Dear Bitesize: lenition, eclipsis and the word for Wales

Dear Bitesize: lenition, eclipsis and the word for Wales

In today’s Dear Bitesize post, I’m answering two questions that came in recently to Bitesize Irish Gaelic. First off, Finola had a grammar question on the use of lenition and eclipsis in Irish Gaelic. Then, we had another Irish language learner who asked the Irish for all things Welsh.

Here we go:

Is lenition used in both the singular and plural genitive form of masculine nouns? For example, how would you say ‘the horse’s stable’ and ‘the horses’ stable’. And is lenition used for genitive feminine plural nouns but not for genitive singular feminine nouns?

Before I answer Finola’s answer, however, let’s answer a more basic question; ‘What on earth are lenition and eclipsis?’ Both lenition and eclipsis are what are called initial mutations, meaning that they change the beginning of a word.

In the case of lenition, there’s a h added just after the first letter in a word, for example, cat becomes chat.

Eclipsis, on the other hand, adds a particular consonant before the first letter of a word, for example, cat becomes gcat. If you’ve seen any written Irish before, I’m sure that you’ve come across both of these mutations. You can learn more about lenition and eclipsis here.

Now back to Finola’s question. Lenition is only used in the singular genitive form of a masculine word when the definite article (an) is present. That’s why the horse’s stable becomes stábla an chapaill. Two changes have occurred to an capall, the nominative form of “the horse”. The genitive singular of capall is capaill and the addition of lenition makes it “chapaill“.

Two changes also occur when a masculine word is in the plural genitive form. The genitive plural of capall is just that; capall. This time, however, eclipsis will be added, making capall become gcapall. Therefore, the horses’ stable is stábla na gcapall, na being the plural form of the definite article an.

Now, for feminine nouns let’s take the examples of the woman’s hat and the women’s hats. An bhean is the Irish for the woman. As you can see, lenition is present even in the nominitive form of this word as a result of the noun being feminine. As you’re going to see, bean changes a lot in its genitive forms. The woman’s hat in Irish Gaelic is hata na mná. I know, you’re thinking, ‘Wait, na is plural!’ The thing is, not only is na the plural of an but it’s also the genitive form of an when it comes before a feminine word. Also, no lenition or eclipsis in “mná.” In the plural genitive, however, we do have eclipsis. Hata na mban is the Irish for the women’s hat. Ban, the genitive plural of bean, has an m added to it meaning that it’s eclipsed.

To recap: Lenition and Eclipsis

Lenition is only used in the genitive singular form of a masculine word when the definite article (an) is present. Eclipsis occurs in the genitive plural of both masculine and feminine words. There is no lenition in the genitive singular form of a feminine word.

Learning the examples given above can help you remember when the eclipsis and lenition in the case of words in the genitive beginning with a consonant. Why not find out more about the genitive case here. 

Now, onto our second question.

What are the Irish Gaelic words for Wales and Welsh?

The Irish for Wales is An Bhreatain Bheag. It literally means The Little Britain. There are two words in Irish for Welsh, depending on its meaning. When referring to the Welsh language, you call it An Bhreatnais. When describing something as Welsh, you say that it’s Breatnach. Breatnach is also the Irish for a Welshman or Welshwoman!

Now listen to the pronunciations of those words:

 

This brings to mind how beautiful the Welsh countryside is. So similar and yet so dissimilar from some of the landscapes found in Ireland. You really should be the judge of that yourself, though!

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading!

If you’ve ever got any grammar questions, don’t hesitate to email info@bitesize.irish.

Le gach dea-ghuí (Best wishes)

Siobhán

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6 thoughts on “Dear Bitesize: lenition, eclipsis and the word for Wales”

  1. Melissa C Orruego

    I am glad to hear that. It’s very interesting. My ancestors who came from Ireland sometime before 1850 had the last name of Welch. They don’t remember ever being Welsh though, but I guess it could be.

    1. Paul Mc Conville

      hi

      lots of people from northern Ireland also have the ‘Welch’ spelt surname, but actually nothing to do with having a ‘Welsh’ based ancestry connection

  2. Paul Mc Conville

    hi

    lots of people from northern Ireland also have the ‘Welch’ spelt surname, but actually nothing to do with having a ‘Welsh’ based ancestry connection

  3. Melissa Orruego

    That is interesting Paul. I’m not even sure what part of Ireland they were from. The records only say Ireland. I would like to do more research on the name, can you point me in the right direction. Everything I have read so far seems to indicate it is a variation of Welsh. I would love to learn more.

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