Tomhas na Teanga – November/December 2005


I would like to clarify something I wrote last time (see the archives at about the pronunciation of the copula (is).  It is, as I said, usually pronounced ‘iss’ (broad ‘s’, like in ‘yes’).  However, if it comes before a word beginning with a slenderising vowel (i, í, e, é), it will be pronounced as a slender ‘s’ (‘sh’ in English).  So, the first line of a popular song called ‘Mo Ghile Mear’ (‘My Nimble Beloved,’ roughly) is: ‘Sé mo laoch, mo ghile mear.  That “‘sé “ is short for “is é”  (he is).  The ‘s’ is slender, so it is pronounced ‘shay,’ just like the name O’Shay, or Shea, which in Irish is Ó Sé.  OK?


One of two words for ‘if’ in Irish is ‘má’ (‘mah’).  When this is followed by ‘is,’ they merge and become ‘más,’ which by itself would be pronounced ‘mahss.’  But in the phrase ‘más é do thoil é’ (please – literally ‘if it is your will’), it is pronounced ‘mosh,’ because it is followed by that ‘é.’  In speech, words run together, and sometimes it changes the way things are pronounced.


If you are unsure of how to pronounce any particular letters or combinations of letters in Irish, and have access to the internet (and a fast connection), you should check out  This is not a complicated explanation of linguistics, but rather an audio-visual presentation of all of the basic sounds of Irish.


The feature of the Celtic languages that really sets them apart from other European languages is that the beginning of words change, depending on how they are used.  Most inflected languages only change endings.  There are two primary changes which can happen to the beginning of a word in Irish – eclipsis and lenition.  They strike someone who has never seen them before as rather complicated, but it’s really not so bad.  There are regular patterns, and only certain combinations are possible.


Eclipsis is where one consonant cancels out another.  If you see ‘gc’ in Irish, it is pronounced as a ‘g.’  The ‘c’ (original letter) is cancelled out, or eclipsed, by the letter placed before it.  Any time a ‘c’ is eclipsed, it will be by a ‘g,’ and no other letter.  There are pairs which will do this – and only these pairs.  Here they are:

                        mb, gc, nd, bhf, ng, bp, dt

(bh is treated as one letter, since it is one sound).

If you are into linguistics at all, you will recognize that each pair is made of very similar sounds.


What causes eclipsis to happen?  A few things.  The preposition ‘i’ (in) – i gceist, in question.  A preposition + the article (in some dialects this causes lenition instead) – ar an gceann, on the head.  The genitive plural after the article – plúr na mban, the flour of women.  Plural possessive pronouns – ár dteach, our house.  There is more to it, but that’s the gist of it.


How about lenition?  This is a kind of cancelling out, also.  Originally, it was shown by a dot over the letter, which was Latin shorthand for striking it out (used in manuscripts).  Now it is shown by putting an ‘h’ after the letter.  Only certain consonants can be lenitted:   

b, c, d, f, g, p, s and t. 


What causes lenition?  A bunch of things – and I won’t try to cover them all here.  One example is most singular possessive pronouns – mo ghile, my fair one.  Some lenitted letters become almost silent (like an h).  Others change their sound, like gh.


Are these the only ‘initial mutations?’  No.  There are a few cases where ‘t’ can be prefixed to an ‘s’ or a vowel, and cases where an ‘n’ or an ‘h’ can be prefixed to a vowel.  But that is it.  It’s all in the details, and these take time to get used to.  For more on this, or any grammar, this is a very in-depth web site, with a section on initial mutations:


Did you know that there are several films that have been done in Irish?  Recently on Long Island,  we had the annual Long Island Film Festival.  This features mostly local talent, but because of  the involvement of the Gerry Tobin Irish Language School and the Philo-Celtic Society, they decided to include three Irish language short films this year.  It never hurts to ask – that’s how things happen!  To read about this film festival, see  To read about Irish movies in general, see  Before long I hope to be telling you about some Irish language films and programs made in America.


Agus mé ag caint faoin idirlíon, ba mhaith liom insint daoibh go bhfuil rud nua ann atá an-suimiúil.  Sin ‘podcasting,’ nó ‘podchraoladh’ as Gaeilge.  Cad é seo?  Bhuel, is dócha go bhfuil a fhios ag gach éinne gur féidir le duine cláir raidió a chloisteáil ar an idirlíon (, mar shampla).  Tá roinnt díobh se ar fáil beo, agus roinnt díobh ar fáil am ar bith, mar chomhaid (files).  Ní mór go bhfuil stáisiún raidió ann chun a leithéid a dhéanamh.  Ach níl sé an-deacair comhad fuaime a dhéanamh ar ríomhaire ar bith.  Mar sin, is féidir le duine ar bith comhaid cosúil le cláir raidió a dhéanamh, agus iad a chur os comhar an tsaoil ar an idirlíon.  Is dócha go bhfuil a fhios ag chuile dhuine go bhfuil rud eile nua ann ar a dtugtar ‘Ipod.’  Is seinnteoir beag comhad fuaime é, atá soghluaiste.  Tá córas ar fáil don nghnáthdhuine chun comhaid a dhéantar ar an idirlíon a bhailiú agus a chur ar leithéid de Ipod go rialta, ionas go mbeidh siad ann chun éisteacht leo aon am ab áil el duine.  Sin podchraoladh – comhaid a dhéanamh ar fáil so dóigh seo.  Tá cúpla ceann ar fáil as Gaeilge!  Más maith leat a leithéid a chloisteáil, bain triail as  Ní gá go bhfuil Ipod agat, mar is féidir leat éisteacht le gach clár gan é.  Cad atá ann, sna cláir seo?  Rud ar bith.  Tá an duine áirithe seo ina chónaí in Inis, Contae an Chláir, agus Gaeilge iontach aige.  An rud is fearr faoin bpodchraoladh, sin go bhfuil gach aon duine in ann caint le chéile agus roinn a smaointe lena chéile, gan gá le comhlacht mór agus airgead mór chun a nguthanna a ardú ar stáitse an domhain.  Áis iontach do lucht mionteanga, mar sinne, is ea é, leis.


Nollaig shona daoibh go léir!