Old Irish language

Old Irish language

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Encyclopedia
Old Irish is the name given to the oldest form of the Goidelic languages
Goidelic languages
The Goidelic languages or Gaelic languages are one of the two branches of the Insular Celtic languages, the other consisting of the Brythonic languages. Goidelic languages historically formed a dialect continuum stretching from the south of Ireland through the Isle of Man to the north of Scotland...

 for which extensive written texts are extant. It was used from the 6th to the 10th centuries, by which time it had developed into Middle Irish.

Contemporary Old Irish scholarship is still greatly influenced by the works of a small number of scholars active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, among them Rudolf Thurneysen
Rudolf Thurneysen
Eduard Rudolf Thurneysen was a Swiss linguist and Celticist.Born in Basel, Thurneysen studied classical philology in Basel, Leipzig, Berlin and Paris. His teachers included Ernst Windisch and Heinrich Zimmer...

 (1857–1940) and Osborn Bergin
Osborn Bergin
Osborn Joseph Bergin was a scholar of the Irish language and Early Irish literature. He was born in Cork and was educated at Queen's College Cork , then went to Germany for advanced studies in Celtic languages, working with Heinrich Zimmer at the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin...

 (1873–1950). Their books are viewed as required material for any enthusiast of Old Irish even today.

Classification


A still older form of Irish is known as Primitive Irish. Fragments of Primitive Irish, mainly personal names, are known from inscriptions on stone written in the Ogham
Ogham
Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet used primarily to write the Old Irish language, and occasionally the Brythonic language. Ogham is sometimes called the "Celtic Tree Alphabet", based on a High Medieval Bríatharogam tradition ascribing names of trees to the individual letters.There are roughly...

 alphabet. These inscriptions date from about the 4th to the 6th centuries. Primitive Irish is still very close to Common Celtic
Proto-Celtic language
The Proto-Celtic language, also called Common Celtic, is the reconstructed ancestor language of all the known Celtic languages. Its lexis can be confidently reconstructed on the basis of the comparative method of historical linguistics...

, the ancestor of all Celtic languages
Celtic languages
The Celtic languages are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family...

.

Old Irish is the ancestor of Modern Irish
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

, Scottish Gaelic
Scottish Gaelic language
Scottish Gaelic is a Celtic language native to Scotland. A member of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages, Scottish Gaelic, like Modern Irish and Manx, developed out of Middle Irish, and thus descends ultimately from Primitive Irish....

, and Manx
Manx language
Manx , also known as Manx Gaelic, and as the Manks language, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, historically spoken by the Manx people. Only a small minority of the Island's population is fluent in the language, but a larger minority has some knowledge of it...

 (spoken on the Isle of Man
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...

). Broadly speaking, the grammar
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

 and sound systems
Phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

 of the modern languages are simpler than those of Old Irish.

Sources


Relatively little survives in the way of strictly contemporary sources. These are mainly represented by shorter or longer glosses on the margins or between the lines of religious Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 manuscripts, most of them preserved in monasteries in Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy, having been taken there by early Irish missionaries
Hiberno-Scottish mission
The Hiberno-Scottish mission was a mission led by Irish and Scottish monks which spread Christianity and established monasteries in Great Britain and continental Europe during the Middle Ages...

. Whereas in Ireland, many of the older manuscripts appear to have been worn out through extended and heavy use, their counterparts on the Continent were much less prone to the same risk, because once they ceased to be understood, they were rarely consulted.

The earliest Old Irish passages may be the transcripts found in the Book of Armagh
Book of Armagh
The Book of Armagh or Codex Ardmachanus , also known as the Canon of Patrick and the Liber Armachanus, is a 9th-century Irish manuscript written mainly in Latin. It is held by the Library of Trinity College, Dublin...

 and the Cambrai Homily
Cambrai Homily
The Cambrai Homily is the earliest known Irish homily, dating to the 7th or early 8th century. It is evidence that a written vernacular encouraged by the Church had already been established alongside Latin by the 7th century in Ireland. The homily is also the oldest single example of an extended...

