19 August 2008

Back on Monday

I have no idea if anyone is reading -- no comments is usually a clue that I'm talking to myself -- but we're off on vacation and I'll be back next week. I've got mp3 files and my grammar books, with the intent of spending a few days reading, lounging about in the sun, and eating good food. Hah!

16 August 2008

Analytic vs Synthetic forms

Munster Irish is well known for having 'synthetic forms' for verbs. That is, where Connacht or Ulster Irish would say, Tá mé go maith, in Munster, the "I" is absorbed into the verb itself, Táim go maith.

From some of the older texts that I come across, this formation is often called 'archaic', or 'ancient', and the modern language was supposed to completely adopt the new 'modern' analytic endings. I don't think this is quite the case, although I often see mention of Munster Irish as holding on to 'older' pronunciation and forms. I mentioned this back at the beginning of the blog.

I assume that the forms are mutually understandable - that is, using the endings as Munster would while speaking otherwise flawless Ulster dialect will be understood, but how weird would that be? Like many learners, I'm getting a mishmash of different dialects because of the variety of sources I have to listen to - and believe me, listen to an hour of Radio na Gaeltacht and you'll hear enough variation in the language that you start to think you'll never get it!).

Any native speakers who can weigh in?

Unilang has a nice complete verb table showing the Standard Form and Munster form. The rest of the google results for Munster show up as copies of the Wikipedia page. But, trust Gramadach na Gaeilge to have more linquistic info that you could ever want.

13 August 2008


The word-of-the-day is rua, red-haired (if you happen to see this today, it's the widget on the bottom of the page!).

The word for 'red', of course, is 'dearg' when you're just talking about the color, but when referring to a red-headed or red-faced person person, the proper term is rua
Tá gruaig rua air --> He has red hair
Tá sé rua --> He has red hair, or is a ruddy person
Rua seems to be associated only with describing people or in some cases animals, but not things. A chair is red - an chathaoir dhearg, a bowl is red - an babhla dearg, but a person can be bed - and duine rua, or a dog can be red - an madra rua. (hey! I got the gender right on the words. Hah!). Light-red, or sandy-haired is bánrua.

My husband is a red-head (although not Irish). A lot of people assumed that he was, when we traveled in Ireland. Nope, Scandinavian through and through.

Other colors for things in Irish are
gray --> liath
black --> dubh
white --> bán
brown --> donn
light brown --> donnfhion
reddish brown --> donndearg
yellowish brown --> donnbuí
orange --> oráiste
yellow --> buí
dark yellow --> crónbhuí
red --> dearg
pink --> bándearg
purple --> corcra
green --> glas or uaine (vivid green)
dark green --> dúghlas
blue --> gorm
dark blue --> dúghorm
Fionn - fair, or blond, by the way.

Rosetta introduced red - dearg, yellow - buí, white -bán, black - dubh, and green- glas in the third unit of Level 1. Lots of pictures of green cars and yellow apples and red balls and such. I've been walking around trying to name colors of things and I must admit it's a bit frustrating to be limited to the 16-color palette at the moment, since I only have words for those. If you want to test your ability to recognize colors, try Quia

Describing People
Colors, with pronunciations

12 August 2008

Counting Down

Numbers come in a couple of different flavors. There are the cardinal, or counting numbers (1, 2, 3, 4...) and the ordinal numbers (first, second, third...) in English, and Irish ads a third form of the numbers that are used specifically for counting people (aon, beirt, tríur, etc).

Cardinal numbers are used to 'say' numbers, and to count things.

No.Cardinal Numbers

1a haon20
a fiche
2a dó
a tríocha
a trí
a ceathracha
a ceathair
a caoga/a leathchéad
a cúig
a seasca
a sé
a seachtó
a seacht
a hochtó
a hocht
a nócha
a naoi

10a deich
11a haon déag
dhá chéad
12a dó dhéag
trí chéad
13a trí déag

14a ceathair déag
15a cúig déag

16a sé déag
fiche a haon
17a seacht déag
fiche a dó
18a hocht déag

19a naoi déag
céad a haon

céad a dó

The particle 'a' in front of the numbers is usually omitted (except when actually 'spelling something out' in numbers or counting aloud). Saying serial number out loud, for example, would be 15368, "a haon, a cúig, a trí, a sé, a hocht".

Counting things does require a few changes - the words for one, two, and four change form slightly when you count things --
a haon (one), but teanga amháin (one language)
a dó (two), but dhá theanga (two languages)
a ceathair (four), but ceathre theanga (four languages)
You'll notice a couple of things about those statements though - when you count stuff, you only need to know the singular noun for it -- trí teanga (three languages), although teangacha (languages). That's pretty convenient for us beginners! I know quite a few nouns, but I don't yet know all their forms.

Also, the numbers 2-6 aspirate the following noun according to the standard rules. The numbers 7 -10 eclipse the noun.

Perhaps the biggest change for English speakers is that when you count more than ten things, the name of the thing being counted goes between the number and the tens. Instead of staying 'fifteen languages' you says something like 'five languages and ten'.
cúig phunt--> five pounds,
but cúig phunt déag --> fifteen pounds
seacht bpunt --> seven pounsd,
but seacht bpunt déag --> seventeen pounds
Over twenty, and there are two ways to express it: either as 'thirty and five pounds' or 'five and thirty pounds'. Notice the words 'is a' in the middle - in this case 'is' is an abbreviation for 'agus' (and) and the 'a' is the counting particle shown above. Then tend to disappear when you actually say the words, at least they do in my various audio files.
tríocha is a cúig phunt --> thirty-and-five, or
cúig phunt is tríocha --> five-and-thirty
Or, if you want to be a bit more archaic about it, some references still suggest counting by twenties, so thirty is actually 'twenty and ten' -- you'll see 'fichid' often in older books. For example, 33 could be 'trí teanga déag is fiche" -- literally, thirteen-and-twenty, or 60 expressed as 'trí fichid'. p. 131-2 of Learning Irish uses this method of counting, although TY Irish and Irish on your Own use the versions shown above - seasca is 60, etc. I am not honestly sure if this is a regional difference, or simply a reflection of the new standard in many of the newer class texts. From what I can tell, either form is correct - seasca or trí fichid. I have heard the non-decimal version on the radio at least once.

If I recall correctly, French has the same construct for seventy, eighty, and ninety - seventy is literally -sixty-ten, or soixante-dix. Nothing like doing an extra bit of math! Expressin a a number as seventeen and four twenties (97) seems awkward to me, but I suppose it's entirely natural if you were taught that way.

Counting people is a bit different --Irish has special words for counting people (duine amháin, beirt, tríur, ceathrar, cúigear, seisea, seachtar,ochtar, naonúr, deichniúr). I have two sons --> tá beirt mhac agam, for example. The numbers 1-10 and the number 12 exists for counting people, otherwise the regular cardinal numbers are used. Twelve is dháréag.

The rule seems to be that this form of the word is only used for people, not for counting living things, etc. I'm sure I'm completely wrong in saying that I have two dogs using 'beirt mhadra' even though I think of them as family members. I'm one of those people who refers to my dogs as he and she, not it. (And not my kids, either, I'm not quite that weird!)

More than you ever wanted ot know about numbers in Irish, from Gramadach na Gaeilge

And someone has actually put together the numbers 1-10 in over 500 languages!

11 August 2008


The rules for Irish surnames (well, traditions; 'rules' is probably a bit harsh) note that the common prefixes Ó and Mac/Mc in Irish denote 'grandson of' and 'son of' --

Seán Ó Conaill --> Séan, grandson of Conall,
Máirtin Mac Mathúna --> Martin, son of Mahon, etc.

As the Gaelic language waned in Ireland, many families dropped the Ó or Mac and 'de-irishified' their names. Many immigrants to the US dropped the uniquely Irish idenitifer and Anglicized their names as a way to avoid discrimination. But recently, the resurgance of the Gaelic language has prompted many people to resurrect the old naming conventions. A resurgence of Ó and Mac/Mc -- and Irish spellings -- have returned. Of course, today we usually keep the same family name from one generation to anoother.

This is a surprisingly recent idea for most cultures. The idea of 'surnames' being carried from generation to generation is a relatively new one in most countries. For most of history, people were known by their first name and perhaps a descriptor. If you happened to live in a large enough village, you might have John the Cooper and John the Brewman. You might have Big John and Small John, or John the Lame. As people came into contact with more people, and ventured further afield from their own towns, the place-name addition because common: John of York, John of Furthing Pike, that sort of thing.

It wasn't until the Normans started keeping track of things in the 12th century or so that real surnames showed up in western civilization: the need to track property ownership and heredity prompted people to keep track of family relationships on a bit larger scale.

Look at the Scandinavian countries: the whole -son set of family names that we have now (Johnson, Peterson -- just look in a phone book anywhere in the midwest!) are the result of generations of sons being named after their fathers. John, the son of Gunnar was called John Gunnarson; his son would be Eric Johnson, and his son Peter Ericson and so on. It wasn't until in the 19th century (and probably the result of mass emigration) that a family 'kept' the same name from one generation to another. The tradition of keeping the farm name as a family name was very common, linking the family to the land. It wasn't until the 20th century that the family name 'stuck', as it were.

English-speaking countries adopted surnames from a variety of sources. As they became more common in the 13th and 14th centuries, names were adopted from someone's occupation, a personal characteristic, a local placename or landmark, estate names, and patronymics/matronymics

And all of this rambling actually leads to a question. Eventually.

Irish tradition has different forms of a surname for men and women -- and women's "last names" change depending on their status.

Married women don't traditionally share the prefixes Ó or Mac -- instead they have Uí and Mhíc, usually linked in the form Máire bean Uí Chonaill --> wife of O'Connell or Máire Bean Mhic Conall --> wife of MacConnell. Unmarried women have Ní and Nic as the form of their surname.

So the question I have is really this -- do modern Irish married couples really have separate forms of their last name? Is Máirtin Ó Chonaill married to Máire Uí Chonaill? Or is that only used as a form of formal address and not casually?

09 August 2008

Archaic Grammar Book

I've posted another transcription of an old grammar book to my main site - A Grammar of the Irish Language, by Henry M. Mason, published in 1842. It is a "compilation" grammar; that is, he consolidates the rules from other authorities and summarizes their rules in a single volume. I haven't found the authors he is referencing yet, but I'll keep looking. Some of the rules don't jibe with any modern rules, really, but it's interesting to see the state of the language 165 years ago.

Mr. Mason apparently was highly criticized for his first compilation grammar book, but has bravely shaken off the harsh words and released the second edition - the prefaces are pretty whiny, if you ask me!

07 August 2008

Spelling Rules

Everyone with familiar with the Irish spelling rule caol le caol, agus leathan le leathan - broad with broad/slender with slendet. This basically says that the vowels on either side of a consonant have to be of the same type.

It actually makes Irish spelling very regular, despite the rather bizarre combinations of letter that show up. If we remember that "h" isn't actually a letter, just a symbol for aspiration, a word like múinteoir is actually predictable, despite the vowel-groups. More so than English sometimes, I think.

Hey, in English we get tough, though, through -- tuff, tho, thru -- and absolutely no consistent rules about spelling. I'm amazed that we managed to come up with any sort of standard, considering that English didn't start to develop spelling rules until some time in the late 18th century. Noah Webster (of Webster's Dictionary) was a strong proponent of spelling reform --a although with the rather bizarre ways that English represents sounds. (look at the ways we spell the long U sound: shoe, grew, through. do, doom, flue, two, who, brute, duty! More from Ridiculous English Spelling, if you're interested, and linguistic rules from Wikipedia.)

Irish probably has at least as many vowel combinations as English does (more!) to represent the basic vowel sounds, but it does follow that simple rule - iai and eoi and oia and all those unpronounceable combinations are the result of spelling.

At the very least, we should be glad that Irish Spelling reform was successful (whether beloved or not). ríoghdhacht , for example, is now ríocht as a result of efforts that started in 1922 and were finalized with the release of the Offical Standard in 1957 -- and bitterly opposed by many Irish speakers and the Gaelic League, which was committed to the preservation of the Irish language. Mostly, spelling reform eliminated the groups of silent letters that were often left in the middle of the words because of inflexion (eclipsis and aspiration) and the changes required by conjugation and declension. bhthdh were dropped in many cases.

Reading and writing a language can be difficult - but relying on the the consistency of the spelling rule can be helpful: writing out words, you can do a quick check that you have broad (a,o,u) or slender (e,i) on both sides of the letter - might not be much, since it doesn't help decide which of the vowels goes there, but anything helps!

If you're using an older dictionary (such as Fr. Dineen's), the spelling is 'old' spelling, and you should be careful to use a modern dictionary to pick up the standard veresions.

06 August 2008


One of the primary words in the first lesson of Rosetta is ag tiomáint --driving.

I have a devil of a time actually pronouncing this -- even with the syllable-by-syllable assistance of the voice software. "tom"-"aw"-"int". Which I try and try, and get that dang raspberry every single time! Maybe I'm just not hearing it.

T is really more of a 'tdsch' sound in a lot of cases, and I must mangle it pretty badly with my flat midwestern accent. It's not quite 'ch', it's not quite 'td'. Gah!

04 August 2008

Archaic Counting

I just finished transcribing an old 'conversation book' from 1904 -- a teaching aid used in elementary school to teach Irish. (I have a fascination for book in general, and old books specifically, mock away!).

As I was typing, however, I came across two things that are rather interesting -- older Irish often counted in groups of twenty: that is, 30 is 'ten and twenty' and 59 is 'nine-and-two-twenties', which seems like a rather bizarre way to count in a base-ten system. I don't think that this is at all a common modern usage (and considering the age of the book, things have changed dramatically).

The other odd statement I found in another book (This time a compilation of 'A Grammar for the Irish Language' by Mason, and dating to 1842) is this:
"There is an idiom in very common use, which is to call 7 "great six"—ex. móir sheisíur, 7.
Huh? I can't think of any reason that this would be a "common idiom", even in 1842. What possible reason could you have for calling a seven a "big 6"? There must be some sort of anectdotal story about it somewhere, but I can't find a reference. I could justify counting in twenties, even, but this? Seven is just "big six"?

Anyone have any further info?

Fierce Pronuncation

Does anyone else think that the woman reading the vocabulary words and pronunciation examples in the first chapter of Learning Irish sounds...angry? Perhaps homicidally so?

The male voice a little bit later in the vocabulary and texts sounds much more natural, but at least one of the female readers (there may be only one I haven't gotten past more than the first few chapters before) sounds very forced and very abrupt. I think she's trying to over-enunciate and over-articulate and it sounds kind of scary!

That first jolt of her pronouncing buí takes me aback every time. Eesh, lady. Relax. We're just trying to learn the language here! I feel like I'm being yelled at most of the time.

One of the things that I did early on, though, was to transfer the CDs to my computer and then listen to them in Windows Media Player at about half speed a few times. I normally eschew the media player, but my preferred player (from Real) doesn't do the 'slow it down but keep the same pitch' thing that the windows version does. And, I discovered that my iPod won't slow down normal mp3s! It will play things 'slower' and 'faster' for audiobooks, which are mp4? raa? but for regular mp3s, you're stuck. Unless -- as geeky me may do -- you translate them into the audiobook format, or record them anew at the new slower speed.

01 August 2008

-suh vs -shuh

The differences between Munster Irish and the other dialects is whacking me on the head again. I ended up listening to the Pimsleur CD in the car yesterday (you don't realize how rare this is - I work from home and drive my car maybe 20 miles a week) and re-listened to the lesson on 'here" and "there" -- at the most basic, 'anseo' and 'ansin'

Well, pronunciation rules (and pronunciation in Connacht and Ulster) , rule that an 's' next to a slender vowel (e, i) is pronounced like English 'sh' in shop. Thus, uhn-shuh and uhn-shin. Tne 'an' part tends to get swallowed a bit, almost like n'shuh, n'shin.

The Pimsleur cds introduce the sounds as 'suh' and 'sun'. Anseo is 'un-suh' and ansin is 'un-sun'. Huh? I'm nothing near a fluent speaker (heck, I'm still struggling with the basics), but sounds wrong wrong wrong to my ear. It isn't, of course, it's just a dialectal difference, but I find myself snapping, "No! un-SHUH!" at the car speakers. The first time I heard it, I wasn't honestly sure that it was even the same word!

I haven't hit the lesson where here-and-there are introduced in Rosetta Stone, so no anseo/ansin yet, but they have introduced 'cad é seo? - what is this?' -- pronounced as I initially learned - 'shuh' or 'shaw'. I assume that they will continue with that. Rosetta is quite a bit closer to the 'standard', of course, so I guess that's expected.

