Another Irish Word Beginning with the Letter ‘Y’ (‘Yólais’ as well as ‘yó-yó,’ etc.) Posted by róislín on Aug 4, 2018 in Irish Language
A few years ago I ran a mionsraith of blagmhíreanna about Irish words that started with some of the litreacha neamhthraidisiúnta in the Irish alphabet, like v, w, x, and y (naisc thíos). Among the few examples that we have for “y” are “yó-yó” (not surprisingly, just add the síneadh fada) and yaincín (a type of sail, aka a “yankee”), both clearly adapted from English.
A few other y-initial words are exactly the same in Irish and English, like “yurt,” “yen” (re: money, not “having a yen for something” which would use “fonn“), and “yarmulka/yarmulke;” these are basically borrowings to begin with, not native English words. In one unusual case, we have a choice, “yucca” (accepted as a loan word in Irish) or “gioca,” gaelicized. Often the “y” is simply changed, often to a “g,” as in “geoidil” (yodel) and “gioca,” or “i” as in “ióga,” or eliminated as in “Éimin” (Yemen).
Another word that keeps the “y” in Irish is “yotta-,” the prefix used in mathematics, which makes the concession of dropping the double “t” (which would never occur in a native Irish word) to become “yota-“, with a variation “yotai-“ if it comes before a slender consonant. So presumably we have “*yotaibheart” (yottabyte), although I have to say, I can’t find it online anywhere. I could tell you all the interesting results I got while searching for it, but that might be too much “yotta, yotta, yotta.” Anyway, at most we typically find anywhere from a tiny handful to at most a few dozen words beginning with “y” in an Irish dictionary. And of those we do have, mostly they don’t come up much in gnáthchaint agus gnáthshaol, at least not in my “gnáthshaol.”
But, lo and behold (iontas na n-iontas), another word has recently come to my attention for the letter “y” in Irish, namely, “Yólais,” which is the Irish name for the Yola language. And where was that spoken, you may well ask? In Éirinn nó taobh amuigh d’Éirinn?
The answer is “in Éirinn,” Contae Loch Garman, le bheith cruinn (Co. Wexford, to be specific). We don’t know a lot about Yola, since it died out in the 19th century, but I see that the Wikipedia article for Co. Wexford gives the Yola name for the county as “Weiseforthe,” apparently a version of “Wex-“ and “-ford.” The word “Yola” itself means “old.” There is a related form in the local townland name Yoletown, which is “An Seanbhaile” in Irish.
The language was spoken in the barúntachtaí (baronies) of Forth and Bargy, right along the coast, which makes sense, when one considers that the Yola people were of Anglo-Norman descent. For centuries, they maintained some distinctive features of their ancestors, especially seasonal and funeral customs, traditional dress, and foodways. But the Yola language itself is considered a dialect of English (not of French), with loanwords from Norman French and Irish Gaelic. While we primarily think of Ireland as bilingual, with Irish and English, or trilingual if we include the linguistically rare Shelta, the existence of Yola points to even further linguistic diversity, at least from a historical perspective. A fifth linguistic feature for Ireland, by the way, was Fingallian, which was a Middle English dialect spoken in Fingal (in the North Dublin area). Fingallian has a similar status to Yola, geographically limited and primarily used by descendants of the original settlers/invaders. Both were extinct by the mid-19th century.
Before moving on with Yola, I should also note that if we are specifically referring to Northern Ireland, there’s a sixth linguistic feature, which is Ullans or Ulster-Scots, called “Ultais” in Irish. For that matter, there’s also a large community speaking “Polainnis,” and no doubt there are other communities of speakers of languages not native to Ireland, but I’m focusing on native languages of Ireland, not all possible speakers of all possible languages.
Back to Yola, regarding the two baronies, “Forth” should not be mistaken for another barony with the same name in County Carlow. Both are called “Forth” and both have the same Irish name, “Fotharta”. “Bargy” in Irish is “Uí Bhairrche.”
I was pleasantly surprised to find a video on YouTube with a song in Yola, recorded in 1969 (definitely a revival or recreation, but delightful, nonetheless). The link is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFl9ptuxd8s (Yola Language Song). There is a transcript of two verses, so you don’t have to rack your brains trying to figure the text; you have to click on “see more” in order to see the text. It is, however, a nice challenge to listen a few times before resorting to the transcript. The singer is Paddy Berry (b. 1937), a Wexford native, born in the Barony of Forth, who has his own Wikipedia page, listing two books and three recordings by this folksinger and song collector (naisc thíos).
In the graphic above, you can see an interesting selection of Yola words, or, to say it in Irish, focail Yólaise. I’ve listed them below with their meanings. Some are pretty recognizable, others, well, aren’t. If any Wexfordians are reading this, I, and am sure many readers, would love to know how this resonates today. Have any of these survived in your everyday speech? Or were they in your grandparents’ speech? In many areas, these kinds of localisms are often recognized but not necessarily widely used. In American English, for example, people might use phrases like, “there’s gold in them thar hills” if trying to imitate Gold Rush-era mining talk, but most would never say, “I’m going to look at them thar co-axial cables.” And how many Londoners really use “apples and pears” or “trouble and strife,” or do they mostly turn the local lingo on when tourists want to hear Cockney? A Charmanacha, cad a deir sibh?
|Forth and Bargy||English||Irish (mostly just for
reference; one cognate?)
|2||morsaale||morsel||greim, ruainne, srl.|
|7||ye||ye (you pl.)||sibh|
|12||fade||what||cad, céard, cad é, goidé|
|13||farthoo||why||cén faith, cad chuige, srl.|
|15||abou||above (prep.)||os cionn, lastuas de, srl.|
|16||avenst||against||in éadan, in aghaidh, i gcoinne|
|20||earchee||each, every||gach aon, gach uile, ‘chuile, ach’an|
|21||vew||few||beag/beaga, gach cúpla, fíorbheagán, ar an mbeagán, srl.|
|25||oan, twy, dhree||one, two, three||a haon, a dó, a trí|
|27||bolsker||unfriendly person||? bolscaire (propagan-dist, proselytizer, promoter, peddler)|
|30||zitch||such||a leithéid, an oiread sin, srl.|
I hope you found this as interesting as I did, and, if nothing else, it adds one more word (Yólais) to our list of y-initial words in Irish. SGF — Róislín
Paddy Berry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddy_Berry. The article refers to Berry’s website but when I tried to connect, it was unreachable. Some of his publications are available at https://web.archive.org/web/20110716012443/http://scallta.com/catalog/advanced_search_result.php?keywords=Paddy+Berry&x=0&y=0. Another interesting reference to his singing is in this article: https://www.pressreader.com/ireland/wexford-people/20180213/283132839287896, “Traditional Singers Step Back in Time,” Wexford People, 13 Feb. 2018
Podchraoladh ar RTÉ 1: https://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2010/1118/646553-radio-documentary-yola-language-wexford/, “Yola – Lost for Words,” with Shane Dunphy, broadcast 20 November, year not given with the text, but presumably 2010. 37:50
Iarbhlagmhíreanna faoi fhocail leis na litreacha v, w, x, agus y:
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