, both of which are thought to belong to the early 8th century. Important Continental collections of glosses from the 8th and 9th century include the Würzburg Glosses (mainly) on the Pauline Epistles
Pauline epistles
The Pauline epistles, Epistles of Paul, or Letters of Paul, are the thirteen New Testament books which have the name Paul as the first word, hence claiming authorship by Paul the Apostle. Among these letters are some of the earliest extant Christian documents...

, the Milan Glosses on a commentary to the Psalms and the St Gall Glosses on Priscian
Priscian
Priscianus Caesariensis , commonly known as Priscian, was a Latin grammarian. He wrote the Institutiones grammaticae on the subject...

's Grammar. Further examples are found at Karlsruhe
Karlsruhe
The City of Karlsruhe is a city in the southwest of Germany, in the state of Baden-Württemberg, located near the French-German border.Karlsruhe was founded in 1715 as Karlsruhe Palace, when Germany was a series of principalities and city states...

 (Germany), Paris (France), Milan, Florence and Turin
Turin
Turin is a city and major business and cultural centre in northern Italy, capital of the Piedmont region, located mainly on the left bank of the Po River and surrounded by the Alpine arch. The population of the city proper is 909,193 while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat...

 (Italy). A late 9th-century manuscript from the abbey at Reichenau
Reichenau Island
Reichenau Island lies in Lake Constance in southern Germany, at approximately . It lies between Gnadensee and Untersee, two parts of Lake Constance, almost due west of the city of Konstanz. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway that was completed in 1838...

, now in St. Paul in Carinthia (Austria), contains a spell and four Old Irish poems. The Liber Hymnorum and the Stowe Missal
Stowe Missal
The Stowe Missal, which is strictly speaking a sacramentary rather than a missal, is an Irish illuminated manuscript written mainly in Latin with some Gaelic in about 750. In the mid-11th century it was annotated and some pages rewritten at Lorrha Monastery in County Tipperary, Ireland...

date from about 900 to 1050.

In addition to contemporary witnesses, the vast majority of Old Irish texts are attested in manuscripts of a variety of later dates. Manuscripts of the later Middle Irish period, for instance, such as the Lebor na hUidre
Lebor na hUidre
Lebor na hUidre or the Book of the Dun Cow is an Irish vellum manuscript dating to the 12th century. It is the oldest extant manuscript in Irish. It is held in the Royal Irish Academy and is badly damaged: only 67 leaves remain and many of the texts are incomplete...

 and the Book of Leinster
Book of Leinster
The Book of Leinster , is a medieval Irish manuscript compiled ca. 1160 and now kept in Trinity College, Dublin, under the shelfmark MS H 2.18...

, contain texts which are thought to derive from written exemplars in Old Irish now lost and retain enough of their original form to merit classification as Old Irish. The preservation of certain linguistic forms which were current in the Old Irish period may provide reason to assume that an Old Irish original directly or indirectly underlies the transmitted text or texts.

Consonants


The consonant
Consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

 inventory of Old Irish is shown in the chart below. /N/, /Nʲ/, /L/, /Lʲ/, /R/, /Rʲ/ represent fortis
Fortis and lenis
In linguistics, fortis and lenis are terms generally used to refer to groups of consonants that are produced with greater and lesser energy, respectively, such as in energy applied, articulation, etc....

 sonorant
Sonorant
In phonetics and phonology, a sonorant is a speech sound that is produced without turbulent airflow in the vocal tract; fricatives and plosives are not sonorants. Vowels are sonorants, as are consonants like and . Other consonants, like or , restrict the airflow enough to cause turbulence, and...

s whose precise articulation is unknown, but which were probably longer, tenser
Tenseness
In phonology, tenseness is a particular vowel quality that is phonemically contrastive in many languages, including English. It has also occasionally been used to describe contrasts in consonants. Unlike most distinctive features, the feature [tense] can be interpreted only relatively, that is, in...

, and generally more strongly articulated than their lenis counterparts /n/, /nʲ/, /l/, /lʲ/, /r/, /rʲ/. Like Modern Irish, Old Irish exhibits contrasts between "broad" (velarized
Velarization
Velarization is a secondary articulation of consonants by which the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum during the articulation of the consonant.In the International Phonetic Alphabet, velarization is transcribed by one of three diacritics:...

) and "slender" (palatalized
Palatalization
In linguistics, palatalization , also palatization, may refer to two different processes by which a sound, usually a consonant, comes to be produced with the tongue in a position in the mouth near the palate....

