Gaoidhealg

I’ve used the Middle Irish name for the language for a reason. Is it called “Gaeilge” or “Gaidhlig” or “Gaelg” or “Gaoileann”? Let’s settle for this instead.

Well, last weekend, I went to Canberra (and yes, it’s taken me a week to blog about it).

In fact, I should say, Aig deireadh an t-seachdain seo falbh, chaidh mi gu Chanberra.

Or, perhaps, Ag an deireadh seachtaine seo caite, chuaigh mé go dtí Canberra.

I went to Canberra for the Scoil Teanga, or Irish Language School. And I sang at a reception held by the Irish Ambassador to Australia. With no preparation whatsoever. But no-one believed that.

Seo ceist: Cén fáth a bhfuil tú ag an Scoil Teanga?

Deagh chèist. Uill… níl mi ag labhairt móran Gaeilge Albainn i Adelaide agus bha doigh liom nach bhfuill Gaeilge Éireann chomh difriúil.

Speaking Irish is… How to find an analogy?

Speaking Irish as a Gaelic-speaker is like visiting Christchurch as someone from Adelaide. It’s all very familiar, and you can mostly find your way around, but it’s just enough different to get you lost, even though when you look at a map you recognise everything.

And most of it’s missing.

Seriously, where are all the letters in Irish?

Here are some things I learnt:

ALBAINN ÉIREANN
“ao” = /ə:/ “ao” = /e:/
“aoi” = /aɪ/ “aoi” = /wi:/
“à” = /ɑ:/ “á” – /ɔ:/
emphasis = air a’ chiad syllable emphasis = far a bheil an fada
N às deidh T, M, C = /r/ N às deidh T, M, C = /n/
“sibh” do mòran daoine AGUS do gach duine nas sine “sibh” NI ACH do mòran daoine
“tha” “tá”
“chan eil” “níl”
riaghaltan “BUMP”, m.e.:

“dùthaich nam bò”

úrú, m.e.:

“duthaich na mbó”

“chd” = /xk/ “cht” = /xt/
“bha” agus “mha” = /v/ aig tòiseach ‘us dèireadh, /w/ ‘s a mheadhan “bha” agus “mha” = /w/ gach uair
“oidhche” = /ɤɪxɛ/ “oíche” = /i:hɛ/
“bruidhinn” “labhairt”
“ionnsachadh” “foghlam”
“tha mi a’ smaoineachadh” “is doigh liom”
“is toigh leam” “is maith liom”
“tha mi a’ fuireach ann…” “tá mi i mo chónaí i…”
“chì” “feicfidh”
“ithidh” “iscfidh”

Honestly, having completely understood the first three things on that list beforehand would have fixed about a day of confusion and not understanding anything. Never underestimate just how much three little sound shifts can impede meaning.

Here are some grammar things to prove they’re really the same language, though:

prepositional-pronouns

irregular-past

irregular-present

irregular-future

irregular-command

irregular-conditional

bi

dean

Irish is a confusing mixture of “sounds the same but looks different” and “sounds different but looks the same”. In spelling, a lot of words seem to be missing half or more of their letters, but in other places it seems to have retained letters that Gaelic hasn’t (for example, dhéanfainn for Irish “I would do”, but dhèanainn for Gaelic “I would do”, although they’re pronounced exactly the same; or chomh for “so” instead of cho in Gaelic).

Raghnaid’s hot tip for the Irish language: Find someone from Donegal. If people aren’t understanding you, tell it to someone from Donegal and get them to translate it. If you can’t understand other people, find someone from Donegal and get them to repeat it.

Overall, I think if you’re thinking about learning a Goidelic language and can’t decide which one, go with the Scottish version. It’s not just because I’m biased, too. Here are my reasons:

  1. Gaelic grammar is simpler. That is to say, there are fewer tenses than in Irish. Plus the verbs don’t conjugate, which they do in Irish.
  2. Irish orthography has lost a lot of connections. For example, take the preposition “in”. In Gaelic, it’s ann, and “in the” is anns an, often shortened to ‘s an. In Irish, it’s í, and “in the” is san. As a learner of Gaelic, you can see the connection. As a learner of Irish, it’s just a strangely irregular grammar feature you’ve got to memorise.
  3. Irish has three dialects. Yes, Gaelic has dialects, too, but there’s nowhere near as much variation as there is between the Irish dialects. It did my head in, even as someone who already knew the grammar and could understand the Donegal dialect, to try to keep track of three different ways of pronouncing and phrasing things. It’d be really difficult if it were my first venture into Celtic languages.

