Glossary of terms
aspiration A traditional term for lenition.
base The citation form of an uncompounded word in Irish. It may consist of a monosyllabic root, as in dán ‘poem’, or of a root plus an extension as in marcach /mark + əx/ ‘rider’.
Breton A P-Celtic language still spoken in Brittany in France. The standard view is that Breton derives from Cornish which was transported across the English Channel when speakers in the south-west of England were under pressure from encroaching Anglo-Saxons in the Old English period (from about the 6th century onwards). Some scholars believe, however, that a Celtic language survived here after Gaul was Romanised.
Ceantar na nOileán (English ‘district of the islands’) A collective term for a number of larger islands in the Connemara Gaeltacht between Cois Fhairrge and Iorras Aithneach. The islands are strongly Irish-speaking.
Ceathrú Thaidhg An area in the extreme north-west of Co. Mayo where Irish is still used by a small number of speakers.
Cléire, Oileán Chléire An island off the south-west coast of Cork where native Irish survived well into the 20th century. Although officially designated a Gaeltacht it is doubtful whether native speakers still live there. In English the island is known as ‘Cape Clear’ or ‘Clear Island’.
Cois Fharraige An area immediately west of Galway city where Irish is still spoken. It has been investigated in detail by Tomás de Bhaldraithe (see de Bhaldraithe 1945, 1953).
Common Gaelic A term used to refer to Q-Celtic before the split of the language into Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.
Corr na Móna A village in north Co. Galway in the Dúiche Sheoigheach ‘Joyce Country’ where Irish is still spoken by a section of the population.
Corca Dhuibhne The Irish term for the Dingle peninsula. As a native language Irish is spoken in the villages and townlands west of An Daingean (English: Dingle). The name has been anglicised as ‘Corkaguiny’.
dependent A term referring to consonants which only occur in word-initial position of a word as the result of applying an initial mutation. For instance, /ɣ/ only occurs word-initially in Irish as the result of leniting /g/ or /d/. It is not found in the citation form of words, i.e. it is not contained in the lexicon of Irish but is confined to the output of a morphological operation.
Donegal, South-West Co. A large peninsula, west of the town of Killybegs, where Irish is still spoken in the townlands and a number of villages such as Cill Charthaigh, An Charraig, Teileann and Gleann Cholm Cille.
eclipsis An alternative term for nasalisation.
epenthesis A low-level phonetic process in Irish which breaks up a heavy syllable coda – one consisting of two sonorants – by introducing a schwa vowel which triggers resyllabification, e.g. arm /arm/ < [ar.əm] ‘arm’. The scope of epenthesis varies across the dialects and is found most widely in southern Irish where it occurs in clusters of a sonorant and an obstruent (stop or fricative).
Gaoth Dobhair (English ‘Gweedore’) A townland on the north-west coast of Co. Donegal which constitutes the largest Irish-speaking region in that county. It is adjoined on the immediate south by Na Rosa and on the north by Cloich Cheannfhaola, and somewhat further north again by Ros Guill, where Irish is still spoken by a small section of the population.
gemination A reference to phonological length with consonants. This was lost after the Old Irish period, but the reflexes of former geminates are still present in the language, e.g. in the lengthening of stressed vowels in monosyllables closed by former geminates, e.g. tonn /tu:n/ ‘wave’, gearr /gʲɑ:r/ ‘soon’.
independent A term referring to consonants which are not confined to the output of an initial mutation and hence can occur in the lexicon of the language, e.g. /s, p, k/. There may be some overlap among segments, e.g. /b/ is both an independent phoneme and the output of nasalising /p/.
Iorras Aithneach A large peninsula in the most westerly part of the Connemara Gaeltacht. It is a strong Irish-speaking area with the main village of Carna. The name may well mean ‘ridge of gorse’.
Irish (Irish Gaeilge) A Q-Celtic language, first attested in interlinear glosses from the 7th century and still spoken today in three separate areas in the south, middle and north of the western seaboard of Ireland. Four broad periods are recognised in the language’s history, Old Irish (600-900), Middle Irish (900-1200), Early Modern Irish (1200-1600) and Modern Irish (1600 to the present).
italics, capital See consonant pair notation.
lenition (Irish seimhiú ‘softening’) In present-day Irish this is a morphological operation in which the first consonant of a word is lenited – usually fricativised – to indicate a certain grammatical category, e.g. glac /glak/ ‘take’, ghlac mé /ɣlak mje:/ ‘I took’. Historically, lenition refers to the voicing of voiceless consonants, the fricativisation of voiced consonants and the absorption of the latter into the nuclei of the vowels which precede them. For example, gadhar /gair/ ‘beagle’ has dh internally which points to a very early fricativisation of d to /ð/, then a shift to /ɣ/ and finally a coalescence with /a/ resulting in the present-day diphthong /ai/.
