Irish Language Blog

Beannachtaí i nGaeilge – Or How to Greet Someone in Irish Posted by on Mar 23, 2009 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Beannachtaí i nGaeilge (Cuid a hAon) – Or How to Greet Someone in Irish

For starters, let’s look at the word “beannacht,” which literally means “a blessing” but which also means “greeting.” Traditionally almost all Irish greetings were blessings. Today, the field has opened up with various versions of “hello” and “hi” now on the scene.

The two options given in most textbooks up to the 1990s were “Go mbeannaí Dia duit” and “Dia duit.” They both basically mean “God bless you.” The first greeting literally means “May God bless (to) you” and the second one is simply “God to you.” The longer greeting isn’t as widespread today, although I do hear it among native speakers of Irish.

In both cases, the word “duit” can appear as “dhuit,” with a change in spelling and pronunciation. This version is pronounced with the initial “dh,” a sound not found in English and not too easy to describe, except by comparison with other languages. One important feature is that the “d” in the “dh” cluster is not pronounced at all. If anything, “dh” is more of an “h” sound, pronounced deep in the throat.

This “dh” sound is a guttural version of the “ch” sound found in words like Scottish “loch” and German “Buch” or “Achtung,” that is to say, the vibration of the vocal cords occurs lower down in the throat than in “loch,” “Buch,” or “Achtung.” It is represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet by the gamma symbol, /ɣ/, and is found in languages such as Arabic, Portuguese, and Turkish. Some Spanish words (haga, agua) also have this pronunciation, depending on who is speaking.

I’ve heard the “duit” pronunciation mostly among Donegal speakers, and the “dhuit” among those from Conamara. Either way, these phrases are just a few of the many ways to greet someone in Irish. Some of the recent alternatives are haló, haileo, haigh and hoigh. There are other strategies for greeting people as well. One is to plunge right into the question “How are you?” and that will be the subject of at least one whole blog, maybe more. Another approach, which is pretty well restricted to informal usage among peers, friends, or colleagues, is simply to say “bhuel,” followed by the person’s name. You guessed it! “Bhuel” is the Irish for the interjection “well.” Since Irish has very few words spelled with a “w,” the cluster “bhu” is used instead. In pronunciation, it sounds almost exactly like the English word “well.”

Stay tuned for another blog on how to respond to a greeting in Irish and another on the plural forms used for saying hello to several people. And, as promised, blag eile (another blog) on the various ways to ask “How are you?” in Irish – at least one for each dialect!

Bhur mblagálaí – Róislín

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