The topic of this book, the language of Irish literature, is at first sight simple and straightforward. But, like Irish proverbs or design patterns, nothing is as simple as it seems. It is impossible to define literature’ in a way that is acceptable to every reader. What I have selected as ‘sensitive’ may be regarded by some as ‘sentimental’, and some of the writings I have thought ‘worthwhile’ may be dismissed as ‘trivial’. ‘Irish’, too, is multiply ambiguous. It means ‘Gaelic’ but also ‘of Ireland’ and so can be applied to writings of Irish people in Latin, French and English as well as in Irish. And ‘language’, which initially appears the most tangible concept, also ramifies in all directions. At one level we can, of course, reduce it to sounds, perturbations of the air, and letters, marks on a page, but while these represent language, they cannot be equated with it.
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