Manx A branch of Q-Celtic on the Isle of Man attested from the early 17th century in a translation of the Book of Common Prayer by John Phillips (c 1610). The language died out in the early 20th century but there have been attempts to revive it, as has been tried for Cornish.
metathesis An attested process in all dialects of Irish where the linear order of segments within a syllable (occasionally across syllables) is altered. The most common form involves /r/ and a short vowel, but there is also metathesis among sonorants and in many cases metathesised and non-metathesised forms co-exist in the language, e.g. galar, galra, garla ‘disease’.
Múscraí An area in south-west Co. Cork, to the west of Macroom, where Irish is still spoken to some extent. English: ‘Muskerry’.
mutations, initial (Irish athrú tosaithe ‘initial changes’, also claochlú tosaigh) A set of phonological processes which play a decisive role in the morphology of Irish. There are two main mutations, Lenition and Nasalisation. It is important to also recognise Zero mutation, the lack of either lenition or nasalisation as this is grammatically significant in Irish, i.e. it signals feminine gender with possessive pronouns of the third person.
Na Déise An Irish term for parts of west Co. Waterford where Irish remained strong until the early 20th century.
nasalisation (Irish urú ‘eclipse, darkening’) A morphological operation in Irish in which the first consonant of a word is changed. It is a process which involves the changing of one feature, i.e. voiceless stops become voiced and voiced ones become nasal. For example, peaca /p- / ‘sin’, bhur bpeacaí /b- / ‘your sins’; brá /b- / ‘captive’, a mbrá /m- / ‘their captives’.
Northern Irish The Irish language as spoken today in pockets along the coast of Co. Donegal (particularly the region called Gaoth Dobhair) and on Tory Island off the north-west coast of the county.
Oileán Acla (English ‘Achill Island’) A large island off the coast of north-west Co. Mayo. It is the inside part of the island and the mainland facing it which was, and to some extent still is, Irish-speaking.
Oileáin Árann A collective term for three islands in Galway Bay. The largest of these is known in English as ‘Inishmore’ but in Irish as Árainn. It is largely Irish-speaking though the main town, Kilronan, has always had an English-speaking population. The remaining, smaller islands, Inis Meáin ‘the middle island’ and Inis Oírr ‘the eastern island’ are both entirely Irish-speaking. The islands are called ‘The Aran Islands’ in English.
palatality An inherent and unalterable property of segments in a lexical word. For instance, in seomra /sjo:mrə/ ‘room’ the initial consonant cannot change to a non-palatal sound – there is no /so:mrə/ – because the palatality of the first segment is part of the lexical structure of the word.
palatalisation (Irish caolú ‘slendering’) A morphological process which is used to indicate grammatical categories in Irish, i.e. a consonant may change its value for palatality, i.e. become phonetically palatal on the operation of some process such as pluralisation or marking of a word as genitive rather than nominative case, e.g. arán /ərɑ:nˠ/ ‘bread’-NOM and aráin /ərɑ:nj/ ‘bread’-GEN.
P-Celtic One of the two major branches of Celtic, consisting of Welsh and Breton and perhaps revived Cornish. it is distinguished by the survival of Indo-European /kw/ as /p/, e.g. Welsh pen ‘head’, cf. Irish ceann.
polarisation A feature of Irish phonology whereby consonants are either palatal or non-palatal, the latter being phonetically velarised. Polarisation is acoustically most obvious in the onset of stressed syllables, e.g. trí [tjrji:], lá [lˠɑ:] ‘day’ or intervocalically after a stressed syllable, e.g. codladh [kʌlˠə] ‘sleep’, bainne [bænjə] ‘milk’. With nasals and laterals there are also cases of non-polarised articulations which acoustically resemble the pronunciation of /n/ and /l/ in syllable-initial position in English, i.e. without a noticeable palatal or velar quality. Historically these derive from non-geminate sonorants in intervocalic position, e.g. baile [ba:lə], *[ba:ljə] ‘town’.
Q-Celtic One of the two major branches of Celtic, consisting of Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. It is distinguished by the survival of Indo-European /kw/ as /k/, e.g. Irish ceathair ‘four’, Welsh pedwar.
Ráth Chairn (English ‘Rathcairn’) A village and townland in Co. Meath (south-west of the town of Navan), about one hour north-west of Dublin. Speakers from the Connemara Gaeltacht were settled there by the Irish government in the late 1920s and early 1930s on requisitioned land. The attempt at creating a new self-sufficient Gaeltacht cannot be regarded as successful although there are good speakers of Irish in the area.