) consonants.
  Labial
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

broad m N  n ŋ  
slender Nʲ  nʲ ŋʲ  
Plosive broad p  b t  d k  ɡ  
slender pʲ  bʲ tʲ  dʲ kʲ  ɡʲ  
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

broad f  v θ  ð s x  ɣ h
slender fʲ  vʲ θʲ  ðʲ xʲ  ɣʲ
Nasalized
Nasalization
In phonetics, nasalization is the production of a sound while the velum is lowered, so that some air escapes through the nose during the production of the sound by the mouth...

 
fricative
broad        
slender ṽʲ        
Approximant broad   R  r    
slender   Rʲ  rʲ    
Lateral
Lateral consonant
A lateral is an el-like consonant, in which airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth....

broad   L  l    
slender   Lʲ  lʲ    


Some details of Old Irish phonetics
Phonetics
Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that comprises the study of the sounds of human speech, or—in the case of sign languages—the equivalent aspects of sign. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds or signs : their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory...

 are not known. /sʲ/ may have been pronounced [ɕ] or [ʃ], as in Modern Irish. /hʲ/ may have been the same sound as /h/ and/or /xʲ/. /Nʲ/ and /Lʲ/ may have been pronounced [ɲ] and [ʎ] respectively. The difference between /R(ʲ)/ and /r(ʲ)/ may have been that the former were trills
Trill consonant
In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation. Standard Spanish <rr> as in perro is an alveolar trill, while in Parisian French it is almost always uvular....

 while the latter were flaps
Flap consonant
In phonetics, a flap or tap is a type of consonantal sound, which is produced with a single contraction of the muscles so that one articulator is thrown against another.-Contrast with stops and trills:...

.

Vowels


The inventory of Old Irish monophthong
Monophthong
A monophthong is a pure vowel sound, one whose articulation at both beginning and end is relatively fixed, and which does not glide up or down towards a new position of articulation....

s is:
  Short Long
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

i u
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

e o
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

a


The distribution of short vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s in unstressed
Stress (linguistics)
In linguistics, stress is the relative emphasis that may be given to certain syllables in a word, or to certain words in a phrase or sentence. The term is also used for similar patterns of phonetic prominence inside syllables. The word accent is sometimes also used with this sense.The stress placed...

 syllable
Syllable
A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. For example, the word water is composed of two syllables: wa and ter. A syllable is typically made up of a syllable nucleus with optional initial and final margins .Syllables are often considered the phonological "building...

s is a little complicated. All short vowels may appear in unstressed final open syllables (an open syllable is one with no coda consonant
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

), after both broad and slender consonants. The front vowels /e/ and /i/ are often spelled ae and ai after broad consonants, which might indicate a retracted pronunciation here, perhaps something like [ɘ] and [ɨ]. All ten possibilities are shown in the following examples:
Old Irish Pronunciation English Annotations
/ˈmarva/ kill 1
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...


sg.
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....


subj.
Subjunctive mood
In grammar, the subjunctive mood is a verb mood typically used in subordinate clauses to express various states of irreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred....

/ˈLʲeːɡʲa/ leave 1
sg.
subj.
/ˈmarve/ or /ˈmarvɘ/ kill 2
sg.
subj.
/ˈLʲeːɡʲe/ leave 2
sg.
subj.
/ˈmarvi/ or /ˈmarvɨ/ kill 2
sg.
indic.
/ˈlʲeːɡʲi/ leave 2
sg.
indic.
/ˈsuːlo/ eye gen.
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

/ˈdoRʲsʲo/ door gen.
/ˈmarvu/ kill 1
sg.
indic.
/ˈLʲeːɡʲu/ leave 1
sg.
indic.


In unstressed closed syllables (that is, those with a syllable coda), the quality of a short vowel is almost entirely predictable by whether the surrounding consonants are broad or slender. Between two broad consonants, the vowel is /a/, as in /ˈdʲiːɣal/ "vengeance" (nom.
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

). Between a slender and a broad consonant the vowel is /e/, as in /ˈdʲlʲiɣʲeð/ "law" (nom./acc.
Accusative case
The accusative case of a noun is the grammatical case used to mark the direct object of a transitive verb. The same case is used in many languages for the objects of prepositions...

