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The Irish For: The Irish language version of Wikipedia is going strong

Sure enough, one of the longest, best laid-out and most carefully edited pages in An Vicipéid is the page on Star Trek, writes Darach Ó Séaghdha.

Darach Ó Séaghdha

This the latest dispatch from our columnist Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of the award-winning and bestselling Motherfoclóir. Every Sunday morning, Darach will be regaling (re-Gaeling?) us with insights on what the Irish language says about Ireland, our society, our past and our present. Enjoy.

AH WIKIPEDIA. WHERE would we be without it?

Who else would give us lists of inventors killed by their own inventions, helicopter prison escapes or even lists of lists of lists?

Who else would warn you not to add to a list of famous serial killers by killing people?

While you shouldn’t use it as a source when doing your homework (or use it to diagnose yourself), the people’s online encyclopaedia has delighted commuters and settled arguments and formed a community of contributors who all want to make the world a little better by sharing their knowledge.

Besides, in the era of fake news, it at least has a capacity to flag imperfect content, unlike some news outlets.

Last April, I interviewed Dr. Claire Murray for the Motherfoclóir Podcast. In addition to postdoctoral research in chemistry and encouraging young women to pursue STEM subjects in her work with the Shona Project and Athena SWAN, Dr. Murray is an active contributor to An Vicipéid, Wikipedia’s Irish language portal.  

At the time of writing, An Vicipéid is the 87th largest Wikipedia (based on a count of the number of articles) out of 292 active languages.

The tally of almost 51,000 puts us ahead of Icelandic and Swahili but behind such dark horses as Luxembourgish and Piedmontese.

Having a well-stocked larder of Wikipedia articles in a minority language is worthwhile for a number of reasons. First of all, it is useful for learners and those returning to Irish to have subject matter that ties in with their interests to ease them in, and the comprehensive nature of an encyclopedia is ideal for this.

Secondly, translation sites, like Bing and Google Translate, which use machine learning need a wide sample of text to draw from so that they can accurately predict the in-context meanings of words in combination with their neighbouring words.

So they can tell you that ‘dara’ in a given instance means second rather than oak, or that the ár in Tiocfaidh Ár Lá does not mean slaughter.

So what kind of articles might you find ar an Vicipéid today?

Tábla Peiriadach: The periodic table is here in Irish, including lantanóidigh agus achtainídí. As with English, many elements have been named based on a phonetic rendering of the Greek or Latin source name.

An Clochaois: The stone age. If that’s too broad for you, there are separate entries on An tSean-Chlochaois (the Paleolithic period) and An Nua-Chlochaois (Neolithic period).

An Cogadh Fuar: There are extensive entries on the Cold War, including long articles on An tAontas Sóivéadach (the USSR), Iósaf Stailín (Stalin) and the KGB.

AE : The EU. The entry on the European Union (An tAontas Eorpach) includes links to the articles on each ballstát (member state) as well as giving a summary of the union’s history.

Madra: The page on dogs is only a stub at the moment, but it’s been viewed twice as often as the page on cats. If someone wanted to dip their toe into being a Wikipedia editor, fleshing out short articles like these would be a good place to start.

Gramadach na Gaeilge: If you’ve ever corrected someone’s Irish in a comment section or on social media, why not bring your talents to a welcoming harbour? Some contributors have made a valiant effort to share their knowledge but may have made missed a fada or a séimhiú – this is your chance to shine.

Star Trek: Sure enough, one of the longest, best laid-out and most carefully edited pages in An Vicipéid is the page on Star Trek.

That fanbase’s famous attention to detail trickles down into attitudes to translation – the Irish for Klingon is Tliongánach, derived not from the English name but Klingon’s own name for itself, tlhIngan.

There are some people who will be bemused by long passages about a TV show on Vicipéid when there are conspicuous gaps elsewhere.

However, there is nothing stopping such people getting stuck in and updating the encyclopaedia themselves – that would be a win-win situation.

Darach’s new book Craic Baby is the follow-up to his acclaimed Motherfoclóir and is out now under the Head of Zeus imprint.

He runs @theirishfor Twitter account and the @motherfocloir podcast.

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Darach Ó Séaghdha

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