On the other hand, here are a few plusses for the Irish dialects:

  1. Irish is much more flexible when it comes to sounds. Goidelic languages have a lot of sounds which are really difficult for English-speakers. Gaelic-speakers will correct you if you don’t manage to make them, but Irish has a larger percentage of learners, I think, so they’re a lot more accepting of not being able to differentiate, for example, between the final sounds of poc, feic, and each.
  2. I’ll concede that Irish spelling, with all its missing letters, probably does make more sense to someone new to the language.
  3. I think there might be fewer prepositions, but I’m not 100% sure on that one.

That first point tripped me up a few times, too. I found it much easier to understand the native speakers than the fluent learners (even the one Gaelscoil-educated woman) and I came to the conclusion by the end that it was probably the sounds. I thought on the first day that Irish simply had fewer sounds than Gaelic, but then I listened to a native speaker from the Conamara speaking and realised that all the sounds are still there.

Overall, it’s both more and less different than I was expecting. It was different in ways I didn’t expect, and the same in some ways I thought were different. Culturally – or, rather, I should clarify that I mean musically – it’s a little different. I sang Is Gàidheal Mi at the concert, and someone said to me afterwards, “That sounded so exotic!” It’s a sort of key that’s fairly familiar to people who know Gaelic music (although a bit more unusual than, for example, Òran na Maighdinn Mhara or Taladh ar Shlanuighear) but apparently something that isn’t there in Irish musical tradition.

There are very few words which are completely different between Ireland and Scotland. Most of the time, if it seems like a different word, it’s probably there, but just less-used or with a different meaning. For example, in Gaelic, “learning” is ag ionnsachadh. In Irish, that means “attacking” (one person said it was awfully poetic that in Gaelic, you “attacked” knowledge), while the Irish word for “learning”, foghlam, is used primarily for “education” in Scotland. Another example is teanga, the Irish word for “language”. Gaelic prefers canan,  but teanga exists, for example in the verb ag eadartheangachadh, or “translating” (literally “between-language-ing”). In Gaelic, “walking” is a’ coiseachd, a word which isn’t used in Irish but is understood, as it is literally “foot-ing”. In Ireland, it’s siul, which exists in Scotland as siubhail, but means something more like “stroll”.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve experienced some level of racism from Irish people, so I was a bit worried about that, but aside from one incident on the first night (who decided a political/historical lecture by a local university professor was a good idea? NEVER talk about politics and/or English people around someone from Ireland) I got on quite well with everyone and they accepted me well enough. A number of people were very interested in Gaelic –

I’ve never met a Scottish Gaelic speaker before! I’ve always wondered about the language.” (A few people said words to that effect, but seriously? There are about 75 000 of us in the world, 1500 in Australia, and I’ve seen TG4 documentaries on YouTube so why haven’t you seen something in Gaelic?)

And then, “It’s like looking into the history of Irish!” (Yup, that’s what happens when you put all the letters back in. That was said to me by someone looking at a song book I had with me. But that said, we did read a poem in class in “Ye Olde Irishe”, and that was much easier for me as it had most of the letters I expected… although no Hs, since it was from back when they were a dot on top of the letter).

I really don’t think it’s justified to call Irish and Gaelic separate languages, particularly after having met a few Donegal Irish speakers. It’s an accent and a few figures of speech, that’s all. Oh, and a couple of spelling reforms. As far as I’m concerned, if I can be an Australian and understand someone from Ireland speaking English, Irish-speakers should be able to understand me speaking Gaelic. That’s the level of difference there is.

Oh, and if anyone can fill in any of the gaps on those tables, it would be much appreciated.

A Few Similarities and Differences between Gaelic and Welsh

Well, since I’ll be going to my first Welsh lesson, part of a WEA two-hours-for-five-days crash course, this afternoon, I thought I’d do a post about it.

