From ‘Multilingual Madness’ to the ‘Siege Perilous’ via a Discussion of ‘Ord na bhFocal’ in Irish

Posted on 14. Apr, 2014 by in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

Lately we’ve looked at the possibilities for saying “multilingual” and “madness” in Irish (ilteangach, buile, among other choices).  The next question is how do we put the two words together.   We’ll follow the typical word order in Irish, first noun, then adjective.   This is the reverse of the normal word order in English (“big boy”), although English has a few exceptions, with the adjective second, like “Attorney General” and “knight-errant,” and for that matter, though well off the beaten track, “the Siege Perilous.”

First, let’s wrap up the phrase “multilingual madness.”  It seems that “buile ilteangach” is the best choice.  None of the other combinations I looked at offered the mellifluous “m-ishness” (is that a word?) of the alliterative “multilingual madness,” but c’est la vie, or as one might say in Irish, “Sin mar atá an saol.”

This year’s winner of the Transparent Language “Multilingual Madness” challenge was Italian (Iodáilis) although Irish put in a good showing (Go raibh maith agaibh!).  No “silíní searbha” here and kudos to “an buaiteoir.”  As a tribute, in an upcoming blog we’ll work on words pertaining to Italian and/or Roman culture.  An Colasaem?   Na Gardaí Eilvéiseacha?  And the foolproof “pasta.”  But is “pasta” in Irish masculine or feminine — there’s always that question with nouns imported from another language.  And I see from a couple of foclóirí Iodáilise that the Italian word “pasta” is grammatically feminine.  So does that have any bearing on its “inscne” in Irish?  Well, that’s the cliffhanger for now.  Imagine, “inscne ghramadúil” as a cliffhanger!

Getting back to the question of word order, let’s look at a few situations in Irish where the adjective doesn’t follow the noun.  And for good measure, we’ll also check out those phrases cited above as exceptions in English: Attorney General, knight-errant, and Siege Perilous.

As noted above, the usual pattern for noun phrases in Irish is “noun-adjective,” as in “bád mór,” “bean ard,” and “léamar bandearrach.”  But there are a few adjectives that either can only be used as a prefix, a few that are typically used as a prefix, and a few which just come before their noun without being a prefix as such.  Here are some examples:

1) Adjectives Used Only As Prefixes

dea-ghuí, a good wish (“dea-” is only used as a prefix)

drochaimsir, bad weather (“droch-” is only used as a prefix)

2) Adjectives That May Be Used As Prefixes

seanfhear, old man (“sean” may be used as a prefix although it can also be used is a separate phrase from the noun, as in “Tá sé sean.”)  “Sean” is somewhat unique in that it must be a prefix to be attributive.

Many adjectives, like “fuar” in the example below, can be used as prefixes to create compound words, even though they’re normally used in separate slots within the sentence (after the noun for attributive, outside the noun phrase for predicate)

fuaraigeantacht, coolness, imperturbability (“fuar” used here as a prefix although it  can also be used attributively in phrases like “seomra fuar” or as a predicate in”Tá sé fuar.”)

In fact, when you get into poetry and song, you’ll find many words created by taking adjectives and making prefixes of them, in combinations that wouldn’t typically be part of everyday speech, as in the following description of a young woman from the poem “Cúirt an Mheán Oíche“(written ca. 1780)

mhallruisc mhilisbhog bhéaltais mhéarlag, lit. “languid-eyed sweet-soft  mouth-moist finger-weak/delicate”

Very effective in poetry, but probably a little much for the average “sweet nothing.”

3) Adjectives That Can Only Precede Their Noun

aon (in the sense of “any,” not “one”), aon duine, any person (as opposed to “duine amháin,” which is “one person”)

gach bean, every woman (and its variants: ‘chuile bhean, gach uile bhean, gach aon bhean, ach’an bhean)

Possessive adjectives also precede their noun (mo leabhar, do mhadra, srl.) but that’s a fairly different grammatical concept.

Sin trí chatagóir, ar a laghad. 

By way of contrast, in English, the adjective usually precedes the noun (big boy, transcendental meditation).  A few exceptions were mentioned above: Attorney General, knight-errant, and Siege Perilous.  Here’s how they turn out in Irish:

a) Ard-Aighne, Attorney General.  The adjective “ard” is used as a prefix, indicating that this is a specific title.  If we just said “aighne ard,” it would most likely be translated as simply “a tall pleader” (not a particularly useful phrase!).  As part of the job title, “ard” conveys the sense of “high” or “of elevated status” (as in “ardrí“).  Related phrases include:

