Irish spelling of names

Irish spelling of names

It seems like early in the 20th century (maybe even earlier, in the intros to older tune collections) you don’t see many, if any, performers using Irish spelling of their names, Then slowly you see a few, and now it’s a fair amount. Is it a sort of reclamation of national pride, or is it just a matter of we’re paying more attention to more players so we’re bound to see more diversity?

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For some, this is a subject fraught with peril. But, what the hell. Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in Gaeilge. The odd spellings are courtesy of what was called ´The New Orthography´. They killed off the old clerical alphabet, and replaced it with special combinations of Roman letters to get the spoken word down on paper.

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I wouldn’t call it a reclamation of “national” pride, but more a reclamation of pride in the language and culture - there’s nothing “national” about that because unfortunately there are still a considerable amount of people here who claim that the Irish language is redundant, shouldn’t be taught in schools etc. How sad would it be if we listened to those muppets.

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I was told a long time ago (and how accurate it was/is, I cannot say) that CCE encouraged fleadh entrants to put the Irish rendition of their names on entry forms, if possible. This may have some small bearing, if correct.

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The production of books and recordings in the early 20th century happened mostly in America and so English rather than Irish was the natural language. Even Irish phrases were written in a contorted form of English. I’m thinking of ‘‘Sídh Beg Sídh Mór’’ which often appears as Sheebeg Sheemor or something similiar. But the development of music production businesses in Ireland in the latter parts of the 20th century along with strenuous efforts at promoting and reclaiming the Irish language by organisations such as Foras na Gailge has led to a marked increase in the use of Irish. There’s an outstanding music production business in Connemara called Cló Iar Chonnact producing wonderful music recordings with all of the sleeve notes in the Irish language, sometimes accompanied with an English translation. They also have a large selection of Irish language books, all of really high quality. It’s often overlooked that the official language of Ireland is Irish not English. I would say that it is not so much a reclamation but merely a return to normal. I see similar efforts here in Australia with various Aboriginal languages, albeit starting from a long way back. I’m not an Irish speaker but I’d make a casual observation as an outsider visiting Ireland since 1997 it appears to me that Irish language use is much more widespread now than it was 25 years ago. There’s even a branch of Cumann Gailge here in Melbourne teaching the language.

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Warning! Devil’s Advocate posting! I’m sorry, but isn’t an Ireland where Gaelic is the main language just a ridiculous sentimental fantasy? In the future, in this increasingly global existence, your children would probably be better off learning Arabic or Chinese. Maybe learn to write your name in Irish, Arabic, Cantonese and Russian!

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There’s been lots of discussion on this in Wales over the last few decades. The general feeling currently seems to be that learning more than one language doesn’t seem to be a problem for young children and may well help brain development. In practice many Welsh people dip in and out of Welsh in conversation according to circumstances, with more and more Welsh words drifting into general use in English (cwtch, twp, popty ping etc). I listen to some Irish podcasts and the same thing seems to happen there. So a general enrichment emerges.

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Language is more than just a way of communicating, it is the “box in which we think .” So just having English would diminish the human race. So lets keep culture and language, music and art alive . Were we just to have American music or English etc etc We would be worse off .
Viva la difference.

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But for so new culture and art can develop surely older forms have to be left for the museum: relevant, available, fabulous but not current?

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I have noticed that the name ‘as gaeilge’ trend has gone beyond just recordings and has spread further into things like social media. I am all for Irish gaining some ground again! Even though I have no direct heritage, I am taking some Irish lessons, in part, to be able to not only pronounce a lot of tune names, but also understand better what they mean. (Irish is a particularly tricky language in some ways, and it will be a long time, if ever, before I will really be able to converse with any semblance of fluidity, but it’s coming along…) I would love to see the language go through the kind of resurgence that the music has over the last 50 years!

I also just ran across the No Béarla series from TG4, and am planning on watching it soon!

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I’m so sorry to interrupt the pontification but – with apologies to anyone who has perfect Irish, as I certainly don’t – Reverend, tá áthas mór orm a chloisteáil go bhfuil tú ag foghlaim Gaeilge freisin! Maybe if I make it to Portal next year, which I certainly hope to do, we can have a bit of comhrá as Gaeilge?