And yes, I know part of my language policy for this year (which I might get around to typing up and posting at some point) was to not run after every shiny new language which catches my eye, but I’m sure I had a very good reason for enrolling in the Welsh course other than sheer excitement at the possibility of doing so.

Distraction from the woes and trials of student life with a sister leaving home? The ability to finally unleash a long-held desire to learn this strange and different Celtic language which none of my ancestors definitely ever spoke? The fact that the teacher is from Wales and probably won’t come out and hold the course ever again?

Anyway, last year at the Sgoil Nàiseanta, there was a Welsh-speaking girl there. Since we were about the same age, we ended up sharing a room, and we stayed up late on the second night nutting out exactly where the similarities and differences between our two languages lay. Some were expected. Some were more surprising.

Flags

The Grammatical Similarities

They’re different languages, but they’re still closely related, and after a comment from one of the teachers at the Sgoil, the first topic of conversation was grammar. Welsh and Gaelic do share grammatical features which English doesn’t have, which is only to be expected.

Like Gaelic, the verb comes first. Unlike Gaelic (but like Irish), it conjugates slightly. Like Gaelic, verbs have different positive, negative, and interrogative forms. The negative interrogative is formed with “nach…?” in Gaelic and “nac…?” in Welsh.

Like Gaelic (and Greek, for that matter), Welsh has no indefinite article. It’s “yr”, though, which bears no resemblance to Gaelic’s “an”.

Like Gaelic, Welsh lenites/aspirates/mutates/smooths initial consonants. Unlike Gaelic, the system is much, much more complex. Welsh, like Gaelic, also has prepositional pronounce, although it calls them “personal forms of prepositions”. This means that a preposition joins with a following pronoun to create a whole new word. I’ll use a preposition which is the same in both languages (but not when conjugated) to demonstrate:

AR                          AIR                         ON
arna                       orm                        on me
arnat                      ort                          on you
arno                       air                          on him
arno                       oirre                      on her
arnon                     oirnn                     on us
arnoch                   oirbh                      on yez
arnyn                    orra                        on them

Okay, that’s not very similar. I will point out, though, that prepositions cause the object to lenite/mutate in both languages.

Numbers, which don’t really bear much similarity to each other, have two systems in both languages – one based on scores, and the other decimal. Welsh’s score-based system is a little more complex and requires multiplication by nine a couple of times.

The Vocabulary Similarities

There is a major shift between the two languages involving the P/B sound in Welsh and the C/G sound in Gaelic. For example, “mac” and “mab” (“son”) or “ceann” and “pen” (“head”). An S-T shift (similar to that between German and English) also pops up occasionally – such as “sron” and “trwyn” (“nose”). On the topic of body parts, “leg” is the same, “càs” and “coes”, but Welsh has a word for “foot”, “droed”, while Gaelic just called that the “bottom leg”.

The word for “year” is similar – “bliadhna” (G) and “blynedd” (W) – while “month” is pronounced identically – “mis” (W) and “mìos” (G). “Week”, however, is completely different (“seachdainn” vs. “wythnos”). “School” is similar – “sgoil” and “ysgol” – but that’s pretty much universal. The names for different levels of school are completely different.

“Water” (“uisge” and “dwr”) is completely different, while the similarity between “fire” (“tèine” and “tan”) is visible only if you squint. “Fish” and “horse” are also completely different, with a clear Latin borrowing in Welsh (“pysgod”, as opposed to “iasg”, and “ceffyl” verses “eich”), while “dog” (“cù” and “ci”) and “pig” (“moc” and “mochyn”), and are the same, and “cow” bears resemblance to the Latin word in both languages (“bò” and “buwch”).

“Big” (“mòr” and “mawr”), “small” (“beag” and “bach”), “old” (“sheann” and “hen”), “new” (“nuadh” and “newydd”), and “bad” (“droch” and “drwg”) are all the same, while “glas” is “green” in Gaelic and “blue” in Welsh. “Black” is also similar, with “dùbh” in Gaelic and “du” in Welsh.

Place-Names

This isn’t strictly relevant, but I find the comparison between various names for places in the Celtic languages quite fascinating.