an tArd-Aighne, the Attorney General

Ard-Aighne na hÉireann, the Attorney General of Ireland

Ard-Aighne Cheanada, the Attorney General of Canada

An tArd-Aighne do Gheirsí

An tArd-Aighne do Ghearnsaí

Amadis ón Ghaill, Ridire Fáin

Amadis na Gaille, Ridire Fáin

b) The phrase “knight errant” in Irish doesn’t exactly use an adjective “errant.” Instead , it uses the noun for “wandering” to describe the knight:

ridire fáin, knight-errant, lit. knight of wandering

Interestingly, though, the word order is quite standard, unlike the archaic-seeming English “knight-errant.”  And this follows through for “knight-errantry”:

ridireacht fáin, knight-errantry, lit. knighthood of wandering

An Ridire Galahad sa Suíochán Priaclach (nó contúirteach nó baolach nó dainséarach nó guaiseach)

An Ridire Galahad sa Suíochán Priaclach (nó contúirteach nó baolach nó dainséarach nó guaiseach)

c) And finally, for “Siege Perilous,” with its romantic connotations of Arthurian legend plus its modern-day connections to Andromeda, Exalted, and Marvel Comics, I don’t see any exact equivalent in any Irish source.  I’d suggest “suíochán” (seat) followed by any of various words for “dangerous.”  These would most typically include “contúirteach,” “baolach,” “dainséarach,” and “guaiseach,” but I’m inclined toward “priaclach,” since it would have the same root as “perilous,” as in the French “Siège Périlloux,” the Spanish “Asiento Peligroso,” and even the Galego, “Asento Perigroso.”   But none of these combinations would have the archaic feel of “Siege Perilous.”  Arís, c’est la vie.  At any rate, we wouldn’t use “léigear” (beleaguerment), “forbhais” (act of beleaguering, however that parses differently from “beleaguerment”!), or “imshuí” (encompassment) since these all mean “siege” in the military sense.

So we’ve gone from exploring multilingualism and madness to Irish word order for nouns and adjectives in general in the last few blogs.  The takeaways?  The prefix “il-” with just a few examples of its usage (ilteangach, ilbhéarlach, ilghuthach, ilstórach). Teanga vs. (lower-case) béarlaBuile vs. mire, máine, báiní, et al.  And, finally, the possible implications when word order is changed (Ard-Aighne vs. aighne ard.  And hmm, what happens in English if we say “Perilous Seat” instead of “Siege Perilous.”  Somehow that makes me think more of Séamas de Bond than An Rí Artúr! SGF – Róislín

Naisc do na pictiuir: (fearann poiblí) (fearann poiblí)



How to Say ‘Multilingual Madness’ in Irish (Cuid 2/2)

Posted on 06. Apr, 2014 by in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

Though this be ... buile ... mire ... máine ... báiní ... gealtacht ... díth céille ... deargbhuile ... spadhar ... tallann mhearaí ...[OR] ... dúchas, yet there's method in't. (Hamlet, Gníomh II)

“Though this be … buile … mire … máine … báiní … gealtacht … díth céille … deargbhuile … spadhar … tallann mhearaí …[OR] … dúchas, yet there’s method in’t.” (Hamlet, Gníomh II)


In the last blog, we looked at the word “multilingual” in Irish and discussed “ilteangach” and “ilbhéarlach” as the choices.  Both use the prefix “il-” (“many;” also found in words like “ilghuthach” and “ilstórach“).

Teangach,” as the core of the word “ilteangach,” is, of course, from “teanga” (tongue), and “-bhéarlach” (lenited after the prefix), is based on the more general meaning of “béarla” (i litreacha cás íochtair) as “speech.”

Today, the word “béarla” is generally capitalized (leis an  ”b” scríofa le ceannlitir, mar “Béarla”) and understood as “the English language.”  Originally that distinction was created by the prefix “Saics-” which gave us “Saics-Bhéarla” for “English.”  Eventually the “Saics-” part got dropped off, leaving just “Béarla.”  Why it was “Saics-” instead of something with “Angla-” I’ve never actually found out–ábhar blag eile lá den tsaol?

At any rate, “ilteangach” seems to be the more general term in use today, so we’ll use that for the “multilingual” part of our phrase.  But how about “madness,” as in the recent Transparent Language challenge, “Multilingual Madness”?

First, let me say that none of the following words for “madness” are really exact equivalents to “anger.”  Here we’re looking more at “frenzy,” “wildness,” etc.  “Anger” is usually expressed by “fearg” (also “racht feirge,” etc.).  Admittedly, some of the distinctions are pretty fine.  Also ábhar blag eile?