). Before a slender consonant the vowel is /i/, as in /ˈdʲiːɣilʲ/ "vengeance" (acc./dat.
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

), and /ˈdʲlʲiɣʲiðʲ/ "law" (gen.). The chief exceptions to this pattern are that /u/ frequently appears when the following syllable contained an *ū in Proto-Celtic
Proto-Celtic language
The Proto-Celtic language, also called Common Celtic, is the reconstructed ancestor language of all the known Celtic languages. Its lexis can be confidently reconstructed on the basis of the comparative method of historical linguistics...

 (for example, /ˈdʲlʲiɣuð/ "law" (dat.) < PC *dligedū), and that /o/ or /u/ frequently appears after a broad labial
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

 (for example, /ˈLʲevor/ "book"; domun /ˈdoṽun/ "world").

The inventory of Old Irish diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

s is shown in this chart:
Long (bimoraic
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

)
Short (monomoraic)
ai ia ui   au ĭu ău
oi ua iu eu ou ĕu  

Phonological history


The following is a summary of the phonological change
Phonological change
In historical linguistics, phonological change is any sound change which alters the number or distribution of phonemes in a language.In a typological scheme first systematized by Henry M...

s yielding (written) Old Irish forms from Proto-Celtic
Proto-Celtic language
The Proto-Celtic language, also called Common Celtic, is the reconstructed ancestor language of all the known Celtic languages. Its lexis can be confidently reconstructed on the basis of the comparative method of historical linguistics...

 stated by Alexander Macbain
Alexander Macbain
Alexander Macbain was a Scottish philologist, best known today for An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language .-Early life and education:...

. (The order is not chronological.)
  • Intervocalic consonants are lenited: *s is lost, stops become fricatives (only written for ph th ch), *l *n *r become lax (unwritten).
  • Geminate consonants resist lenition and become single.
  • *φ is lost with compensatory lengthening of a preceding vowel.
  • *j is lost in all positions, with slenderisation of a preceding consonant, except that before a dropped final vowel it survives as e.
  • *kʷ *gʷ lose their labialisation (yielding c g).
  • Initial *w becomes f. Intervocalic *w is lost with vowel colouring. *w is lost after *t *s and sometimes *d (always when initial), and becomes b after a voiced coronal.
  • *t *d drop out before *b *s which are retained as p s. *d is lost in *ndw > nb.
  • *ld and *ll can both be reflected as either ld or ll, and similarly for *nd and *nn. *ln yields ll.
  • Medial *s assimilates to a following sonorant.
  • Medial *st yields s.
  • *zg yields dg.
  • *rs yields rr.
  • *x is lost before *s (and survives before *t, written ch).
  • Medial *tr *br *dr yield tha(i)r ba(i)r da(i)r respectively.
  • The first element of medial clusters *nt *nk *φm, or any medial cluster formed of *φ *t *k *b *d *g plus *l *n *r excepting *tr *br *dr, is lost with compensatory lengthening of any preceding vowel. Compensatorily lengthened vowels develop as original long vowels (below). Such clusters after *s still lose their first member but cause no lengthening.
  • Consonants before *e *i *j, excepting the *k in *nk, become slender. If the consonant is not initial this is indicated by a preceding i in spelling (unless the preceding vowel is already i or í).
  • ī, and *ē from compensatory lengthening, both yield either é or í, and similarly for *ū and *ō. The corresponding short vowels also can exchange before a consonant plus optional *j and a back vowel.
  • *e *i before a consonant plus *(j)u can additionally yield iu. *ō *ū before a velar plus *(j)u can additionally yield úa.
  • Nonfinally, the outcomes of *ei are é ía; of *ai and *oi are áe ái óe ói; of *eu and *ou is úa; of *au are áu ó.
  • *iwo gives or ía; *ewo gives ; *eiwi gives é; *eiwo gives ía; *awi gives á or ó; *awo gives ó; *owi gives úa.
  • *e *i can yield respectively eu iu after *wl.

Orthography


As with most medieval languages, the orthography
Orthography
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

 of Old Irish is not fixed, so the following statements are to be taken as generalizations only. Individual manuscript
Manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

s may vary greatly from these guidelines.