English   Great Britain           Wales                       Brittany
Gaelic      Breatainn Mhòr     Cuimrigh            Breatainn Bheag
Manx       Bretyn Vooar           Bretyn                       Vritaan
Irish         Breatain              Breatain Bheag        Briotáin
Welsh      Prydain Fawr          Cymru                      Llydaw
Cornish   Breten Veur             Kembra                    Breten Vian
Breton     Breizh-Veur            Kembre                    Breizh

It’s almost worse than the “glas” confusion.

I explained this to my roommate at Sgoil Nàiseanta: “In Manx, they call Wales ‘Bretyn’, and in Irish it’s ‘Breatain Bheag’, which is Gaelic for Brittany, and our word for Wales is ‘Cuimrigh’.”

She grinned and said, “Well, at least you know how to pronounce it!” “Cuimrigh” in Gaelic is pronounced exactly the same as “Cymru” in Welsh.

Latha ANZAC

Google DoodleA short story, practising irregular past tenses in Gaelic, about ANZAC Day. Please note that this isn’t a translation of my ANZAC Day post in English, but a completely different work.

Bha ANZAC Day ann air an t-seachdain a dh’fhalbh agus chaidh mise agus mo phàraintean dhan Dawn Service anns an t-Sruighlea.

‘N uair a thàinig sinn dhan Sruighlea aig sia uairean air a’ mhadainn, chunnaic mi mòran dhaoine faisg air am memorial agus chuala mi pìob. Aig an toiseach an Service, rinn am ministear urnaigh agus thuirt e rinn mu dheidhinn na ANZACS. Bha e ceud bliadhnaichean chaidh na ANZACs dhan Gallipoli anns a’ Thùirc. Leugh am mayor litir às Mehmet Kemal Atatürk, a’ chiad ceann-suidhe thùriceach, agus leugh tè bheag duan mu dheidhinn Gallipoli.

An uair sin, chluich an dùdach The Last Post agus cha do bhruidhinn cuidigein mu aon mionaid. Thug na sgoilean agus daoine eile blàth-fhleasgan anns am memorial agus chluich an dùdach an Rouse. An uair sin, sheinn sinn God Defend New Zealand agus Advance Australia Fair, na òrain nàiseanta, agus chaidh h-uile duine dhan RSL airson bracaist.

Cha do chaidh mo phuithir leinn dhan Sruighlea ach dh’fhuirich i ann an t-Adelaide air an oidhche agus chaidh i dhan Dawn Service ann an t-Adelaide. ‘S e Scout a th’innte agus choisich i anns am Parade aig naoi uairean air a’ mhadainn. Bha latha snog a th’ ann le sìde breagha – cha robh an t-sìde cho tèth agus cha robh uisge ann idir.

As always, if there’s anyone out there reading this who speaks Gaelic, any helpful hints, tips, and corrections would be much appreciated!

9 Ways in which Hebrew is exactly like Gaelic

FlagOkay, this is a bit of a silly title. I had people tell me, “Don’t try listing all the ways languages are alike; you’ll get bogged down and won’t actually learn the language”. But the truth is, I didn’t set out to make this list.

I won’t do a list like “1001 ways in which Greek is exactly like German”, because that would be basically my entire textbook thus far. I wrote down these notes about Hebrew because the similarities surprised me. I’d expect similarities between Greek and German because they’re reasonably closely-related. They have familiar things like cases, and prepositions which mean slightly different things depending on the case of the following word.

But I wasn’t expecting many similarities between Hebrew and Gaelic, because they are very different languages. They come from different parts of the world. They look very different. At yet, I kept tripping across similarities. So, here they are, in the order I encountered them.

Nouns have singular, dual, and plural forms. These are the only two languages I’ve learnt which have dual forms of nouns, although I’m aware that Cornish, for example, has also. That isn’t to say I’ve actually learnt the dual forms for Gaelic at all.

There is no indefinite article. This isn’t terribly unusual; Greek doesn’t have an indefinite article either. For those who don’t know, in English, the definite article is the, while the indefinite article is a/n. But also, there is only one definite article. By this, I mean that the definite article doesn’t change based on case, number, and gender, as it does in German, Greek, and French. In Gaelic, the article is an, which can mutate to am or a’, depending on the sound which follows immediately after. In Hebrew, the article is הַ (ha), which can mutate to הָ (hā) or הֶ (he), depending on the sound which follows immediately after.

