May 5, 2013 | Irish

Language-Learning Books Should Be Proofread!

Mistakes can really screw up teach-yourself language learners.

Yesterday I wrote briefly about lenition, a process through which the beginnings of words in Irish can change depending on the word that precedes them. 

I found the lenition explanation in Essential Irish Grammar by Éamonn Ó Dónaill a wee bit confusing, and part of that, I have since realized, is because there were two really major big bad proofreading errors in that section.

This Led Me Astray

This Led Me Astray

Here at left is a picture of the offending excerpt. 

According to what it says on this page, an initial b, c, d, f, g, m, p, and s in a word are sometimes lenited—which as far as I understand it, involves a kind of softening effect. Lenition, it is explained here, results in the following written changes: b→bh, cch, ddh, ffh, ggh, and ssh.

That seems reasonable, but it also says here that m and p become bh. When I read that yesterday, I thought, well, that’s weird! B, m, and p all become bh through lenition?

So yeah, mysterious, but what do I know about Irish? I kept reading.

Then, today, I was doing an exercise in which I was asked to produce the form of meánscoil (meaning “secondary school”) that would follow the definite article an. I dutifully followed the instructions on the page shown above. Even though I found it almost impossible to believe this could be right, here’s what I came up with:

an bheánscoil

When I checked the answer key, I saw that my answer was wrong; the answer instead was the much more logical an mheánscoil. Hm. That sent me on a scouting expedition through the text, which proved fruitless, so I posted a question about this issue on the Irish Language Forum. Just minutes later I got a reply: what I had been told in Essential Irish Grammar was wrong wrong wrong.

For and p, the lenition changes are mh and ph, respectively—not bh!

With two out of eight letters lenited incorrectly, this guide for Irish newbies has a 25% lenition error rate—and right up front on page 2, where readers are still going to be particularly helpless and gullible.

The book’s original copyright is from 2005. Has it been leading poor Irish learners astray for eight years now? This is probably the worst and most confusing proofreading error I have ever seen in a language-learning guide—and I’ve seen many, many errors over the past four years of this project.

I am still enjoying the book for now, but seriously, McGraw-Hill, decent proofreading is essential!

Comments (3)

John Burton • Posted on Wed, June 12, 2013 - 6:44 pm EST

Maybe because bh and mh are both pronounced “v”?  Not that it’s an excuse ...

Jeremy White • Posted on Mon, April 21, 2014 - 12:45 pm EST

Hi Ellen,

You will be pleased to know that there is a new edition of this book out (renamed Teach Yourself Irish Grammar You Really Need to Know) and that this error has been corrected (see page 2 of the on-line preview on Lenition):

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, April 21, 2014 - 1:00 pm EST

Jeremy, that is wonderful news! Thank you so much for letting me know!

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