Does it sometimes feel a little too easy to be the same? Do we live in a world that has conditioned us into believing that we should conform to the norm? That we need to have that haircut, those shoes or that gadget in order for us to slot in on this large piece of rock we call home? Certainly, fitting in is becoming all too easy, with many material items available to us at the click of a mouse. However, I believe what really sets 7.5 billion people apart from one another are the most immaterial, yet valuable things of all. Things like our spirit, our heritage, our culture. Our stories. However, there is one particular difference between us all that enthrals me, and that is the language we speak.
There are as many as 6,500 languages in the world, some of which are very widely spoken, others not so much. Nevertheless, every language tells a beautiful, meaningful story. Embedded deep within the fibres of a language are things like wisdom, ancestry and history. The story of a people and a place. I firmly believe that when you get to know a language, you get to know its people. Unfortunately, many minority languages are disappearing all around the world, and with their disappearance, comes the disappearance of a very significant story.
The Poetry of Language
My own appreciation for languages stems from my passion for the Irish language, an Ghaeilge. Irish is an exceptionally beautiful language that has our history and heritage engrained in its every syllable. The way in which things are described in the Irish language is decidedly poetic. The way we say good luck, or even goodbye, is “go n-éirí an bóthar leat”. Directly translated, this means may the road rise up to meet you. When we welcome somebody, we say “céad mile fáilte” – one hundred thousand welcomes. A wolf is “Mac Tíre” – the son of the land. Perhaps my favourite Irish word is the word for a lady bird, “bóín Dé” which literally means a little cow of god. Otter, fox, seal and squirrel have literal translations of a water dog, a red dog, an ocean dog and a tree dog, which just goes to show the very high regard in which our Irish ancestors placed the dog.
A Cultural Differentiator
One common denominator in the SITE community is that we all work in an industry that seeks to highlight what makes us unique, what makes us different from anywhere else in the world. One of the most powerful differentiators, that we simply do not utilise enough, are our languages. Our languages that have faced threat for hundreds of years. Languages that still face threat today. Languages that tell our story.
The onus is on all of us to keep these stories alive.
Proverbs of Wisdom
The Irish language has been our native tongue here in Ireland for many thousands of years, and in this time, the language has turned over many “seanfhocail”, which literally mean old words. Seanfhocail are proverbs which have guided many generations gone by with their meanings and teachings. I adore these ancient proverbs, from which so much wisdom can be sought. If you will allow me, I would like to share with you two seanfhocail that really sum up the essence of what I am trying to get across.
Firstly, and perhaps one of the most famous seanfhocal out there is “tír gan teanga, tír gan anam”. This means that a country without a language is a country without a soul. With the ever-steady disappearance of many indigenous languages across the globe, I can’t help but think of these powerful words and sadly realise, that not only will these people lose their language, they will also lose part of who they are, a part of their story.
The second proverb is “beatha an teanga í a labhairt” which means the life of a language is to speak it. This proverb is simple, but effective. To keep our languages alive, they must be spoken. Not spoken about in history books, but rather spoken with vigour and strength and with the everyday current of life running through their syllables. This is how we keep our languages alive, this is how we keep our stories alive.
Embrace Local Languages
To play ones part in this, one doesn’t have to be fluent or proficient in a second, third or fourth language. It can be as simple as saying “thank you” in the native language the next time you are abroad. Or indeed, the next time you work with a colleague or client with whom you do not share a mother tongue, ask them if they would be able to teach you a simple word or phrase in their own native language. From experience, I am always hugely humbled when a visitor asks me anything to do with the Irish language, I am undeniably proud to show case this unique part of our identity!
In today’s globalised world where cities, countries and cultures are becoming more and more homogenous, it has never been more important to embrace our differences. So let us cradle and nurture and be proud of our beautiful languages that tell such an important part of our story.
Written by Faye Murphy, Association Conferences, Fáilte Ireland
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