The Old Irish alphabet
Alphabet
An alphabet is a standard set of letters—basic written symbols or graphemes—each of which represents a phoneme in a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. There are other systems, such as logographies, in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic...

 consists of the following eighteen letters
Letter (alphabet)
A letter is a grapheme in an alphabetic system of writing, such as the Greek alphabet and its descendants. Letters compose phonemes and each phoneme represents a phone in the spoken form of the language....

 of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

:
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u


In addition, the acute accent
Acute accent
The acute accent is a diacritic used in many modern written languages with alphabets based on the Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek scripts.-Apex:An early precursor of the acute accent was the apex, used in Latin inscriptions to mark long vowels.-Greek:...

 and the superdot
Dot (diacritic)
When used as a diacritic mark, the term dot is usually reserved for the Interpunct , or to the glyphs 'combining dot above' and 'combining dot below'...

 are used as diacritic
Diacritic
A diacritic is a glyph added to a letter, or basic glyph. The term derives from the Greek διακριτικός . Diacritic is both an adjective and a noun, whereas diacritical is only an adjective. Some diacritical marks, such as the acute and grave are often called accents...

s with certain letters:
  • The acute accent indicates a long vowel
    Vowel
    In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

    . The following are long vowels: á, é, í, ó, ú.
  • The superdot indicates the lenition
    Lenition
    In linguistics, lenition is a kind of sound change that alters consonants, making them "weaker" in some way. The word lenition itself means "softening" or "weakening" . Lenition can happen both synchronically and diachronically...

     of f and s: is silent, is pronounced /h/
  • The superdot is also sometimes used on m and n with no change in pronunciation, when these letters are used to mark the nasalization mutation: , .


A number of digraph
Digraph (orthography)
A digraph or digram is a pair of characters used to write one phoneme or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined...

s are also used:
The letter i is placed after a vowel letter to indicate that the following consonant was slender: ai, ei, oi, ui; ái, éi, ói, úi
The letter h is placed after c, t, p to indicate a fricative: ch, th, ph
The diphthongs are also indicated by digraphs: áe/, ía, , áu, óe/, úa, éu, óu, iu, au, eu


In word-initial position, when no initial consonant mutation
Consonant mutation
Consonant mutation is when a consonant in a word changes according to its morphological and/or syntactic environment.Mutation phenomena occur in languages around the world. A prototypical example of consonant mutation is the initial consonant mutation of all modern Celtic languages...

 has applied, the consonant letters have the following values; they are broad before back vowel
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

s (a, o, u) and slender before front vowel
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

s (e, i):
Consonant When no initial consonant mutation
Consonant mutation
Consonant mutation is when a consonant in a word changes according to its morphological and/or syntactic environment.Mutation phenomena occur in languages around the world. A prototypical example of consonant mutation is the initial consonant mutation of all modern Celtic languages...

 has applied in word-initial position before a, o, u
When no initial consonant mutation
Consonant mutation
Consonant mutation is when a consonant in a word changes according to its morphological and/or syntactic environment.Mutation phenomena occur in languages around the world. A prototypical example of consonant mutation is the initial consonant mutation of all modern Celtic languages...

 has applied in word-initial position before e, i
b /b/ /bʲ/
c /k/ /kʲ/
d /d/ /dʲ/
f /f/ /fʲ/
g /ɡ/ /ɡʲ/
h See discussion below
l /L/ /Lʲ/
m /m/ /mʲ/
n /N/ /Nʲ/
p /p/ /pʲ/
r /R/ /Rʲ/
s /s/ /ʃ/
t /t/ /tʲ/


Although Old Irish has both a sound /h/ and a letter h, there is no consistent relationship between the two. Vowel-initial words are sometimes written with an unpronounced h, especially if they are very short (the preposition  "in" was sometimes written ) or if they need to be emphasized (the name of Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, , was sometimes written ). On the other hand, words that begin with the sound /h/ are usually written without it, for example /a hoːr/ "her gold". If the sound and the spelling cooccur
Co-occurrence
Co-occurrence or cooccurrence can either mean concurrence / coincidence or, in a more specific sense, the above-chance frequent occurrence of two terms from a text corpus alongside each other in a certain order. Co-occurrence in this linguistic sense can be interpreted as an indicator of semantic...