Rinn, An (English ‘Ring’) A peninsula south of the town of Dungarvan in Co. Waterford which is still partly Irish-speaking and a designated Gaeltacht.
root A minimal form of a word which is its citation form in the lexicon, e.g. nasc ‘tie, link’. In Irish roots tends to consist of a single syllable but there may be a root extension added. Some of these are productive and semantically identifiable e.g. -án: maol ‘bald, bare’, maolán ‘bald person, hornless cow’. Because of phonetic reduction in the history of Irish many disyllabic words are actually former compounds, e.g. deirfiúr ‘sister’ < deirbh-shiúr < ‘genuine, own’ + ‘sister’, or they may be borrowings which are no longer recognised as such, e.g. fuinneog /fɪnjo:g/ from Old Norse vindauga ‘window’.
Ros Muc A townland on a peninsula just before Iorras Aithneach in west Connemara. It consists of rather scattered settlements but is a strong Irish-speaking area.
schwa A neutral central short vowel, transcribed as [ə]. This can be heard in the first syllable of English about [əˡbaut] and in the last syllable of Irish balla [balˠə]. The schwa vowel is always unstressed.
Scottish Gaelic A form of Q-Celtic which was introduced to Scotland from Ireland from about 500 AD onwards. By the end of the Middle Irish period (900-1200) Scottish Gaelic, as attested in entries in the 12th century Book of Deer (associated with the abbey of Deer in Buchan), is taken to have diverged significantly from Irish, something confirmed later by the early 16th century Book of the Dean of Lismore.
sonorants A set of segments in Irish characterised by high phonetic resonance. Nasals and liquids (l and r sounds) exist in the language and play a significant role in the sound system.
Southern Irish A reference to forms of Irish spoken in the southern part of the western seaboard of Ireland, i.e. on the tip of the Dingle peninsula in Co. Kerry. Irish was spoken in other parts of the south as a daily language into the 20th century, e.g. in parts of Co. Cork and on Ring peninsula in Co. Waterford but has all but disappeared there.
svarabhakti See epenthesis.
syncope (Irish coimriú ‘contraction’) A process in Irish whereby an unstressed vowel in immediately post-tonic position is lost on suffixation. The phonological basis for syncope is the re-syllabification on suffixation which shifts the final coda of the non-syncopated form into the onset of the suffixed form through deletion of the unstressed vowel, i.e. (C)ˡVC1.ˈVC2 > (C)ˡVC1.C2V(C) with ˈV > Ø, e.g. ˈcos.ain ‘defend’ > ˈcos.naím ‘I defend’.
Tír Chonaill The preferred term in Irish for Co. Donegal, especially the Irish-speaking regions of this county. The name means ‘country of Connell’.
Tuar Mhic Éadaigh (English ‘Tourmakeady’) A village in south Co. Mayo on the western shores of Lough Mask where Irish survived into the 20th century but where is has all but disappeared now.
Uíbh Rathach (English ‘Iveragh’) The middle and largest of the three peninsulas forming the west coast of Co. Kerry. Irish has all but disappared from this region, but there are still some speakers in the townland of Baile an Sceilge ‘Ballinskelligs’.
velarisation (Irish leathnú ‘broadening’) A process in Irish morphology where a palatal consonant becomes non-palatal, i.e. velarised. This is a common phenomenon in the nominal area – a mirror image of palatalisation so to speak – and is found with nouns in the genitive singular in the 5th declension, for example: an abhainn ‘the river’ : dath na habhann ‘the colour of the river’.
Welsh A P-Celtic language still spoken by considerable numbers in present-day Wales. The phonology of Welsh is different from Irish in that it does not have a palatal ~ non-palatal distinction and in general is more symmetrical in the distribution of consonants. The grammar does have a similar system of initial mutation, but there is one more subdivision as lenition is split into voicing and fricativisation. Nasalisation does not involve the voicing of voiceless segments as it does in Irish.
Western Irish A reference to forms of Irish spoken in the middle of the western seaboard of Ireland. The only places in which Irish is a daily language are located west of Galway city, particulary in Cois Fhairrge and the areas around An Cheathrú Rua (Carraroe), Ros Muc, Cill Chiaráin, Carna and on the two smaller Aran Islands (in Galway Bay), Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr. Irish used be spoken in parts of southern Co. Mayo around Túr Mhic Éide (Tourmakeady) and there are vestiges of the language in northern Co. Galway in and around Corr na Móna.
zero mutation One of three types of mutation which it is necessary to postulate for the grammatical description of Irish. It is defined by the absence of either lenition and nasalisation and by the prefixing of /h/ to words which begin with a vowel, e.g. a h-ainm ‘her name’, a gruaig ‘her hair’. Historically, zero mutation arose from a geminate mutation in Old Irish (Pedersen 1909: 87-92) which became vacuous on the loss of phonological consonantal length in Middle Irish.