Irish Language Blog

Blag na bhFrancach (“The Blog of the French,” Go Téamach Ar A Laghad) Posted by on Aug 5, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

As alluded to in a recent blog, today’s vocabulary theme is “na Francaigh” (the French), with the terminology for the country, the people, etc.  We’ll also touch on “the Franks,” in the historical sense, but I can already foresee that thoroughly covering terminology derived from or at least connected to “na Frainc” (the Franks) will take at least one additional blog.  There’s such an abundance of related vocabulary, including frankincense, franklins, and franchises, especially if we include the extended sense of the Latin “francus” as meaning “free” as well as “a Frankish person”! 

Allegedly, all of this stems from the legendary ruler, Francio, presumably fictitious, in the Chronicle of Fredegar (ca. 584 to ca. 641/768, sources vary).  Francio’s name got immortalized in the name both of the Franks (who spoke a Germanic language) and the French, whose language, of course, is one of the teangacha Rómánsacha (Romance languages, akin to Iodáilis, Laidin, etc.).   And now, na téarmaí:

the country: An Fhrainc [un rank, “fh” completely silent]

To say “of France,” we change “an” to “na,” drop the lenition (typical “gsf rule”; “gsf rule”? – see below), and add the “-e” to show an tuiseal ginideach:

cuisine na Fraince” [nuh  FRANK-yuh, restoring the original initial “f” that we’d expect for any word connected to France, French, etc.].  “Cuisine” usually stays the same in Irish, as in English, where it is also a “focal iasachta.”  We could, of course say, “cócaireacht na Fraince” (the cooking / cookery, or France) but it wouldn’t have quite the same implication.

in France: sa Fhrainc [suh rank] (standard usage), sa bhFrainc [suh vrank] (in some dialects)

the language: Fraincis

To say, “I’m learning French,” use “an tuiseal ginideach” (add the final “-e”):

Tá mé ag foghlaim Fraincise [FRANK-ish-uh]

But to ask “Do you know French?” or to say “I speak French,” we don’t need an tuiseal ginideach since the word “French” is either the subject or direct object of the sentence, as in:

An bhfuil Fraincis agat? (lit. Is French at you?)

Labhraím Fraincis. I speak French. 

the nationality:  Francach, a French person, a Frenchman; Francach mná could be used for “Frenchwoman,” but as discussed in previous blogs, “mná” isn’t actually added that frequently, especially in casual use. 

Additional forms of the word: an Francach, the Frenchman (etc.), na Francaigh, the Frenchmen, the French

an Fhrancaigh [un RANK-ee], of the Frenchman, as in “blas an Fhrancaigh,” the Frenchman’s accent

na bhFrancach [nuh VRANK-ukh], of the Frenchmen, of the French, as in “Bliain na bhFrancach,” which we can discuss in more detail in a future blog.  It’s already drafted, but even my micro-est nutshell version of “Bliain na bhFrancach” is about as long as this whole blog. 

For the Frankish people, we have: an Franc, the Frankish man, the Frank; na Frainc, the Franks

an Fhrainc, of the Frank, as in “bonsach an Fhrainc,” the Frankish man’s javelin

na bhFranc, of the Franks, as in Impireacht na bhFranc, the Frankish Empire

the adjective: Francach (same ending as the ethnonym “Francach”).  This follows the usual rules for adjectives, lenition after a feminine noun, “-a” ending for nominative plural:

fuinneog fhrancach, french window (window being a feminine noun)

When capitalized, it refers to things very specifically French, with geographic emphasis, such as bulladóir Francach (French bulldog) or críocha Francacha thar lear (French overseas territories, like St. Pierre-et-Miquelon, which, believe it or not, was one of the stops on my “mí na meala”).

For more generalized phrases, we may see upper or lower case, such as snasán francach (French polish, for furniture) or uaim Fhrancach (French seam, for tailoring).

Lower case is typically used in certain phrases where the implication is “foreign” or “large,” not “French” as such, as in “aiteann francach” (tall furze, as opposed to the “dwarf” variety), or “cnó francach” (walnut, aka “gallchnó”).  Both “aiteann” and “cnó” can also be paired with the adjective “gallda” to get the same meanings (tall furze, walnut), just to add to the mix!  “Gallda” can mean “foreign” or “anglicized,” or less typically today, “surly” (!) or “tony” (!!). 

As a prefix, “franc-“can be used in the adjectival sense, as in “franclus” (franc + lus), tansy (the plant, aka Tanacetum vulgare).  Why “tansy” is considered “the French plant” in Irish is beyond my ken.  Eolas ag luibheolaí ar bith ar an liosta

Sometimes a concept will appear in English as an adjective (the French Alps) but in Irish as a noun sa tuiseal ginideach (Alpa na Fraince, lit. the Alps of France).  If the adjective form were to be used here (which it isn’t), it would be “Francacha.” 

