Russian Man Appointed Irish Language Officer.

Seán Mac an tSíthigh reports on a delightful development:

A Russian man has been appointed as an Irish language officer in a Kerry Gaeltacht and will spearhead attempts to revive the language there.

Victor Bayda, a native of Moscow, has taken up the post with Comhchoiste Ghaeltacht Uíbh Ráthaigh, a community organisation in the south Kerry Gaeltacht of Uíbh Ráthach. Mr Bayda is fluent in Irish and has been teaching the language in a Moscow university for more than ten years. He speaks up to ten languages including Dutch, Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Swedish, French, German and Icelandic. He was awarded a PhD for a thesis that dealt with aspects of the Irish language.

Mr Bayda, who made the journey from Moscow to Kerry at the weekend, says he began learning the language while attending university, but that he was aware of its existence as a young teenager. He said: “I have had an interest in languages since I was 13, especially the Celtic languages. I had learned some Welsh and Scots Gaelic by the time I went to university. “It was then I discovered that Irish was available and I signed up for the course. I also picked up a lot of Irish from listening to the language on TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta. Then I had an opportunity to study in Trinity College where I first heard Irish as a living, breathing language.” […]

Mícheál Ó Leidhin of Comhchoiste Ghaeltacht Uíbh Ráthaigh says he understands why the appointment of a Russian as a language planner in a Kerry Gaeltacht might raise a few eyebrows, but that the committee is delighted that Mr Bayda accepted the offer. Mr Ó Leidhin said: “Victor is one of the finest Irish speakers you’ll ever meet. Completely fluent. He is highly qualified and possesses tremendous expertise in the whole area of language planning. These are skills we badly need in this area if Irish as a community language is to be saved. We are confident that we have found the right man.”

Of course, he might fit in easier if he changed the spelling of his surname to, say, Baighdagh, or at least Baída.


  1. Delightful indeed. I wonder which dialect he primarily speaks.

    I never tire of using the slightest pretext to link to the short film Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom.

  2. Christopher Culver says

    It is somehow comforting to know that there are Russian equivalents of us Westerners who go to Russia to learn minority languages that are maligned by the locals as “useless” or at least raise the question “Why would you want to learn that?”

  3. I even got asked that by Russians in NYC about learning Russian.

  4. Christopher, Hat: Oh, forget about actually learning to speak such languages, there’s worse. I have repeatedly encountered West Indians, Africans, Middle Easterners and South Asians who were floored when they realized that I knew something (and it isn’t much!) *about* various languages (especially the non-prestigious, non-official ones) of their home countries. Once I made it clear to them that I had never lived outside North America and had never had a spouse or significant other from their part of the world, their reactions ranged from blank incomprehension to the belief that I must have once been a spy via suspicion that I was pulling their leg.

    I think something we linguists forget all too easily is how utterly radical linguistics is: one of its core insights, that there is no relationship whatsoever between the structure of a language or dialect and the social position occupied by its speakers, isn’t just counter-intuitive from the vantage point of the average person, it is counter-intuitive, if not downright absurd-sounding, from the vantage point of most University-educated people as well as of most University professors/researchers outside linguistics. For instance, most scholars in both history and literature, in my experience, take it as axiomatic that written languages are inherently superior to unwritten ones.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Trying in vain to find some substance behind a long-treasured anecdote about an ethnic-Chinese scholar doing fieldwork on Welsh dialects in the pubs of West Wales, I discovered as a consolation prize that the author of the old chestnut about Irish having no word which quite conveys “the same sense of urgency” as mañana was no less a man than Proinsias Mac Cana himself.

  6. I just got a call from someone with a completely native AmE accent whose surname is Abdelaad. He spelled it for me, and I immediately said “Ah, [ɑbdɛlˈɑːd]”. He was indeed floored, saying that maybe five people he knew got it right (I don’t know if he meant the first time or ever). I said “I could see that it’s Arabic. I don’t know what aad means, but I recognize names that are Abd-el-something.” He told me the name was Egyptian, which I should have guessed from the vocalism of the article, and we went about our business.

    BTW, I find the use of “same sense of urgency” distinctly weird; I would have said or written “same sense of lack of urgency”. Perhaps that’s just being a low-context American.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    @JC: It’s a joke. P mac C (as I now discover) is supposed to have been discussing time reference in various languages with a Spanish colleague and to have remarked when asked for an Irish equivalent of mañana that he didn’t think there was an Irish word which conveyed quite the same sense of urgency.

  8. Jen in Edinburgh says

    ‘Same sense of urgency’ is the joke, I believe.

    Although it went straight over my head when I first heard it as a child, as I had no idea what ‘mañana’ meant, and it sounded like a very urgent word to me – something like a hurrying horse.


  9. January First-of-May says

    I’m inevitably reminded of the other Russian who went to Ireland to study Irish better, Anna Korostelyova…

    I think I’ve linked to some of her blog posts about her adventures in Ireland on LH before…

  10. E.g., here and here.

  11. Hot take: Russophones, with their grasp of palatalized and velarized consonants, are better suited to speaking Irish than Anglophones are. Ireland should try to recruit as many of them as possible.

