"Joyce would sometimes say that in the end it all came down to language. This was a bit of an overstatement. But there was more than a small amount of truth in it.
Living in a state of repression for centuries shapes the language. We Irish are very indirect. To be too direct was dangerous with the boot of oppression so immediate and harsh. I was in the US for many many years before I became convinced that I was not being insulted all the time. The people I feel most close to are African Americans. They too have felt the boot of vicious and immediate repression for centuries, they too have adjusted their language to give themselves some protection. By the way there is a very big difference between the Irish who were born and reared in Ireland and Irish Americans. I do not know enough about it but the language of the youth of the street must be partly for these reasons also.
I also venture to say that one of the reasons Ireland has produced so many great writers and poets is at least partially for this reason. They had to wield the language carefully. There must be other reasons such as the influence of the Irish language mingling with the English and so on. But the repression is in my opinion vastly underestimated.
In today's New York Times, Monday 19th th, August, there is an article entitled Learn to talk in Beggars Cant." It is by Daniel Heller-Roazen. It looks at how oppressed minorities used the languages and how they developed their own languages. it does not mention much about the Irish way of speaking, does not mention about the old saying "whatever you say say nothing, it does not mention the cockney slang which in my opinion was to some extent a defensive mechanism against having to live cheek to jowl with what was the most powerful ruling class in the world for a while.
But it worth a read. It has a sub title "How to speak your mind in a time of government surveillance."
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