CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

Éasca Péasca: Student Stories

Éasca Péasca: Student Stories

By Marie Young


Éasca Péasca: Student Stories
By Madeline Leatherbarrow

My journey as an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh began with my interest in psychology. I excelled in psychology in high school, and I wanted to pursue it, simple as that. It was not until my junior year that I added linguistics as my second major.

One of the requirements of the linguistics major is taking a foreign language that exists within the following restrictions: no romance languages (i.e., Spanish, Portuguese, etc.), no Germanic languages (i.e., German, English, etc.), no Slavic languages (i.e., Russian, Polish, etc.), and no Latin or Greek.

These guidelines slim the list of possible languages available for enrollment immensely. Essentially, the Department of Linguistics at Pitt wants native English speakers to have no background/context in the language in which they enroll. The reasoning is that linguistically minded students should use the knowledge of other linguistics courses to assist them in learning the language.

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These guidelines slim the list of possible languages available for enrollment immensely. Essentially, the Department of Linguistics at Pitt wants native English speakers to have no background/context in the language in which they enroll. The reasoning is that linguistically minded students should use the knowledge of other linguistics courses to assist them in learning the language.

At the time, I remember debating between Arabic and Chinese, as I thought that these options would be most applicable. It was not until I was sitting through a lecture in sociolinguistics that I realized that I wanted to take a course from the Less Commonly Taught Language (LCTL) department at Pitt.

I learned that languages are more than just a means of communication – they are culture, history, and heritage. And with my ancestry being ~25% Irish, I decided to enroll in something bigger than myself. So, I found myself in Irish 101.

As a linguistics major, I was able to use what I learned in Irish for my other classes; classes such as Morphology, Field Methods in Linguistics, and Phonological Analysis, among others. It helped broaden my linguistic knowledge and my worldview.

Gach lá I walked into mo rang Gaeilge, bhí mé greeted by students who were eager to learn–to be a part of a community. Bhí sé rang beag, ach even though the class was small, the connections I made with my peers were lasting.

I remember being on Zoom, which was difficult, especially whilst being in the beginning stages of learning a language. Ach, I was learning because I was enjoying my time in (or technically ‘out’) of the classroom.

One of my favorite things about Gaeilge is that so many phrases have such an artistic, beautiful interpretation of their literal meaning. For example, “Seasfaidh mé sa sneachta duit” (I will stand in the snow for you), has stuck with me since I learned it last Valentine’s Day. It is a lovely way of telling someone you would stay with them no matter the weather.

Phrases such as this show how important languages are outside of basic communication. It is the intrinsic beauty of the words intertwined with the culture that makes a language like Irish important to share with the world.

In a declaration that raised awareness for language preservation, the European Union recently took a step towards language inclusion and protection by recognizing Gaeilge as the first official language of the Poblacht na hÉireann. Steps like these, which support less-commonly spoken languages, increase awareness of all languages across the globe. When language is preserved, culture is preserved and when culture is preserved, diversity is celebrated.

In today’s world, we often overlook the importance of sharing culture. We learn so much more about others and can drastically increase our empathy for others just by learning and experiencing life outside of our little, personal bubbles.

Life happens everywhere, and we need to open our hearts to experience it in full. We become better educated, more understanding, and more open-minded when we share the cultural parts of our identities.

I would like to share a snippet of my life that pertains to my experience in an important cultural tradition in Éirinn, a cultural tradition that became a large part of my personal identity, and therefore my cultural identity. As a little girl, Irish dance was a huge influence on my life. From kindergarten through seventh grade, I danced year-round for my local Irish dance school and company. This inspired my love for Riverdance and Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance – music to which I still listen and find nostalgic to this day.

Gach Earrach, we looked forward to our school’s recital, specifically the moments before the beginning number of the show (which by tradition, was “Reel Around the Sun” from Lord of the Dance). In those cool, Spring moments, we came together as a school; the younger and the older, the experienced and the beginners, those who got along and those who did not. It did not matter, because, for those few minutes, we all felt the same–we wanted to be our best.

Our teacher led us in this traditional Irish blessing, which has always touched my heart. It represented a blessing to wish the dancers luck and saying of goodbye to yet another year of dance. A goodbye which I will leave you now:

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields,
and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

            Go raibh maith agat, agus sasta laethanta.

*Madeline Leatherbarrow is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in both Psychology and Linguistics and minoring in Irish. She plans to continue her studies after graduation, getting her master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis and becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

*Marie Young is a native of Dublin, moving to Pittsburgh in 2001. She currently works as the Irish language instructor for The LCTL Department at the University of Pittsburgh. She is married to a fellow Irish man John and has three children Jack (23), Ronan (15) and Tiernan (9).

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