Irish Language Blog

Na hUimhreacha Pearsanta i nGaeilge (Irish Personal Numbers and Cuid a Cúig or the Last Installment of Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag) Posted by on Jan 6, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Fotheideal (perhaps too long for the subject line): Ag comhaireamh na ndaoine san amhrán “Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag”

Learning to use the numbers in Irish is often considered one of the more challenging aspects of the language.   Often you start out with the “maoluimhreacha” (independent numbers) such as “a haon, a dó, a trí, a ceathair,” used for situations like giving telephone numbers and reading lottery ticket numbers out loud.  No sooner do you learn those than you learn to change some of them to use them as cardinal numbers, for most counting purposes.  For example, “haon” (aon) changes to “amháin,” “dó” changes to “dhá,” and “ceathair” changes to “ceithre,” etc.  Then you learn to apply séimhiú and urú when counting most items (dhá charr, seacht gcat, srl.), and to change those rules slightly for some of the aonaid tomhais (trí bliana, trí seachtainí, srl.).  To top it all off, the rules change again when you count people as opposed to things (the good news – less séimhiú, no urú!).  .

So far, in this song, we’ve been counting animals or things (depending on if you think of the rings as physical rings, or ring-necked pheasants).  Either way, the bunuimhreacha (cardinal numbers) were used: cúig fháinne, sé ghé, seacht n-eala, srl. 

But now, as we come down the home stretch, we’re counting people.  Admittedly, not the type of people we’d normally encounter in daily lifeUsually we’re dealing with ordinary cailíní (not cailíní bleánaí or crúite, girls/maids “of milking”), fir (not tiarnaí), buachaillí, mná, dochtúirí, múinteoirí, páistí, and the likeBut whether you’re counting unusual types of people or ordinary ones, Irish usually uses a system called “uimhreacha pearsanta” (personal numbers), usually adding a suffix (-ar, -ear, -iúr, or –úr) to the basic number itself.  The number “twelve” has about a blog’s worth of detail, and “eleven” is sort of exceptional too, so more on those is forthcoming.

The next few blogs will discuss the uimhreacha pearsanta in more detail, but for now, and to finally put the caipín báis (deireadh) ar an ábhar seo, here’s the bare bones translation I would offer for the remaining five “countables” in the song.

ochtar cailíní bleánaí (the rhythm of this phrase seems to fit better than “ag bleán” or “ag crú”)

naonúr ban ag damhsa (with the irregular genitive plural form “ban,” meaning “of women”)

deichniúr tiarnaí ag léimneach (again, slightly better rhythm than just “ag léim”)

aon phíobaire dhéag ag seinm.  If you say this really quickly, it will fit the meter of the song, but if you try to actually say “a-piping,” (ag píobaireacht”), you’ll have to speak like a ceantálaí. 

dháréag drumadóirí ag bualadh.  To say that the drumadóirí are “ag drumadóireacht” doubles the number of syllables that the English has (4 for English, 8 for Irish), so I’d opt for “ag bualadh,” which is used for “beating” a drum, as well as “hitting” or “striking” in general.

We’ll work some more on counting people i mblaganna eile, but meanwhile, you might want to check back to some previous ones where the topic was addressed (10 Lúnasa 2009, mar shampla).

Gluais: ceantálaí, auctioneer; tomhais, of measurement

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