May 26, 2013 | Irish
Be Brave, O Readers of Irish Grammar Books
I can't help laughing at some of the explanations I am coming across.
New York has many, many Irish bars. Two days ago I walked into one in my neighborhood, Malachy’s, told the bartender I was studying Irish, and asked whether any Irish speakers hang out there. I need conversation.
Malachy’s, West 72nd Street
He replied, “You mean Gaelic?”
I have gotten that question a lot since I started this Irish unit.
Gaelic is an acceptable term, but as I mentioned in a previous entry, it can mean Scottish Gaelic or Irish Gaelic (technically Manx as well), and if you were in Europe, I believe Gaelic would mostly be understood to mean the Scottish variety of Gaelic. Which I don’t mean.
You can say Irish Gaelic to be clearer, but people in Ireland usually say Irish. I like Irish. It is one word.
So, back to Irish. I love grammar. I think that is kind of obvious at this point.
Strangely, my experiences with Irish are reminding me a little bit of my experiences with Polish and Russian. Polish has seven cases, and Russian six, and with those languages I spent a lot of time on nouns and modifiers before I ever got to verbs. In fact, I spent hours and hours going through tables and lists for the precise combination of declension rules that applied to whatever phrases and sentences I happened to be working on.
The same thing here. The nature of word transformations in Irish is different from those in Polish and Russian—but they are still numerous, and as a result, my Irish experiences have been heavily noun- and adjective-related to date.
I remain woefully deficient in the art of Irish verbs. In Essential Irish Grammar by Éamonn Ó Dónaill, you don’t even get to a chapter on verbs until page 70. And I am not there.
I would like to share with you a few quotations from pre-verb grammatical lessons I am trying to absorb. Some of them can be a little hard on the mental motors.
From Essential Irish Grammar, in a chapter on adjectives:
- Adjectives are lenited when they qualify nouns that are feminine, singular and in the nominative, accusative, dative and vocative cases.
- Adjectives are also lenited when they qualify nouns that are masculine, singular and in the genitive and vocative cases.
- An adjective qualifying a weak-plural noun has the same form for all the cases in the plural except the genitive, which has the same form as the nominative/accusative singular.
It’s not that I can’t understand those sentences; it’s that I can’t remember them.
In Basic Irish: A Grammar and Workbook by Nancy Stenson, only in Unit 11 are you finally taught the present tense of regular verbs. That is page 83! I am not there yet.
A healthy chunk of the pages leading up to that are devoted to noun forms. Here are some sentences from Unit 6, on noun classes and cases:
- An doesn’t change the form of masculine genitive nouns, but prefixes t before s and lenites other consonants (except t, d). But t- is not prefixed to vowels in the genitive case.
- In the genitive plural, all nouns are eclipsed after na (with n- before vowels).
- In the first declension, the genitive plural is the same as the common singular; whereas the genitive singular slenderizes a final consonant, in the genitive plural it remains broad.
There’s nothing technically wrong with any of those sentences, I don’t believe. It’s just that they accumulate and make little piles of grammatical doo-doo in my head.
I need to go find myself some Irish speakers!