The Irish Language: A Cereal Troublemaker Hits the Gaeltacht

The semantics of selfies in Irish

I was reminded of the whole Dara Ó Briain (@daraobriain“Sé-Mé” #selfie uproar (a classic case of urban Irish — or Gaeilge, and not “Gaelic” — usage versus the “official” Irish (where “selfie” is “féinín”) when I visited my son in the Gaeltacht (or primarily Irish-speaking area) in Ireland recently.

Dara Ó Briain discovers "Sé-Mé". And the sky fell.
Dara Ó Briain discovers “Sé-Mé“. And the sky fell.

Flaky terminology

I joined my son (aged 13) for breakfast and asked him if he knew the Irish for “cereal.” Officially, the term would be “gránach bricfeasta” or similar, but he simply said, “calóga” (which basically means “flakes”).

Kellog's Special K in France
Kellog’s Special K on sale in France (Carrefour, Paris). Image by Ultan O’Broin.

But I thought he’d said “Cellógga,” my Dublin urban Irish ear already tuned into expecting to hear brand names and slang as terminology. That’s the Irish language for you today in Ireland: more people than ever (claim to) speak it, but we just can’t understand each other.

[bctt tweet=”That’s the Irish language for you today in Ireland: more people than ever (claim to) speak it, but we just can’t understand each other.” username=”localization”] This issue of an evolving Irish language demographic was covered by Brian Ó Broin (no relation) a few years back in a previous issue of MultiLingual and he has also written about emerging Schism fears for Gaeilgeoirí (or Irish language speakers) elsewhere.

Whereas I could natter along in my pidgin Dublin Irish about “blockchain” or “chatbots” to other Dubliners, when weather announcements are made on Ireland’s official Irish broadcasting network in Irish, I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.

Language wars not worth fighting

I am sure other languages (French, for example) face these kind of issues. But does it really matter as long as people can communicate, and use the context to figure out the differences?

And I don’t think the official Irish versus everyday street version delineation is as clear-cut as many would like to think.

It was remarkable that many people in the Gaeltacht that I met switched between the urban “pidgin” Gaeilge, official Gaeilge, and even interspersed the conversation with English terms, depending on their innate human sense of what the listener would get.

As for that Kelloggs Special K, ironically there is no letter “K” in the Gaeilge alphabet.

If you’ve found yourself in similar situations or come across terminology conflicts in the digital age, then let us know in the comments!


Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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