Gaeilge (Atari)
Gaeilge (Atari)
Gaeilge (Atari)

A couple of Irish-related tech stories, one good and one bad (or at least highly suspect). Firstly from the Irish Times:

“Users of Google’s email client, Gmail, can now use the service in Irish following an extensive translation project undertaken by localisation teams and volunteer translators across the world.

Familiar Gmail terms such as Inbox, Starred and Sent Mail will appear as Bosca Isteach, Le Réiltín and Seolta once a small change is made to the user settings.

Comedian and presenter Hector Ó hEochagáin showed students from Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, Coláiste Íosagáin, Gaelcholáiste an Phiarsaigh and Mount Temple how to switch their Gmail settings to Gaeilge at an event at The Foundry, Google’s innovation centre in Dublin on Thursday.

The project came about after Professor Kevin Scannell of the University of St Louis, Missouri, contacted Google with the idea of translating the email client currently used by over 425 million users across the world.

Over 60,000 terms and messages were translated into Irish by a team of eight translators bringing to 72 the number of supported languages in Gmail.

Google staff based in Dublin, Zurich and at the company’s Mountain View base in California spent the last two months testing the newly localised version before going live with Gmail as Gaeilge.

Laura Brassil, who works with the localisation team in Dublin, said she hoped the tool would be used by people regardless of their knowledge of Irish.

Not only did the project make Gmail available in Irish but it also played its part in updating a database of languages used by other companies to inform their own software applications.

The Common Locale Data Repository (CLDR) is a collaborative database used to adapt software to the conventions of different languages by software giants including Apple, IBM and Microsoft as well as Google.

“Google updated the Irish data in CLDR which will improve Irish across the internet. English is very dominant but as more languages are coming online it is getting easier to use the Internet in different languages,” Ms Brassil said.

“I have great hope for it myself. I used to have very good Irish but I haven’t spoken it much since school so this has brought Irish back to me ‘tá sé ag teacht ar ais chugam,’ she added.

Several translators who worked on the project including Cormac Breathnach, Ciarán Ó Bréartún, Micheál Ó Meachair and Eoin Ó Murchú were present along with several members of the Google team.

John Lunney, Gmail engineer and member of a group of Irish speakers at Google said: “The idea is the most important thing. It is very good for people who are fluent but it especially good for those who do not have fluent Irish but who want to get back in touch with it again.”

In contrast the Irish Independent presents an unapologetically negative-spin on the Irish language with the bizarre claim that:

“One third of parents believe coding skills are more important than Irish, according to the results of a survey from UPC.

The results also showed that one in five believed it to be ‘more important’ than maths while they listed coding skills as being on a level par with mainstream subjects such as business, geography, music, history, art, Irish, science, languages, maths and English.

Today Microsoft is hosting an Hour of Code event in Government buildings which is being  hosted by Deputy Eoghan Murphy – the event, run by, will be open to everyone working in Government buildings.”

All of which is worryingly vague. A quick internet research reveals that the original survey from UPC Ireland was released way back in early October as part of a PR campaign to promote its CoderDojo partnership, via Breaking News:

“In the research, carried out among 1,000 people (adults) by Amarach Research, two-thirds of respondents said that learning computer code is equally as important as learning mainstream subjects including Business, Geography, Music, History, Art, Irish, Science, Languages, Maths and English.”

So perhaps that Irish Independent newspaper headline should have read:

“One third of parents believe coding skills are more important than Business, Geography, Music, History, Art, Irish, Science, Languages, Maths and English, according to the results of a survey from UPC.”

So to Concubhar Ó Liatháin writing on Slugger O’Toole on the ongoing struggle by Irish-speaking citizens in the north-east of Ireland to attain equal rights with their English-speaking contemporaries:

“I was up in Stormont yesterday – Cnoc an Anfa is the Irish for Stormont – and it certainly lived up to its name.  It was bitterly cold, so cold I could feel my fingers begin to detach themselves from my body as I clutched my ‘Acht Gaeilge’ placard at the bottom of the steps of that grandiose building.

There were around a hundred of us participating in an anti-racism, pro-diversity demonstration, called to demand an Irish Language Act to protect the north’s Irish speakers…”

Perhaps we need a similar rally outside Independent House?

