Friday, November 12, 2010

Scéalta Póilíneachta

by Sheila Connolly

Betcha that title's got you scratching your head!  It's Irish, and it translates to "Police Stories".

As I may have mentioned before (several times, no doubt), I take Irish language classes.  I've been doing this for over five years now, and I'd say my progress is snail-like, but every now and then I actually recognize what a sentence is saying.

The problem is, our teacher is a lovely older woman with rather fixed ideas about how to teach the language.  I enjoy her company, and that of the shifting cast of other students (half of whom were born or lived in Ireland, which I think is an unfair advantage).  But there are few published books available to us in Irish, and there's not much money for materials, so usually we make do with photocopies.  And most of the photocopies she chooses are of classic "literary" selections.

Now, when you're still at the "I see an cow" stage in reading Irish, being treated to the elegant prose of, say, Pádraig Mac Piarais is kind of wasted on you.  I will freely admit I don't recognize most verb tenses in Irish (like past imperfect or subjunctive), and a metaphor (many of which seem to include bird symbolism) goes flying right over my head.  Joke, that.

So it was something of a treat when recently our muinteoir (that's teacher) brought us something new and different, all the while wrinkling her nose in contempt.  We've been reading chapters from a contemporary police procedural!  Now, we've been given discontinuous chapters, and nowhere near all of them, so the plot is kind of patchy.  Plus our teacher is so disgusted with the whole thing that she hasn't bothered to identify either the writer or the title of the book--not that I could ever find it in a local bookstore, or even one that specializes in foreign books.

But I don't care, because it's so much fun.  I'm learning all sorts of useful vocabulary like "prostitute" and "drug dealer" and "petty criminal."  Seriously, these are terms I might actually get to use in modern Ireland, whereas it's highly unlikely that anyone on a Dublin street will quiz me on the lonely seagulls of the Blasket Islands.

And in a way, the simpler declarative statements typical of a basic procedural are easy to read.  For example, here's a typical section:

D'oscail se a shuile.  Agus seo is an Garda seo, de Londra, ag labhairt aris.

"Feach, a Larry!  Ta tu i driobloid mhor.  Iomportail drugai, daileadh drugai, dunmharu Willie Braine, gunna midhleathac i do sheilbh agus a lan eile."

Dhun se a shuile agus smaoinigh se.

I've left out all the accents (which affect pronunciation), but if you read it out loud you get the drift.  It says, more or less:

He opened his eyes. And there was the policeman from London, speaking again.

"Look, Larry! You are in big trouble. Importing drugs, drug distribution, murdering Willie Braine, illegal guns in your possession and many other crimes."

He closed his eyes and he thought.

There's another fun section where Larry surveys the dead bodies of his colleagues in crime lying on the floor, and several of them have large holes in them.  I won't trouble you with that.
If there's a message lurking in here somewhere, it's that the mystery/crime genre appears to transcend language.

By the way, the cover above isn't for this anonymous book we're reading, but it is a vintage Irish publication, whose title translates to "Three Whole Murders."  I think.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

"Drugai," huh? Now there's a word I can use--um, in my writing and as a therapist, of course. ;) My stepdaughter studied Gaelic for a while, and she said the spoken language sounds a lot like Klingon.