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It’s possible yhaal house’s “fair warning” may be a smoke screen. I hope that’s not the case. But certainly he could’ve presented a counter opinion without gratuitously insulting Irish speakers on a website devoted to an aspect of Irish culture that often uses the Irish language (in tune names, in lyrics, etc). I’m inclined to understand why people would be offended by an Englishman posting such a rant, “devil’s advocate” or not.

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To yhaal house’s point, the strong counterargument is not that language is just a form of communication, or the “box in which we think” (I’m skeptical that is a thing, for many reasons) — it’s a vital aspect of group identity. Groups of humans that want to bond together speak alike, whether through a separate language or through creating jargon, argot, or slang and memes. (Fun fact: studies have shown that if you listen to even a recording of a voice you feel positively about, knowing nothing else about the speaker, for a little while your accent will shift a little towards that speaker’s accent. It may only be detectable by instruments, but it’s there.)

There is a group of people in the world to whom it matters that they have in common knowing (even a few words of) Irish. That’s how they identify with each other and part of why they feel positively about each other. Similarly, there are groups of people in the world that have the same true for Maori, Blackfoot, African-American English, Appalachian English, Quebecois French, Plattdeutsch, Sorbian, Rroma, etc.

For someone like you, even as a devil’s advocate, to tell them that it should be consigned to the museum is the same, emotionally, as telling them they should consign their family and friends to the museum and take the ones you, random stranger, picked for them. It’s offensive and it’s blind to how group identity works.

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I’ve never quite understood the need to be “Devil’s advocate.” I’d imagine the last thing he needs is yet another lawyer!

It’s worth noting that the vast majority of people around the world are multi-lingual, usually speaking one or more local/regional/ethnic languages alongside a lingua franca or “prestige” language to facilitate broader communication. The idea that every should only speak “useful” languages is quite colonialist in nature and has led to such horrors as the residential school system in Canada and the US. Luckily, a lot of languages are undergoing revitalization, and new generations are speaking Wampanoag, Te Reo Māori, and others. There’s no reason why Irish can’t or shouldn’t also continue to be spoken and championed.

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@Lisa M.
Go raibh maith agat! I hope you DO make it next year, and we will definitely do that! (By then, maybe I won’t have to use google translate to understand a couple of your words) 😉

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Re yhaal house’s post, it was clearly a wind-up, and that was certainly the intention. I don’t think malice was intended, though.

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@Reverend – hopefully by then I’ll have learned a few new words, too! Definitely hoping/planning to be there.

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“Re yhaal house’s post, it was clearly a wind-up, and that was certainly the intention. I don’t think malice was intended, though.”

Northrup Frye once wrote, by way of illustrating some more pertinent point, that to pretend to be in bad taste at a funeral is to be in bad taste. Similarly, in some situations, to pretend to be malicious is to be malicious ….. (“Hey - can’t you take a joke??”).

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As regards The Irish language ; it is a living language , highly valued , treasured in fact , it is beauty , culture , art , at an incredibly high level ,to think or suggest or intimate that it should be replaced by English is in comparison , the height of ignorance .
Perhaps from London it might be seen as a quaint relic however its anything but….. . so Id suggest spending some time in the Gaeltacht , spend time in Ireland, with the Irish in their homes , by the hearth, in communion , connection . Perhaps the love and respect , adoration that the language is held in might surprise and educate you .

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Recently I’ve been sitting in on a number of “degree-level” (so I’m told) Linguistics online courses, several by John McWhorter. So although I am in no way as qualified as NylonFlute, I have by now picked up a little bit about linguistics. I find it can get quite complicated and technical, particularly the new approaches to Chomsky’s Universal Grammar Theory.
Anyway, there are many minority languages which are moribund if not already extinct. Fortunately some are undergoing various degrees of revival. Irish, Basque, Scottish Gaelic, even Manx and Cornish, to name but a very small number. Many more will just die when the last remaining speakers die.
Learning a new language as an adult is an onerous task, as I’ve found out with rudimentary Spanish. And Spanish is thought of as an easy one! So I can understand why people may be reluctant to try to learn Quechua, Ligurian or even Irish.
The tragedy of the loss of minority languages isn’t just that they die, but that part of humanity and the human experience dies as well. Each language will have a body of literature or just stories and each a peculiar way of looking at the world.
So I agree with most of the above contributions. Yhaal house ought to know better than to cast himself as “devil’s advocate”, but then, what more would you expect from a session hanger-on who strums along on a ukelele-like thing and likens the drones of uilleann pipes to a vacuum cleaner?

