Irish Language Blog

Níos Mó faoi na Míonna (More about the Months in Irish) Posted by on Sep 9, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Recently we looked at the names of the months in Irish, from Eanáir to Mí na Nollag.  As you may recall, two of them require the use of the word “” (month) in the phrase: Mí na Samhna and Mí na Nollag.  In both of these cases, the second element, without the word “mí,” would simply be a single day in the calendar, not a full month.  Mí na Samhna is “the month of Samhain,” which is November 1st, the original Celtic New Year’s Day.  Mí na Nollag is “the month of Nollaig / Christmas”

However all of the months can be used in phrases like “the month of January,” “the month of February,” etc.

As you might expect though, knowing the intricacies of Irish, it’s not just a simply matter of saying “” and then the name of the month as given in the original list (Eanáir, Feabhra, Márta, Aibreán, Bealtaine, Meitheamh, Iúil, Lúnasa, Meán Fómhair, Deireadh Fómhair, Mí na Samhna, Mí na Nollag).  Even the latter two add at least one additional element besides the word “,” – an t-alt (the definite article). 

How about the other months?  Well, here are the options for the patterns used:

Mí + an t-alt (baininscneach agus ginideach!) + tuiseal ginideach (as in Mí na Nollag)

Mí + an t-alt (firinscneach agus ginideach!) + tuiseal ginideach (as in Mí an Mhárta), where the genitive case is marked by séimhiú (lenition), changing “Márta” to “Mhárta.”

Mí + tuiseal ginideach (i.e. with no “alt” – it just depends on the specs for each month name)

And as a sort of subdivision of the latter, we can have “” with “tuiseal ginideach,” but with no apparent change to the noun’s ending, simply because of which “díochlaonadh” the particular month name belongs to.

Seo an liosta:

Eanáir: Mí Eanáir (no article, no change to noun for genitive, since “Eanáir” is “m4”)

Feabhra: Mí na Feabhra (article, no change to noun for genitive, since “Feabhra” is “f4”); also sometimes simply “Mí Feabhra

Márta: Mí an Mhárta (article, genitive marked by lenition)

Aibreán: Mí Aibreáin (no article, genitive marked by inserting “-i-“ before the “-n”)

Bealtaine: Mí na Bealtaine (article, no change to noun because “Bealtaine” is “f4”)

Meitheamh: Mí an Mheithimh (article, genitive of noun marked by lenition and vowel change of “ea“ to “i”)

Iúil: Mí Iúil (no article, no change to noun for genitive, since Iúil is “m4”)

Lúnasa: Mí Lúnasa (no article, no change to noun for genitive, since Lúnasa is “m4”)

Meán Fómhair: Mí Mheán Fómhair (no article, genitive marked by lenition of “meán”)

Deireadh Fómhair: Mí Dheireadh Fómhair (no article, genitive marked by lenition of “deireadh”)

Mí na Samhna and Mí na Nollag: as previously discussed

Almost all of these are subject to some dialect and/or register variation.  For example, we might hear “i mí Iúil” for “in July,” which literally means “in month of July,” or “san Iúil” (in “the” July).  There are also alternative names for months, such as “mí mheá(i)n an tsamhraidh” for “June,” but that is, once again, ábhar blag eile

Finally, an interesting bit of food for thought.  The English word “month” is derived from Old English “mōnath” (moon), logically enough.  This concept seems to apply in the handful of other languages I’ve been able to check:

Gearmáinis: Monat (month) and Mond (moon)

Ollainnis: maand (month) and maan (moon)

Danmhairgis: Maaneden (month) and Maanen (moon)

Sualainnis: månaden (month) and månen (moon)

Even Fionlainnis, though not in the same linguistic family, seems to suggest a connection, with “kuukausi” for month and “kuu” for “moon.”  Looks like a link to me, at least. 

So what about all these other words for “month” in various languages, starting with some Celtic examples:

Gaeilge: mí, or somewhat archaically, míos, but, for moon, “gealach,” or in more poetic/archaic/literary usages, “luan” or “

Gaeilge na hAlban: mìos, but “gealach” for “moon”

Breatnais: mis, but “lleuad” (moon), itself very distantly akin to “luna,” as is an alternate Welsh word, “lloer

Cornais: mis, but “loer” (moon), also very distantly akin to “luna”

Apparently these Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish words for month evolved from an older Celtic word, “mîns,” interesting in showing an original “n,” as we see in the Latin mēnsis, unrelated to the word “lūna” (moon).  Other Romance languages show a similar pattern: Spáinnis: mes, but “luna” (moon); Iodáilis: mese, but “luna” (moon), and Fraincis: mois, but “lune” (moon)

Curious that in most of these cases, the word for “month” is not related to the word for “moon,” at least not the various current words for “moon.”  Scottish Gaelic offers us a mini-Eureka moment, since its word “mìos” could mean “moon” as well as “month,” at least archaically.  The everyday word for “moon” in Scottish Gaelic, though, is “gealach,” as in Irish.

So what can we glean from this (or should I wait for gealach an fhómhair for that?).  Well, nothing incredibly definitive, just to note that virtually all the words for month we have discussed are at least cousins, if not siblings, in the linguistic family tree (for Indo-European).  But for practical purposes, in most modern usages, the word for “month” is not related to “moon” in the various Celtic and Romance languages listed, only in the Germanic languages.  As for the Finnish, it seems to resemble the Germanic languages in making the connection of “moon” to “month” obvious (even to mise, a non-Finnish-speaker).  If there’s any further insight to be shed on this, I’d welcome comments from any Fionlannaigh on the list (or from lucht labhartha na Fionlainnise).  Sin é don bhlag seo, SGF ó Róislín.  . 

Nóta: The spellings “Samhain” and “Nollaig” are the basic “dictionary-entry” forms of the words; “Samhna” and “Nollag” are used to say “of Samhain” and “of Christmas.”

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