And, for French, unlike my coverage of the Netherlands in the previous blog, I’ll add a final category, for “ismness” (for want of a better word). 

the “-ism”: Francachas, Gallicism, literally more like saying “Frenchism,” so not evoking the Gaulish-to-Gallic transition as the word “Gallicism” does.  C’est la vie! 

So why this new category for French, when we didn’t discuss “ismness” for the “Ísiltíreach-Dúitseach-Ollannach” triptych?  Bhuel, ceist shuimiúil!

Last blog, we discussed “Netherlandish,” “Dutch,” and “Holland,” but in my experience there isn’t much of a precedent for discussing linguistics features, gestures, and cultural nuances as “Netherlandisms,” which, when used in English, mostly has a political connotation.  Theoretically, we should have the word “*Ísiltíreachas” for “Netherlandism” in Irish, but I find no evidence of it in actual usage.  As for “Dutchism,” I see it used a bit in English online to refer to Dutch patterns of speech, which, for example might carry over when a Netherlander is speaking English as a second language.  But I can’t say I’ve heard it much in everyday use, and for a possible Irish equivalent, “*Dúitseachas,” (which should mean “Dutchism”) I find no samples of usage, either online or in hard-copy dictionaries.  Another unattested word (per my searching) would be “*Ollannachas” for “Hollandism” (amas ar bith faighte agam; *Ollainneachas ach oiread).  In English, I find fewer than 100 hits online for “Hollandism,” not many in this cyberday and concordanceable age.  Some are simply part of lists of words starting with “Holla-“, not very useful for our consideration.  Others mostly deal either with politics or religion, and a few, closer to our interests here, concern language.  As for a “Hollandism” in speech vs. a “Dutchism” – well, that’s beyond my ken, anyway, unless the “Hollandism” is really specific to an Ollainn Thuaidh or an Ollainn Theas, and the “Dutchism” is more general. 

None of the above commentary specifically says these terms don’t exist in Irish, but it does provide a stark contrast, say, to “Gaelachas” (with 30,100 hits) and “Béarlachas” (with a reasonably healthy 3,880 hits and its own article sa Vicipéid).  The words “Gaelachas,” “Béarlachas” (Anglicism), and “Francachas” appear routinely in Irish-English and English-Irish dictionaries, since they are such critical cultural terms.  As for their English counterparts, amais go leor, with 24,200 for “Gaelicism,” 63,500 for “Gallicism,” 69,200 for “Irishism,” and a whopping 184,000 for “Anglicism.”  There are also 210,000 hits for “anglicismos,” showing the interest level of Spanish speakers, so I think we can safely say “Anglicism” is a very widely discussed topic!

In theory, I’m sure every language, culture, and cultural concept should have an attached “-ism,” or, in Irish, an “-(e)achas,” but it seems that the concept tends to get localized to the languages and cultures most closely contrasted to one’s own.  So, in English, we can readily talk about a “Britishism / Briticism,” an “Americanism,” an “Irishism,” a “Canadianism,” or an “Australianism.”  But, perhaps just due to my largely English- or Irish-speaking personal geolinguistic bubble, coinages like “Finnishism” or “Finnicism” or “Papuanism” (12 hits) or “Papuaism” (9 hits) just don’t come up that often, even in a widely-spoken language like English, let alone in Irish.    

Hunting for the Irish equivalents for these words seems to be something in between a wild goose chase and  hunting for a needle in a haystack, the haystack being every bit of Irish discourse every spoken or written.  Obviously not all of that haystack is searchable online, but a typical search is, at least, representative.  Perhaps I should just despair and say it’s like chasing a needle (or how about a tailor’s goose, to keep up both the sartorial and anserine imagery), in a wild haystack.  Now there’s a thought, wild haystacks!  I can just see them now, rumpusing around like Maurice Sendak’s “Wild Things,” perhaps with fangs (ag baint díoscáin as a bhfiacla uafásacha?) and claws (ag taispeáint a gcrúb uafásach?).

Well, on that note, sgf (not to be mistaken for “gsf,” an frása Béarla, as in the nóta thíos), ó Róislín

gluais: amas, hit (in computer searching); ar a laghad, at least; crúb, claw; díoscán, gnashing; focal iasachta, loan word; go téamach, thematically; mí na meala, honeymoon; uafásach, terrible

Nóta: gsf, genitive singular feminine.  Blame it on years of studying Laidin, if you will, but I tend to categorize words or forms of words as “gsf,” “gsm,” “gpl,” etc.  In our Latin class, back in the day, nouns were immediately assessed as being “genitive” and “singular” and “masculine,” for example, if you were talking about the “pueri” in “liber pueri” (the book of the boy).  Of course, if the Latin class had been conducted “trí mheán na Gaeilge” (I wish!), we would have been using terms like “ginideach,” “uatha” (singular), “baininscneach” (feminine), “firinscneach” (masculine), “iolra” (plural).  I mo bhrionglóidí!

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