Irish Language Blog

Sula bhfágann muid na Fritíortha (Before we leave the Antipodes) Posted by on Jun 9, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

An tOileán Thuaidh (dath: dearg) agus An tOileán Theas (dath: liath), An Nua-Shéalainn (foinse: nasc thíos)

An tOileán Thuaidh (dath: dearg) agus An tOileán Theas (dath: liath), An Nua-Shéalainn (foinse: nasc thíos)

In this blog we’ll take a last look at some geographical terms pertaining to New Zealand, including the interpretation of “Aotearoa,” as mentioned in the last blog.  All of the words in today’s basic vocabulary also have wide applications for conversation in general.  We’ll be looking at the following words:

tír, land, country, and talamh, land, ground

scamall, cloud (a cognate of “cumulus,” although the specific meteorological term for “cumulus” in Irish is actually a more recent borrowing, “cumalas“)

fada, long

bán, white

oileán, island; “inis” is used for some islands (Inis Fada [sic] in New York, for example) but not for New Zealand’s two main islands.

thuaidh [HOO-ee, silent “t”], north

theas [hass, silent “t”], south

First we’ll return to the question raised one blog back: What does the Maori name for New Zealand, “Aotearoa,” mean if translated literally into Irish?

I’ve included “tír” since many interpretations of “Aotearoa” seem to slightly extend the concept to mean “Land of the Long White Cloud.”  Apparently, though, it’s really just “long white cloud” (no “land of”), which is the most popularly agreed upon interpretation of the name.

Tír an Scamaill Fhada Bháin OR Talamh an Scamaill Fhada Bháin.  Hmm, perhaps it should be “talamh,” by analogy with “Talamh an Éisc” (lit. the land of the fish), the Irish name for Newfoundland.

Either way, if we’re including “land of,” the “long white cloud” part will be in the genitive case (an tuiseal ginideach), which involves some changes to “scamall,” “fada,” and “bán.”

1) scamall becomes “scamaill,” with an inserted “i” (slenderization/ caolú)

2) fada [FAH-duh] becomes “fhada” [AH-duh] with lenition (séimhiú)

3) bán [bawn] becomes “bháin” [wawn].  A little more specifically, it sounds like “wawin” with a slight change to the final “n,” making it more of an “in” sound.  Remember, though, this is quite subtle, not like, hmm, “Put your paw in mine”  Not that I have paws (lapaí!)–that’s just an example of where the “-aw” and the “in” sounds are more separated.   Why “bháin“?  Séimhiú at the beginning, typical for marking the genitive case; the slender “n” also marks the genitive case.

And secondly, let’s look at one last set of geographical phrases for New Zealand:  An tOileán Thuaidh and An tOileán Theas.

An tOileán Thuaidh means “the North Island.”  You might have noticed the prefixed “t” at the beginning of “oileán,” kept lower case even in a proper name.   That’s a general rule that applies to nouns that are masculine, singular and start with a vowel, when they come after the word “the.”  You’ve probably seen it before (uisce, an t-uisce; úll, an t-úll; Úll Mór, an tÚll Mór; Úcránach, an tÚcránach; Ugandach, an tUgandach, srl.)

Thuaidh” means “north” or “northern” and is related to words like “tuaisceart” (a northern area), “Tuaisceart Éireann” (Northern Ireland), Tuaisceartach (Northerner), tuaithiúr (northerly aspect), aduaidh (from the north), and ó thuaidh (to the north, with “ó” which ironically looks like it should mean “from”).  It’s used in place names like “An Chóiré Thuaidh” and “An Mhuir Thuaidh.”

Theas” means “south” or “southern” and is related to words like deisceart (a southern area), Ndeibéilis an Deiscirt (Southern Ndebele, a South African language), Deisceart Chorcaí (South Cork), Deisceartach (Southerner), deisiúr (southerly aspect), aneas (from the south), and ó dheas (to the south, with the same ironic “ó” as “ó thuaidh“).  It’s used in place names like “An Afraic Theas” and “An Chóiré Theas.”

So “An tOileán Thuaidh” and “An tOileán Theas” are quite predictable and straightforward as place names.  I understand that there is a lot of debate as to whether one really says “the North Island” and “the South Island,” or just “North Island” and “South Island.”  I’ll just compromise by offering both options.  For “North Island” and “South Island,” we just drop the “an” (the) and the prefixed “t-” that it triggered: Oileán Thuaidh and Oileán Theas.

I hope you’ll find some application for these words, even when not talking about An Nua-Shéalainn, for example: Bostún Theas, An Trian Theas (the South Riding), An Pol Theas (“Dia dhuit, a Roald!”), and An Tioróil Theas (geoidil-í-hí-hí, to coin a phrase).  On the northerly side, we have, for example,  Filideilfia Thuaidh, An Trian Thuaidh, An Pol Thuaidh (“Dia dhuit, a Roibeaird, a Mhaitiú, a Ootah, a Seeglo (a Sheeglo?), a Egingwah, agus a Ooqueah”), and míol mór socach na Mara Thuaidh.  That latter phrase might not be as transparent as “An Pol Theas” but, rest assured, it’s a whale of a topic.  Hunh?  Aistriúchán thíos.

Maybe some day we’ll tackle another New Zealand place name, “Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu”(aka Taumata), but, once again, that’ll have to be ábhar blag eile.  SGF – Róislín

Nóta: míol mór socach na Mara Thuaidh, lit. beaked whale of the North Sea.  So, “beaked,” an ea?   “Socach” also means “snouted” (!).  I guess every mammal has some kind of snout, be it a “geanc” or a “cromóg.”  “Socach,” the adjective, comes from “soc,” which has many meanings, including “projecting end,” “nose” (after “srón” and “gaosán“), “nozzle,” “muzzle,” and “beak,” as well as “snout.”  Remember all those muzzled calves we discussed way back when?  It was in (26 Feabhra 2010).  “Déanann sí soc don lao.”  “Seo í an bhean a dhéanann soc don lao.”  “Seo í an bhean a ndéanfaidh a hiníon soc don lao.”  ‘A, ‘sea, the theme of that blog (téama an bhlag sin) was actually “clásail choibhneasta” (relative clauses), not “soic” as such.  But we got a lot of mileage out of “na soic sin,” nach bhfuair (a Áine ó “MiseÁine”)?

Kudos to anyone who can send in the formal name for this whale.  Leid: it’s named after a person.  Leid eile: the person’s (unintentional) namesake is a character in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

Gluaisín don nóta: cromóg, aquiline nose; geanc, snub-nose

Nasc don mhapa:,_New_Zealand#mediaviewer/File:New_Zealand_North_Island.png

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  1. Seamas O Fearghuis:

    Nach é Newfoundland an Bearla ar Talamh an Éisc? Bainim an-sult sa do bhlag. Go raibh maith agat!

  2. Sushi:

    Is breeá liom do bhlag, a Roislín, ach (cogar) Talamh an Éisc = Newfoundland,

    • róislín:

      @Sushi ceartaithe anois, grma a Sushi

  3. Sushi:

    Is breá liom. Doh!

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