Success or failure of irish

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PB+J
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Tell us something.: Hello. I'm a historian and a semi-professional musician living near Washington DC. I play the bass and guitar and focus on jazz. I'm reasonably proficient at both and gig regularly with a Gypsy Jazz band. I'm interested for reasons I can't quite explain in Irish music but find the guitar role mostly uninteresting. I have a good bodhran I bought from a small maker in Clare, and I practice it seriously, and I've recently started playing the whistle and especially the low whistle, which really speaks to me.

Success or failure of irish

Post by PB+J »

I just finished Tomás Mac Síomóin, The Broken Harp, which makes an argument for why irish (he says) is failing based on genetics. He blames what you might regard as the usual suspects, but adds an interesting argument about "epigenetics," which is you don't know, is the study of how genes are expressed. One might have a gene or set of genes that incline one to, say, alcoholism, but they might not be strongly expressed and so the drinking problem never develops. In another, these genes might be strongly expressed; that is, and put in grossly simplified terms, they might be more inclined to produce a thirst in one man than another.

Mac Síomóin summons convincing evidence that trauma can change the way genes are expressed--disaster may literally drive you to drink--and that this change is heritable: children will inherit the same tendency to gene expression. I was and remain skeptical but he cites reputable work that confirms the idea.

So long decades of severe trauma (famine, occupation, war) have produced, in the irish, not only dngerous love for drink but also a mentality that inclines them away from irish, a colonial inferiority complex. It's worth a read--he's a very learned guy and he occupies an odd political position that is both extremely conservative and quasi marxist. A smart and interesting book even if unconvincing.

Much lighter and more optimistic is Darach O'Séaghdha's Motherfocloir, a witty and fond exploration of how irish forms expression and how these expression relate--or fail to relate-to English. O'Séaghdha loves language and has a delightful sense of humor. Although h makes it fun, I came away thinking irish would still be brutally hard to learn.

It is odd that irish is declining, given that it is so closely linked to nationalism

Note I'm an irish American and have no irish at all.
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An Draighean
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Re: Success or failure of irish

Post by An Draighean »

Thanks for the reviews; I'm buying Motherfoclóir.
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Re: Success or failure of irish

Post by Nanohedron »

PB+J wrote:I just finished Tomás Mac Síomóin, The Broken Harp, which makes an argument for why irish (he says) is failing based on genetics. ... A smart and interesting book even if unconvincing.
Smells of Social Darwinism, if you ask me.
PB+J wrote:It is odd that irish is declining, given that it is so closely linked to nationalism
I think the worldwide presence of English as a lingua franca has made English more convenient for the Irish on a day-to-day basis, and inertia sets in. Tourism alone probably has a huge impact on it.
"Time is the wisest counselor of all." - Pericles

"I remain not entirely convinced of it." - Nano
PB+J
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Tell us something.: Hello. I'm a historian and a semi-professional musician living near Washington DC. I play the bass and guitar and focus on jazz. I'm reasonably proficient at both and gig regularly with a Gypsy Jazz band. I'm interested for reasons I can't quite explain in Irish music but find the guitar role mostly uninteresting. I have a good bodhran I bought from a small maker in Clare, and I practice it seriously, and I've recently started playing the whistle and especially the low whistle, which really speaks to me.

Re: Success or failure of irish

Post by PB+J »

Nanohedron wrote:
PB+J wrote:I just finished Tomás Mac Síomóin, The Broken Harp, which makes an argument for why irish (he says) is failing based on genetics. ... A smart and interesting book even if unconvincing.
Smells of Social Darwinism, if you ask me.
PB+J wrote:It is odd that irish is declining, given that it is so closely linked to nationalism
I think the worldwide presence of English as a lingua franca has made English more convenient for the Irish on a day-to-day basis, and inertia sets in. Tourism alone probably has a huge impact on it.

I was and am extremely wary of genetic explanations for behavior. It's oddly not social darwinism though. He cites scientific studies of trauma victims--victims of the holocaust, and victims of famine on Holland during WWII--that conclude that gene expression in adult sis heritable in their children--genes themselves are not altered, but the expression of traits is effected. I asked a friend who is a research biologist working on the brain and he said yes, there is some credible evidence that points towards the heritability of gene expression. Mac Síomóin thinks trauma in the past explains the persistence of negative traits in the irish today--so it's not genetics per se, it actually reinforces cultural explanations.

It's interesting to compare the two books. Mac Síomóin is a very literate man with a deep love of the literary tradition in irish but also kind of a Jeremiah scolding people for failing their heritage. He decries BBC TV, American cultural hegemony, and pop culture while Motherfoclóir is genial and full of humor and treats Irish as a living source of earthy and poetic insight. With MacSiomoin the stakes are really high and everything is fraught, while Motherfoclóir is more about the varied ways language expresses human intelligence. He clearly loves Irish, but he also takes a lot of delight in English phrases as well
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