In case you don’t know it, Ireland has two official languages: English and Irish Gaelic. In the last few months I’d been trying to learn a wee bit of Gaelic in the (as it turns out rather pointless) hope of nattering away with the locals in their home language. Not that I’d achieved ANY level of fluency by the time I had worked my way through “Giota Beag” and “Giota Beag Eile”, the excellent Irish language learning programmes on the BBC’s Radio Ulster!
I had gotten quite excited at the prospect of using some of it when we arrived in the Emerald Isle, despite certain people giving me that ‘why are you bothering to learn a language you’ll never use again after this trip’ look.
As a result, I felt like skipping with joy when I realised that almost all the street signs and county signs were in both languages. And not just in the isolated areas where no one ever goes, but right smack-bang in the city of Dublin! Vindicated at last!
In this way, I learned, for instance, that the Irish name of Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath (pronounced approx ballya-aw-kleea), which means “town of the hurdles” or “town of the hurdled ford”. Though I also noticed that it’s usually abbreviated to just Átha Cliath.
I particularly loved the ‘Welcome’ signs at the entrance to each county and each town:
They were usually followed by ‘Goodbye’ or ‘Sorry to see you’re leaving, please come back’ signs:
And occasionally we found ourselves in a Gaeltacht, which is an area where the majority of the local population is supposed to speak Irish in their daily interactions. They can be found in Co Donegal, Co Galway, on the Dingle Peninsula, and in Co Cork, among others. Fortunately for us, though, they were fine with speaking English to foreigners!
But my personal favourite of all the Irish language road signs was this one:
Unless you speak Afrikaans, you probably won’t get it. In South African English-Afrikaans, “Go mal” [with one ‘l’, I believe] is an invitation to “Go mad / go crazy”, not as in psychotic (necessarily), but more as in “Go have a blast!” Or in this context, more like “Go ahead, drive really fast around these tight corners!”
In contrast to the Republic of Ireland, South Africa has eleven official languages and nine non-official ‘national languages’. That makes 20?! Good grief. But I promise – it’s even in the Wikipedia (here), so it must be true! Going a bit overboard, perhaps, you might think. But it’s all part of the quest for non-discrimination against any racial, tribal, cultural grouping.
In case you’re curious, the eleven official languages of South Africa are as follows (in alphabetical order):
- Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, South Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu
The nine non-official ‘national languages’ recognised by the Constitution are:
- Fanagalo, Khoe, Lobedu, Nama, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, San, Sign Language and Tamil
I doubt, though, that we will add all of these to our road signs… although it would be a fascinating educational project, actually!