Español & Gaeilge

That means “Spanish & Gaelic” in those respective languages, in case you didn’t know.

From the moment I arrived in Ireland nearly six (!) weeks ago, the language seemed oddly familiar. I chalked it up to jet lag – maybe I was so tired that I was noticing similarities that weren’t really there? – but I kept hearing them everywhere.

Turns out that Spanish, my second language, has a number of words originally from Gaelic or other “undetermined Celtic sources.”


This is fascinating to me, not least because I’d somehow never heard of this before: It wasn’t mentioned in any of the many Spanish courses I took, or if it was I wasn’t paying attention. (Which seems unlikely, since I worked my butt off in those classes because I cared as much about actually learning and retaining the language as I did about earning good grades.)

I mean, it makes sense, since Ireland really isn’t that far away from Spain. But… I always forget how tiny Europe is. How easy it is to encounter a group of people speaking an entirely different tongue after traveling not that great of a distance.

It’s made me quite fond of Gaelic, tbh. I probably would’ve become fond of it soon anyway, due to spending most of my summer here, but that little link to Spanish, a language I’ve been studying with varying levels of intensity since I was in elementary school, made a big difference.

I’ve never been homesick here – I left that feeling behind, for good I hope, when I was about sixteen – but it was definitely comforting to find the similarities. They’re like long-lost twins, sometimes, in their eerily similar patterns: “Conas ta tu?” is “how are you?” in Gaelic, while “¿cómo estás tú?” is the same phrase in Spanish.

(I realize I’m biased here since I’ve studied Spanish for so long and am quite familiar with its spelling patterns, but that part of the language seems so much more logical to me than Gaelic does! I’m like 98% sure that Gaelic words were created by keysmashing and were then assembled by five extremely drunk people who didn’t consult each other for input at any point in the process. But I digress. Gaelic pronunciation is a fucking trip.)

The strangest phenomenon I’ve noticed, which gave me the idea for this post in the first place, is that sometimes that accents sound similar. To me. I don’t know if anyone else has picked up on this, but sometimes when I overhear people speaking in another room or just down the street, I can’t tell the difference: Occasionally I’ve mistaken Spanish or English spoken with a Spanish accent for Gaelic or English spoken with an Irish accent.

Well, maybe not the accent, exactly, but… ahhh, I don’t even know how to describe it. The intonation? The way they pitch their voices, rising and falling, the stresses put on one syllable but not another.

And then I’ll peek around the corner and realize that the people I thought were speaking Gaelic are actually the custodial crew, who are all young people from Spain.

I love it. I’m going to miss it so much when I leave.

 P. S. This will be the first of three (four?) posts related to things that surprised me about Ireland. As cheesy as it sounds, every day is a surprise: Today’s surprise is that the Cliffs of Moher tour my friends and I will be on at the time this post is published includes a side trip to Galway. I was there last Sunday as part of the writers’ retreat but was super sick so spent most of my time trailing miserably after my friends. Several antibiotics and nasal drops later and I’m all better – very happy to be going back since I thought I’d wasted my opportunity and didn’t expect to have the chance to see that city again for a long, long time.


About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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4 Responses to Español & Gaeilge

  1. orphu44 says:

    This is my second attempt at a comment because the first version was turning into a tangentially-related novel where I brought Portuguese and German, languages that weren’t even mentioned in this post, into the mix. Anyway:
    !! undetermined Celtic sources, that’s so cool!
    Also, working under your assumption that the keysmashing Gaelic origin-story is true: I can’t believe the Gaelic language is so young it was invented when keyboards existed.
    And ooh, intonations! That’s so neat!
    And I hope the Cliffs of Moher tour goes well!
    (Post-script: I was so delighted to see this post, I’ve been looking forward to reading it since you first mentioned it! ~languages~)

    • nevillegirl says:

      Ahaha I’d love to know what you were going to say about Portuguese and German tho.

      *nods* I know lots of Very Important History™ like that.

      Thanks! It did, except for the part where I broke my phone, but… oh well. It was a beautiful place and I’d love to go back there someday but this time with you! 😀

      (I’m so glad! <3)

  2. Heather says:

    That’s interesting! I’ve also never heard about potential Celtic roots in Spanish. It’s weird how languages end up coming together… It’s also fascinating to think about how you’ve noticed the auditory similarities. Your description doesn’t quite make sense to me in the literal sense, but I can imagine it being like recognizing a reference to another musical piece in a song, but then not being able to name that piece. *nods* Thanks for sharing your discoveries!

    • nevillegirl says:

      “I can imagine it being like recognizing a reference to another musical piece in a song, but then not being able to name that piece.” Yes! This! It was hard to describe, but that’s basically what it sounds like. Very strange and unexpected. 🙂

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