Old Irish (''Goídelc''; ga, Sean-Ghaeilge; gd, Seann Ghàidhlig; gv, Shenn Yernish or ; Old Irish: ᚌᚑᚔᚇᚓᚂᚉ), sometimes called Old Gaelic, is the oldest form of the Goidelic for which extensive written texts are extant. It was used from 600 to 900. The primary contemporary texts are dated 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 forebear to Modern Irish, Manx, and
Scottish Gaelic Scottish Gaelic ( gd, Gàidhlig or Scots Gaelic, sometimes referred to simply as Gaelic) is a Goidelic language (in the Celtic languages, Celtic branch of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European language family) native to the Gaels of Scot ...
. 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 phonology, sound system involving grammatically significant Irish initial mutations, consonant mutations to the initial consonant of a word. Apparently,It is difficult to know for sure, given how little Primitive Irish is attested and the limitations of the Ogham alphabet used to write it. neither characteristic was present in the preceding Primitive Irish period, though initial mutations likely existed in a non-grammaticalized form in the prehistoric era. 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).

Notable characteristics

Notable characteristics of Old Irish compared with other old Indo-European languages, are: * Initial mutations, including lenition, nasalisation and aspiration/gemination. * A complex system of verbal allomorphy. * A system of ''conjugated prepositions'' that is unusual in Indo-European languages (though not entirely unparalleled, existing e.g. in modern Persian language, Persian): ''dím'' "from me", ''dít'' "from you", ''dé'' "from him", ''dí'' "from her", ''dín'' "from us", ''díb'' "from you", ''diib'' "from them" (basic preposition ''di'' "from"). There is a great deal of allomorphy here, as well. * Infixed object prepositions, which are inserted between the verb stem and its prefix(es). If a verb lacks any prefixes, a dummy prefix is normally added. * Special verbal conjugations are used to signal the beginning of a relative clause. Old Irish also preserves most aspects of the complicated Proto-Indo-European language, Proto-Indo-European (PIE) system of morphology. Nouns and adjectives are declension, declined in three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter); three numbers (singular, dual, plural); and five cases (nominative, vocative, accusative, dative and genitive). Most Proto-Indo-European nouns, PIE noun stem classes are maintained (''o''-, ''yo''-, ''ā''-, ''yā''-, ''i''-, ''u''-, ''r''-, ''n''-, ''s''-, and consonant stems). Most of the complexities of Proto-Indo-European verbs, PIE verbal conjugation are also maintained, and there are new complexities introduced by various sound changes (see #Verbal allomorphy, below).


Old Irish was the only member of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages, which is, in turn, a subfamily of the wider Indo-European language family that also includes the Slavonic languages, Slavonic, Italic languages, Italic/Romance languages, Romance, Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan and Germanic languages, Germanic subfamilies, along with several others. Old Irish is the ancestor of all modern Goidelic languages: Irish language, Modern Irish,
Scottish Gaelic Scottish Gaelic ( gd, Gàidhlig or Scots Gaelic, sometimes referred to simply as Gaelic) is a Goidelic language (in the Celtic languages, Celtic branch of the Indo-European languages, Indo-European language family) native to the Gaels of Scot ...
and Manx. 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 alphabet. The inscriptions date from about the 4th to the 6th centuries. Primitive Irish appears to have been very close to Proto-Celtic language, Common Celtic, the ancestor of all Celtic languages, and it had a lot of the characteristics of other archaic Indo-European languages.


Relatively little survives in the way of strictly contemporary sources. They are represented mainly by shorter or longer Gloss (margin text), glosses on the margins or interlinear gloss, between the lines of religious Latin manuscripts, most of them preserved in monasteries in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and Austria, having been taken there by Hiberno-Scottish mission, early Irish missionaries. 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 Cambrai Homily, which is thought to belong to the early 8th century. The Book of Armagh contains texts from the early 9th century. Important Continental collections of glosses from the 8th and 9th century include the Würzburg Glosses (mainly) on the Pauline Epistles, the Milan Glosses on a commentary to the Psalms and the St Gallen, St Gall Glosses on Priscian's Grammar. Further examples are found at Karlsruhe (Germany), Paris (France), Milan, Florence and Turin (Italy). A late 9th-century manuscript from the abbey of Reichenau, now in St. Paul in Carinthia (Austria), contains a spell and four Old Irish poems. The ''Liber Hymnorum'' and the ''Stowe Missal'' 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, such as the Lebor na hUidre and the Book of Leinster, 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 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.



The consonant inventory of Old Irish is shown in the chart below. The complexity of Old Irish phonology is from a four-way split of phonemes inherited from Primitive Irish, with both a fortis and lenis, fortis–lenis and a "broad–slender" (velarization, velarised vs. Palatalization (phonetics), palatalised) distinction arising from historical changes. The sounds are the broad lenis equivalents of broad fortis ; likewise for the slender (palatalised) equivalents. (However, most sounds actually derive historically from .) : Some details of Old Irish phonetics are not known. may have been pronounced or , as in Modern Irish. may have been the same sound as or . The precise articulation of the fortis sonorants is unknown, but they were probably longer, tenseness, tenser and generally more strongly articulated than their lenis counterparts , as in the Modern Irish and Scottish dialects that still possess a four-way distinction in the coronal consonant, coronal nasal consonant, nasals and lateral consonant, laterals. and may have been pronounced and respectively. The difference between and may have been that the former were trill consonant, trills while the latter were flap consonant, flaps. and were derived from an original fortis–lenis pair.


Old Irish had distinctive vowel length in both monophthongs and diphthongs. Short diphthongs were mora (linguistics), 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 Ancient Greek whose shorter and longer diphthongs were bimoraic and trimoraic, respectively: vs. .) The inventory of Old Irish long vowels changed significantly over the Old Irish period, but the short vowels changed much less. The following short vowels existed: : 1The short diphthong may have existed very early in the Old Irish period/but not later on. arose from the u-infection of stressed by a that preceded a palatalized consonant. This vowel faced much inconsistency in spelling, often detectable by a word containing it being variably spelled with ''au'', ''ai'', ''e'', ''i'', or ''u'' across attestations. "hill, mound" is the most commonly cited example of this vowel, with the spelling of its inflections including ''tulach'' itself, ''telaig'', ''telocho'', ''tilchaib'', ''taulich'' and ''tailaig''.Qiu, Fangzhe (2019). "Old Irish aue ‘descendant’ and its descendants". ''Indogermanische Forschungen'' 124(1), pp. 343–374 Archaic Old Irish (before about 750) had the following inventory of long vowels: : 1Both and were normally written ''é'' but must have been pronounced differently because they have different origins and distinct outcomes in later Old Irish. stems from Proto-Celtic *ē (< PIE *ei), or from ''ē'' in words borrowed from Latin. 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 (linguistics), hiatus. It is generally thought that was higher than . Perhaps was while was . They are clearly distinguished in later Old Irish, in which becomes ''ía'' (but ''é'' before a palatal consonant). becomes ''é'' in all circumstances. Furthermore, is subject to ''u''-affection, becoming ''éu'' or ''íu'', while is not. 2A similar distinction may have existed between and , 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 existed as a separate sound any time in the Old Irish period. 3 existed only in early archaic Old Irish (700 or earlier); afterwards it merged into . 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: : 1Early Old Irish and 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 in the table above is somewhat arbitrary. The distribution of short vowels in stress (linguistics), 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 and are often spelled ''ae'' and ''ai'' after broad consonants, which might indicate a retracted pronunciation here, perhaps something like and . All ten possibilities are shown in the following examples: : 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: (written ''a'', ''ai'', ''e'' or ''i'' depending on the quality of surrounding consonants) and (written ''u'' or ''o''). The phoneme tended to occur when the following syllable contained an *ū in Proto-Celtic language, Proto-Celtic (for example, "law" (dat.) < PC *''dligedū''), or after a broad labial consonant, labial (for example, "book"; ''domun'' "world"). The phoneme 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 (linguistics), 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 , 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'' "he says"). In such cases, the unstressed prefix is indicated in grammatical works with a following centre dot (·).


