You Just Call Out My Name (sa Tuiseal Gairmeach, of course, in Irish) (Pt. 1)

Posted on 31. May, 2013 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

"Dia duit, a Mham!"

"Dia 's Muire duit, a Shéamais!"


Dia duit, a …” — hmm, what’s next, after “hello”?  We could ask the same question for “Slán agat, a (ainm duine),” when saying “goodbye”!   In most other languages I’ve studied, once you learn the words for “hello” and “goodbye,” putting people’s names into the phrase presents no particular challenge.  That is, at least on a first-name basis, where we’re usually not concerned with honorifics and titles.  However, in Irish I’d say about 75% of the personal names in use undergo a change for direct address.  This form of the name is known as the “vocative” (or “calling”) case,” or in Irish, “an tuiseal gairmeach” [un TISH-ul GARzh-um-ukh, note that the last word has three syllables].

Before we go on, I’d just like to note the exceptions to the generalization above, about the other languages I’ve studied.  Scottish Gaelic works a lot like Irish, as does Manx, though I wouldn’t really say I’ve studied Manx as such.  I can understand it fairly well, since it’s so much like Irish and Gaelic.  Welsh still shows some use of a vocative, but it’s mostly restricted now to certain widely-used words, like “fab” (son), or “fam” (mother), or “Dduw” (God).  I understand that there is some use of the vocative in Cornish and that it is not present in modern Breton.  So, overall, the vocative case is still fairly strong among the Celtic languages, especially on the “Goidelic” side.

As for languages that I haven’t studied (and that includes approximately 5990 of the world’s 6000 or so languages), a goodly (but not big) number also have a vocative case, but as far as I know, none of these would show the vocative by initial consonant mutation, as is done in the Celtic languages.   Instead, they would add to or change the ending of the name, as in Latin, for example with “Brūtus” becoming “Brūte” for Caesar’s famous “Et tū, Brūte?”  A few of the modern languages that do have a vocative case (and here’s a little Irish work-out) include Albánais, Bulgáiris, Liotuáinis, Seicis, Seirbis, and Úcráinis.

In Irish, the vocative case is always preceded by the “vocative particle,” which is simply the letter “a,” pronounced “uh” here.  You’ve probably already encountered the vocative particle, in disguise, in the girl’s name “Alanna,” which comes from “a” (vocative particle) plus “leanbh” (child, pronounced “LYAN-uh” or “LYAN-uv”).  You can see an páirteagal gairmeach in the captions I wrote for the two pictures above, showing James McNeill Whistler and his mother: “a Mham” and “a Shéamais.”

The most recent blog included a few examples of vocatives, shown here with some of the hello/goodbye phrases:

“a Shéamais” [uh HAY-mish], “Dia duit, a Shéamais.”

“a Sheáin” [uh HyOY-in, that "hy" is like the "h" in "human" or "Hugh," not like "hoo," "who," or "whom"], “Slán leat, a Sheáin.”

“a Shinéad” [uh HIN-ayd], “Dia dhuit, a Shinéad.”

“a Shiobhán” [uh HyUV-awn, "hy" as above],  “Slán agat, a Shiobhán.”

Clearly, those four examples all start with the same letter (“s”).  Before we look at examples with other initial consonants, let’s look at some examples that don’t change at all for the vocative case.  These are basically “píosa císte,” as might be said in English.  No change = simplí!  Some of the patterns for these exceptions are:

a) names beginning and ending in a vowel: a Aoife, a Úna, a Eochaidh, a Éanna, a Antaine

b) names beginning with “l,” “n,” or “r,” and ending in a vowel: a Lile, a Nóra, a Nuala, a Ruairí (NB: some speakers, mostly elderly at this point, might have a slight change in the pronunciation of the “l” or “n” , here, but it’s not indicated in writing)

c) some men’s names starting with vowels or “l,” “n,” or “r,” that are borrowed from other languages : a Liam, a Íosóg, a Uileag (Ulick or Ulysses), and,

d) a lot of Old Testament names, even ones that end in consonants that, in theory, could have a vocative ending: “a Iób” and “a Nabúcadnazar.”  In fact, most of the Old Testament names  that I’ve checked out don’t have case endings.  Not that you’re likely to meet anyone named “Job” or “Nebuchadnezzar,” at least not sa Ghaeltacht.