  12. Aad in this context is probably a variant of Ahad The One, like the last word in Shema — אֶחָֽד

  13. @D.O.: That would be ʿAbd al-ʾAḥad, but I guess I could see it getting distorted in this sort of context.

    @J.C.: AFAIK there isn’t anything too distinctive about the vowel that Egyptian Arabic uses in the definite article. They do treat their velar g as a sun letter, though.

  14. Slave of the One?

    Puritans are amateurs when it comes to humiliating names!

  15. @Y

    I think I’ve seen that short film before but had forgotten all about it, so I watched it again.

    As I might have said before, only an Irishman could make a film like that. The perspective is just so Irish. “What would happen if someone overseas thought you could come to Ireland speaking only Irish; let’s make a film about it!” With a few rare exceptions, most Chinese would not be interested in small or minority languages. They have the very pragmatic approach that you only learn a language that is useful, which means a lot of people learning major languages and an attitude of benign neglect (bordering on contempt) for minor ones.

    The idea that someone would come from some out-of-the-way place like China not having established that English is the main language spoken there is sweet but unrealistic. As I said, only an Irishman could make a film like this.

  16. Professor Lankov says he met a girl from the Philippines at the Pyongyang University in 1980s, studying Korean language.

    The poor girl mixed up two Koreas, she thought she was going to South Korea, because she saw a program about the country on TV and decided it was a really nice place to study, but somehow got herself applied to the wrong University in wrong Korea.

    Ended up very depressed, but presumably she learned her Korean – there was hardly anything else to do at 1980s North Korean University.

  17. David Marjanović says

    Puritans are amateurs when it comes to humiliating names!

    “Slave” in names is more widespread – Theodoulos, Christodoulos.

  18. “Slave” in names is more widespread – Theodoulos, Christodoulos.

    +ʿAbdullah and its 99 variants: ʿAbdurrahim, ʿAbdurrahman, etc.

  19. @Bathrobe, Y:

    I think I’ve seen that short film before but had forgotten all about it, so I watched it again.

    Probably here:
    (Well, definitely there, you made several comments.)

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder if the Greek -doulos names are actually due to the analogy of Muslim ʕAbd- names?

    I believe that Greek ‘hadzi-‘ names could be bestowed in honour of Christian pilgrimages rather than the Hajj, and thus don’t necessary mean that the bearer’s forebears were Muslims.

    Are there Greek names in -doulos attested before 1453?

  21. A ‘summoning spell’ used in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was actually an Irish news item that said “A special bus route will open in Dublin today despite reports that it may cause traffic congestion as a result.”
    h/t QI

  22. I believe a link to Christodoulos Halaris is in order:

  23. [Reposting this because the first instance disappeared; Hat, feel free to delete one if they both show up.]

    @Bathrobe, Y:

    I think I’ve seen that short film before but had forgotten all about it, so I watched it again.

    Probably here:
    (Well, definitely there, you made several comments.)

  24. David E.: I wonder if the Greek -doulos names are actually due to the analogy of Muslim ʕAbd- names?

    Nice. I’ve suggested that the use of Jesus as a Christian name in Iberia and its offshoots (and nowhere else) is analogical to Muhammad as a Muslim name. Whether the main driver was competition or conversion, I won’t say.

  25. +ʿAbdullah and its 99 variants: ʿAbdurrahim, ʿAbdurrahman, etc.

    I also recently came across a Christian one, ʿAbdu-l-Masīḥ.

  26. In the Slavic Bible, Romans 1:1 starts with “Paul, slave of Jesus Christ”

  27. It’s a joke.

    Well, thuryago; coming from a low-context culture means you don’t get (in-)jokes. There is a story about a German (very-low-context) scholar who wrote a six-volume work on das Komische. Thereafter, whenever anyone told a joke, he would nod soberly, and say “Ja, ja, es gibt den Witz”.

    AFAIK there isn’t anything too distinctive about the vowel that Egyptian Arabic uses in the definite article.

    Well, all I know is that Egyptians with the article in their name seem to transliterate it el, as in el-Sisi and El-Baradei and El-Baz (the geologist who figured out where Apollo 11 should land on the Moon). Wikipedia’s list of notable Egyptians has about an equal number of names in el- and in al-. The pull of pure transliteration would make me expect a great majority in al-, so having so many in el- suggests the use of a vernacular pronunciation. Sun-letter assimilation does not seem to be visible in these names, based on a sketchy check; e.g. El-Telmissany (the surname of a famous cinematographer) rather than Et-. I haven’t tried to look for non-Egyptians with el- names, though.

  28. Well, giving the definite article an indistinct vowel in, let’s say, the upper left quarter of the vowel space is a general feature of Arabic dialects. You may be right about Egyptians being more likely to transliterate it that way; I wonder if that’s a feature of the national vernacular being held in somewhat higher esteem in Egypt than in other countries.

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    Re “slave of Christ”, in Irish there is the name Maelíosa and the surname Gilchrist ( = Mac Giolla Chríosta ) with this literal meaning.

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