Irish Language Blog

An Litir ‘V’ in Aibítir na Gaeilge (The Letter ‘V’ in the Irish Alphabet) Posted by on Oct 6, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Some of you may have been surprised to see the combination “tv,” followed by a vowel, in the recent post about “tvuíteanna” and “tvuíteáil” (  Admittedly, it’s not at all common in Irish, or, for that matter, in any other languages that I’ve been able to check (with Russian city and river “Tver” being the only example I can readily find outside of Irish).  It is also worth noting that there are various other Irish spellings of “tweet” in the modern social-media sense, including “tuít” and “tbhaoit,” both pronounced more or less like “tweet.”

But the “tv+vowel” issue does remind us of a few important aspects of Irish.  First, there are some consonant combinations that are reasonably common in Irish (like “tn” and “dl,” and their lenited forms, “thn” and “dhl”) but not at all common in English–perhaps non-existent.  Second, while the letter “v” is not very typical in Irish, it does occur, mostly in loanwords (“svae,” mar shampla) and in a few other unusual combinations.

First, let’s look briefly at “tn” and “dl.”    There aren’t many examples, but there are enough to give us some good samples:

tnáite [TNAW-chuh], worn down, exhausted, collapsed,  jaded.  I wouldn’t say that this a word I’ve heard used real often in everyday speech, but it serves our purposes here.  Lenited, it would become “thnáite” [HNAW-chuh]. The first “t” is silent, leaving you with a real quick, one-syllable “hnuh” sound.  I think I can safely say that I can’t think of a sound like this in English, or, for that matter, in any other language that I know.  So where would we use it?  Bhuel, for some reason, the first example that comes to mind is “sióg thnáite” (an exhausted fairy).  And when would we say that?  Well, ummm, I see that Jerry Twedt (note the interesting surname) and David Grote used the phrase ‘wornout fairy godmother” in their play, “Three Fairy Godmothers.”  I guess it wouldn’t take too much more to gaelicize that!

And how about the “dl” and “dhl” combinations?

dlí [djlee, sort of like “Ridgely” without the “ri-“], law: a dhlí [yuhlee] féin, his own law, his own procedure (the “dh” would also occur in “mo dhlí féin” or “do dhlí féin,” but not in the phrase “a dlí féin,” which would mean “her own law/procedure”).  What to do with the sound “yuhlee” ?  Admittedly it’s tricky, but try to drop the “uh” part out as much as you can and you’ll get the sound.  The word “dhlí” is still just one syllable, so it’s not like “yuh-lee.”

Hmm, the Irish for “dirndl”?  Ábhar blag eile?

And this brings us round to our other main point of the day, words like “svae,” “svaeid,” “Svahaílis,” and, yes, “svaistice.”   So if you were surprised to see the “tv-” of “tvuít,” remember that there is a related pattern in these loanwords.  At least these are relatively easy to pronounce, if we think of names like “Sven” and “Svetlana.”

svae [svay], sway, victory, or even “hegemony,” as in “svae cultúrtha” (cultural hegemony!)

Svahaílis [sva-HEEL-ish], Swahili

svaistice [SVA-shtik-uh], swastika

and there are two (comhair iad!) words “svaeid” in Irish:

svaeid, plural: svaeideanna, a swede (lower-case), a type of turnip

svaeid, no plural: suede (a type of leather)

As for “v” on its own at the beginning of a word, there are, I would say, a couple hundred such words, at most, in Irish, including “vailintín,” “válsa,” “veain” (a van), “vinil,” “vód” (woad), and, in case you were champing at the bit for it, “vuibhearn” [VIV-ern], meaning “a wyvern.”

So getting back to “tvuít,” it’s quite reasonable to have such a word in Irish.   But I must admit, “tbhaoit” does tickle my fancy.  Bhuel, guess I gotta vamoose, – Róislín

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  1. Fearn:

    @So getting back to “tvuít,” it’s quite reasonable to have such a word in Irish. But I must admit, “tbhaoit” does tickle my fancy.

    Cad tá cearr le tuít? Tá an focal “tuí” ann cheana. B’éasca “t” a chuir ina eiraball

    • róislín:

      @Fearn Níl rud ar bith cearr le “tuít.” Is féidir úsáid a bhaint as an litriú sin fosta.

      • Jimmy Evans:

        @róislín You’ve simply highlighted the problem with “tuít”. The sound of the word “tuí” with an extra “t” stuck on the end does not give you anything like the required sound. Any word starting with tbh (tbhaoit) is entirely out of place in Irish, and I would say more out of place than “tvuít” which I am used to at this stage. Agus ná dearmad go bhfuil an focal “giolc” againn freisin!

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