22 comments on “Irish Language Positive And Negative

  1. Look, either you’ve got an aptitude for coding or you haven’t, beyond that it’s just down to RTFM 😉

    In the past the problem was access to computers, software, and information, but these days that’s hardly the case. Everything is there online, mostly for free. Indeed there’s so much now that you really need to progress on a “need to know” basis. So what I’m saying really is that anyone with sufficient interest will learn the skills, and if someone’s not interested a school would be wasting its time trying to teach them. Hmm, that probably goes for Irish too …

    As for the main point of the article, well I often wonder. Does the average user really understand most of the messages thrown up by software in arcane computereese? Is there any gain in ‘translating’ semi-meaningful English jargon into equally bizarre invented Irish? Does this enhance or degrade the Irish language? I don’t really know, just wondering aloud. (And for Irish substitute any other language whose speakers are near 100% fluent in English/French etc.)


    • On your last point, Marconatrix, I tend to feel that it helps. I have used Windows and Linux in Irish, in several versions, and though at times I have been thrown by a particular form of “techno-talk” once you are familiar with the English versions the non-English can be navigated. Its like using Windows Vista or Win7 in French or German (which I’ve had to do a couple of times in my career). Once you are familiar with the OS you can sort of feel your way around (though thank god not with Win8.1 which is a nightmare in any language!). With Irish it’s easier of course and you are learning through usage.

      Where I have the option I have always gone for the Irish version of any software (including Facebook, etc.). Though I admit it has usually been with programs I’m already familiar with from their English language versions. I also admit having had occasions where I’ve had to swap back to English to fix something and then back again to Irish. But then I’m not a fluent Irish-speaker. My language skills are rudimentary due to a brain that refuses to co-operate with my best intentions 😉 However I learned something each time in terms of new words or phrasing (though sometimes I wonder about the accuracy!).

      I know from speaking to people who are fluent speakers that having the OS or any software in their language is a major plus. Everyone opts for it and it enhances the user-experience. I shall certainly be going for the Irish option on Gmail.


      • It’s not a major plus for me. I don’t even bother with software in Latvian and use English versions only. Also all the “under-the-hood” stuff for enthusiasts and power users is not translated anyway.

        I’m a web developer and like to code in my spare time as well.
        All of my code and comments are in English only, because it just feels more natural to me.


      • But then I’m not a fluent Irish-speaker. My language skills are rudimentary…
        Then why are you bashing the state and complaining that it can’t provide a fully bilingual service if you also can’t lead by example and do it yourself?

        You’re also helping to bury the Irish language, because Irish speakers are forced to switch to English when interacting with people like you.

        What’s the point of bilingual state services if as soon as one steps outside of a government building he meets Séamas the Citizen who says to him loud and clear “Speak English not Irish, because I can’t understand you very well!” ?

        So unless you become 100% fluent in Irish – you’re one of these riot cops too:


        • Steady on, Jānis, remember the sign in the Wild West bar, “Please don’t shoot the pianist, he’s doing his best” 🙂


          • But this pianist is shooting at other pianists who are playing way better than him (the state that actually provides services in Irish), while ignoring the horrible noise everywhere else (the private sector that ignores the language completely).


            • Jānis, I have referenced the private sector before on ASF. I have also frequently referenced the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) in Québec. I believe first we start with the state. Personally I believe it may require a constitutional amendment and have suggested alternative versions along the lines below a number of times.

              Article 8:
              8.1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.
              8.2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.
              8.3 Exclusive use shall be made of the national language for all official purposes by the State. However, excluding designated Irish-speaking regions, the State may legislate for the simultaneous use of both official languages for certain purposes though the primacy of the national language must be demonstrated at all times. No citizen may be prevented or inhibited in learning, communicating or conducting their business through the national language anywhere in the State.“


              • Your “constitutional amendment” is a perfect example of the cargo cult mentality.

                If you build an airstrip the planes will not magically appear and start to land there.
                You have to build the planes first,

                You’ve got the cause and effect completely backwards.

                The people of Quebec don’t speak French because the Bill 101 is there.
                The Bill 101 is there BECAUSE the people of Quebec speak French.

                I’ve lived in both Latvia and Ireland and can compare.
                While the legislation related to the national language is similar in both countries – the attitudes of the citizens are very different and that’s what makes the real difference.


