People always ask me why I’m studying a language like Irish. “You mean Gaelic?” they say. “I didn’t even know that was still a thing.” One particular professor asked why I didn’t want to study a “useful” language, like Chinese. Usually when I’m talking to someone like this who just doesn’t understand, I don’t bother wasting my time to explain. I just shrug my shoulders and smile, and they seem to let it go. I haven’t yet perfected my persuasive argument on why studying languages that aren’t “useful” is so important to me. But I’m working on it. It started with Latin. I took “the dead language” in high school because I wanted to be different – I didn’t want to be like everyone else who took Spanish and French. And sure, no one really speaks Latin anymore. Less than 100,000 people speak Irish. But these languages are NOT dead – not so long as there is someone like me around who wants to study them and learn from them. A language is so much more than a set of grammar rules, a lexicon, and an alphabet. It’s a complex compilation of a culture. It holds history, values, and perspectives. If we let a language die, we let those components of a culture die. And with each fewer language, each fewer culture, our world becomes all that more homogeneous. And I don’t want that. I think one of the most beautiful things about humanity is our diversity, and more importantly, our ability to learn from each other. We have to preserve other ideals and ways of life in order to be able to learn from them. And we can preserve those ideals by preserving languages. I love Irish, not because it’s “useful,” but because it holds so much history and sacrifice and love within its words.
Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland