13 September 2008


In standard Irish, most words are stressed on the first syllable -- capall is KA-pull, sasta is SA-sta. Easy enough to remember, since there are only a few exceptions for native Irish words
A few words (amach, tobac) are stressed on the second syllable. Any good pronouncing dictionary shows the stress on the word (and any secondary stresses that might be in place).

Dialectal differences, though, still trip me up. Munster Irish seems to drop the stress on the first syllable if the word begins with a- so the very common pronoun/preoposition combinations for at (ag) sound entirely foreign to me!

Standard, and Connacht Irish from Learning Irish, all prounounce agam and agat as U-gum and U-gat, swallowing that first a- sound (but, surprisingly, not doing the same for agus (and)). Pimsleur, being Munster-based, has ah-GUM and an-GUT, which sound abrupt and guttural to me. Stressing the 'g' like that

Important? Probably not critical - we all tend to shift the stress around words depending on the surrounding words, but this throws me off because it affects the pronunciation of that oh-so-common phrase for thank you -- go raith maith agat!

On the various tapes/cds, etc, that I have, it's pronounced variably as 'gurra-ma-UH-gut', ' 'gur-MY-ah-gut', 'gur-mah-AH-gt' and a few more. I have a tendency to mimic whatever particular version I hear (I'm a real jackdaw when it comes to pronunciation, I guess -- I have wto work very hard not to adopt a weird version of someone's accent when I talk to them.).

07 September 2008

Celtic Festival

I had the pleasure of wandering through the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival today -- a lovely day watching hundreds of men in kilts wandering around, watching the uniformed Marine Corp "Party Band" perform, and listening to the massed sound of several hundred pipes.

I even had a chance to practice a wee bit of Irish -- with a Scots Gaelic speaker, of course, but we managed pretty well. The languages are similar - much like a Spanish speaker and Italian speaker can muddle through a conversation, we had enough in common at the basic level to at least say hello and exchange pleasantries.

Denver has a Scots Gaelic language group, although there aren't any specific classes offered. Looking through the Celtic Connection Classiified shows one offered Gaelic group. I have to admit I'm curious -- I actually feel more of an affinity for Scotland than Ireland, to be honest. But Irish Gaeilge is a much more accessible language - books, classes, etc exist in abundance compared to Scots Gaelic.

04 September 2008

Colloquial Irish

I had entirely forgotten that I'd ordered this book and CD combination -- I guess I pre-ordered it months ago when it showed up on my search for 'irish gaelic' on Amazon.com.

At any rate, it showed up this week and I took some time to page through things. (I love pre-order. I always forget what I have queued up and it's like getting presents every couple of weeks!)

First off, the students using Learning Irish (O'Siadhail) will be pleased: while they do make a passing nod to "standard Irish", they focus primarily on the Connacht dialect, and even more specifically the Cois Fharraige Irish when there are questions of grammar, spelling, or vocabulary. This meshes well with the workhorse textbook used by most students, and is especially nice because it provides two CDs worth of dialogs and phrases in that dialect to add to the resources of Learning Irish.

The structure of the lessons is very "Teach Yourself Irish"-like, if you're familiar with that book. A dialog is presented, which introduces new vocabulary and common phrases, and then the chapter focuses on a few grammar or usage-driven sections that are related to the dialog - greeting people, addressing a person, personal pronouns, asking questions for example. The audio files are plentiful, and keyed to the text examples on nearly every page.

Exercises follow each section - usually fill-in-the-blanks or answering questions, with many of them instructing you to write out all questions and answers fully, copying from the text where necessary, and even to copy down the dialog at the beginning of the section in order to really learn the forms. One of the things that caught me up while browsing was that the exercises seemed to use vocabulary that was not specifically called out in the dialogs or other lesson text. The end of the chapter has a vocabulary listing, but some of the words are definitely just thrown out there and never translated. Context helps, of course, but one of the things that is very important in a beginner's text (at least to me) is not to use terms or words or structures without introducing them first.

There are a number of listening exercises, too, where you are not expected to know the words but are to listen for a specific idiom or simple sentences. I haven't gone through these exercise yet, but it seems like a good idea: one of the hardest things for a home-bound learner to do is find a speaker to actually talk in real sentences or non-scripted phrases meant to be repeated ad nauseum. Many of us listen to online radio or watch Irish-language programs (even if we can't understand them entirely) just to get a feel for things.

I'm not going to go through these lessons yet, not formally, since I am trying to stay focused on using Rosetta Stone and the grammar lessons of Learning Irish. We'll see how my resolve holds up!

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.