Weirdness of the Irish Language


By Patrick   Follow   Sun, 9 Jan 2011, 10:36pm   527 views   5 comments
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I've been studying Irish in the evenings for about a year now and really enjoy it. It's very peculiar in a lot of ways:

  • There is no "yes" or "no". You repeat the verb for yes, or say "not" plus the verb, to mean no.
  • There is no verb "to have". You can say things are "at you" and it's understood they are yours.
  • Prepositions are usually merged with pronouns into a single word. Eg "do" = "to" and "me" = "me" but "to me" = "dom".
  • The Irish alphabet lacks many letters since it was first written down far earlier than English, when the monks writing it had only the original Latin alphabet to work with. So there is no J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y, or Z. Though I suppose they could have used Q and V since those exist in Latin.
  • In addition to having fewer letters, Irish has more sounds than English. Almost every consonant has two forms, pronounced at the front vs at the back of the mouth. Many of these pairs sound the same to English speakers but sound very different to Irish speakers and convey grammatical meaning in Irish.
  • Because of the poverty of letters and richness of sounds, Irish spelling is longer and more complex than in English, but it is also more consistent than English spelling.
  • The first letter of a noun frequently changes to show grammar. This is common to all the Celtic languages. The word "a" means his, her, or their depending on the beginning of the following word: "a chapall" = "his horse", "a capall" = "her horse", and "a gcapall" = "their horse".
  • Irish uses the Celtic roots for most words, not the Latin or Greek roots you might find in English, nor the Germanic roots which are also very common in English. So you don't get much help from knowing English or other languages.
  • The mode of expression is very florid and indirect, so even if you know all the words and the grammar, it's still hard to predict how a native speaker would say something.
  • You say "up south" and "down north" in Irish
  • Hello is "Dia dhuit" which translates as "God be with you", which is the origin of "Goodbye" in English. So in Irish you say goodbye to mean hello.

Here's the nightly news in Irish:

http://beo.tg4.ie/main.aspx?level=nuacht

If anyone wants to get together at a cafe in or near Menlo Park to talk about or in Irish, please write p@patrick.net

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  1. ¥


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    1   11:59pm Sun 9 Jan 2011   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike (1)  

    Same thing in Mandarin about no "yes/no".

    Many more sounds in Mandarin, too.

    I found Japanese to be loads easier than Mandarin, since Japanese is basically a very regular language with the same vowel/consonant patterns of Spanish, and with a great amount of borrowing from English, so there's around a 50% chance that if you don't know the native word you can try the bastardized "katakana" version (eg. 'version' in Japanese also exists as "バージョン", "ba-jyon").

  2. PasadenaNative


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    2   9:01am Mon 10 Jan 2011   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    I studied Gaelic a bit back in the 80s, it is a very odd language!

  3. marcus


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    3   7:34pm Fri 1 Feb 2013   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike  

    Patrick says

    Hello is "Dia dhuit" which translates as "God be with you", which is the origin of "Goodbye" in English. So in Irish you say goodbye to mean hello.

    John and Paul had a conversation about this, which led to the writing of a well known song back in 1967.

  4. marcus


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    4   7:38pm Fri 1 Feb 2013   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    THis didn't work for me
    http://beo.tg4.ie/main.aspx?level=nuacht

    Google suggested http://tg4.ie/

    which did work.

  5. Patrick


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    5   5:06pm Sat 2 Feb 2013   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    You're right. They changed the URL. This now goes directly to the news and soap operas etc in Irish:

    http://www.tg4.ie/ie/tg4-player/tg4-player.html

    More Irish language weirdness:

    * There is a separate set of numbers for counting people.
    * There is no word for the indefinite article ("a" or "an" in English) but the word spelled "an" in Irish is their definite article ("the" in English)
    * There is no word for "foot" exactly. There is just "cos" which means lower leg and foot.
    * They don't cut up the color spectrum the same way we do. "Gorm" means blue or just dark. "Glas" means green or grey. But there are also words that just mean "dark" or "grey".
    * Lots of American slang is actually from Irish. Once you know how to pronounce their spelling a lot of it becomes obvious.

    7th heaven -> 7th being best for anything in Irish
    bhuail -> whale on (hit), wallop
    bladair -> blather
    bod, bodach -> bud, buddy
    bog (soft) -> bog (marshy area)
    bogadh -> boogie
    buachill -> boy
    cailin -> gal
    cion -> keen
    ciuta -> cute (as in a cute saying)
    cros -> cross
    cuid -> kid, kiddo
    deifir -> jiffy
    fainne -> phony
    fomhar -> fall (season)
    go leor -> galore
    leongsior -> longshoreman (nothing to do with being "along shore"!)
    sibin -> shebang
    sior -> sheer
    slan -> so long
    slua -> slew
    smidirin -> smithereen
    snas -> snazzy
    spraoi -> spree
    teas -> jazz
    uisce -> whiskey

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