Now for those eight other consonants (b, c, d, f, g, m, p, t).  They will get the “h” written in and a change in pronunciation as well.  In other words, they get lenited (i.e. softened).  Examples include:

a Bheití” [uh VET-chee], for “Beití”

“a Chearúilín” [uh HYAR-ool-inn], for “Cearúilín”

“a Dhiarmaid” [uh YEER-mwidj], for “Diarmaid”

“a Fheilimí” [uh EL-im-ee, note the "fh" is completely silent], for “Feilimí”

“a Ghearóidín” [uh YAR-ohdj-een], for “Gearóidín”

“a Mhaitiú” [uh WATCH-oo], for “Maitiú”

“a Phádraig” [uh FAW-drig OR uh FAWR-ig, depending on dialect], for “Pádraig”

“a Thaidhgín” [uh HYG-yeen], for “Taidhgín.  That’s a hard one to phoneticize but remember the “g” is “hard” (as in “girl”) since it comes from the name “Tadhg.”  The “y” here stands for the “y” sound of English “my”, so “Tadhg” sounds like the first syllable of “tiger” and the vowel sound “-aidh-” is the same.  “Tadhg” also sounds like the name of Buster Brown’s dog, though his was spelled “Tige.”  An cuimhin le duine ar bith agaibh “Tige”?  Tige, his owner Buster, and Buster’s sweetheart Mary Jane were mascots for the Buster Brown line of shoes.  The Brown Shoe Company is still going strong, but I haven’t heard scéala ar bith about Buster, Tige, or Mary Jane for a long time.  An bhfuil siad fós ina sonóga?  Nasc don fhreagra thíos.

You might have noticed that the eight examples above end either in vowels or “slender consonants” (as in Cearúilín, Gearóidín, and Taidhgín).  That’s because I’m saving the names that end in “broad consonants” for the next blog.  Please stay tuned for that!  SGF, Róislín

PS: As for “Séamas Táilliúir,” whose song, “You’ve Got a Friend,” suggested the title for this blog, I’d love to have a chance to meet him in person, but since that dream comhrá would no doubt be i mBéarla, I doubt I’d have an opportunity to practice the tuiseal gairmeach Gaeilge on him.  You never know though, James Taylor’s father’s background is largely Scottish (western North Carolina, and before that, Angus, Scotland), as outlined in Timothy White’s biography of him, Long Ago and Far Away and as name-dropped in Patrick O’Brian’s The Wine-dark Sea (in O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series).  Fiosrach faoi sin?  Féach sa leabhar (Look inside the Book) ag

So, who knows?  With Taylor’s family history and the influence of Irish and Scottish songs on his writing and repertoire, maybe he will take up learning Irish.  B’iontach sin!

And Just to recap, the vocative for “Séamas” (James) in Irish would be “a Shéamais!” [uh HAY-mish].  Remember that the first ‘s’ is now silent and the second one is pronounced as in ‘wish” or “fish.”  If that pronunciation guide strikes you as remarkably similar to the Scottish forename “Hamish,” it’s no coincidence.  “Hamish,” also pronounced “HAY-mish,” is based on the vocative of “Seumas”, the usual spelling of the name anns a’ Ghàidhlig (in Scottish Gaelic).

So if we were to speak Irish with any of the current crop of well-known Hamishes, “a Shéamais” would sound just right.  And that would include Hamish Clark (Monarch of the Glen) and Hamish Linklater (The New Adventures of Old Christine), among others.  In the fiction realm, there’s detective Hamish Macbeth in the M. C. Beaton (Marion Chesney) novels.  Time-travel permitting, it would be an honor to chat with one of our Gaelic-speaking “Hamish” forebears, Hamish Scott Henderson (Seumas MacEanraig (1919-2002, poet, songwriter, festival organizer, and field guide for American folksong collector, Alan Lomax).  If we want to go with middle names, we could add Holmes’ companion, Dr. John H(amish) Watson, as shown, admittedly extra-canonically in “A Scandal in Belgravia” (,   Hmmm, maybe I should say, “Dia daoibh, a Shéamais agus a Shéamais agus a Sheumais agus a Sheumais agus a Yamys.”  Úúps, that last one is Manx!

PPS:  Scéal Buster BrownFéach anseo:

Deir Tusa ‘Slán,’ Deirimse ‘Haló’ (Saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ in Irish, Cuid a Dó: Goodbye)

Posted on 27. May, 2013 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

After some deliberation, I decided to hold off on the blog on “ainmneacha sa tuiseal gairmeach” (names in the vocative case), since I think that will probably also be a blag dhá chuid (two-part blog).   Let’s cut right to the chase here and go over some possibilities for saying “goodbye” in Irish.  That means that our vocative case examples like “A Shéamais,” “A Sheáin,” “A Shinéad,” and “A Shiobhán,” and, well, for good measure, ” A Iób” and “A Nabúcadnazar,” will have to wait tamaillín beag eileAch cén docharDe réir a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin! (aistriúchán an tseanfhocail sin thíos but a hint, you’ve probably heard it already, faoin Róimh).

