Gearrscéal faoi ceol, rince, saol

Seo é gearrscéal atá fíor a scríobh mé sa rang Gaeilge “Peann agus Pár.” (This is a true, short story I wrote in the Irish-language writing class “Pen and Paper.” Keep reading for a short reflection as Bearla (in English) at the end.)

Céim ar Aghaidh nó Éirigh as? le Lisa Maloney

(Step it Forward or Give It Up?) by Lisa Maloney

Ceithre bliain ó shin, bhí mé ag freastal ar fhéile cheoil agus damhsa. (Four years ago, I attended a festival of music and dance.)

Bhí an ceol go hiontach an uair sin is d’éirigh mé le rince a dhéanamh. Dúirt mé liom féin, “Ní éireoidh mé as an rince go dtí go n-éireoidh na ceoltóirí as a bheith ag seinm.” (The music was so wonderful, it lifted me up to dance. I said to myself, “I won’t stop dancing until the musicians stop playing.”)

Ach níor stad na ceoltóirí. Ghlaoigh siad ar a gcairde, ceoltóirí eile, “Tagaigí isteach! Tá cabhair uainn! Ní éireoimid as an ceol go dtí go n-éireoidh na rinceoirí as an damhsa.” (But the musicians didn’t stop. They called out to their musician friends, “Come here! We need your help! We don’t stop playing until the dancers stop dancing.”)

Dá bhrí sin, ghlaoigh mise ar mo chairde, rinceoirí eile, “Tagaigí isteach! Tá cabhair uaim!” Bhí gach duine sa theach ag déanamh ceoil, nó ag rince, nó ag éisteacht. (So, I called out to my dancer friends, “Come here! I need your help!” Every single person in the building was making music, or dancing, or listening and watching.)

Tá rún tábhachtach agam anseo: Níor tháinig stad leis fós. B’fhéidir go raibh sos beag againn ach ní bheidh deireadh leis go deo. (I have an important secret: We still haven’t stopped. Maybe we’ve had a little break [due to the pandemic], but there’ll never be an end to [our music and dancing].)

A Reflection

The benefits of learning another language are well-documented and indisputable. But because I live and breathe writing and editing in English, the experience of taking this Peann agus Pár, or Pen and Paper, writing class as Gaeilge (in Irish) has given me some extra food for thought.

This experience sends me tromping through normally very familiar terrain — whatever you’d call the place where language sprouts in my soul — with a different set of tools than I’d usually carry. Instead of my well-worn English map and compass, or the slightly less-used but still very comfortable Spanish map and compass, I’m route-finding with an Irish map and compass so newly out of the box, the labels haven’t worn off yet.

But the way to understanding a new-to-you language becomes so much clearer when you pick up those tools and use them. Writing in Irish while thinking in some other language is like using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail: If you try hard enough something will eventually happen, but probably not what you had in mind.

For me, the real gem has been the reminder that I have more tools in my toolbelt — ones that aren’t tied to a particular language — than I’d been conscious of using. After all, certain tenets of storytelling really are universal. For example, setting the verbal stage: Fadó, fadó becomes long, long ago, or hace mucho tiempo.

Is there any language where that storytelling phrase doesn’t exist? I don’t think so. And I’d wager good money that every language has its version of the storytelling device where one character’s speech patterns echo another’s, as in the short story above, to convey… what? The reciprocity of their relationship? Their parallel attitudes? A meeting of the minds? And surely, every language has its own version of the storyteller’s sing-song, the rhythm or music in the speaking that pulls the curtain back from the proverbial stage and says “look here, I have a story to tell.”

Such tried and true storytelling devices create space for your words to hold more than just their literal meaning, anyway. And isn’t that the whole point of language, spoken or written?

Slán go fóill (bye for now)

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