, it is by coincidence, as /Nʲiː heð/ "it is not".

After a vowel or l, n, or r the letters c, p, t can stand for either voiced or voiceless stops; they can also be written double with either value:
Old Irish Pronunciation English
or /mak/ son
or /bʲeɡ/ small
or /ob/ refuse
or /brat/ mantle
or /brod/ goad
/dʲerk/ hole
/dʲerɡ/ red
/daLte/ fosterling
/kʲeLde/ who hide
/aNta/ of remaining
/aNde/ who remain


After a vowel the letters b, d, g stand for the fricatives /v, ð, ɣ/ or their slender equivalents:
Old Irish Pronunciation English
/duv/ black
/moð/ work
/muɣ/ slave
/klaðʲev/ sword
/klaðʲivʲ/ swords


After m, b is a stop, but after d, l and r it is a fricative:
Old Irish Pronunciation English
/imʲbʲ/ butter
/oðv/ knot (in a tree)
/dʲelv/ image
/marv/ dead


After n and r, d is a stop
Old Irish Pronunciation English
/bʲiNʲdʲ/ melodious
/kʲeRd/ "art, skill"


After n, l, and r, g is usually a stop, but it is a fricative in a few words:
Old Irish Pronunciation English
/Loŋɡ/ ship
or /dʲelɡ/ thorn
or /arɡad/ silver
/inʲɣʲen/ daughter
/barʲɣʲen/ loaf of bread


After vowels m is usually a fricative, but sometimes a (nasal) stop, in which case it is also often written double:
Old Irish Pronunciation English
/daː company
or /Lom/ bare


The digraphs ch, ph, th do not occur in word-initial position except under lenition, but wherever they occur they are pronounced /x/, /f/, /θ/.
Old Irish Pronunciation English
/ex/ horse
/oif/ beauty
/aːθ/ ford


The letters l, n, and r are written double when they indicate the tense sonorants, single when they indicate the lax sonorants. (But the tense sonorants are usually written single in word-initial position.)
Old Irish Pronunciation English
/koR/ crane
/kor/ putting
/koL/ hazel
/kol/ sin
/soN/ stake
/son/ sound

Syntax


Old Irish follows the typical VSO (verb-subject-object) structure shared by most Insular Celtic languages
Insular Celtic languages
Insular Celtic languages are those Celtic languages that originated in the British Isles, in contrast to the Continental Celtic languages of mainland Europe and Anatolia. All surviving Celtic languages are from the Insular Celtic group; the Continental Celtic languages are extinct...

 (even though other orders are possible, especially under Bergin's Law
Bergin's Law
Bergin's Law is a grammatical law of Old Irish. It is named for the linguist Osborn Bergin , who identified it.Bergin's Law states that while in Old Irish the normal order of a sentence is verb-subject-object, it is permissible for the verb, in the conjunct form, to appear at the end of the sentence....

). Verbs are all fully conjugated
Grammatical conjugation
In linguistics, conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection . Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, or other grammatical categories...

, and have most of the forms typical of Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

, i.e. present
Present tense
The present tense is a grammatical tense that locates a situation or event in present time. This linguistic definition refers to a concept that indicates a feature of the meaning of a verb...

, imperfect, past
Past tense
The past tense is a grammatical tense that places an action or situation in the past of the current moment , or prior to some specified time that may be in the speaker's past, present, or future...

, future
Future tense
In grammar, a future tense is a verb form that marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future , or to happen subsequent to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future .-Expressions of future tense:The concept of the future,...

 and preterite
Preterite
The preterite is the grammatical tense expressing actions that took place or were completed in the past...

 tenses
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

, indicative, subjunctive
Subjunctive mood
In grammar, the subjunctive mood is a verb mood typically used in subordinate clauses to express various states of irreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred....