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Thanks for your reply, Someone. I appreciate hearing a reasonable, rational perspective in this thread. It’s a sharp contrast to the disjointed, bewildering statements made by Yhaalhouse & about him.

For the record it’s nice to read the conversation between Reverend & Lisa M. It helps me keep my head on when visiting this site.

Ben

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Thanks AB. Not so sure it was so rational, actually. Fuelled by a certain amount of resentment. My grandmother was a native Gaelic speaker from the Kinlochbervie township. On arriving in Glasgow in the 1900’s she had to learn English. She didn’t pass on the Gaelic to her progeny, so that part of Gaeldom was lost forever.
YH is a nice enough chap in real life (“meatspace”, as I’ve heard it referred to on this site - a disgusting use of the English language if you ask me!) but he can let his ill-formed opinions press the buttons at times.

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@yhaal house: I am willing to believe that there was not malicious *intent* behind your comment, but there is a level of insesitivity that could be equal in its consequences to malice, given how deeply insulting it is to many people here. Is “an Ireland where Gaelic is the main language a sentimental fantasy”? (I have chosen to omit the word ‘ridiculous’ because it is downright offensive.) Maybe, maybe not – history has a habit of playing wild cards (what Roman could have imagined that their language, 1500 years on, would be spoken only by the clergy of the very religion they sought to eradicate?). But that is beside the point. The Irish language, however few people speak it as their first language, is, like every natural* language, a treasure trove of culture and tradition, all of which disappears when the language disappears. So, for anyone that cares about Irish culture, wishing the Irish to continue to be spoken – or even for it to become the main language of Ireland – is anything but ridiculous, even if that ultimately fails to happen. True, we don’t need to speak Irish to play jigs and reels (many of which originated outside the Irish speaking world, anyway). But it is needed it for the survival of Irish language singing (wherein many dance tunes also *do* originate), poetry, stories etc. – and as a symbol of Irish cultural identity, even for those that do not speak it.

I am not an Irish speaker, nor am I Irish at all, and I hope the coolness of my comments is not found to be offensive. I am just trying to place Irish in the context of all the languages in the world. I have a fondness for Irish, due to the musical traditions associated with it and, as a moderately competent speaker of Welsh, an interest in the relationship between the two languages – but I do not have a particular emotional attachment to it. I appreciate, however, that many do (as do people of other nationalities to their own languages) and respect that wholeheartedly.

*By the word ‘natural’, I merely mean to exclude recently constructed languages, like Esperanto, Interlingua, Klingon etc. (although perhaps even some of those have been spoken for long enough by enough people to have some sort of ‘culture’ of their own).

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@NylonFlute – Re the ‘box in which we speak’ metaphor:

Any language must surely be shaped by the culture in which it has evolved and, in turn, must re-inforce elements of that culture reciprocally. Perhaps the extent to which this is true is overestimated, and common human needs  (food, health, familial relationships, identification of place, expression of time etc.) and in the case of IE languages, common ancient origins, are much bigger factors. Languages also evolve with the culture within which they exist, adapting influences from neighbouring or dominant cultures – so perhaps the ‘boxes in which we speak’ end up with more similarities than differences.

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Yes CMO, a sprachbund. Eg, apparently, Hungarian, a non-IE language, has had many IE features seeped into it from surrounding IE languages. As have Finnish and Estonian.

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Sorry, I’m beginning to hog this discussion now! But I just want to say, I’ve just watched AB’s YouTube vid on deaf people from 3 different countries signing various words. Very interesting.
There’s a famous study on a school for Nicaraguan deaf children who spontaneously invented their own sign language, complete with vocabulary, grammar and syntax. From this it was inferred that those language properties are innate and will arise spontaneously, ie ability for language acquisition is coded in your DNA and expressed somewhere in the brain (perhaps the superior temporal gyrus and other associated regions? I don’t know…) One link:
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/what-is-nicaraguan-sign-language

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editing YH ~ So ‘new’ culture and art can develop older forms have to be relevant, available, remembered & even played… but not the only way to do it.
What do ya’ think, Mr. House?

