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So You Want a Scottish Gaelic Tattoo – Part One | Gaelic.co

Posted in Tattoo Nightmares on Sep 04, 2018

So you turn to the other thing that the internet is good for: connecting with total strangers. You look for a discussion group on social media. Maybe you find a discussion board devoted to Scottish culture, or a Facebook group devoted to the Gaelic language. You post a query. Here are some typical Gaelic tattoo requests on social media:

Whats three beautiful girls in Gaelic?

Gaelic tattoo request

Whats I am my beloved, my beloved is mine in Gaelic?

Gaelic tattoo request

Whats king and queen in Gaelic?

Gaelic tattoo request

Whats I am not finished in Gaelic? Whats start somewhere in Gaelic?

Gaelic tattoo request

What are these 3 different phrases in Gaelic before my friends tattoo appointment tomorrow?

Gaelic tattoo request

Whats Father until we meet again may God hold you in the hollow of his hand in Gaelic?

Gaelic tattoo request

Whats Home is behind, the world is ahead in Gaelic?

Gaelic tattoo request

This kind of tattoo translation request gets several kinds of reactions in online forums:

1) Well-meaning attempts to give you the translation you want, from people who are not qualified. There are a lot of adults learning Gaelic who are not yet fluent in the language or knowledgeable about the culture. With their help, if you are lucky, you may end up with a translation that is literally correct, but sounds awkward and weird. This may be because that thing you want your tattoo to say is not ever actually said in Gaelic. Just because something can be translated does not mean that the results will actually make cultural sense, or carry the poetic connotations that you want your tattoo to express. And if you are unlucky (or if you try to use a dictionary yourself), as you can see above, all bets are off as far as vocabulary, spelling, and grammar.

2) Genuine translations from people who are fluent in Gaelic. Youve asked for help, and they feel obligated to give it, even though they may also advise you that the accurate translation they gave you doesnt sound quite right in Gaelic. If youre lucky, they might make an alternate suggestion which would be more suitable.

3) Frustration, sarcasm, or anger at yet. Another. Tattoo. Request. Fortunately for you, most fluent Gaelic-English bilingual people are actually pretty nice about tattoo requests, even when they are frustrated. Probably 99% of them wont lead you astray by giving you fake translations that are actually declarations about the size of your genitals but some may fantasize about doing so. Are you willing to take that risk? Especially if you plan to share photos of your tattoo online?

Heres the thing: you will have no way of knowing whether youve been given a decent translation or not. Thats a major risk to the integrity of your body art.

Next, consider the ethics of these requests. First, you want something for nothing. Second, to be honest, you are wasting peoples time and effort on something that doesnt really help Gaelic. Can you imagine if you were at work, doing whatever job you do, and people kept emailing you or popping up in your social media feeds once or twice a day, every day, to ask you to help them with the wording of their tattoo? Thats basically what happens to a lot of people who work in Gaelic language jobs. People are asking them for Gaelic translations of symbolic English phrases, for free, all. The. Time. How do you say Happy Birthday in Gaelic? How do you say Merry Christmas in Gaelic? How do you say You shall not pass! in Gaelic? How do you say F off and die in Gaelic?

Whats the big deal, though? You only want a tattoo. It will only take a total stranger, like, a few minutes to translate One Ring to Rule Them All into Gaelic for you. And Gaelic is SO COOL.

But Gaelic is not like English. Its a minority language and culture that multiple governments have tried for many hundreds of years to stamp out. Its speakers have been pressured and even forced to abandon it and assimilate to English. Many were beaten in school for speaking Gaelic. Its amazing that Gaelic speakers are still keeping the language and culture going. Gaelic is also what we call an endangered language, because efforts to stamp it out have been so successful in the long run that the number of speakers is still decreasing, and the language is in great danger of disappearing altogether. The cool factor comes in part from its rarity and double-edged romantic stereotypes of being ancient, natural, and poetic (= obsolete, animalistic, and good for nothing but poetry).

Endless free tattoo translation requests from English speakers are like death by a thousand papercuts. They suck up the energy and goodwill of an endangered language community and give nothing back.

A proliferation of bad Gaelic tattoos also weakens the language. How? Every bad bit of Gaelic that is put out there becomes an exemplar that other people may follow. It propagates mistakes (Soar Alba!), spreads ignorance, and makes the language more and more like a bad copy of English, and less and less like Gaelic. Change happens to every language whether people like it or not, but when the direction of change is taking it into convergence with a juggernaut like English, thats called language death.

This is the reality of an endangered language.

Having said all this, if you still have your heart absolutely set on getting a Gaelic tattoo, I will have some concrete suggestions for you in my next blog post.

UPDATE: Fifteen hours after posting, Ive already received a Gaelic tattoo translation request via e-mail! I dont do Gaelic tattoo translation requests; to understand why, please read this post again. Please do not post tattoo translation requests in the comments or through e-mail. Also, please read Part Two of this post! Tapadh leibh.

Read more:
So You Want a Scottish Gaelic Tattoo – Part One | Gaelic.co

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