Irish Language Blog

An Bhfuil Ceol Agat? An Seinneann Tú an tAltsacsafón … an Xileafón? Posted by on Jun 17, 2009 in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

There are several ways to ask in Irish if someone plays music.  Probably the most general is “An bhfuil ceol agat?”  This literally means “Is there music at you” and refers to playing or singing.  The construction where an activity is “at you” is widely used to ask about skills or abilities.  Some more examples of the construction are “An bhfuil snámh agat?” (Can you swim?) and “An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?” (Do you know Irish?).  The “yes” answer for these is “” and the “no” answer is “níl.”  Many people will tend to modify the answer a bit, as in, “Tá beagán Gaeilge agam” (I know a little Irish). 


The verb “ag seinm” (playing) is specifically used for playing music.  Unlike English, Irish doesn’t use a single word for playing music, sports (ag imirt) and in general (ag súgradh).  If you’re asking someone if they play an instrument, the question starts “An seinneann tú …?”  The positive answer will be “seinnim” and the negative answer “ní sheinnim.” 


Here are some samples.  See if you recognize the instruments:


An seinneann tú an giotár?  Seinnim.


An seinneann tú an basúcaí?  Ní sheinnim.


An seinneann tú an tiúba?  Ní sheinnim, ach seinnim an súsafón.


An seinneann tú an fhidil?  Seinnim.


Here are a few more examples that combine saying what music you like and the instrument you play:


Is maith liom rac-cheol agus seinnim an dordghiotár.


Is maith liom ceol clasaiceach agus seinnim an pianó.


Is maith liom ceol Ceilteach agus seinnim an chláirseach.


Is maith liom ceol traidisiúnta agus seinnim an giotár, an fhidil, an maindilín, agus an bainseó.


And yes, for the teideal of this blog, I was looking for a musical instrument that would begin with the letter “z” in Irish, to get the full sense of “a to z,” but there doesn’t seem to be any, ní nach ionadh.  Even the “z” of “zither” gets converted to an “s” in Irish, giving “siotar,” a frequent occurrence with “z”-initial borrowings.  Cf. séabra, sinc and sip for more examples.  Tá an Béarla atá orthusan thíosNíl mórán focal a thosaíonn le “z” sa Ghaeilge ar chor ar bith ach seo ceann acu: zú (zoo).


Nóta deireanach amháin: Normally after the prefix “alt-“ there would be séimhiú (lenition), but remember that generally the letters d, t, and s do not lenite after d, t, and s.  So for other instruments, like “fliúit” or “clairnéid,” what would the “alto” forms be?  (See freagra, thíos).


This blog has mostly focused on instruments.  For all you amhránaithe out there, Á.B.E.

Croch suas é! – Róislín


Béarla: zebra, zinc, zip

Freagra: altfhliúit, altchlairnéid (Since both of these are feminine nouns, you’d say “an altfhliúit” and “an altchlairnéid” for the definite forms.  With “sacsafón,” you add the letter “t” to the beginning since the noun is masculine, giving “an t-altsacsafón” or, if capitalized, as in a title, “an tAltsacsafón”).

Pronunciation Tips: bhfuil – sounds like “wil”; an fhidil – sounds like “un idj-il” (the “fh” is silent). 

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