Using Your Head: Counting in Irish with the Word “Ceann”Posted by róislín on Aug 31, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bhuel, it’s not really your head.  Just a generalized application of the word “ceann” (head) in Irish.

So far, in all of the counting practice in recent blogs, we’ve been practicing na huimhreacha with the actual items being counted (móideim amháin, deich mbliana, srl.).  But there’s a convenient way to use the word “ceann” in response to questions like “Cé mhéad móideim atá sa bhosca sin?”

Instead of repeating the noun used in the question, in this case “móideim,” we can simply answer with the appropriate number plus the word “ceann,” understood now more as “one(s)” than as “head” per se.  That means we only have to remember one lenited form (dhá cheann) and one type of eclipsis (seacht gcinn, “c” changing to “gc”).  When we use the full range of nouns in Irish, we have to keep every pattern of eclipsis in mind (b-mb, c-gc, d-nd, f-bhf, g-ng, p-bp, t-dt).  Since “ceann” can substitute for almost any noun while counting, we just have to do the “c” to “gc” eclipsis.  Six less patterns of eclipsis to keep in mind!

But it’s not a complete “piece o’ cake.”  Now the “units of measurement” rule kicks in.   In a nutshell, certain units of measurements in Irish take a slightly different set of rules.  More on the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle of them i mblag éigin eile, but as a teaser, the other special ones include “uair” and “bliain” but not “nóiméad” or “mí.”  So, it’s not all possible units of measurement, and it’s not predictable, at least not by any common sense type of logic.   Here, we’ll just deal with “ceann amháin” of these special units of measurement, the word “ceann” itself..

To answer “Cé mhéad móideim atá sa bhosca sin?”, we can say either “dhá mhóideim” or “dhá cheann” (two modems or “two ones”).  Or it could have been “móideim amháin” or “ceann amháin.”  So far, so good.

Starting with “trí,” we have the units of measurement rule.

3 to 6, no, (that’s right, no) lenition, but a vowel change!

trí cinn, ceithre cinn, cúig cinn, sé cinn

7 to 10, we do include eclipsis and also apply the vowel change.

seacht gcinn, ocht gcinn, naoi gcinn, deich gcinn.

By changing the vowel from “ea” to “i,” we create of form of the word “ceann” that looks just like the standard nominative plural (cinn), which also happens to look like the genitive singular form (cinn).  However, I prefer not to say that we’re literally using the “plural” or “genitive” form here, with the units of measurement rule, because as you go through all the possible nouns affected by this rule, some take a form like the genitive singular “trí bliana” and some use a form like the nominative plural “sé seachtainí.”  I prefer just to think of this as a “special form.”

Furthermore, sometimes “ceanna” is used as a plural of “ceann,” so to say that we’re switching to the plural for the units of measurement could be misleading.

I know we’ve dealt with this issue in some previous blogs, and it’s standard fare in most textbooks (although not always labeled as such), but it seemed apropos as we wind down from counting practice, and switch to noun declensions, or some of the other promised topics, including the long-backburnered donkey sanctuary blog, which I still intend to write lá éigin

In contrast to all of the above, if a dialogue or narrative simply started with the phrase “ceann amháin” and there was no indication of counting, it probably would refer to a physical head, perhaps a “ceann dícheannaithe” being brought back from battle as a trophy.  Yes, that was a practice of our sinsir Cheilteacha!

das, go mór mór do lucht labhartha na Breatnaise, tá an focal “ceann” gaolta leis an bhfocal “pen(head) sa Bhreatnais.  Sampla deas den fheiniméan “P-Cheiltis / Q-Cheiltis,” ábhar blag eile, ar ndóigh.

Sin é don bhlag seo.  SGF, ó Róislín

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