Irish Language Blog

Common, Commoner, -er/-est, -alty, -ality, -wealth (Coitianta, srl.) Posted by on Apr 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

(le Róislín)

Sos eile ó na díochlaontaí!

There’s lots of terminology connected to weddings, “ríoga” or not, and maybe we’ll do some of that in June, the traditional wedding month.  But, while nodding to “bainis ríoga William agus Kate,” I’ll just take a more pragmatic look at it, and focus on the word “commoner,” which, of course, describes Kate’s background. 

Not too surprisingly, it’s not used much in American English, except when discussing Britain.  It’s interesting to note that of all the possible Irish terms related to “common,” it’s hard to find one with the exact connotation of “a commoner.”  That’s not really surprising, given the history, but it does bring up some interesting linguistic issues concerning any given language’s core vocabulary and the prefixes and suffixes used to extend that core vocabulary.  Specifically, in this case, we’ll be looking at the –er ending. 

But let’s start with the basic adjective itself, “coitianta” ([KUTCH-ee-yun-tuh], common).  Here are some of its forms:

Coitianta” doesn’t have a plural ending since it already ends in a vowel, making it an  “a3” adjective.  Yes, adjectives are sorted into categories also, three plus irregulars.  More on that síos an bóthar!  

sloinne coitianta, a common surname (in the sense of “widely-used”)

ceist choitianta, a common question (lenited because “ceist” is feminine and singular)

an Chornais Choitianta, Common Cornish aka Kernewek Kemmyn, one of the varieties of Modern Cornish.  Lenited because “Cornais,” like most language names in Irish, is feminine.  Nothing like using a Celtic linguistic designation to illustrate a Celtic linguistic phenomenon!

crainn choitianta, common trees (lenited because of the slender ending of “crainn”)

 botúin choitianta, common mistakes (lenited because of the slender ending of “botúin,” as with “crainn”)

níos coitianta, commoner, more common (adjective form only, not the noun; sometimes “is coitianta” can be used for “more common/commoner,” depending on word order).  Sampla: Tá “seomraí coitianta” níos coitianta i scoileanna sa Bhreatain ná i Meiriceá.  De ghnáth tugtar “lounge” ar a leithéid sin de sheomra i Meiriceá, ach amháin, b’fhéidir, i scoileanna príobháideacha. 

is coitianta, commonest.  Sampla: an sloinne is coitianta i nDún na nGall.  Dála an scéil, cé acu sloinne é, i do bharúil (Ó Dochartaigh?  Ó Gallchóir?  Ó Domhnaill?  Ó Néill? ceann eile?)

Some other ways to say “common” in Irish are:

coiteann: dair choiteann

leitheadach (i.e. wide-spread): galar leitheadach

gnáth– (used as a prefix): i ngnáthúsáid

– (also a prefix, sometimes making a value judgment): míbhéasa

poiblí (i.e. public): fógróir poiblí

comh– (i.e. mutual): comhfhlaitheas or comhfhlathas (a commonwealth)

comónta (i.e. ordinary, can mean “vulgar,” especially in older texts): cithfholcadán comónta, or more positively “leas comónta

A noun based on the same root as “coitianta” is:

coitiantacht, commonalty, common people.  Hmm, I’m almost positive I’ve never used “commonalty” in my normal run-of-the-mill non-high-falutin’ discourse.  But I’m sure there’s an “áit” and an “am” for it.  In fact, Google indicates that there are about 407,000 searchable references to “commonalty” on the web so I guess it’s “coitanta go leor” as an “ábhar cainte,” or maybe, more like “ábhar scríofa.”  “Commonality,” with the slight spelling difference, gives us 2,320,000 hits.  I suppose it all raises the question, who’s talking about the commonalty, the hoi polloi themselves or the hoity-toity?  Frankly, I like the sentiment expressed in the Irish proverb, “Ní huasal ná íseal ach thuas seal is thíos seal.”  (Translated below).  

One might think that with all these possibilities, there would be a single-word equivalent to the noun “commoner,” but there’s nothing I can find.  The two main possibilities are:

duine coitianta, an ordinary person; almost the same as “commoner,” and considered the equivalent, but I think the British English is more specific.  “Duine coitianta” could be used in the sense of getting the ordinary person’s opinion on a topic.  It doesn’t necessarily emphasize the non-landedness of the “commoner.”

gnáthdhuine, looks like a single word, yes, but it really is a compound idea, with the prefix “gnáth-,” as exemplified above, attached to “duine” (person). 

One might also say “duine den choitiantacht” to really indicate a “person from the commonalty,” but I can’t say it rings many bells for me.  But then, I’m more of a “thuas seal thíos seal” kinda gal, so maybe I just don’t hang out in the right speech events. 

At any rate, that’s my basic point – while the concept of being a “commoner” can be expressed in Irish, it doesn’t seem to be core concept.  Curiously, there are a few other words for which I’ve sought one-word equivalents and found no satisfactory equivalents, at least for the 21st century: villager (duine as sráidbhaile, seems to work, but again, it’s a phrase; an older dictionary gives me “tuata” and “tuatach” (tútach) but they have an implication of, errm, churlishness.   On a completely different tack, (hmm, why the nautical terminology? you’ll see instantly!), “Newfoundlander” pretty much has to be expressed as “duine as Talamh an Éisc.”  No harm in that, of course, but it is a 5-word phrase, and would give someone a run for their money trying to translate texts like “We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true Newfoundlanders” into Irish. 

Why even look for one-word equivalents, when a 2- or 3-word phrase will do?  Very practical, really – if such a term exists, it’s generally easier to handle when dealing further with an tuiseal ginideach, an tuiseal gairmeach, plurals, and gender agreement. 

Seanfhocal: Ní huasal ná íseal ach thuas seal is thíos seal.  It’s not a matter of being noble or low, but higher-up sometimes and lower-down other times.  Wonderful imeartas focal, there – almost like the language was made to express the sentiment.

That’s it for now.  Next up – back to declensions!  SGF, ó Róislín

Gluais: cithfholcadán, shower (n); dair choiteann, literally means “common oak” but is translated as “pedunculate oak” (in contrast to the “dair neamhghasánach” or “sessile oak,” in case you’re wondering), fógróir poiblí, common crier; galar, disease; leas, benefit, good; míbhéasa, “common” manners; seal [shal, pretty much like English “shall”], period of time

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