Here are 10 ways to say “madness” in Irish, with some additional possibilities for translations, and some sample terms or phrases that help distinguish the meanings.  “Buile” and “mire” are quite similar, and are probably the best candidates for “madness” as we intend it here:

1. buile, madness, frenzy, mania;  ”Ailliliú, puilliliú, ailliliú tá an poc ar buile!”(The puck/billy goat is mad/crazy/ in a frenzy, líne ó amhrán traidisiúnta), and more recently, “brídeach bhuile” (bridezilla)

2. mire, madness, frenzy, mania ; this can also mean “quickness” or “rapidity,” related to “mear” (quick, quick-tempered, etc.)

3. máine, madness, mania (mostly in the medical sense); cleipteamáine (kleptomania)

4. báiní, madness, wildness, frenzy, fury.  Chuaigh sé le báiní (He became furious).

5. gealtacht, madness, lunacy, panic; Chuaigh sé ar gealtacht (He went mad / He became terror-stricken).

6. díth céille, madness, foolishness, folly, lack of sense (céille, “of sense,” from “ciall“); Díth Céille Almayer is the name of the Irish translation of Joseph Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly.

7. deargbhuile, madness as in midsummer madness, stark madness, and raging madness; Bhí sé ar deargbhuile (He was raging mad).

8. spadhar, madness as in midsummer madness, temperamental fit; Tháinig spadhar air (A mad fit came over him).

9. tallann mhearaí, madness, as in midsummer madness, a fit of craziness or distraction; “N’fheadar cén tallann mhearaí a thug uirthi dul i bpáirt le Norma; go deimhin, is ionadh liom gur thoiligh sí dul isteach le haon duine (I don’t know what craziness made her ally herself with Norma; indeed, it amazes me that she was willing to go in with anyone, from “Tuairisc ó Láthair an Chatha,” gearrscéal le hÉadhmonn Mac Suibhne san iris Feasta,  On its own, “tallann” also has a wide variety of meanings, including a talent (of gold), talent (in music), a notion, and an attack.

multilingual-madness-bracket-2014-110. dúchas, madness (in animals, usually dogs, or other animals prone to rabies).  Typically, “dúchas” means “heritage” or “native place,” but it can also mean “a natural affinity” (in general) or “a natural wild state”; Chuaigh an madra le dúchas (The dog went mad).  “Madra dúchais” can mean a “mad dog,” although “confadh” is a more technical term for “rabies,” as in “madra confaidh” (mad/rabid dog).  But context is always the bottom line, as we see in the phrase ”éan confaidh,” which is understood to mean “vulture” (i.e. a bird of raging or fury, but not “rabid” as such, in the medical sense).  Of course, the more typical words for “vulture” are “bultúr” (used for most taxonomical purposes) and “badhbh” [pronounced "bive," rhyming with "thrive" and "alive"].

Well, that’s ten words for “madness,” anyway.  There’s actually at least a good handful more, but they get farther away from our main theme, “multilingual madness.”

“Madness” in the sense of “multilingual madness” comes closest to “enthusiasm” or, in a positive sense, “frenzy.”   So which of the above words do you think best fits the buile, oops, bill.  Please stay tune for another blog or two on the topic while we make the final decision.   Moltaí ar bith ar an aistriúchán?  And remember, mar a dúirt an Bard (trí ghuth Polonius), ”Though this be madness, yet there’s method in’t” (Hamlet).  SGF – Róislín

How to Say ‘Multilingual Madness’ in Irish (Cuid 1/2)

Posted on 02. Apr, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

multilingual-madness-bracket-2014-1Lately we’ve seen a lot of posts about “Multilingual Madness” on Transparent Language websites (nasc thíos).  So let’s take a look at the phrase in Irish.  How do we say “multilingual”?  With some trepidation, we’ll also discuss how to say “madness” (there’ll be a lot of choices  – at least 9, depending on what you mean by “madness”!).   We’ll also see if any of the combinations have the alliterative catchiness of the English phrase.

Let’s start with “multilingual,” and in passing, we’ll look at the prefix “multi-” in general and also at a few other words based on “lingua” (Latin for “tongue” or “language”).

Here’s one point of interest, for starters.  I’ve just looked at a couple of dictionaries for both Irish and English that happen to date from 1927 to 1970, and the word “multilingual” isn’t in them.  Hmm, browsing the assortment of hard-copy “foclóirí” that adorn my desk, I see that “multilingual”  is also not an entry in the dictionaries that I have for the following languages: Scottish Gaelic (1925/1991); Welsh (1982/1993), and going farther afield, geographically, Finnish (2002), Italian (1957/1981), Portuguese (1986/1993), and Ladino (2000). None of which is say that the word “multilingual” wasn’t available in those decades or in those languages, but its absence from dictionaries suggests that it wasn’t much in everyday usage.   By way of background, none of the dictionaries I checked were “phrase book” types (usually very small and short) , but they  were all one volume, reasonably comprehensive, with typically 30,000 to 100,100 entries.

