Irish Language Blog

From ‘vacsaín’ to ‘vuinsciú’ and some other Irish words that start with ‘v’ Posted by on Sep 5, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

From the English perspective, there’s nothing particularly unusual about words starting with the letter ‘v.’  After all, we can go from “vacancy” (casual, or otherwise, noted with homage to JKR) to “vyingly,” without batting a “fabhra” (eyelash).

But the traditional Irish alphabet did not include the letter “v,” so most words you’ll find in this section of a dictionary are relatively recent borrowings.  “Recent,” by this point in time, could mean over a hundred years old, but the key concept is that these words didn’t exist in Old Irish.  Of course, some of them (like “vampam” and “veilbhitín”) didn’t exist in Old English either.  But that’s really a topic for a History of English blog.

In today’s blog post, we’ll look at a few basic Irish vocabulary words that start with “v” and, for fun, look at few that we might not use often but which look intriguing.

First let’s have a note on pronunciation.  There are two basic ways that “v” can be pronounced in Irish, more or less comparable to the two ways we can pronounce “v” in English.  Remember the two examples I gave in the last blog, the one about the “leathbhearta” and the “zeitibhearta“?  For pronouncing all those “-bheart” compound words, the “bh” sounds like the “v” in English “view” or “review.”  We have a similar pronunciation in Irish words showing lenition like the “bheo” in “dúil bheo” (a living creature) or “bhearna” in the phrase “sa bhearna” (in the gap).  This sound (like English “view”), represented by Irish “bheart,” “bhearna,” and “bheo,” among others, is referred to as the “slender bh” sound.

Let’s backtrack before we go farther.  What does “bh” have to do with “v” anyway?  This brings up an even more fundamental aspect of Irish pronunciation, one which has been mentioned throughout this blog series.  In Irish, a lenited consonant, like “bh,” is no longer pronounced like the original consonant (the “b” by itself).  The Irish “bh” is pronounced either like an English “v” or a “w” or something in between.  It may help to remember the Irish “bh” is NOTHING like the one other “bh” that might be somewhat familiar to English speakers, from Hindi/Sanskrit, that is, the “bh” of words like “Mahabharata” and the “Bhagavad Gita” (they have a very smoothly connected “buh-huh” sound).

Now let’s look at the other “v” sound in Irish, the “broad” version, more like English “voodoo” or “vulture.”  In Irish, this “v” sound will be found in words that are spelled “va-,” “vo-,” or “vu-,” and there aren’t very many of them.  Some examples are “válsa” (a waltz), ”vóta” (a vote), and “vúdú” (guess what that one means– and yes, it has been borrowed into Irish, although I don’t find many examples of it  Fiosrach?  Féach an nóta thíos!).  Few as the “broad” Irish “v” sound words are, they do seem a bit more prevalent than the “slender” Irish “v” sound words.

To get back to the main focus of today’s blog post, let’s look at a few more Irish words that start with “v,” some quite basic for everyday topics and some more specialized, or even downright obscure.  I’ve noted the ones pronounced like “view” with “vy” (and there are very few).  The others are like the “v” of “voodoo” or “vulture.”

vacsaín, a vaccine

vailintín, a valentine

valbaí, a wallaby (remember it’s three syllables, with the “helping vowel” between the “l” and the “b”)

vása, a vase

Cathair na Vatacáine, the Vatican City

vearanda [VYAR-an-duh], veranda

vearnais [VYAR-nish], varnish

Veiniséala, Venezuela

véir, vair

veist, vest (remember, slender “s” here, so say “vesht”)

vibreas, vibrissa  (derived from the Latin for “hair in the nostrils,” in case you were wondering)

vinil, vinyl

vól, vole

volta, volt

vuinsciú, wainscoting

The “ve-” and “vi-” words for “Venezuela,” “vair,” “vest,” “vibrissa,” and “vinyl” are slightly more slender than the words with a broad “v,” but, in my opinion at least, not as slender as the “v” of “vearanda” or “vearnais” or English “view.”  So I only marked “vearanda” and “vearnais” as noticeably “vy-sounding.”

So, there’s a nice sampling of some less typical but sometimes useful words.  Slán go fóill, or, if I were to keep talking to you until you turn into a vole (!), maybe I could say, “slán go vól.”  Or maybe I should just quit while I’m ahead!  – Róislín

Maidir leis an bhfocal “vúdú” i nGaeilge agus sa tSeicis:  my recent Google search for “vúdú” + “Gaeilge” gave me an intriguing 27 hits, several of which were really Czech language sites.  Why the Czech sites came up with “Gaeilge” as a search term is a little baffling, but probably because the sites very broadly dealt with languages around the world, with lots of native terminology.  So Irish and Czech share the exact same spelling for the word “voodoo” (“vúdú“)!  When I removed “Gaeilge” from the search, I got about 25,100 Google hits, almost all of which turn out to be in Czech.  Too much to plough through now, but maybe a rainy day project.   Of course, there could be some stray Irish references to “vúdú” there (among the 25,100), which don’t happen to have the word “Gaeilge” in the site anywhere.  Like I said, a project for “lá na coise tinne,” which is the Irish equivalent (not translation) of a “rainy day project.”

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