Grammar: Verbs

Remember Schoolhouse Rock Verbs? (You can see the video here --) Verbs: action words. Easy, right?

Those pesky grammar terms get really muddled when you start talking about verbs. This is where the word 'pluperfect' pops up, and 'preterite' and all those other latin terms. -- and at this point we should be happy we're not studying Latin, which multiples these to the extreme!

Verbs are inflected for four different attributes - person, number, mood, and tense. Person and number are easy - how many things/people are going the action, and am I talking about myself, about you, about those people over there, etc. In English, we do have some changes here - I run and you run, but he runs. Most verbs (all?) do not change for number. Irish does have a distinction between one person and more than one person for verbs, as well as different forms of the verbs for whether I am talking about myself, about you, about her, about them.

It's the 'moods' and 'tenses' that start to freak me out. (Well, not quite yet, I only really know how to tak in the present tense - 'I am a manager', 'She is eating rice' -- but it's coming, I can feel it hanging ominous just over the horizon.). What I've discovered is that it's impossible to really understand how this all works in a foreign language if you don't really understand it in English.

And it's quite likely that you don't -- teaching grammer terms seems to have disappeared from English classes (at least, it did from mine!). In English, it's actually a tidy system.

Simple Progressive Perfect Perfect progressive
Future I will write I will be writing I will have written I will have been writing
Present I write I am writing I have written I have been writing
Past I wrote I was writing I had written I had been writing

In this case, 'pluperfect' translates to 'past perfect', since I know you were wondering.

The 'progressive' here means ongoing or continual action. 'I write' might mean 'I am sitting here with a pen in my hand, scribbling' or 'I know how to write' or even 'I write -at some other time'. Enter the 'progressive' or 'habitual' tense and you can tell that I'm doing it right now or regularly or predicibly.

The terminology changes quite a bit, dependong in what source you are looking at - sometimes the simple past is termed the imperfect, for example. 'Progressive' is often habitual or continuous. It can be confusing. Most texts I've seen for Irish use the terms 'habitual'.

Irish simplifies think a bit in terms of how words are used, though (as does english -- even though the matrix expresses twelve different concepts, the forms of the verbs are common: write, writing, written. The same occurs in Irish.

Irish distinguishes the following tenses:
  • habitual past - 'imperfect'
  • past -'simple past'
  • present
  • habitual present (same form as present, with few exceptions)
  • future
But that nice little tidy box isn't quite as simple as all that -- there is also mood to contend with. Irish has four moods - imperative, indicative, conditional, subjunctive. (eek!). Actually, these are pretty simple:
  • Imperative - giving orders. Sit! Speak! Run!
  • Indicative - the most common use of the verb, making statements, asking questions. 'He runs', 'I write', 'Do you write?'
  • Conditional - what if? sorts of constructs. 'If i write....'
  • Subjunctive - expressing wishes, or situtations that are not observably true, 'Were I eating, I would sit' - well, you're not eating now, but we understand that if you did happen to have a sandwich you would be planted over there at the table.
The cross reference between the two - mood and tense -- adds a third dimension to the little matrix. You only have imperative verbs in the present tense, for example. It's impossible to order someone to eat in the past! The subjunction has only prsent and past, conditional has present, past, and future. Of course, the indicative mode can manage all of them.

There are some other tenses that don't quite fit into the nice matrix very well - they are expressed as phrases, usuallly with the helping verb 'is' - the 'continuous tense' (I am eating), 'perfect tense' (I have eaten), or--and this is a good word --'periphrastic tenses' which express what is about to happen. TO be honest, these are gobbledegook to me, and while I'm sure I produce sentences in English that would be diagrammed with these tenses, I am unaware of it!

I'm not going to talk about verb conjugations or verb forms at this point. LIke I said, I'm pretty much in the present tense right now with a very small ability to say that I did something yesterday.

But, knowledge is power (isn't that another Schoolhouse Rock slogan?), so here are some interesting references for English grammar:
Glossary of Terms
Verb Tense tutorial
There are hundreds of others - a thriving community of ESL (English as a Second Language) learners on line have put together many resources. Or, like me, you could pick up the Oxford English Grammar book. You, know, just for light reading.