Ever wonder what to say first in an Irish conversation? Or how to wrap it up? In this blog, we’ll look at various greetings in Irish. The next blog will cover goodbyes, that is, unless there’s another blog in between, with more greetings, or at least direct address forms of names, since you’ll need that “tuiseal gairmeach” to include someone’s name with your goodbye or hello.
Today, one of the first questions is whether to use the traditional greeting, “Dia duit!,” which is also a blessing (beannacht) or whether to follow the new development and use words like “Haló!” or “Heileo!”
So where do we start? I mostly use the traditional greeting “Dia duit!” If I know someone well, I might just say “Bhuel” (Well), then the person’s name, in the direct address form if there is one, and then ask how that person is, for which there are at least five variations, beginning with three different question words (Conas …?, Cén chaoi …?, Cad é mar …?).
Like I just said, so where do we start? Why do the dulcet tones of The Sound of Music run through my mind here, gan stad? I guess they fit the situation. “Let’s start at the very beginning — áit mhaith le tosú.”
The traditional greeting, as you saw above is “Dia duit!” and I’d being doing you a disservice if I pretended there was just one form of this phrase. The second main version is “Dia dhuit!,” which is mostly used in Connacht Irish, that is primarily in Conamara and the Aran Islands.
“Dia duit!” is often translated as “Hello!,” but it really means, very literally, “God to you!.” It’s short for “Go mbeannaí Dia duit!” (May God bless you!) which I don’t really hear many people say these days. In Irish, the verb “bless” is followed by the preposition “to,” represented here by “duit” (to you). Some people have reservations about the religious formulaic phrases needed for Irish greetings, but I’ll start with “Dia duit!” anyway because, bhuel, as another famous ceoldráma told us, “Traidisiún, traidisiún, traidisiún!”
Irish greetings traditionally follow a formula. The first person to speak says “Dia duit!” The response is “Dia ‘s Muire duit!” (God and Mary bless you!). The word “agus” (and) is shortened to ” ‘s ” and Muire is the Virgin Mary, as opposed to “Máire,” the latter being used for mortals named “Mary.”
That much is all for if you’re talking to one person. “Duit” is specifically second-person singular. Remember, Irish, like most European languages, has a singular and plural form for “you.” English used to, when it still had “thou” for the singular, but it lost the Thou / Thee / Thine triptych centuries ago, except occasionally in the literary or poetic realm (“My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes,” etc.) and as used by some Quakers up to the late 19th century. Since we lost our singular/plural you distinction in English, it seems we’ve been busily trying to recreate it with improvised plural forms (youse, yiz, youse guys, y’all, all y’all, etc.). Ach sin ábhar blag eile. For practical purposes, right now we need to consider what happens when you’re talking to several people, or a group, in Irish.
It’s quite systematic, really. “Duit” becomes “daoibh” ([deev] to you, plural): Dia daoibh. Assuming it was still one person who spoke first, the response would be “Dia ‘s Muire duit.”
So we could have:
A to B: Dia duit!
B to A: Dia ‘s Muire duit!
A to B & C: Dia daoibh!
B or C or B & C together to A: Dia ‘s Muire duit.
If a third person joins the group, the traditional expression they use is “Dia ‘s Muire duit agus Naomh Pádraig!” (God and Mary bless you and St. Patrick!). But I can’t say I’ve heard a lot of that in real life; I’ve mostly read it.
So that’s one approach, the one most typically taught.
A traditional expression that doesn’t have the religious implication is “Mora duit!” (“Morrow to you!” or “Mór bless you!”). ”Mór” is/was an elusive Celtic goddess, whose name happens to fit this usage perfectly. In the plural, this would be “Mora daoibh!” If used in the morning, “ar maidin” can be added (Mora duit ar maidin!). This could be interpreted, a bit redundantly, as “Good morrow this morning!” Actually there could be some religious interpretation there, because of Mór’s divine status, but very little is known about her today.
Finally we do have two words that have mostly come with telephone usage. There were parts of Ireland where families didn’t have their own teileafóin into the 1970s and 1980s, so this is much more recent than in English. These are “Haló!” and “Heileo!” (also spelled “Haileo“).
Personally, I don’t tend to use “Haló” or “Heileo” very much. If I want something less formal than “Dia duit,” it usually means that I already know the person. In that case, I’d probably go with “Bhuel, a Shéamais!,” assuming I know that Séamas. Or “Bhuel, a Mháire!” if I see my friend Máire. It’s a friendly “well,” and I don’t think there’s an exact equivalent in English, even though “bhuel” is borrowed from English and sounds pretty much the same. Anyway, we’ll wrap up this intro to greetings with a reminder that if a name follows the greeting, it’ll be in the direct address form (aka the vocative case). Tuilleadh ainmneacha sa tuiseal gairmeach? Somewhere within the next few blogs!
Hmmm, I wonder if we could simply get away with “*Bhádap?” Or would that be “*Mhádap?” They’d sound the same, since “bhá-” and “mhá-” both are pronounced “waw”! Actually, the more traditional phrase for that purpose would be “Aon scéal?” (Any story? Anything new?). That would be limited to use with someone you already know, as, I assume, would “Whaddap?” I’ve browsed a bit on the Internet to see if any other languages are literally borrowing “Whaddap?” or “Whazzup?” and literally asking “What is up?” Mostly I just see traditional informal greetings being used, like “¿Que tal?” or “Wie geht’s?” So I’d highly recommend “Aon scéal?” for people that you know reasonably well.
We’ll do more with “goodbyes” in the next blog. There’s too much to squeeze in here, since I can think of at least five ways to say goodbye off the top of my head. And if I put on my “caipín smaoinimh,” there’s a good chance a few more will come to mind. Sin é, SGF (Slán go fóill), Róislín
PS: By the way, Transparent Language has been running series on “hello” and “goodbye” in the various languages it blogs, so you might want to check out na teangacha eile, ón Araibis go dtí an Urdúis (http://www.transparent.com/language-resources/blogs.html#.UbaDhPlQEeU).
PPS: Sea, fuair mé teideal an bhlag seo ó na Ciaróga. Ach ní shílim go bhfuil/raibh aon Ghaeilge acu cé go raibh dúchas Gaelach ag cuid acu! Maidir leis an “hela, helloa” sa churfá, d’fhágfainn é mar atá sé!
PPPS: “Na Ciaróga” is fairly popularly used in Irish to refer to the Beatles. Of course, it really means “beetles,” without the “imeartas focal” we get from “beat/beet.” Ach cóngarach go leor, de réir cosúlachta.