am just back from West Connemara, famous for is lakes, boulders and, in summer, throngs of teenagers in the Gaeltacht practicing their Irish. We were near the house in Rosmuc build by Padraig  Pearse who said ‘a nation without a language is a nation without a soul’.

Moving around the area we met groups of students from Dublin, Tipperary and Cavan who greeted us with ‘Dia guit’ (‘God be with you’). Back home, if they ever greeted a stranger they would say, ‘Hi’ or even, ‘Maidin mhaith’. In the Gaeltacht they were learning more than a language, they were imbibing an attitude to life and people that was part of Irish culture.

The number of schools in Ireland teaching Chinese is increasing and the teachers are probably aware that a language cant be learnt properly without accepting the cultural attitudes it expresses and reinforces.  Those who succeed in learning Chinese may be surprised to encounter a view of life similar to that of the Gaelic-speaking people of Connemara. The greeting, ‘Did you have your meal yet?’ might not be exactly, ‘Dia Guit’ but it expresses the same sense of respect and personal concern.  One is based on an awareness of God in people and nature while the other comes from a sense that  bonding is part of our eternal human dna and the two may be very close to each other.

Not far from Rosmuc is the only 9-hole golf club in Ireland with a thatched- roof clubhouse. All the directions and signs are in Irish so the game is probably played in an Irish spirit. When you face off on the first tee into an Atlantic gale there will probably be someone there to wish you, ‘God be with you’, or maybe, ‘God help you.’

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