Irish Language Blog

Logainmneacha Ceilteacha agus Náisiúntachtaí a hAon: Celtic Place Names and Nationalities – Scotland and the Scots Posted by on Apr 15, 2009 in Irish Language

  We recently saw “Albain” (Scotland) as one of Transparent Language’s Word of the Day features.  This is based on the word “Alba,” which is what the Scots call their country in their own Celtic language, Gàidhlig.  Why not a word that sounds something like “Scotland” (like Italian “Scòzia” or French “Ecosse” or German “Schottland”)?  Because the “Scotti” were a tribe who came over to what we call Scotland today from Ireland after the place name “Alba” had already been in use.  All the “Scot”-based names for the country are relative newcomers to the scene, even though they reflect an event that happened well over 1000 years ago. 

   Here are some examples of the placename, the nationality, and related phrases for “Albain 

   Albanach, a Scotsman or Scottish person.  This can be made feminine, “Albanach mná,” but in my experience, most people, even women (!), don’t bother.  The feminine form basically means “a woman Scotsman.”

   an tAlbanach, the Scotsman.  Note the lower case “t,” which is really part of the definite article.  We previously covered the rule by which there is no dash – Albanach is capitalized, so there is no need to indicate that the “t” is a prefix.  Contrast this to generic nouns, like “arán” (bread) and “an t-arán” (the bread), where the dash is required. 

  Is Albanach í an t-amhránaí Susan Boyle a bhí ar an chlár, “Britain’s Got Talent.”  Tá sí ina cónaí i mBlackburn, Lothian Iartharach, Albain.  The singer Susan Boyle, who was on the program “Britain’s Got Talent,” is a Scot.  She lives in Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland. 


  Tá mé ag dul go hAlbain ar mo laethe saoire.  I’m going to Scotland on my holidays.

Note that after the preposition “go” (to), an “h” is prefixed before place names beginning with vowels.

  Cá bhfuil Glaschú? Tá Glaschú in Albain.  Where is Glasgow?  Glasgow is in Scotland.  You may remember the shape-shifting preposition “i” (in), which also shows up as “in,” “sa,” “san,” and “sna,” not to mention a traditional form not so widely used these days, “ins.”  Here “i” changes to “in” because the following word starts with a vowel. 

   An bhfuil Gaeilge na hAlban agat?  Do you know (have) Scottish Gaelic?  Here “Albain” has been changed to the possessive form, “na hAlban.”  What changes do you see?  The letter “i” has been dropped to mark the possessive.  A lower-case “h” is prefixed, again, because, this word starts with a vowel, AND, we must add, it’s in the possessive form.  Also, we add “na,” which here means “of the.” 

   You might wonder, “Where did the ‘the’ come from?”  It’s not used in the basic form of the country’s name, Albain.  A somewhat idiosyncratic rule applies here.  (“Somewhat?” I can hear readers saying!).  The good news is that it applies to at least one other situation.  We have two  country names, “Albain” and “Éire,” which don’t have the definite article in the subject form.  But, in the possessive, both acquire the definite article.  “The people of Scotland” is “muintir na hAlban” and “the people of Ireland” is “muintir na hÉireann.”  More on the other changes to the word “Éire” i mblag eile sa tsraith seo (Logainmneacha Ceilteacha agus Náisiúntachtaí). Ó, and “sraith” means “series”). – Bhur mblagálaí, Róislín

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