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IRISH LANGUAGE Q&A

Q&A Le Siobhán Agus Emma – Thursday September 16Th 2021

Watch back September’s Live Q&A with Siobhán and Emma above!

  • The word “mná” in Irish seems to be pronounced sometimes as though the N is an R. Do you have other examples of this N to R sound change and do you know the origin of it in “Mná”?
    • It actually isn’t unique to the word mná and can be found in a number of other common words, including gnáth. Outside of the Munster dialect, cn, mn, gn at the beginning of a word, such as mná, gnó, cnámh, are pronounced as if the n were an r. In the Munster dialect, the n is pronounced but there is what is called an auxiliary vowel between the m and the n in the word mná, for example, so it sounds almost as if there’s a u or an o between the m and the n. The invisible vowel, as I like to call it, isn’t present when the n is pronounced as an r.

  • How do I count to ten in Gaelic?
    • 1 – a haon /ah hayn/
    • 2 – a dó /ah doh/
    • 3 – a trí /ah tree/
    • 4 – a ceathair /ah kah-her/
    • 5 – a cúig /ah ku-wig/
    • 6 – a sé /ah shay/
    • 7 – a seacht /ah shokht/
    • 8 – a hocht /ah hukht/
    • 9 – a naoi /ah nee/
    • 10 – a deich /ah jeh/
      • You can practice with our video called How to count from 1 to 10 in Irish Gaelic. You not only learn how to recite the numbers but also how to count things, as those numbers are slightly different from what I’ve just recited there. 

  • I’m trying to hear the slender/broad consonants. I know the broad and slender vowels no problem but I can’t seem to really hear the difference with consonants.  
    • Some slender consonants are definitely easier to distinguish than others, for example a slender s sounds like sh, as in mise. A slender d and t can sound very different from their broad counterparts, depending on dialect.
      • A slender d tends to sound something like halfway between a d and j sound, such as in the word deas or dinnéar – the difference is most accentuated in the Ulster dialect and much subtler in the Munster dialect and Connacht tends to be in the middle.
      • The slender t is very similar, it sounds something between a t and the English ch, as in chair. Examples are teach and duit. Connacht and Ulster tend to be inclined more towards the ch sound and the t sound seems more evident in the Munster dialect.
      • When it comes to the other slender consonants – which are basically just any consonant preceded or followed by a slender vowel, those are i and e – you tend to hear a “ye” sound following the vowel, such as in leaba or geata. If the i comes before the consonant, it tends to sound like the consonant is being stressed, as in asail, compared to when the l is broad and it is asal. 4
      • An exception would be the slender r which sounds quite unique. The creation of this sound has been described as being “produced by spreading the tongue and forming a small hollow in the front portion of it. The point of the tongue is brought close to the gum just above the upper teeth (i.e., below the “hard rim” ). The stream of voiced breath is directed into the hollow in the front of the tongue, and can be felt striking the lower lip”  That quote is from Aids in the Pronunciation of Irish.
      • Teanglann.ie is a great site to hear how words containing slender consonants are pronounced. 

  • Is there a method for learning the verb bí, ‘to be’, (for the three major tenses at least) in any sort of rhyme, song or pneumonic?
    • You may find it helpful to learn phrases or sentences containing the verb in different tenses, preferably in a little conversation that is easier to remember than detached phrases. So imagine the following as a conversation between two people. Let’s say it’s between Áine and Brian. Let’s begin with the present tense:
      • Áine: Tá cat agam – I have a cat
      • Áine: An bhfuil cat agat? – Do you have a cat? 
      • Brian: Níl cat agam – I don’t have a cat 
      • Áine: Deirtear go bhfuil cat agat. – It’s said that you have a cat 
    • And now for the past tense:
      • Brian: Bhí madra agam. – I had a dog
      • Brian: An raibh madra agat? – Did you have a dog? 
      • Áine: Ní raibh madra agam – I didn’t have a dog 
      • Brian: Deirtear go raibh madra agat. – It’s said that you had a dog. 
    • If you go on Teanglann.ie and look at the grammar tab, you’ll see the different versions of each tense of the verb Bí.

  • In regards to the word that, how do you know when to use é sin, sé sin or just sin? 
    • Use in a sentence when the pronoun is the subject (who or what performs the action).
      • Rinne sé seo dochar = This did harm. (This did the action)
    • Use é when the pronoun is the object (a pronoun that is affected by the action). 
      • Rinne Seán é seo = Seán did this. (This had the action done to it) 
    • Seo is used following a noun 
      • An cóta seo = this coat.
    • The same applies for sin. Just replace seo with sin in the above sentences.

  • Remembering which is which and correct pronunciations: ceathair/cathair/cathaoir
    • The vowels will help you there. The ‘e’ in ceathair, the ‘a’ in cathair and notice how instead of an -air ending like in the first 2, cathaoir ends in -aoir which might help you differentiate. Put them in sentences and practice saying them out loud. Make some example sentences that show the meaning of the word easily and practice, practice, practice. 

  • In English the same word (i.e. “mean”)  is used to ask “what do you mean?” and “what does this word or sentence mean?” Does Irish use two different words as is done in French and German? 
    • Irish is more akin to French and German. To ask what a word means, one would ask “Cad a chiallaíonn an focal seo?” You could also use “Cad is brí leis an bhfocal” or “Cad is ciall leis an bhfocal” to ask what a word means. You would never use any of those structures to ask ‘What do you mean?’. For that, one would say, “Cad atá i gceist agat?” which translates more literally to “What do you have in question?”

  • Irish and English often differ in which prepositions are used (e.g. one listens “with” rather than “to” the radio). What is the correct preposition to use for “too hot FOR me” and “too spicy FOR us”?
    • The prepositions do (to/for) and ag (at/have) from my experience are used interchangeably with do being the most common. 
      • Tá sé róthe dom inniu – It is too hot for me today.
      • Tá an bia seo róspíosrach dúinn – The food is too spicy for us.
      • or less commonly:
        • Tá sé róthe agam inniu – It is too hot for me today. 
        • Tá an bia seo róspíosrach againn – The food is too spicy for us.

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2 thoughts on “Q&A Le Siobhán Agus Emma – Thursday September 16Th 2021”

  1. Hi Steve,
    I’m afraid that I don’t have an in-depth answer to your question other than what I can find in newspaper articles online.

    These articles tell us that as of October 2020, only 1 in 500 civil servants were fluent in Irish. You can read about that here (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/one-in-five-recruits-to-civil-service-to-be-proficient-in-irish-1.4374680).

    However, in July of this year, it was announced that some 20 per cent of new recruits to the public service will have to be proficient in Irish by 2030 under changes to the Official Languages Bill. You can read more about that here: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/one-fifth-of-public-service-recruits-must-be-proficient-in-irish-by-2030-in-changes-to-bill-1.4615005

    Le gach dea-ghuí,
    Siobhán

  2. Hi Siobhán ,
    Realistically, how common is it for Irish to be spoken as a working language in the public service. Would being fluent in Irish be any advantage when applying for administrative / clerical positions in the civil service.

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