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“Isn’t an Ireland where Gaelic is the main language just a ridiculous sentimental fantasy? In the future, in this increasingly global existence, your children would probably be better off learning Arabic or Chinese”

Well, I don’t think it’s a ridiculous fantasy. A century ago Hebrew was used only as a language of prayer and liturgy, with a status similar to Latin. Now it’s spoken throughout Israel, even by many Palestinians. Catalan was ground down by Franco, but thanks to devolution and the enthusiasm of its speakers, it is now thriving. Admittedly Hebrew had the force and resources of the state of Israel behind it, but Irish is the official language of Ireland, and has had all sorts of advantages that were denied to the other Celtic languages. Welsh has had far more success in maintaining itself than Irish despite being actively persecuted or at least discouraged until recently. It seems that the main obstacle to Irish thriving again is the reluctance of so many Irish people to use it or even to learn it properly.

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This recalls the quip: A Language is a dialect with an army and a flag.

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>A Language is a dialect with an army and a flag.
- Not true, I’m afraid. For example, Papua New Guinea has hundreds of languages, many of which are language isolates, in the same way as Basque is an isolate. Yet PNG has just one flag. And, I think, 2 “official” languages: English and Tok Pisin.
I’m not Jewish, but as I understand it, Hebrew, although prior to the founding of the state of Israel was mostly just a liturgical language, it permeated Jewish culture, possibly more than Irish language presently does in Irish culture and society. I wish I could agree with Borderer’s analysis, but I don’t believe his analogy is true. I hope I’m wrong though.

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“>A Language is a dialect with an army and a flag.
- Not true, I’m afraid.”

It is not to be taken too literally. But it does hold true in many cases. What used to be known as Serbo-Croat – a collection of South Slavic dialects spoken in the Southern Balkan states (former Yugoslavia) – is now called Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or Monenegrin, depending on where it is spoken. It is, as I said, a collection of dialects (with a high level of mutual intelligibility, I assume), but the geographic boundaries of these dialects to not correspond to the national boundaries. People in the North of Serbia might, for example, understand people in neighbouring parts of Croatia better than they would understand their fellow countrymen in the south – who, in turn, might have more in common linguistically with their Bosnian neighbours. (I do not know whether this is accurate – I am making up hypothetical examples for illustrative purposes).

Similarly, speakers of broad Northumbrian and Geordie dialect would probably be understood better by speakers of Scots than by the average Londoner or Bristolian – yet Scots is a language (it does not have an army [anymore or yet], but it does have a flag), whilst Geordie is considered part of the same language spoken by politicians in Westminster.

The standard varieties of Norwegian, Swedish and (in one direction, least) Danish all have a very high degree of mutual intelligibility, to the extent that it is possible for a speaker of each of those languages to hold a conversation fairly effortlessly, without either having to ‘learn’ the other’s language – yet nobody would question that they are three different languages. On the other hand, within each of those countries, local dialects can be very divergent, to the point where speakers from different regions, unless they modify their speech, would have considerable difficulty understanding one another.

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Yes, of course, there are languages that do not depend on political power for their existence (probably the vast majority of them) – I defy anyone to say that Basque is a dialect of Spanish (or French), Veps a dialect of Russian or Uyghur a dialect of Chinese (which is not a single language, anyway). But there are many that have diverged and ‘speciated’ into different languages *because* of political boundaries. In the early Middle Ages, Portugal and Galicia shared a common language. Following the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal in 12th Century, Portuguese began to diverge and, by 15th Century, was considered a distinct language. Meanwhile, Galician has com under phonetic influence from Castilian (Spanish) – yet it remains largely mutually intelligible with Portuguese. It is interesting to speculate what might happen to the language(s) of the Southern Balkans a few centuries hence, if the current borders remain in place – or, indeed, Scots, if Scotland becomes independent (It is already divergent enough from English to be credible as a language, but will it diverge further?).

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I don’t know how widespread it is, but I knew one lady in the Western Isles, for whom Gaelic was her first and ‘working’ language, who had excellent English but struggled with Scots.

The conversation started “Now, you are English, can you tell me what this means?” pointing to a sentence in a letter from her great-grandson in Paisley. I think it was in ‘playground Scots’. As a northern Englishman I worked out the grammar but some of the vocabulary had me equally foxed.

Maybe another country where English has use as neutral tongue amongst local languages.

