Irish Language Blog

An Chéad Díochlaonadh: Newts, Frogs, and, for Easter, Baskets Posted by on Apr 8, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

We’ve recently seen a number of first-declension nouns in Irish, with their various forms.  You might have noticed how when we say “hats of men” or “eyes of newts,” the plural form appears to look singular.  In other words, “fear” normally means “a man” but can mean “of men” in the right grammatical context.  Likewise, “niút” can be either “a newt” or “of newts.”  When the phrases are definite (i.e. when we’re saying “the hats of the men” or “the tails of the newts”), there is a little less ambiguity, because we may have an initial change as well (like “fear” becoming “bhfear”).  But for “niút,” unfortunately for foghlaimeoirí, no initial change because “n” can’t be eclipsed.

This applies to the most typical first-declension nouns, but there is a sub-category (including nouns like “rón” and “scéal”), for which it doesn’t apply.  That will also be addressed below.

So let’s take a closer look at some of these plural forms, keeping in mind the difference between “hataí fear” and “hataí na bhfear” (see eochair below if the difference is meirgeach).

We’ll start with “ciseán” (basket), since that will show us an initial change (eclipsis):

luach ciseáin, luach an chiseáin (both singular: a basket’s price, the basket’s price)

luachanna ciseán, luachanna na gciseán (both plural: prices of baskets, the prices of the baskets)

Note that in the genitive plural, the ending is “-án,” not “-áin.”

Of course, not all nouns begin with consonants that can be “eclipsed.”  Only b, c, d, f, g, p, t are affected by this initial change (a mbáid, their boats, but a málaí, their bags).  So, for newts, there will be no change at the beginning or at the end of the word.  Why?  Because initial “n” cannot be eclipsed and “niút” belongs to the main group of first-declension nouns whose genitive plural ending is the same as the nominative singular.

ruball niúit, ruball an niúit (a newt’s tail, the tail of the newt)

rubaill niút, rubaill na niút (newts’ tails, the tails of the newts)

For “frog,” if we use “loscán,” we’ll have a similar situation:

cos loscáin, cos an loscáin (a frog’s leg, the leg of the frog)

cosa loscán, cosa na loscán (frogs’ legs, the legs of the frogs)

There are other words for “frog,” so we might do more with alternate choices later.  I’m somewhat partial to phrases like “cos an fhroig,” which has the silent “fh-,” making the phrase sounds like “kussunRIG.”   It’s still first-declension masculine.  Likewise, there’s “loscann” (close to “loscán” but not the same díochlaonadh) and then there’s “frogs” in railroading and “frogs” in horses’ hoofs, frog fasteners, and, if I can track down the preferred usage, “frogs” in fiddle bows.  Not to mention frogairí.

If anyone’s really loving (chun McDonaldais a labhairt) this téama débheathach, maybe we’ll continue it in a future blog, including torbáin (tadpoles) and eirc luachra (efts), which will also bring up the interesting taxonomic dilemma of whether to say “niút” or “earc luachra” or “earc sléibhe,” and how to handle their genitive forms.

To get back to the grammatical side of things, I mentioned above that there’s a subset within the first declension of nouns that have the same ending for nominative and genitive plural.  Ahh, just when were getting used to the system described above.  Níl aon neart agamsa air – sin mar atá agus seo samplaí:

rón, an rón, seal, the seal

lapa róin, lapa an róin, a seal’s flipper, the flipper of the seal

rónta, na rónta, seals, the seals

lapaí rónta, lapaí na rónta, seals’ flippers, the flippers of the seals

Scéal” follows the same pattern:

scéal, an scéal, story, the story

téama scéil, téama an scéil, a story’s theme, the theme of the story

scéalta, na scéalta (or scéaltaí, but that difference won’t affect this issue)

téamaí scéalta, téamaí na scéaltaí, stories’ themes, the themes of the stories

It probably seems like learning noun forms in Irish goes, like “bóthar na hobad,” ever on.  Agus téann (and it does).  “Na hobad”?  genitive plural of “an hobad,” a first-declension noun with “na hobaid” as the nominative plural.  Just whetting your appetite for the long-awaited Irish translation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which should be available this summer!

Oh, yes, one last amphibian-ish question for you – kudos to anyone who can answer this:

Níl ach aon speiceas amháin buaife atá dúchasach d’Éirinn.  Cén sórt buaife é?  To make this a true cliff-hanger ending, the answer won’t be at the bottom here but i mblag eile!  Or perhaps someone will send the freagra in as a comment – bheadh sé sin go deas!  And how did this “buaf” survive expulsion by Naomh Pádraigbhuel, I’m not sure I can really answer that, but tá fáilte romhaibh an cheist sin a phlé!

Coming up soon, if not next, ainmhithe mionchatacha clúmhacha clúmhúla, na cinn a dtugann cuid mhór againn “gleoite” (cute in appearance) orthu, uain agus sicíní (scalltáin) agus coiníní agus lachíní, mar shampla.  Ainmhithe atá ina siombailí Cásca.  Sgf, Róislín

Eochair: hataí fear, men’s hats; hataí na bhfear, the hats of the men

Gluais: débheathach, amphibian (lit. “two-lived”), frogaire, frogman; McDonaldais, m’ainm ar Bhéarla McDonald’s a chuir an frása “I’m loving it” i mbéal na ndaoine, d’ainneoin ghnáthrialacha an Bhéarla (I love it in ionad “I’m loving it”); plé, to discuss

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  1. Michael Everson:

    Dea-scéala! Foilseofar aistriúchán Gaeilge Nicholas Williams den leabhar “An Hobad” ar deireadh thiar ar an 25 Márta 2012. Beidh clúdach crua air, arna chló maille le léaráidí daite agus léarscáileanna. Más mian leat réamhordú a chur isteach, cuirtear ríomhphost chugam agus beidh mé i dteagmháil leat maidir leis na sonraí cuí.

    Great news! Nicholas Williams’ translation of “The Hobbit” into Irish will be published at long last on 25 March 2012. The book will be hardcover, printed with colour illustrations and maps. If you would like to pre-order a copy, send me an e-mail and I will contact you with details.

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