My hunch is that if a medium-sized dictionary like these included a word like “bilingual,” which many did, the publishers assumed that users could figure out “multilingual” reasonably readily (fair enough!).  And that would basically be true for Irish also.  The root “-teangach / -theangach” can be used to create various compounds.

As for the history of the term in Irish, I can find “dátheangach” (bilingual) going back to 1904.  But “multilingual” seems to mostly show up in basic Irish sources from about the 1980s onwards.  Eventually I’ll check in some even earlier dictionaries, now that the question has arisen.  But for now, this brief investigation gives us at least a general impression of the situation.

So how do we say “multilingual” in Irish?  There are two main choices, the first of which is by far more prevalent (if we can judge anything by “amais Google” and “taithí phearsanta“):

ilteangach, multilingual, polyglot (mar aidiacht); mar ainmfhocal freisin: “a polyglot”

ilbhéarlach, multilingual, polyglot (mar aidiacht); reflecting the original meaning of “béarla” (lower-case!) as  ”speech” or “language” in general, related to “béarlagair” (jargon).

And what are the online results (ilteangach vs. ilbhéarlach de réir na n-amas i gcuardach Google):

ilteangach” — 78,200 hits (before limiting to the most “relevant,” as Google routinely offers, which yields a  more workable 236).  Then we can add about 114 more for “ilteangacha” (the plural form) out of the unsorted total of 1,520 in the plural.

ilbhéarlach” — 4,890, which boils down to about 23 considered “relevant.”  A number of these are simply dictionary entries, which are interesting to note but which don’t shed much insight into typical ways the word is used.   A few out of these 23 do really use the word in context, and interestingly, these writers seem to be very fluent and to use “ilbhéarlach” deliberately instead of “ilteangach” for extra emphasis or effect.   Adding the plural form to the search yields a grand total of 5 more hits, of which only one really has a context other than being in a database.

It looks like the “madness” part of this discussion will have to wait until “an chéad bhlag eile,” but meanwhile, let’s look briefly at the prefix (multi-) itself and the word “teanga.”

The prefix typically used today for “multi-” is “il-” and it may also be translated as “poly-” or shifted to the typical adjective role and translated as “many,” “diverse,” “varied,” etc.   A few more examples include “ilathraiteach” (kaleidoscopic) and “ilvóta“(plural vote).  Why these two for examples?   I was actually trying to find “il-” attached to nouns from “A” to “Z” but only found examples up through “v” since so few words in Irish begin with “z.”

A few more examples that would be fairly widely used would be:

ilchiallach, ambiguous

ilchreidmheach, multidenominational

ilsiollach, polysyllabic

In the handful of examples where “il-” is followed by a word beginning with “l,” the hyphen is used:

il-leibhéil, multi-level (used as an adjective)

il-localach, plurilocular (not one of my more everyday words!)

As for “teanga” (tongue, language), its forms are:

an teanga, the tongue, the language

na teanga (or the variant: na teangan), of the language, of the tongue

na teangacha, the tongues, the languages

na dteangacha, of the tongues, of the languages

Some related words include:

teangaire, interpreter

teangeolaí, linguist

teangeolaíocht, linguistics

“teangach” and “teangúil” can both mean “lingual” but note that “-teangach” is the one that becomes the root of words like “dátheangach” and “ilteangach.”  Note that there is séimhiú after “dá-” (two), resulting in “-theangach” instead of “teangach.”

Mother tongue is “teanga mháthartha” or “máthairtheanga.”

A “tongue depressor” is “spadal teanga,” lit. “a spatula of tongue.”

And finally, one for your “rang luibheolaíochta,” a “ligule” is a “teangóg” (lit. a “little tongue,” paralleling the English word, which comes from Latin “ligula,” a shoe-strap, as opposed to Latin “lingula,” a tongue of land)

Bhuel, we’ll have to take up the “madness” part of the phrase “Multilingual Madness” next time.  Likewise the question of alliteration.  Meanwhile, you’ll become níos dátheangaí agus níos dátheangaí fós the more you work on Irish.  Or maybe for some of you, it’s “trítheangach” or “ceithretheangach.”  Nó níos mó?  Please write in and let us know if you’re learning Irish as a 2nd language, or 3rd, or 4th or 5th.  Or maybe, like Benny Lewis (nasc thíos) , it’s your umpteenth?

Oh, and did I nearly forget?  “Pressed ox tongue” would be “damhtheanga bhrúite,” logically enough (damh = ox) and “teanga” is used for the tongue of a shoe or a jaw-harp and for the clapper of a bell.  SGF–Róislín


nasc faoi Benny Lewis: