Old Irish (Old Irish: Goídelc; Irish: Sean-Ghaeilge; Scottish Gaelic: Seann Ghàidhlig; Manx: Shenn Yernish; sometimes called Old Gaelic) is the name given to the oldest form of the Goidelic languages for which extensive written texts are extant. It was used from c.600 to c.900. The primary contemporary texts are dated c.700–850; by 900 the language had already transitioned into early Middle Irish. Some Old Irish texts date from the 10th century, although these are presumably copies of texts composed at an earlier time period. Old Irish is thus the ancestor of Modern Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic. Old Irish is known for having a particularly complex system of morphology and especially of allomorphy (more or less unpredictable variations in stems and suffixes in differing circumstances) as well as a complex sound system involving grammatically significant consonant mutations to the initial consonant of a word. Apparently,[* 1] neither characteristic was present in the preceding Primitive Irish period. Much of the complex allomorphy was subsequently lost, but the sound system has been maintained with little change in the modern languages. 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 such as Rudolf Thurneysen (1857–1940) and Osborn Bergin (1873–1950).
1 Notable characteristics 2 Classification 3 Sources 4 Phonology
4.1 Consonants 4.2 Vowels 4.3 Stress
5 Orthography 6 History
6.6.1 Overview 6.6.2 Initial clusters 6.6.3 Intervocalic clusters
7 Grammar 8 See also 9 Notes 10 References 11 Bibliography 12 External links
Notable characteristics Notable characteristics of Old Irish compared with other old Indo-European languages, are:
Initial mutations, including lenition, nasalisation and
A complex system of verbal allomorphy.
A system of conjugated prepositions that is unusual in Indo-European
languages (although they are found in many
Old Irish also preserves most aspects of the complicated
Proto-Indo-European (PIE) system of morphology. Nouns and adjectives
are declined in three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter); three
numbers (singular, dual, plural); and five cases (nominative,
vocative, accusative, dative and genitive). Most PIE noun stem classes
are maintained (o-, yo-, ā-, yā-, i-, u-, r-, n-, s-, and consonant
stems). Most of the complexities of PIE verbal conjugation are also
maintained, and there are new complexities introduced by various sound
changes (see below).
Old Irish was the only member of the Goidelic/Gaelic branch of the
Celtic languages, which is, in turn, a subfamily of the wider
Labial Dental Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal broad m N n ŋ
slender mʲ Nʲ nʲ ŋʲ
Plosive broad p b t d k ɡ
slender pʲ bʲ tʲ dʲ kʲ ɡʲ
Fricative broad f v θ ð s x ɣ h
slender fʲ vʲ θʲ ðʲ sʲ xʲ ɣʲ hʲ
Nasalized fricative broad ṽ
Some details of
Old Irish phonetics are not known. /sʲ/ may have been
pronounced [ɕ] or [ʃ], as in Modern Irish. /hʲ/ may have been the
same sound as /h/ or /xʲ/. The precise articulation of the fortis
sonorants /N/, /Nʲ/, /L/, /Lʲ/, /R/, /Rʲ/ is unknown, but they were
probably longer, tenser and generally more strongly articulated than
their lenis counterparts /n/, /nʲ/, /l/, /lʲ/, /r/, /rʲ/, as in the
Modern Irish and Scottish dialects that still possess a four-way
distinction in the coronal nasals and laterals. /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
while the latter were flaps. /m(ʲ)/ and /ṽ(ʲ)/ were derived from
an original fortis–lenis pair.
Old Irish had distinctive vowel length in both monophthongs and
diphthongs. Short diphthongs were monomoraic, taking up the same
amount of time as short vowels, while long diphthongs were bimoraic,
the same as long vowels. (This is much like the situation in Old
English but different from
Close i u ĭu
Mid e o ĕu (ŏu)1
Open a ău
1The short diphthong ŏu may have existed very early in the Old Irish period/but not later on. Archaic Old Irish (before about 750) had the following inventory of long vowels:
Close iː uː iu ui
Mid e₁ː, e₂ː1 o₁ː, (o₂ː?)2 eu oi, (ou)3
Open aː ai, au3
1Both /e₁ː/ and /e₂ː/ were normally written é but must have been pronounced differently because they have different origins and distinct outcomes in later Old Irish. /e₁ː/ stems from Proto-Celtic *ē (< PIE *ei), or from ē in words borrowed from Latin. e₂ː generally stems from compensatory lengthening of short *e because of loss of the following consonant (in certain clusters) or a directly following vowel in hiatus. It is generally thought that /e₁ː/ was higher than /e₂ː/. Perhaps /e₁ː/ was [eː] while /e₂ː/ was [ɛː]. They are clearly distinguished in later Old Irish, in which /e₁ː/ becomes ía (but é before a palatal consonant). /e₂ː/ becomes é in all circumstances. Furthermore, /e₂ː/ is subject to u-affection, becoming éu or íu, while /e₁ː/ is not. 2A similar distinction may have existed between /o₁ː/ and /o₂ː/, both written ó, and stemming respectively from former diphthongs (*eu, *au, *ou) and from compensatory lengthening. However, in later Old Irish both sounds appear usually as úa, sometimes as ó, and it is unclear whether /o₂ː/ existed as a separate sound any time in the Old Irish period. 3/ou/ existed only in early archaic Old Irish (c.700 or earlier); afterwards it merged into /au/. Neither sound occurred before another consonant, and both sounds became ó in later Old Irish (often ú or u before another vowel). The late ó does not develop into úa, suggesting that áu > ó postdated ó > úa. Later Old Irish had the following inventory of long vowels:
Close iː uː iu, ia ui, ua
Mid eː oː eu oi?1
1Early Old Irish /ai/ and /oi/ merged in later Old Irish. It is unclear what the resulting sound was, as scribes continued to use both aí and oí to indicate the merged sound. The choice of /oi/ in the table above is somewhat arbitrary. The distribution of short vowels in unstressed syllables is a little complicated. All short vowels may appear in absolutely final position (at the very end of a word) 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
marba /ˈmarva/ kill 1 sg. subj.
léicea /ˈLʲeːɡʲa/ leave 1 sg. subj.
marbae /ˈmarve/ ([ˈmarvɘ]?) kill 2 sg. subj.
léice /ˈLʲeːɡʲe/ leave 2 sg. subj.
marbai /ˈmarvi/ ([ˈmarvɨ]?) kill 2 sg. indic.
léici /ˈlʲeːɡʲi/ leave 2 sg. indic.
súlo /ˈsuːlo/ eye gen.
doirseo /ˈdoRʲsʲo/ door gen.
marbu /ˈmarvu/ kill 1 sg. indic.
léiciu /ˈLʲeːɡʲu/ leave 1 sg. indic.
The distribution of short vowels in unstressed syllables, other than when absolutely final, was quite restricted. It is usually thought that there were only two allowed phonemes: /ə/ (written a, ai, e or i depending on the quality of surrounding consonants) and /u/ (written u or o). The phoneme /u/ tended to occur when the following syllable contained an *ū in Proto-Celtic (for example, dligud /ˈdʲlʲiɣuð/ "law" (dat.) < PC *dligedū), or after a broad labial (for example, lebor /ˈLʲevor/ "book"; domun /ˈdoṽun/ "world"). The phoneme /ə/ occurred in other circumstances. The occurrence of the two phonemes was generally unrelated to the nature of the corresponding Proto-Celtic vowel, which could be any monophthong: long or short. Long vowels also occur in unstressed syllables. However, they rarely reflect Proto-Celtic long vowels, which were shortened prior to the deletion (syncope) of inner syllables. Rather, they originate in one of the following ways:
from the late resolution of a hiatus of two adjacent vowels (usually as a result of loss of *s between vowels); from compensatory lengthening in response to loss of a consonant (cenél "kindred, gender" < *cenethl; du·air-chér "I have purchased" < *-chechr, preterite of crenaid "buys"); from assimilation of an unstressed vowel to a corresponding long stressed vowel; from late compounding; from lengthening of short vowels before unlenited /m, N, L, R/, still in progress in Old Irish (compare erríndem "highest" vs. rind "peak").
Stress is generally on the first syllable of a word. However, in verbs
it occurs on the second syllable when the first syllable is a clitic
(the verbal prefix as- in as·beir /asˈberʲ/ "he says"). In such
cases, the unstressed prefix is indicated in grammatical works with a
following centre dot (·).
As with most medieval languages, the orthography of
Old Irish is not
fixed, so the following statements are to be taken as generalisations
only. Individual manuscripts may vary greatly from these guidelines.
Old Irish alphabet consists of the following eighteen letters of
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u
In addition, the acute accent and the superdot are used as diacritics with certain letters:
The acute accent indicates a long vowel. The following are long vowels: á, é, í, ó, ú. The superdot indicates the lenition of f and s: ḟ is silent, ṡ 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 nasalisation mutation: ṁ, ṅ.
Some digraphs are also used:
The letter i is placed after a vowel letter to indicate that the following consonant was palatalised: 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/aí, ía, uí, áu, óe/oí, úa, éu, óu, iu, au, eu
The following table indicates the broad pronunciation of various consonant letters in various environments:
unmutated nasalised lenited
b /b/ — /v/
c /k/ /ɡ/ — /k, ɡ/
d /d/ — /ð/
f /f/ /v/ silent /f/
g /ɡ/ — /ɣ/
h See discussion below
l /L/ /l/
m /m/ /ṽ/
n /N/ /n/
p /p/ /b/ — /p, b/
r /R/ /r/
s /s/ /h/ /s/
t /t/ /d/ — /t, d/
A dash (—) in an entry indicates that the respective consonant sound
is spelled differently under the respective mutation (lenition or
nasalisation) and so the indicated consonant letter does not occur
then (the spelling c does not occur in a leniting environment;
instead, ch /x/ does). See the next two entries.
Lenited c, p, t are spelled ch /x/, ph /f/, th /θ/ respectively.
Nasalized b, d, g are spelled m-b /mb/, n-d /nd/, n-g /nɡ/ [ŋɡ]
In some cases, lenited f and s are spelled with a superdot.
When initial s stemmed from
The slender (palatalised) variants of the above consonants occur in the following environments:
before a written e, é, i, í; after a written i, when not followed by a vowel letter (but not after the diphthongs aí, oí, uí).
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 i "in" was sometimes written hi) or if they need to be emphasised (the name of Ireland, Ériu, was sometimes written Hériu). On the other hand, words that begin with the sound /h/ are usually written without it: a ór /a hoːr/ "her gold". If the sound and the spelling co-occur, it is by coincidence, as ní hed /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
mac or macc /mak(k)/ son
bec or becc /bʲeɡ(ɡ)/ small
op or opp /ob(b)/ refuse
brat or bratt /brat(t)/ mantle
brot or brott /brod(d)/ goad
derc /dʲerk/ hole
derc /dʲerɡ/ red
daltae /daLte/ fosterling
celtae /kʲeLde/ who hide
anta /aNta/ of remaining
antae /aNde/ who remain
Geminate consonants appear to have existed at the beginning of the Old Irish period but were simplified by the end, as is generally reflected by the spelling generally although double ll, mm, nn, rr were eventually repurposed to indicate nonlenited variants of those sounds in certain positions. After a vowel the letters b, d, g stand for the fricatives /v, ð, ɣ/ or their slender equivalents:
Old Irish Pronunciation English
dub /duv/ black
mod /moð/ work
mug /muɣ/ slave
claideb /klaðʲəv/ sword
claidib /klaðʲəvʲ/ swords
After m, b is a stop, but after d, l and r, it is a fricative:
Old Irish Pronunciation English
imb /imʲbʲ/ butter
odb /oðv/ knot (in a tree)
delb /dʲelv/ image
marb /marv/ dead
After n and r, d is a stop:
Old Irish Pronunciation English
bind /bʲiNʲdʲ/ melodious
cerd /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
long /Loŋɡ/ ship
delg or delc /dʲelɡ/ thorn
argat or arggat /arɡ(ɡ)əd/ silver
ingen[* 2] /inʲɣʲən/ daughter
ingen[* 2] /iNʲɡʲən/ nail, claw
bairgen /barʲɣʲən/ 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
dám /daːṽ/ company
lom or lomm /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
ech /ex/ horse
oíph /oif/ beauty
áth /aːθ/ ford
The letters l, n, and r are generally written double when they indicate the tense sonorants, single when they indicate the lax sonorants. Originally, it reflected an actual difference between single and geminate consonants, as tense sonorants in many positions (such as between vowels or word-finally) developed from geminates. As the gemination was lost, the use of written double consonants was repurposed to indicate tense sonorants. Doubly written consonants of this sort do not occur in positions where tense sonorants developed from non-geminated Proto-Celtic sonorants (such as word-initially or before a consonant).
Old Irish Pronunciation English
corr /koR/ crane
cor /kor/ putting
coll /koL/ hazel
col /kol/ sin
sonn /soN/ stake
son /son/ sound
ingen[* 2] /inʲɣʲən/ daughter
ingen[* 2] /iNʲɡʲən/ nail, claw
Written vowels a, ai, e, i in poststressed syllables (except absolutely word-finally) all seem to represent phonemic /ə/. The particular vowel that appears is determined by the quality (broad vs. slender) of the surrounding consonants and has no relation to the etymological vowel quality:
Preceding consonant Following consonant Spelling Example
broad broad a dígal /ˈdʲiːɣəl/ "vengeance" (nom.)
broad slender (in open syllable) a
broad slender (in closed syllable) ai dígail /ˈdʲiːɣəlʲ/ "vengeance" (acc./dat.)
slender broad e dliged /ˈdʲlʲiɣʲəð/ "law" (acc.)
slender slender i dligid /ˈdʲlʲiɣʲəðʲ/ "law" (gen.)
It seems likely that spelling variations reflected allophonic
variations in the pronunciation of /ə/.
Old Irish was affected by a series of phonological changes that
radically altered its appearance compared with
Proto-Celtic and older
Syllable-final *n (from PIE *m, *n) assimilated to the following phoneme, even across word boundaries in the case of syntactically connected words.
Voiceless stops became voiced: *mp *nt *nk > /b d ɡ/. Voiced stops became prenasalised /ᵐb, ⁿd, ᵑɡ/. They were reduced to simple nasals during the Old Irish period. Before a vowel, /n-/ was attached to the beginning of the syllable.
Lenition of all single consonants between vowels. That applied across word boundaries in the case of syntactically connected words.
Stops became fricatives. *s became /h/ (later lost unless the following syllable was stressed). *w was eventually lost (much later). *m became a nasalised continuant (/w̃/; perhaps [w̃] or [β̃]). *l *n *r remained, but the non-lenited variants were strengthened to /L N R/ (see phonology section above).
Extensive umlaut ("affection") of short vowels, which were raised or lowered to agree with the height of following Proto-Celtic vowels. Similarly, rounding of *a to /o/ or /u/ often occurred adjacent to labial consonants. Palatalization of all consonants before front vowels. Loss of part or all of final syllables. Loss of most interior vowels (syncope).
They led to the following effects:
Both the palatalised ("slender") and lenited variants of consonants were phonemicised, multiplying the consonant inventory by four (broad, broad lenited, slender, slender lenited). Variations between broad and slender became an important part of the grammar:
in masc. o-stems: macc "son" (nom. acc.) vs. maicc (gen.), cúl "back"
(nom. acc.) vs. cúil (gen.), cf.
Lenition and nasal assimilation across word boundaries in syntactically connected words produced extensive sandhi effects (Irish initial mutations). The variations became an important part of the grammar. Both umlaut (vowel affection) and especially syncope radically increased the amount of allomorphy found across declensions and conjugations. The most dramatic deviations are due to syncope: compare as·berat "they say" vs. ní-epret "they do not say" or do·rósc(a)i "he surpasses" vs. ní-derscaigi "he does not surpass" (where the stressed syllable is boldfaced).
Examples of changes
The following are some examples of changes between
Primitive Irish Old Irish Meaning
inigena ingen daughter
qrimitir cruimther priest
maqqi maicc son (gen.)
velitas filed poet (gen.)
Lugudeccas Luigdech genitive of Lug(u)id (name)
Anavlamattias Anfolmithe genitive of Anblamath (name)
Coillabotas Coílbad genitive of name
Allomorphy These various changes, especially syncope, produced quite complex allomorphy, because the addition of prefixes or various pre-verbal particles (proclitics) in Proto-Celtic changed the syllable containing the stress: According to the Celtic variant of Wackernagel's law, the stress fell on the second syllable of the verbal complex, including any prefixes and clitics. By the Old Irish period, most of this allomorphy still remained, although it was rapidly eliminated beginning in the Middle Irish period. Among the most striking changes are in prefixed verbs with or without pre-verbal particles. With a single prefix and without a proclitic, stress falls on the verbal root, which assumes the deuterotonic ("second-stressed") form. With a prefix and also with a proclitic, stress falls on the prefix, and the verb assumes the prototonic ("first-stressed") form. Rather extreme allomorphic differences can result:
Example differences between deuterotonic and prototonic forms of various verbs. Stress falls directly after the center dot or hyphen.
Earlier form Deuterotonic Meaning Prototonic Meaning
*ess-bero(n)t < PIE *-bʰeronti as·berat /as-ˈbʲerəd/ they say ní-epret /Nʲiː-ˈhebrʲəd/ they do not say
*cum-uss-ana con·osna he rests ní-cumsana he does not rest
*de-ro-uss-scochi do·rósc(a)i he surpasses ní-derscaigi he does not surpass
*de-lugi < PIE *-logʰeyeti do·lug(a)i he pardons ní-dílg(a)i he does not pardon
*de-ro-gn... do·róna he may do ní-derna he may not do
The following table shows how these forms might have been derived:
Possible derivation of some verbal forms
"they say" "they do not say" "he rests" "he does not rest" "he surpasses" "he does not surpass"
Post-PIE eks bʰeronti nē eks bʰeronti kom uks h₂eneh₂ti nē kom uks h₂eneh₂ti dē pro uks skokeyeti nē dē pro uks skokeyeti
Proto-Celtic eks ˈberonti nī ˈeks-beronti kom ˈuks-anāti nī ˈkom-uks-anāti dī ˈɸro-uks-skokīti nī ˈdī-ɸro-uks-skokīti
Early Irish ess-es ˈberont ní-s ˈess-beront kon-es ˈuss-anát ní-s ˈkom-uss-anát dí-s ˈro-uss-skokít ní-s ˈdi-ro-uss-skokít
Nasal assimilation ess-es ˈberodd ní-s ˈess-berodd — — — —
Lenition es-eh ˈberod Ní-h ˈes-berod kon-eh ˈus-anáθ Ní-h ˈkow̃-us-anáθ dí-h ˈRo-us-skoxíθ Ní-h ˈdi-ro-us-skoxíθ
Palatalization es-eh ˈbʲerod Nʲí-h ˈes-bʲerod — Nʲí-h ˈkow̃-us-anáθ dʲí-h ˈRo-us-skoxʲíθ Nʲí-h ˈdʲi-ro-us-skoxʲíθ
Hiatus reduction — — — — dʲí-h ˈRós-skoxʲíθ Nʲí-h ˈdʲi-rós-skoxʲíθ
Umlaut (vowel affection) — — kon-eh ˈos-anáθ Nʲí-h ˈkuw̃-us-anáθ — Nʲí-h ˈdʲe-rós-skoxʲíθ
Shortening of absolutely final vowel — — — — — —
Loss/assimilation of final consonant(s) es-e bʲ-ˈbʲerod Nʲí h-ˈes-bʲerod kon-e h-ˈos-aná Nʲí k-ˈkuw̃-us-aná dʲí R-ˈRós-skoxʲí Nʲí d-ˈdʲe-rós-skoxʲí
Mora reduction in unstressed final vowel es bʲ-ˈbʲerod — kon h-ˈos-ana Nʲí k-ˈkuw̃-us-ana dʲí R-ˈRós-skoxʲi Nʲí d-ˈdʲe-rós-skoxʲi
Syncope es ˈbʲerod Nʲí h-ˈebʲbʲrod kon h-ˈosna Nʲí k-ˈkuw̃sana dʲí R-ˈRósskxʲi Nʲíd-ˈdʲersskoxʲi
Further consonant assimilation — Nʲí h-ˈebʲbʲrʲod kon ˈosna — dʲí R-ˈRósski Nʲíd-ˈdʲerskoxʲi
Unstressed vowel reduction es ˈbʲerəd Nʲí h-ˈebʲbʲrʲəd — Nʲí k-ˈkuw̃səna di R-ˈRósski Nʲí d-ˈdʲerskəxʲi
Prepositional modification as ˈbʲerəd — — — do R-ˈRósski —
Geminate reduction (non-vocalic-adjacent); sandhi geminate reduction as·ˈbʲerəd Nʲíh-ˈebrʲəd kon·ˈosna Nʲí-ˈkuw̃səna do·ˈRóski Nʲí-ˈdʲerskəxʲi
Old Irish pronunciation as·ˈbʲerəd Nʲí-h-ˈebrʲəd kon·ˈosna Nʲí-ˈkuw̃səna do·ˈRóski Nʲí-ˈdʲerskəɣʲi
Old Irish spelling as·berat ní-epret con·osna ní-(c)cumsana do·rósc(a)i ní-(d)derscaigi
The most extreme allomorphy of all came from the third person singular of the s-subjunctive because an athematic person marker -t was used, added directly onto the verbal stem (formed by adding -s directly onto the root). That led to a complex word-final cluster, which was deleted entirely. In the prototonic form (after two proclitics), the root was unstressed and thus the root vowel was also deleted, leaving only the first consonant:
Examples of extreme allomorphy of 3rd person singular s-subjunctive, conjunct
Present Indicative Present Subjunctive
Positive (Deuterotonic) Negative (Prototonic) Positive (Deuterotonic) Negative (Prototonic)
Primitive Irish Old Irish Primitive Irish Old Irish Primitive Irish Old Irish Primitive Irish Old Irish
"he refuses" *uss ˈbond-et(i) as·boind *nís ˈuss-bond-et(i) ní op(a)ind /obənʲdʲ/ *uss 'bod-s-t as·bó *nís ˈuss-bod-s-t ní op /ob/
"he remains over" *di ˈwo-uss-ret-et(i) do·fúarat *nís ˈdi-wo-uss-ret-et(i) ní díurat *di ˈwo-uss-ret-s-t do·fúair *nís ˈdi-wo-uss-ret-s-t ní diúair
"he repeats, amends" *ad ˈess-reg-et(i) ad·eirrig *nís ˈ*ad-ess-reg-et(i) (ní aithrig?? >) ní aithirrig *ad ˈess-reg-s-t ath·e(i)rr *nís ˈad-ess-reg-s-t ní aithir
"he can" *con ˈink-et(i) com·ic *nís ˈcom-ink-et(i) ní cum(a)ic > ní cum(u)ing, ní cumaing *con ˈink-s-t con·í *nís ˈcom-ink-s-t, *nís ˈcom-ink-ā-t ní cum, ní cumai
"it happens" *ad ˈcom-ink-et(i) (ad·cum(a)ic >) ad·cumaing *nís ˈad-com-ink-et(i) (ní ecm(a)ic >) ní ecmaing *ad ˈcom-ink-ā-t ad·cumai *nís ˈad-com-ink-ā-t ní ecm(a)i
Syncope in detail In more detail, syncope of final and intervocalic syllables involved the following steps (in approximate order):
Shortening of absolutely final long vowels. Loss of most final consonants, including *m, *n, *d, *t, *k, and all clusters involving *s (except *rs, *ls, where only the *s is lost). Loss of absolutely final short vowels (including those that became final as a result of loss of a final consonant and original long final vowels). Shortening of long vowels in unstressed syllables. Collapsing of vowels in hiatus (producing new unstressed long vowels). Syncope (deletion) of vowels in every other interior unstressed syllable following the stress. If there are two remaining syllables after the stress, the first one loses its vowel; if there are four remaining syllables after the stress, the first and third lose their vowel. Resolution of impossible clusters resulting from syncope and final-vowel deletion:
Adjacent homorganic obstruents where either sound was a fricative became a geminate stop, voiceless if either sound was voiceless (e.g. *ðð *dð *ðd > /dd/; *θð *ðθ *θd *tθ etc. > /tt/). Otherwise, adjacent obstruents assumed the voicing of the second consonant (e.g. *dt > /tt/; *kd > /gd/; *ɣt > /xt/). *l *r *n not adjacent to a vowel became syllabic and then had a vowel inserted before them (e.g. domun "world" < *domn < *domnos < *dumnos; immormus "sin" < *imm-ro-mess). However, in the case of *n, that occurred only when the nasal had not previously been joined to a following voiced stop as a result of nasal assimilation: compare frecnd(a)irc "present" (disyllabic). Remaining impossible clusters were generally simplified by deletion of consonants not adjacent to vowels (such as between other consonants). However, Old Irish tolerated geminates adjacent to other consonants as well other quite complex clusters: ainm /aNʲm/ "name" (one syllable), fedb /fʲeðβ/ "widow", do-aidbdetar /do-ˈaðʲβʲðʲədər/ "they are shown".
Proto-Celtic short vowels, vowel affection
Proto-Celtic short vowels (*a, *e, *i, *o, *u) survived into
i-affection: Short *e and *o are raised to i and u when the following syllable contains a high vowel (*i, *ī, *u, *ū). It does not happen when the vowels are separated by certain consonant groups. a-affection: Short *i and *u are lowered to e and o when the following syllable contains a non-high back vowel (*a, *ā, *o, *ō[clarification needed]). u-affection: Short *a, *e, *i are broken to short diphthongs au, eu, iu when the following syllable contains a *u or *ū that was later lost. It is assumed that at the point the change operated, u-vowels that were later lost were short *u while those that remain were long *ū. The change operates after i-affection so original *e may end up as iu.
Nominal examples (reconstructed forms are
sen "old (nominative singular)" < *senos, but sin "old (genitive
singular)" < *senī (i-affection), siun "old (dative singular)"
< *senu (i-affection and u-affection) < *senū < PIE *senōi,
sinu "old (accusative plural)" < *senūs (i-affection but no
u-affection because u remains) < PIE *senons.
fer "man (nominative singular)" < *wiros (a-affection), but fir
"man (genitive singular)" < *wirī (no a-affection), fiur "man
(dative singular)" < *wiru (u-affection) < *wirū < PIE
*wirōi, firu "men (accusative plural)" < *wirūs (no u-affection
because the u remains) < PIE *wirons.
nert "strength (nominative singular)", but neurt "strength (dative
singular)" < *nertu (u-affection but no i-affection, which was
blocked by the cluster rt) < *nertū < PIE *nertōi.
mil "honey" (i-affection) < PCelt *meli, milis "sweet" <
fiurt "miracle (nominative singular)" < *wirtus (u-affection; from
Verbal paradigm example:
form Pronunciation Meaning Prim Irish Post-PIE Comments
Absolute 1sg biru /bʲiru/ "I carry" *berūs *bʰerō + -s i-affection
Absolute 2sg biri /bʲirʲi/ "you (sg.) carry" *berisis *bʰeresi + -s i-affection (unstressed *-es- > *-is- in Primitive Irish, also found in s-stems)
Absolute 3sg berith /bʲirʲəθʲ/ "he carries" *beretis *bʰereti + -s Unstressed i = /ə/ with surrounding palatalised consonants; see #Orthography
Conjunct 1sg ·biur /bʲĭŭr/ "I carry" *beru < *berū *bʰerō i-affection + u-affection
Conjunct 2sg bir /bʲirʲ/ "you (sg.) carry" *beris < *berisi *bʰeresi i-affection (unstressed *-es- > *-is- in Primitive Irish)
Conjunct 3sg beir /bʲerʲ/ "he carries" *beret < *bereti *bʰereti i in ei signals palatalisation of following consonant; see #Orthography
The result of i-affection and a-affection is that it is often impossible to distinguish whether the root vowel was originally *e or *i (sen < *senos and fer < *wiros have identical declensions). However, note the cases of nert vs. fiurt above for which i-affection, but not a-affection, was blocked by an intervening rt. Proto-Celtic long vowels and diphthongs Proto-Celtic long vowels and diphthongs develop in stressed syllables as follows:
Proto-Celtic archaic Old Irish later Old Irish Example(s)
cúl "back" (cf.
*ai /ai/ (spelled áe or aí) merged (both spellings used) cáech "one-eyed" < PC *kaikos < PIE *keh₂i-ko- (cf. Latin caecus "blind", Gothic háihs "one-eyed")
/oi/ (spelled óe or oí)
oín, óen "one" < PIE *oinos (cf. archaic
*ei > ē
·tíagat "they go" < archaic ·tégot < PIE *steigʰ- (cf.
*au (+C)[* 3] > ō
úaithed, úathad "singleness" < PC *autīto- < IE *h₂eu
"again" + *to- "that" (cf.
*eu/ou (+C)[* 3] > ō núa, núë "new" < archaic núae < PC *noujos (cf. Gaulish novios) < IE *neu-io-s (cf. Gothic niujis) túath "tribe, people" < PC *toutā < IE *teutā (cf. Gothic þiuda) rúad "red" < PC *roudos < PIE *h₁reudʰ- (cf. Gothic rauþs)
*ou (not +C)[* 4] óu > áu bó ‘cow’ < archaic báu < early archaic bóu (c. a.d. 700) < PC *bowos (gen.sg.) < PIE *gʷh₃-eu-
The Old Irish diphthongs úi, éu, íu stem from earlier sequences of short vowels separated by *w, e.g. drúid- "druid" < *dru-wid- "tree-knower". Most instances of é and ó in nonarchaic Old Irish are due to compensatory lengthening of short vowels before lost consonants or to the merging of two short vowels in hiatus: cét /kʲeːd/ ‘hundred’ < Proto-Celtic kantom (cf. Welsh cant) < PIE *kṃtóm. PIE consonants Overview See Proto-Celtic for various changes that occurred in all the Celtic languages, but these are the most important:
PIE *gʷ > Proto-Celtic *b (but PIE *gʷʰ > *gʷ). Loss of aspiration in *bʰ *dʰ *gʰ *gʷʰ. Loss of *p. Initially and intervocalically it was simply deleted; elsewhere, it variously became *w, *b, *x etc.
From Proto-Celtic to Old Irish, the most important changes are these:
Lenition and palatalisation, multiplying the entire set of consonants by 4. See #History for more details. Loss of most final consonants. See #Syncope in detail. Proto-Celtic *s is lenited to /h/, which then disappears between vowels. In general, Old Irish s when not word-initial stems from earlier geminate ss (often still written as such, especially in archaic sources). Proto-Celtic *kʷ *gʷ remain in Ogam Irish (maqqi "son" (gen. sg.)) but become simple c g in Old Irish. Occasionally, they leave their mark by rounding the following vowel. Proto-Celtic *w is lost early on between vowels, followed by early hiatus resolution. In some cases, *w combines with a preceding vowel to form a diphthong: béu béo "living, alive" < *bewas < *biwos < *gʷih₃uós. Other instances of *w become [β], which still remains in Ogam Irish. By Old Irish times, this becomes f- initially (e.g. fer "man" < *wiros, flaith "lordship" < *wlātis), lenited b after lenited voiced sounds (e.g. tarb "bull" < *tarwos, fedb "widow" < *widwā), f after lenited *s (lenited fïur "sister" < *swesōr), and is lost otherwise (e.g. dáu "two" < *dwōu, unlenited sïur "sister" < *swesōr). Proto-Celtic *y becomes *iy after a consonant, much as in Latin. The vowel *i often survives before a lost final vowel, partly indicating the nature of the final vowel as a result of vowel affection: cride cridi cridiu "heart" (nom. gen. dat.) < *kridion *kridiī *kridiū < *kridiyom *kridiyī *kridiyū < PIE *ḱr̥d- (e.g. gen. *ḱr̥d-és). After this, *y is lost everywhere (after palatalising a preceding consonant).
Initial clusters Old Irish preserves, intact, most initial clusters unlike many other Indo-European languages. Preserved initial clusters:
sn- smr- sr- sl- sc- scr- scl-, e.g. snám "swimming", smiur "marrow", sruth "stream", scáth "shadow, reflection", scrissid "he scratches (out)", scléo "misery (?)". cr- cl- cn-, e.g. crú "blood", cloth "fame", cnú "nut". gr- gl- gn-, e.g. grían "sun", glé "clear", gnáth "customary". tr- tl- tn-, e.g. tromm "heavy', tlacht "garment", tnúth "jealousy, passion". dr- dl-, e.g. dringid "he climbs", dlong(a)id "he cleaves". mr- ml-, e.g. mruig "land", mliuchtae "milch". br- bl-, e.g. brú "belly", bláth "flower".
Modified initial clusters:
*wl- *wr- > fl- fr-, e.g. flaith "lordship" < *wlātis, froích "heather" < *wroikos. *sp-/*sw- > s- (lenited f-), e.g. sïur "sister" (lenited fïur) < *suior < PIE *swesōr. *st- > t-, e.g. tíagu "I go" < *stēgū-s < post-IE *steigʰō. *pl- *pr- lose the *p. PIE *gʷn- > Proto-Celtic *bn- > mn-, e.g. mná "woman" (gen. sg.) < *bnās < PIE *gʷneh₂s, an extremely archaic noun form.[* 5]
Intervocalic clusters Many intervocalic clusters are reduced, becoming either a geminate consonant or a simple consonant with compensatory lengthening of the previous vowel. During the Old Irish period, geminates are reduced to simple consonants, occurring earliest when adjacent to a consonant. By the end of the Old Irish period, written ll mm nn rr are repurposed to indicate the non-lenited sounds /L m N R/ when occurring after a vowel and not before a consonant. Cluster reduction involving *n:
*nt *nk > unlenited /d g/ (normally written t c). Note that PCelt *ant,*ent > *ent > /eːd/ but *int *ont *unt > /idd odd udd/ like *nk: cét /kʲeːd/ "hundred" < PCelt *kantom (cf. Welsh cant) < PIE *kṃtóm; sét /sʲeːd/ "way" < *sentu- (vs. Breton hent); ro·icc, ric(c) /r(o)-iɡɡ/ "he reaches" < *ro-ink- (vs. Bret rankout "must, owe"); tocad /toɡað/ "luck" (vs. Bret tonkad "fate"). *ns > unlenited s with compensatory lengthening of a preceding vowel; *ans > *ens > és similarly to *ant *ank: géis "swan" < PCelt *gansi- < PIE *ǵʰh₂ens- (vs. Dutch gans "goose").
Cluster reduction involving *s *z:
Medial *sm *sn *sl > mm nn ll: am(m) "I am" < PIE *esmi. Medially, *st > ss (but *str > str, *rst > rt). *zb > db /ðv/, *zg > dg /ðɣ/ (but rg after an unstressed syllable), *zd > /dd/: net /nedd/ "nest" < PIE *nisdos /nizdos/.
Lenited stops *x *ɣ *θ *ð generally disappear before sonorants *r *l *n *m, with compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel. Many examples occur in reduplicated preterites or words with consonant-final prefixes (such as ad-):
du·air-chér "I have purchased" < *-xexr < PCelt *-kikra; ·cúal(a)e "he heard" < *koxlowe < PCelt *kuklowe; áram "number" < *að-rīm; ám thám "a moving to and fro" < *aɣm θ-aɣm (verbal nouns of agid "he drives" and compound do·aig); dál "assembly" < *daθl (cf. Old Welsh datl).
However, *θr, *βr, *βl survive: críathraid "he perforates" < PCelt *krētrāti-s; gabur "goat" < PCelt *gabros (cf. Welsh gafr); mebul "shame" (cf. Welsh mefl). Grammar Main article: Old Irish grammar Old Irish is a fusional, nominative-accusative, and VSO language. Nouns decline for 5 cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, prepositional, vocative; 3 genders: masculine, feminine, neuter; 3 numbers: singular, dual, plural. Adjectives agree with nouns in case, gender, and number. The prepositional case is called the dative by convention. Verbs conjugate for 3 tenses: past, present, future; 3 aspects: simple, perfective, imperfective; 4 moods: indicative, subjunctive, conditional, imperative; 2 voices: active, and passive; independent, and dependent forms; and simple, and complex forms. Verbs display tense, aspect, mood, voice, and sometimes portmanteau forms through suffixes, or stem vowel changes for the former four. Proclitics form a verbal complex with the core verb, and the verbal complex is often preceded by preverbal particles such as ní (negative marker), in (interrogative marker), ro (perfective marker). Direct object personal pronouns are infixed between the preverb and the verbal stem. Verbs agree with their subject in person and number. A single verb can stand as an entire sentence. Emphatic particles such as -sa and -se are affixed to the end of the verb. Prepositions inflect for person and number, and different prepositions govern different cases, sometimes depending on the semantics intended. See also
Early Irish literature Dictionary of the Irish Language Auraicept na n-Éces Goidelic substrate hypothesis
^ It is difficult to know for sure, given how little Primitive Irish
is attested and the limitations of the
ingen /inʲɣʲən/ "daughter" < Ogam inigena < Proto-Celtic
^ a b When followed by a consonant in Old Irish. ^ a b When not followed by a consonant in Old Irish. This includes words originally followed by *s, which was lost by Old Irish times. ^ Originally a neuter proterokinetic noun of the form *gʷenh₂ (nom. sg.), *gʷneh₂s (gen. sg.). The original PIE nominative is still preserved in poetic or legal Old Irish béN "woman" (still neuter!) < Proto-Celtic *ben < PIE *gʷenh₂. The normal Old Irish nominative is benL (feminine) < Proto-Celtic *benā < *ben + normal feminine *-ā. No other IE language preserves the original neuter gender.
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Old Irish (to 900)".
Beekes, Robert (1995). Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction. Fortson, Benjamin W., IV (2004). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction. Green, Antony (1995). Old Irish Verbs and Vocabulary. Somerville, Massachusetts: Cascadilla Press. ISBN 1-57473-003-7. Greene, David (1973). "The Growth of Palatalization in Old Irish". Transactions of the Philological Society. 72 (1): 127–136. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.1973.tb01017.x. Kortlandt, Frederik Herman Henri (2007). Italo-Celtic Origins and the Prehistory of the Irish Language. Leiden Studies in Indo-European. 14. Rodopi. ISBN 9042021772. Lehmann, R. P. M.; W. P. Lehmann (1975). An Introduction to Old Irish. New York: Modern Language Association of America. ISBN 0-87352-289-3. Matasović, Ranko (2011). Problems in the Reconstruction of Proto-Celtic (PDF). Pavia Summer School in Indo-European Linguistics. [permanent dead link] McCone, Kim (1987). The Early Irish Verb. Maynooth: An Sagart. ISBN 1-870684-00-1. McCone, Kim (2005). A First Old Irish Grammar and Reader. Maynooth: Department of Old and Middle Irish, National University of Ireland. ISBN 0-901519-36-7. O'Connell, Frederick William (1912). A Grammar of Old Irish. Belfast: Mayne, Boyd & Son. Quin, E. G. (1975). Old-Irish Workbook. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. ISBN 0-901714-08-9. Ringe, Don (2006). From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. Sihler, Andrew (1995). New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin. Oxford University Press. Stifter, David (2006). Sengoidelc: Old Irish for Beginners. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-3072-7. Strachan, John (1949). Old-Irish Paradigms and Selections from the Old-Irish Glosses. Revised by Osborn Bergin (Fourth ed.). Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. ISBN 0-901714-35-6. Thurneysen, Rudolf (1946). A Grammar of Old Irish. Translated by D. A. Binchy and Osborn Bergin. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. ISBN 1-85500-161-6. Tigges, Wim; Feargal Ó Béarra (2006). An Old Irish Primer. Nijmegen: Stichting Uitgeverij de Keltische Draak. ISBN 90-806863-5-2.
For a list of words relating to Old Irish, see the Old Irish language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language MacBain, Alexander Gairm Publications, 1982 Old Irish dictionary Old Irish Online from the University of Texas at Austin. eDIL (digital edition of the Dictionary of the Irish Language)
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