Irish Language Blog

From ‘Spaglainní’ to ‘Spéartha’: More Irish Vocab from ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ Posted by on Jul 4, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

'Na spéartha' i rith an bhombardaithe -- so what makes it "skies" as opposed to "sky" ... ceist dhofhreagartha, déarfainn (grafaic: By Dr.frog at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)

‘Na spéartha’ i rith an bhombardaithe — so what makes it “skies” as opposed to “sky” … ceist dhofhreagartha, déarfainn (grafaic: By Dr.frog at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)

In the last blog post, we looked at the word “spaglainneach” (spangled), noticeable for its absence in the Irish translation of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Anyone remember what phrase is used for “star-spangled” in the Irish version instead?  Freagra thíos.   For all four verses of the American national anthem in Irish, you might want to check out this post from 2014: Amhrán Náisiúnta na Stát Aontaithe: All Four Verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Irish with a glossary, literal translation, and pronunciation guide

The next few blog posts will look at some of the other interesting vocabulary that shows up in O’Growney’s translation.  Let’s start with a line from Véarsa a hAon:

“Ach a caorthinte ag pléascadh sna spéartha le gleo!”

It correspondes to “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” but of course, the translation isn’t literal.  Where the English says “air,” the Irish uses the plural of “spéir.”

Our key word today is “spéartha,” the plural of “spéir.”  Here are the basic forms:

an spéir, the sky.  For pronunciation, remember this “s” is broad, even though the nearest vowel is slender.  So the pronunciation is “spayrzh,” with the “sp” pretty much like English “spare.”  Just as a reminder, with other consonant clusters, like “sc” and “sl,” the normal rule applies and the “s” matches the nearest following vowel, so we have “slender” examples like “scian” (SHKEE-in) and “slí” (shlee) and “broad” examples like  “scáthán” [SKAW-hawn” and “slua” [SLOO-uh].   And as a reminder to the reminder, the “slender” vowels are “e” and “i,” and the broad vowels are “a,” “o,” and “u.”

na spéire, of the sky.  Sampla: dath na spéire, the color of the sky

na spéartha, the skies.  Sampla: spéartha dubh [sic] go domhain a choích’, a line from ” ‘S Fágaim Mo Bhaile,” a song recorded by Enya; a literal translation is: deep black skies forever.  Why the “[sic]”?  Well,  I would have expected “dubha” there, not “dubh,” but I’ve seen dozens of postings of this song online with “spéartha dubh” and, so far, none with “spéartha dubha.”  Go figure!  Or is it a convoluted predicate-adjective structure with no apparent verb to tell you it’s predicate.  I doubt it.  I think the “-a’ of “dubha” just got swallowed up in pronunciation and so is not written.

sna spéartha, in the skies

na spéartha, of the skies (same as the phrase above). Sampla: chun na spéartha, to the skies

So, how often do we actually say “skies” instead of “sky,” aside from lofty language as in an amhrán náisiúnta (a national anthem)?

In English, from time to time, mostly when we’re waxing poetic, we might use the plural, as in “You make me happy, when skies are gray.” If, when singing “You Are My Sunshine,” we said, “when the sky is gray,” it just doesn’t have the same “flow.” Another example, á la Irving Berlin, or more recently, Data, in Star Trek: Nemesis, is “Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see.”  Spéartha gorma, an ea?  I’m sure there are more examples in song and poetry, but I think it’s pretty generally true that we use “sky” much more than we use “skies” in English.

Anyway, here are a few additional Irish expressions with “spéartha“:

1)  in airde sna spéartha, in the high heavens, lit. “on high in the skies”

2) na spéartha ag cnagadh, the skies rattling/knocking (describing thunder)

3) “Sea, sroicheann a breithiúnas go neamh; ardaítear é chun na spéartha” (Irimia 51:9, aistriúchán focal ar fhocal thíos)

4) “le spéartha an lae,” (at dawn, lit. with the skies of the day).  For this, though, I think some other phrases would be more typical, like “le héirí na gréine,” “le fáinne an lae,” or “ag breacadh an lae.”

Hope that was “suimiúil.”  More “focail shuimiúla” coming up in the next couple posts.  SGF – Róislín


Freagra: “star-spangled”: interpreted as “g(h)eal-réaltach” in “An Bhratach Gheal-Réaltach

Aistriúchán: Sea, sroicheann a breithiúnas go neamh; ardaítear é chun na spéartha (Irimia 51:9): “Yes, her judgment reaches to heaven, it is raised to the skies.”  Ironically, some of the English translations have the judgment reaching to the skies and raised to heaven.  Oh well, I guess it’s the same basic idea.

The links for the other blog posts in this series are:

Véarsa 1:

Véarsa 2:

Véarsa 3:

Véarsa 4:

Na Véarsaí go léir (Véarsa 1 go Véarsa 4):

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