So let’s look at the actual possibilities for saying “goodbye” (slán agat, slán leat, slán go fóill, etc.).  The core word here, as many of you will recognize, is “slán,” functioning as a noun, related to “sláinte.”  And probably even more of you know “sláinte,” with the basic meaning of “health,” but also used for making toasts, as in “Sláinte!” (Cheers!).  Aside from saying “goodbye,” most of the time when we use “slán” it’s an adjective (m. sh. “a bheith slán sábháilte,” to be safe and sound).  However, as we see here, “slán” can also be a noun.  It can mean “healthy person,” as in “an slán agus an t-easlán.”  Or you might recall it from “dúshlán” [doo-hlawn, "s" is silent], which means “a challenge” or “defiance.” “Slán” (challenge) can also be used without the “-” (black) prefix, as in “slán a chur faoi Iób” (to put a challenge to Job).

And I can’t resist adding that “slán,” as a noun, can also be used in two slightly different ways to refer to Coronopus squamatus or C. didymus, aka “swine’s-cress,” or for that matter, “wart cress,” another name for the same plant.   Hmmm, put them together and we’d almost have “Hogwarts.”  Not exactly the same hogwort plant (Croton capitatus) that may have subconsciously insprired J.K. Rowling’s name for the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in her Harry Potter series, but close enough to be intriguing.  At any rate, the two names for “swine’s cress” are “Slán na muice” and “Slánlus na muc.”  Note the difference between the genitive singular form, “na muice” (of the pig) and the genitive plural form, “na muc” (of the pigs), but actually, please don’t ask me why the terms are slightly different — diabhal a fhios agamsa!

Getting back to our main topic, though, the meaning of “slán” as a noun that we want here is “health” or “soundness.”  How to distinguish “slán” for “health” and “sláinte” for “health”?  Most of the time, you’ll use “sláinte,” for medical issues, health clinics, etc.  “Slán” for “health” is mostly limited to set phrases, which will include our “goodbye” words, and it is also often used where we could say “farewell” in English.  After all, “farewell” originally meant to travel well, safely, soundly, and in such a way that your body was whole and unharmed.  So we can also say “Chuir Laoiseach slán le Liam (Laoiseach bade farewell to Liam) or “D’fhág Agaiméamnón slán ag Agata” (Agamemnon took his leave of Agatha).  Actually it would have been Cliotaeimnéistre, but then we wouldn’t have our handy-dandy alliterative preposition mnemonic, to help us remember to use “ag.”

Most of the time though, at least these days, we simply say “goodbye,” we don’t “bid farewell.”  “You bid farewell, I say ‘Hail fellow well met!’” — I don’t think so!

Here are four possible ways to say “goodbye” in Irish, using “slán” as a noun:

1) Slán agat!, lit. health at you (plural: Slán agaibh!, lit. health at you all)

2) Slán leat!, lit. health with you (plural: Slán libh!, lit. health with you all)

3) Slán go fóill!, lit. health for now.  Hmmm, now that I think of it, that sounds beagáinín macabre.  Oh well, it’s widely used, and avoids having to apply the “agat/leat” formula, which we’ll discuss below.  It’s basically understood as “Goodbye for now!,” benign enough.

4) Slán!, used on its own.  I know it’s not officially approved of, since it’s considered incomplete.  But I hear it constantly these days.  Is it really any different than extracting “bye” from “goodbye” in English?  Technically, that leaves us saying “be with you,” since “goodbye” is also a blessing (God be with you!).

A fifth widely used way to say “goodbye” treats “slán” as a adjective:

5) Slán abhaile!  Of course, this is only used when speaking to someone who really is heading home.  “Abhaile” [uh-WAHL-yuh] comes from “chun an bhaile” (homeward, or more literally, “to the home”).  Theoretically, “chun an bhaile” could also mean “to the town,” but at least in this context, it is interpreted as “home.”  “Baile,” on its own usually does mean “town” and shows up in place names all over Ireland, often anglicized as “bally.” Examples are Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin), Baile Monaidh (Ballymoney), Baile na nGall (Ballygall), and, as we celebrated (How many blogs ago?), Baile Shéamais Dhuibh (Ballyjamesduff).  You might remember the Ballyjamesduff blog from March 4, 2010, which practiced the verb “to go” using characters from the song “Come Back, Paddy Reilly (to Ballyjamesduff)” ( ).