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My granny was brought up in the Highlands, speaking English, by Gaelic speaking parents. (They wanted their children to ‘get on’.) I was told that as English was a relatively recently arrived language, the accent was ‘purer’ and not at all like the English spoken in the areas of Scotland where English had been spoken for much longer.

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The linguistic situation in Scotland is a wee bit more complicated than minijackpot implies. Up to the Union of the Crowns (1603) there were three languages spoken in Scotland: Gaelic (a Celtic language) in the north and west, Scots (a Germanic language) in the south and east, and Norn (also Germanic, but a descendant of Norse), in Orkney and Shetland. After the Act of Union of 1707 increasingly Scots gave way to English, so that what most Scottish people speak today is described as Scottish Standard English, that is English with various distinct accents as well as much vocabulary and syntax that derive from Scots; the proportion of Scots elements varies according to geography and social group. A big problem for the survival of Scots is that while Gaelic is linguistically distinct from Scots and English, Scots is on a linguistic continuum with Standard English at the other end. Although nobody now speaks Scots as it was in the time of Burns, in certain parts of the country (e.g. Buchan or the Borders) many people speak a variety that is at the Scots end of the continuum, and many of them can switch between the two varieties. Unfortunately many people in Scotland regard Scots as slang or bad English, while many people who actually speak Scots are either ashamed of it, or often don’t realise they are speaking a language which was originally different from English. By contrast, in much of the Highlands and Islands when people decided to abandon Gaelic or were forced to stop speaking it, they usually adopted a form of English that had minimal Scots elements in it. The Highland accent was historically very distinctive, incorporating many of the sounds of Gaelic, but that seems to be changing. My impression from recent travels in Argyll is that people there are sounding more and more like Glaswegians.

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So this discussion’s still bumping along?
Good to hear actually.
Just a few comments, mostly opinions rather than hard facts…..
CMO - regarding the Southern Balkans Slavic language(s) continuum: I believe Bulgarian is also included in that continuum. To the extent that when Yugoslavia was being sellotaped together after WW1, they were asked if they wanted to join. I can’t recall offhand why they refused, various political reasons, but at least they didn’t get drawn in to the wars of the 1990’s.
minijackpot and Borderer - I read somewhere some years ago that the Inverness accent of spoken English was the finest and purest there is. Not sure if that’s still true. TBH, I think minijackpot is correct in that in the mostly formerly Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Islands, English being a recently arrived language it is spoken more purely there. And yes, I’ve also observed that the Glasgow accent is creeping in there.
Also, wasn’t Galwegian Gaelic still spoken in Galloway around 1606? Closer to Ulster Irish, I believe, so could it be regarded as a 4th language?

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@Some one at The Session - I don’t know quite how similar Bulgarian is to Serbian, Croatian etc. (I believe it has some unique grammatical features of its own) but I deliberately excluded Macedonian from the list because it is fully mutually intelligible with Bulgarian - not so with the others (another pair of languages whose distinctness is defined primarily by political boundaries rather than linguistic characteristics). Slovene is another ‘former Yugoslav’ language that does not belong to the Serbian/Croatian etc. group (it’s territory being more Alpine than Balkan).

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“… the Inverness accent of spoken English was the finest and purest there is.” I was told that too - by an English as a Foreign Language teacher from Inverness.

But, fair play, she told me because I had assumed she was from England.

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Off-topic I know, but since the subject of Scottish accents has come up :
https://youtu.be/XAL_76bnPPk

[ Thanks to Aberdeen guitar player Pete McCallum, whom I heard reciting this several years ago. ]

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“I deliberately excluded Macedonian from the list because it is fully mutually intelligible with Bulgarian - “

“Macedonian” was created by the communist government under Tito, by taking the Bulgarian dialect most different from Standard Bulgarian and proclaiming that to be the official (and totally non-Bulgarian) language of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia.

I believe it is best to avoid using language as a vehicle for political ends. (Obligatory “Newspeak” reference goes here.)

As for the Gaeilge, I think it is entirely relevant to repeat a prior post of mine:

“ ‘Irish spelling of names’
Very fashionable among the Provos back in the day.“

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Thank you for filling that gap in my knowledge, The Boy from County Cook (the bit about Macedonian).

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“A Language is a dialect with an army and a flag.”
A language [Hebrew] is a dialect [as used in Israel] with an army [in this instance ground forces, air & navy] and a flag [check!].“

*bump ~ https://thesession.org/discussions/47354#comment948219

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