My Linguistic Fascination with Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran has been leaving his mark on the music world since 2005, gaining popularity in 2012 while touring with Taylor Swift’s The Red Tour. With over 20 hit singles, the one that has caught my attention the most – believe me, I could listen to many of his songs on repeat – was the translation of “Thinking Out Loud” in Irish Gaelic (or Gaeilge, for those who admire such a beautiful language).
Ed Sheeran sings in Irish Gaelic
How much do we already love Ed Sheeran?! Remember, Ed, who heard a young Sydney Bourbeau, covering this very song at West Edmonton Mall, joined her on stage and performed an impromptu duet … How much do we love this man, again?!
I’m about to add to your adoration of this English lad.
Upon hearing of an Irish radio station’s endeavours to produce a compilation CD to be distributed for free to Irish schoolchildren, promoting Gaeilge and its traditions to these young students, Ed Sheeran wanted to contribute as well. He took it a step further though … He had his popular single “Thinking Out Loud” translated into Irish and phonetically sang his lyrics without anyone’s help or pronunciation advice. For the full back story, check out this BBC America article.
The History of Irish (Gaeilge)
A Goidelic language, Irish is an Indo-European language. The Republic of Ireland has given Irish Gaelic a constitutional status as its national and first official language, and Northern Ireland officially recognizes Irish as a minority language.
The predominant language of the Irish people, with the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe, the Irish brought it with them to other areas such as Scotland and the Isle of Man, giving rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx respectively.¹
The Decline of the Irish Language
With the increasing power of the English state in Ireland, Irish was viewed unfavourably and began its decline in the 17th century. The Great Famine (1845–1852) brought on another dramatic decrease in native Gaeilge speakers, with Ireland’s 20–25% loss in population due to either death or emigration. By the end of British rule, less than 15% of Ireland’s population spoke their native language.
The Irish Revival
Great efforts have been made to not only preserve Irish (Irish Gaelic) but also to promote and revive the language. Native speakers ranged from 20,000–80,000 people at the turn of the 21st century. By the 2006 Census, 85,000 people reported using Irish as a daily language, outside of the educational system. Better yet, 1.2 million people reported using Gaeilge at least occasionally in or out of school. The 2011 Census saw an increase to 94,000 and 1.3 million speakers respectively.
“Getting Ed Sheeran to record a bespoke version of one of the biggest songs in the world is incredible. The fact he is singing as Gaeilge makes it all the better.
“Ed and the host of other incredible musicians on our CD shows that the use of the Irish language is being revolutionised at the moment, particularly in music.
“This album shows that anyone can speak as Gaeilge and that we should all give it a go.”
The linguist in me couldn’t agree more!
Ag Smaoineamh Os Ard
Without further ado:
Get a copy of the CD for your music library!
P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Ed Sheeran’s own Irish rendition of “Thinking Out Loud”.