The verb comes first (VSO). Again, this isn’t anything particularly unusual, as there are a number of VSO languages out there. However, in English, the standard form is SVO (subject-verb-object), and this is the form used in French, German, Spanish, Greek, and other European languages except the Celtic ones.

There are different rules for labial consonants. This is pretty universal, again, because it’s easier to pronounce labial consonants if you have slightly different rules for them. However, saying “imprecise” rather than “inprecise” is so natural for English- (and French-, and Spanish-) speakers that we don’t think about it. Have you ever noticed that people say “Camberra” rather than “Canberra”? It’s just because it’s easier to say. However, in Gaelic and Hebrew, these changes for labial consonants (known as “Big Fat Monkey Paws” in Gaelic and “BuMP rules” in Hebrew) are taught as grammar.

Lenition of consonants. This is perhaps stretching for a similarity, but what lenition basically is is the change of a B sound to a V sound, or K to a glottal CH. In the Celtic languages, this mostly occurs at the beginning of words, following things like prepositions and possessives. In Hebrew, lenition can occur anywhere in the word, and is indicated by the use of the daghesh lene in the middle of the letter. For example,  בּ[B] rather than ב [V]. However, according to my teacher, the answer to “What does a daghesh lene do?” of “It shows whether a consonant is lenited” is not right, because “leniting” and “lenition” are not concepts used in English. I was just excited to realise that the word I learn for Gaelic looks exactly like the word “lene” used in Hebrew!

Pluralisation results in vowel changes earlier in the word. This isn’t unusual; changes to the end of the word very often result in changes earlier. For example, in English, compare the pronunciation “nation” to “national”. However, Hebrew and Gaelic take this a step further. In Gaelic, caraid (“friend”) becomes cairdean (“friends”). In Hebrew, נַעַר (na’ar, or “boy”) becomes נְעָרִים (n’āriym, or “boys”).

There are several sorts of guttural consonant sounds. Okay, this one I put in just to be perverse. I’m sick of people not pronouncing the guttural sounds. People in Greek (including the teacher) saying K rather than X. It’s not that hard a sound to make! Anyway, both Hebrew and Gaelic recognise several guttural sounds. In Hebrew, these include ה (kh, also known as the middle letter of my name) and כ (k, which, without the daghesh lene, is aspirated and rendered as kh), and ע (glottal stop). In Gaelic, these include such monster combinations as chd, dh, gh, and ch.

There is an unchanging “infinitive particle” with different positives and negatives. In Gaelic, this occurs with all verbs. However, for comparison:

infinitives

Hebrew, transliteration, Gaelic, and English. “Is” in Gaelic is pronouned “ish”, and the ‘ in “‘ayin” is a glottal stop.

 

Prepositional pronouns. I’m using the Gaelic terminology here, because in Hebrew, they’re called “inseparable prepositions with a pronominal suffix”. Personally, I think the Gaelic term is simpler. Although the official process and terminology is different, the end result is the same: what basically amounts to a conjugated preposition. Here is another comparative chart:

prepositional-pronouns

Hebrew, transliteration, Gaelic, and English. I originally had “aig”, because its meaning is slightly closer to the Hebrew “le”, but there is some overlap of usage between the two “le”s, so I thought I’d use that one for fun.

 

You can ignore the “yez”. That’s a bit of a joke. My Greek textbook actually tells me that, since modern English doesn’t distinguish between you-singular and you-plural, and translating the singular as “thee” is a little awkward, we can translate you-plural as “y’all”. What can you expect from a textbook out of Dallas Seminary? However, not only do I not want to say “y’all” because it’s an Americanism, but it feels awkward both in my mouth and on paper, I translate as “youse” or “yez”. Now, that’s something that I normally shudder about, because it’s considered something of an uneducated thing to say in Australia, but it feels a lot more normal in my mouth that “y’all”, and my (American) lecturer finds it amusing.

An Introduction to Koine Greek

You probably know it better as “New Testament Greek”.