        • ar an sliabh

          I’m not gay, black, or an immigrant either, but I am abhorred if they are not treated equally. I don’t think they should have special rights, but they should be treated as humans and with the same respect as everyone else.


        • ar an sliabh

          ..and the sate is obliged to act within its own constitution. If it proscribes a first language and the right to free water, it better stick to it.


          • Free water is in the constitution?? Ah, now that explains the song, Where Only the Rivers Run Free. No longer maybe?


            • ar an sliabh

              It is actually a matter of interpretation. The state took the right to all resources, but they placed them subject to the interests of any body or person. As the resources include the air and all potential energy, if you interpret them the way the government does today, they can tax your very flatulence. We are some 80%+ water after all in our persons.


            • ar an sliabh

              But more specifically, it is whether you define the term state as the nation (i.e. the people) or its government. If you interpret the state as being the people all natural resources belong to them except those needed by the individual body or person which makes sense when you read Article 10.


              • If you interpret the state as being the people then it means it’s illegal for PRIVATE companies and individuals not to provide services in Irish.

                That indeed is the case in Latvia where private companies can be fined if they fail to provide service in Latvian.


              • ar an sliabh

                I think that is ASF’s point, mostly.


              • No it’s not – he criticises the state exclusively.
                Haven’t seen him criticising, say, Tesco, Lidl, Aldi or any other private company that offers their services 100% in English and doesn’t even use Irish to inform people about dangers to their life and health (information about allergies, evacuation plans and so on).

                Fonts on the road signs and absence of Irish place names on some stone markers are far more important issues to him for some reason.


        • Jānis, I’m “bashing” the state because of the environment it has created: an environment where native Irish-speakers are inhibited from speaking Irish and would-be-speakers are deterred in learning and using it.

          People like me represent a majority of the Irish people who have a little Irish but who still use what little they have when they feel comfortable doing so. The majority of Irish people, as surveys have repeatedly shown, favour bilingualism and services through Irish. I communicate in Irish where I can, I make use of Irish, from computer operating systems to ATMs, where I can, I avail of Irish language services from the state when I can.

          In your accusation you assume a lot on the basis of little.

          I am Séamas an Saoránach whenever and wherever I can be.


          • You, the Irish people, have created this environment – not the state.

            I’ve said this before and will say again – an average person DOES NOT deal with the state that much – Ireland is not the Soviet Union where everything belonged to the state.

            The majority of Irish people, as surveys have repeatedly shown, favour bilingualism and services through Irish.
            No they don’t – otherwise the majority of private companies would offer bilingual services, but that is not happening.
            If you prefer bilingual services you should put your money where your mouth is and offer those services yourself as well.


            • Yes, just wait while I raid my piggy-bank before I buy out Dunnes Stores and Pennys and bilingualise their services!


              • You were the one who mentioned “the majority”.

                For example, in Latvia the majority favour services through Latvian.
                And they actually do put their money where their mouths are – you can see private companies offering services in Latvian everywhere.

                It’s not like that in Ireland at all – the difference is enormous.

                You really should visit the Baltics and spend some time there to see the difference yourself.


              • It’s become clear to me over a number of exchanges here, Jānis, that there is apparently no “Baltic Cringe” along the lines of the “Celtic Cringe”. Well, I for one rejoice in your good fortune, and “lang may yer lums reek”, and really you just don’t realise how luck you are. Why is an interesting question for historians and sociologists and linguists etc. but that doesn’t change the fact. The Celtic Cringe is very real, a conflict that exists within every one of us poor (ex-)colonials. The fact that to you it appears incomprehensible, inconceivable even, makes it none the less real for us.

                OTOH the situation does in some strange way appear to interest you, irritate you maybe? Otherwise what has brought you to these discussions? (BTW, I welcome you input and perspective).


              • ar an sliabh

                I must say, I enjoy the banter with Janis, which is also an old Celtic tradition. Some of his points are truthful to the point where they inflict pain, many of them are due to his short tenure in our country, and it will take some more time for him to understand. I believe his heart is in the right place, as he invests the time to banter, many in his position do not. There is indeed much that is up for action, and not for the mere complaint. The action starts with information, and call therefore, which ASF does a good job of.


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