So that’s the five ways.  There are a few more, but that seems like enough for now.  What’s the “agat/leat” formula bit?  In a nutshell, the explanation is:

a) If you’re leaving first, and saying goodbye to someone who’s staying behind, you use “agat.”  The other person says “Slán leat!”  Mar shampla:

E.T.: Slán agat, a Elliott!

Elliott: Slán leat, a E.T.!

b) If the person who’s staying behind speaks first, they use “leat.”  If Elliott speaks before E.T., we’d have:

Elliott: Slán leat, a E.T.!

E.T: Slán agat, a Elliott!

Or if we want to deacronymize it:

Elliott: Slán leat, a Eachtardhomhandaigh!

an t-eachtardhomhandach:  Slán agat, a Elliott.

Pronunciation lifeline?  “A Eachtardhomhandaigh” [uh AKH-tur-γohn-dee].  As a general term, “an t-eachtardhomhandach” [un TAKH-tur-γohn-dukh].  Both versions have the voiced velar fricative sound, indicated by the symbol /γ/ , the “gamma” sign from Greek.  For details on pronouncing it, see and the other blogs cited there.

If saying goodbye to two or more people, the plural forms are used , with “agat” changing to “agaibh” [UG-iv] and “leat” changing to “libh” [liv].  We’d see “libh” in the following:

Gandalf, captured by the Balrog, falling into the lake beneath Moria, to his friends (too many to name here); he is staying behind: Slán libh, a chairde!

Members of the Fellowship; they are leaving: Slán agat, a Ghandalf!

Of course, Gandalf actually starts a journey of his own here, although he may not realize it yet, so we could have a “leat“-”leatsa” situation.”  In which case, we’d have:

Gandalf, plunging into the depth, captured by the Balrog; he’s moving away from the others as he falls toward the lake: Slán libh, a chairde!

The Fellowship; they’re moving away from Gandalf:   Slán leatsa, a Ghandalf!

Of course, there might not be time at Khazad-dûm for such formalities.  What Gandalf really said, hmmm, actually, “Eitligí, a amadáin!” comes across as very literal, as if all the crew sprouted “sciatháin.”  “Rithigí, a amadáin!” would make sense but is it strong enough?  “Imígí, a amadáin!” is similar, adequate, but perhaps not desperate enough.  Other possibilities include “Tógaigí oraibh!” and “Buailigí an bóthar!” — that is más féidir linn “bóthar” a chur ar an mbealach as Moria!  How about “Brostaígí oraibh!”  Now we’re talkin’!  Bhur mbarúlacha, a léitheoirí?

I assume (and hope) the translations of Tolkien by Nicholas Williams and Evertype, the publisher,  will continue.   But so far, we only have An Hobad (2012) and we’ll have to see what Williams decides for Gandalf’s famous and highly memeable “fools” line, which is in the first book of the trilogy, not in The Hobbit.

Signing out, I tend to use “SGF” (Slán go fóill) since it’s short and non-formulaic, so SGF, Róislín


An seanfhocal: De réir a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin, lit. bit after bit the castles are built, i.e. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Maidir leis an ainm “Gandalf” i nGaeilge.  Apparently Williams has decided it will be a 4th-declension noun.  The vocative is “A Ghandalf!” (no inserted “-i-” at the end, which would be characteristic of a 1st-decelnsin noun).   The phrase “i lámha Ghandalf” also shows us that the name is 4th-declension, since again the “-i-” is not inserted.   However we do see that the name gets lenited (“g” becoming “gh”) in the vocative, genitive, and after certain prepositions (ar Ghandalf, ó Ghandalf, srl.).  Tá an t-aistriúchán (An Hobad, ISBN 978-1-904808-90-9) ar fáil ag:

And one last afterthought, as I find myself wondering, for the sake of completeness in paradigms, what would the plural of Gandalf be in Irish, if, for example, he got cloned?  Gandalfanna?  Gandalfaí?  Presumably not “Gandailf,” since that would bring the name back to the first declension.  I don’t think there’s any reference to plural Gandalfs in The Hobbit, or for that matter, in The Lord of the RingsA NiocláisÁáá!  The things we take for granted in English, like one plural ending for 99.99 percent of the nouns!  Bhuel, it makes saol an Ghaeilgeora interesting!  Móimintí leadránacha ar bith sa teanga seo!

Deir Tusa ‘Slán,’ Deirimse ‘Haló’ (Saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ in Irish, Cuid a hAon: Hello)

Posted on 24. May, 2013 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

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 (

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.