With the first full week of classes at Bible College attended, I’ve been learning a lot. Most of it about the syllabus and when exams are and assignments are due, admittedly, but I’ve learnt a lot of other things, too.

For example, on Wednesday morning, I had my first Greek lesson!

Early Greek

The oldest form of Greek we know about comes from the “Linear B” writing found in southern Greece and Crete. Having looked through the Wikipedia page, I have to admit it looks nothing like Greek to me; then again, I haven’t learnt the language yet, just the alphabet, so perhaps what the writing actually says is quite Greek; I wouldn’t know.

Linear B fragment

Linear B fragment

The Linear B script was used to write Mycenaean Greek, which existed from the 16th to 12th centuries BC.

Classical Greek

“Classical Greek” is the name given to the sort of Greek which was used by people like Homer and Plato, who lived from the 8th to 4th centuries BC. According to my Greek textbook, Classical Greek was “a marvelous form of the language, capable of exact expression and subtle nuances” (Mounce, William D., 2009).

Classical Greek writing looks much more like the alphabet I am now familiar with. Unlike Linear B, which was syllabic (each “letter” represented a syllable, not a single sound), Classical Greek used an alphabet derived from Phoenician. Most of the world’s alphabets – those from in Europe, northern Africa, and the near east – are derived from Phoenician. Although there are quite noticeable differences between the European alphabets (Greek, Latin, Cyrillic) and the Afro-Asiatic ones (Hebrew and Arabic), there are also a number of similarities.

Classical Greek had a lot of dialects, but the three main ones are known as Doric, Aeolic, and Ionic. Attic Greek, which was spoken by Alexander the Great, was spoken in Athens, and when Alexander conquered most of what was considered the world at that time, Attic Greek was the language he spread.

Koine Greek

Another word for Koine Greek given to it by scholars is “Hellenistic Greek”, because it was the common trade language of the Mediterranean and Middle-East during the “Hellenistic Period”, which lasted for three hundred years from about 330-30BC, as well as the “Roman Period”, which lasted on for almost five hundred years after that. It’s also called “Alexandrian Greek”, because most evidence of it is centred around the city of Alexandria in Egypt.

The name “Koine” itself (κοινή) just means “common”, as in “Common Greek” (not the Classical “educated” form). Although it was most famously used in the New Testament, Koine Greek was also used by some scholars (such as Plutarch and Polybius), but also for other things like Alexandrian shopping lists, travel phrasebooks, and some scholarly grumblings about how the lower classes didn’t speak Greek properly (Phrynichus Arabius, 2nd century AD).

The Septuagint

Part of the Septuagint

Part of the Septuagint

The Septuagint is perhaps the first written source of Koine Greek, and was written in the 3rd century BC. Despite its fancy name, what the Septuagint really is is the Old Testament (plus the Apocrypha and some other bits).

After Alexander the Great’s death, a lot of Jews were moved from Jerusalem to Alexandria, and after some generations, began to speak Greek, rather than Hebrew, as their first language. According to the popular story, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek was sponsored by Ptolemy II (in much the same way King James sponsored the translation of the Bible into English).

The Septuagint is quote in the New Testament perhaps more than the original Hebrew version; perhaps because Koine Greek was the language people were speaking and writing in so as to be understood. Paul, in particular, quoted almost entirely from the Septuagint.

My Greek lecturer tells us, as part of his argument that Hebrew is unnecessary and we should devote all of our energies to his class (I’m pretty sure he’s joking), that Jesus used the Septuagint. I’m not entirely convinced, particularly because as He was dying He quoted the Psalms in Aramaic!

The New Testament

Part of the New Testament on Papyrus, dating to around 200AD.

Part of the New Testament on Papyrus, dating to around 200AD.

The original language of the New Testament was Koine Greek.

In Galatians, Paul says: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son” (4:4).

It is no coincidence that Jesus came right as, for the first time since Babel and the last time until the present, there was a near-universally understood language. Alexander conquered as far east as India, and by the time Jesus was born, Roman rule saw the expansion of Greek as a common language (the Romans were obsessed with Greece)

No matter where Jesus, the Apostles, or Paul travelled in their ministry, they were able to speak Koine Greek and be understood by everyone.