, conditional
Conditional mood
In linguistics, the conditional mood is the inflectional form of the verb used in the independent clause of a conditional sentence to refer to a hypothetical state of affairs, or an uncertain event, that is contingent on another set of circumstances...

 and imperative
Imperative mood
The imperative mood expresses commands or requests as a grammatical mood. These commands or requests urge the audience to act a certain way. It also may signal a prohibition, permission, or any other kind of exhortation.- Morphology :...

 moods
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

, and active and passive voices. The only verbal form lacking in Old Irish is the infinitive
Infinitive
In grammar, infinitive is the name for certain verb forms that exist in many languages. In the usual description of English, the infinitive of a verb is its basic form with or without the particle to: therefore, do and to do, be and to be, and so on are infinitives...

, this covered, as in the modern Gaelic languages, by the verbal noun. Personal pronouns, when used as direct objects, are prefixed to the verb with which they are associated (after other prefixes, and therefore are often referred to as infixes). Prepositions have the same status as the Latin prepositions, including the property of being verb prefixes.

Nouns


Old Irish had three genders
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

, namely, masculine, feminine and neuter; three numbers
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

, namely, singular
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

, dual
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

 and plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

, with the dual being attested only to a limited degree with somewhat distinct forms, though it is almost always preceded by the cardinal , meaning "two" (and as such has been retained in the modern Gaelic languages); and five cases (nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive and dative). Thurneysen
Rudolf Thurneysen
Eduard Rudolf Thurneysen was a Swiss linguist and Celticist.Born in Basel, Thurneysen studied classical philology in Basel, Leipzig, Berlin and Paris. His teachers included Ernst Windisch and Heinrich Zimmer...

 had fourteen classes of noun, defined by the morphological marking on the stem, with seven vocalic stems and seven consonantal stems (including one class of irregular and indeclinable nouns). The full range of case is only evident in the noun phrase, where the artical causes noun initial mutation, and where the initials of following adjectives are mutated according to the underlying case ending, thus in fer bec "the small man", nominative, differs from the accusative in bfer mbec, though at times such mutations were not written. In the following H shows lenition, N shows ellipsis of the following adjective, and h shows prefixing of h to following vowel inital adjectives.
Feminine ā-stems Singular
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

Dual
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

Plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

Nominative/Vocative
Accusative
Genitive
Dative

Masculine o-stems Singular
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

Dual
Dual (grammatical number)
Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities identified by the noun or pronoun...

Plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

Nominative
Vocative
Accusative
Genitive
Dative

Verbs


Verbs stand initially in the sentence (preceded only by some particles, forming a "verbal complex", and very few adverbs). Most verbs have, in addition to the tenses, voices, and moods named above, two sets of forms: a conjunct form, and an absolute form
Dependent and independent verb forms
In the Goidelic languages, dependent and independent verb forms are distinct verb forms; each tense of each verb exists in both forms. Verbs are often preceded by a particle which marks negation, or a question, or has some other force. The dependent verb forms are used after a particle, while...

. The conjunct form typically consists of one or more preverbs (particles, some of which are prepositions in origin; compare , , , etc. in Latin verbs), followed by a verb stem, which can be either suffixed for tense, person, mood and aspect (often portmanteau suffixes), or where these can be shown by vowel changes in the stem (e.g. present "says", past "said", future "will say"). Personal pronouns as direct objects are infixed between the preverb and the verbal stem. Before this core "verb phrase" are placed various other particles that modify the verb's meaning (including the negative) or indicate certain special sentence structures. The absolute form is used when no infixes are necessary, and any other necessary elements are given in another part of the sentence. In an overall sense, the verb structure is agglutinative. A single verb can stand as an entire sentence in Old Irish, in which case emphatic particles such as and are affixed to the end of the verb.

See also

  • Early Irish literature
    Early Irish literature
    -The earliest Irish authors:It is unclear when literacy first came to Ireland. The earliest Irish writings are inscriptions, mostly simple memorials, on stone in the ogham alphabet, the earliest of which date to the fourth century...

  • Dictionary of the Irish Language
    Dictionary of the Irish Language
    Dictionary of the Irish Language: Based Mainly on Old and Middle Irish Materials , published by the Royal Irish Academy, is the definitive dictionary of the origins of the Irish language, specifically the Old Irish and Middle Irish stages; the modern language is not included...

  • Auraicept na n-Éces
    Auraicept na n-Éces
    Auraicept na n-Éces is claimed as a 7th century work of Irish grammarians, written by a scholar named Longarad....

  • Goidelic substrate hypothesis

External links