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Bándeirge/Eilifintí agus Goirme/Luchóga Posted by on Mar 26, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Since we’ve started talking about eilifintí bándearga, we might as well continue with the rest of Jack London’s expression, namely, the luchóga gorma (blue mice).  According to London, both of these animals are seen frequently seen in alcoholic hallucinations.

Of course, our real purpose here isn’t to analyze bándeirge na n-eilifintí or goirme na luchóg, but to practice pairing feminine nouns with adjectives, in the singular and in the plural.  In case anyone wants more mundane examples of the same grammatical features, we’ll also practice with the words for “shoe” and for “street.”

The translation sequence is given after the actual Irish, for the first set, instead of line by line, just for a little more dúshlán.  Note that the feminine singular examples have lenition, with “bándearg” becoming “bhándearg” and “gorm” becoming “ghorm.”

eilifint bhándearg

an eilifint bhándearg

eilifintí bándearga

na heilifintí bándearga, with the standard prefixing of “h” before plural nouns beginning with vowels when they come after “na” (plural form of “the”)

i mBéarla: pink elephant, the pink elephant, pink elephants, the pink elephants

And for our mice, since “luchóg” is also feminine,

luchóg ghorm

an luchóg ghorm

luchóga gorma

na luchóga gorma

Not sure how you’d work pink elephants and blue mice into an everyday conversation?   How about shoes, then, or streets, as promised above?  We’ll use some nice practical adjectives, “big” and “long,” to modify them:

bróg mhór

an bhróg mhór

bróga móra

na bróga móra

And “street” (remember the “s”-becoming-“ts” rule for feminine singular nouns)

sráid fhada (remember that “fh” is always silent in Irish, so “fhada” sounds like “AH-duh”)

an tsráid fhada (remember the “s” is now completely silent, so “tsráid” sounds like “trawdj”)

sráideanna fada (no plural ending for “fada,” or, for that matter, for most adjectives that end in vowels)

na sráideanna fada

Just for a little contrast, we could switch to a masculine noun.  For that, I’ll pick an extremely mundane noun, carbhat, following the lead of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Le Petit Prince), who picked beiriste, galf, an pholaitíocht and carbhait as the most suitable topics for having serious conversations with unimaginative adults.  Of course, when Saint-Exupéry picked them, they were in French (cravates, etc.), not Irish, but thanks to Breandán Ó Doibhlin’s translation, we can now read An Prionsa Beag in Irish.  Just to challenge the presumed leamhas (drabness) of neckties, we’ll use a “flashy tie” as our example:

carbhat péacach

an carbhat péacach

carbhait phéacacha

na carbhait phéacacha

There are two key features to note here, in comparison to feminine nouns.  First, the adjective is not lenited in the singular (carbhat péacach).  You might also be wondering about the lenition of “péacach” in the plural.  That’s the second key feature.  Lenition is used for adjectives modifying masculine nouns whose plural form is made by inserting the letter “i” (báid, etc.) instead of adding an ending (like “–anna” or “-í”).  You might remember typical examples of i-insertion, like “fir mhóra” (big men) and “báid bheaga” (little boats).  Those would be in contrast to plurals formed by adding actual endings, like “CDanna deasa,” “dlúthdhioscaí deasa” (also means “nice CDs”) and, for what it’s worth, but irresistibly, “yurtanna móra” (big yurts) and “yurtanna beaga” (little yurts).

Getting back to our original premise, which, if there is a discernible one, is that elephants and mice somehow go together, at least in siabhránachtaí.  What is it about elephants and mice anyway?   The combo seems to go back at least to Roman days, as witnessed by the proverb “Elephantus non capit murem” (Ní bheireann eilifint ar luchóg).  And jumping forward about 2000 years, Disney immortalized the elephant/mouse relationship with Dumbo’s buddy, Timothy Q. Mouse.  But Timothy isn’t blue – I just double-checked some images from the 1941 movie.  So, I suppose, maidir le heilifintí agus luchóga, that it’s just a natural pairing based on extreme opposites in size, an mhór agus an-bheag.  I wish I could check with Jack London!

To take it all back a step further, apparently Jack London’s inspiration for his line was an even earlier popular phrase, 1890s-ish, to see “pink giraffes.”  In Irish, that would be “sioráif bhándearga,” or, in the singular, “sioráf bándearg.”  But that is a hallucination of a different shape, albeit the same color, and so will remain a topic for blag éigin eile.  .

You might have noticed that we didn’t really deal with examples in the possessive yet (the tail of the blue mouse, etc.).  That will also have to wait for blag éigin eile, although if you look carefully above, there are two examples worked seamlessly into the text.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed this discussion of adjective/noun agreement in Irish, even if some of the samplaí weren’t exactly “ina ngnáthshamplaí.”  SGF, ó Róislín

Gluais: bándeirge, pinkness; beiriste, bridge (card-game); gnáth-, ordinary; goirme, blueness; péacach, flashy, gaudy; siabhránacht, hallucination (just a reminder from the last blog)

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