As with most :Medieval languages, 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. The Old Irish alphabet consists of the following eighteen Letter (alphabet), letters of the Latin alphabet: : ''a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u,'' in addition to the five long vowels, shown by an acute accent (´): : ''á, é, í, ó, ú,'' the lenition, lenited consonants denoted with a dot (diacritic), superdot (◌̇): : ''ḟ, ṡ,'' and the eclipsis consonants also denoted with a superdot: : ''ṁ, ṅ''. Old Irish digraph (orthography), digraphs include the lenition consonants: : ''ch, fh, th, ph, sh'', the eclipsis consonants: : ''md, nd, ng''; ''ṁd, ṅd, ṅg'', the gemination, geminatives: : ''bb, cc, ll, mm, nn, pp, rr, tt'', and the diphthongs: : ''aé/áe/aí/ái, oé/óe/oí/ói'', : ''uí, ía, áu, úa, éu, óu, iu, au, eu'', : ''ai, ei, oi, ui''; ''ái, éi, ói, úi''. The following table indicates the broad pronunciation of various consonant letters in various environments: : : Angle brackets here indicate graphemic differences to the unmutated consonant. : A dash (—) here indicates that the respective consonant is not subject to eclipsis. These consonants are: ''r, l, n, s''Dennis King. "Old-Irish Spelling and Pronunciation." ''Sabhal Mòr Ostaig'', 11 Dec 1998
When the consonants ''b, d, g'' are eclipsed by the preceding word (always from a word-initial position), their spelling and pronunciation change to: , , Generally, geminating a consonant ensures its unmutated sound. While the letter may be voiced at the end of some words, but when it's written double it's always voiceless in regularised texts; however, even final /k/ was often written "cc", as in ''bec / becc'' "small, little" (Modern Irish and Scottish ''beag'', Manx ''beg''). In later Irish manuscripts, lenited ''f'' and ''s'' are denoted with the letter ''h'' , , instead of using a superdot , . When initial ''s'' stemmed from Primitive Irish ''*sw-'', its lenited version is . The slender (Palatalization (phonetics), palatalised) variants of the 13 consonants are denoted with marking the letter. They 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 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 Old Irish preposition "in" was sometimes written ) or if they need to be emphasised (the name of Ireland, , was sometimes written ). On the other hand, words that begin with the sound are usually written without it: "her gold". If the sound and the spelling co-occurrence, co-occur, it is by coincidence, as "it is not".

Stops following vowels

The voiceless stops of Old Irish are ''c, p, t.'' They contrast with the voiced stops ''g, b, d''. Additionally, the letter ''m'' can behave similarly to a stop following vowels. These seven consonants often mutate when not in the word-initial position. In non-initial positions, the single-letter voiceless stops ''c, p,'' and ''t'' become the voiced stops , , and respectively unless they are written double. Ambiguity in these letters' pronunciations arises when a single consonant follows an ''l, n,'' or ''r''. The lenited stops ''ch, ph,'' and ''th'' become , , and respectively. : The voiced stops ''b, d,'' and ''g'' become fricative , , and , respectively—identical sounds to their word-initial lenitions. : In non-initial positions, the letter ''m'' usually becomes the nasal fricative , but in some cases it becomes a nasal stop, denoted as . In cases in which it becomes a stop, ''m'' is often written double to avoid ambiguity. :

Stops following other consonants

Ambiguity arises in the pronunciation of the stop consonants (''c, g, t, d, p, b'') when they follow ''l, n,'' or ''r'': : After ''m'', the letter ''b'' is naturally a stop . After ''d, l, r'', the letter ''b'' is fricative : : After ''n'' or ''r'', the letter ''d'' is a stop : : After ''n, l'', or ''r'', the letter ''g'' is usually a stop , but it becomes a fricative in a few words: :

The consonants ''l, n, r''

The letters ''l, n, r'' are generally written double when they indicate ''tense sonorants'' and single when they indicate ''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). : Geminate consonants appear to have existed since the beginning of the Old Irish period, but they were simplified by the end, as is generally reflected by the spelling. Although, ''ll, mm, nn, rr'' were eventually repurposed to indicate nonlenited variants of those sounds in certain positions.


Written vowels ''a, ai, e, i'' in poststressed syllables (except when absolutely word-final) all seem to represent phonemic . 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: : It seems likely that spelling variations reflected allophonic variations in the pronunciation of .


Old Irish was affected by a series of phonological changes that radically altered its appearance compared with Proto-Celtic language, Proto-Celtic and older Celtic languages (such as Gaulish language, Gaulish, which still had the appearance of typical early Indo-European languages such as Latin or Ancient Greek). The changes were such that Irish was not recognized as Indo-European at all for much of the 19th century. The changes must have happened quite rapidly, perhaps in only one or two hundred years around 500–600, because almost none of the changes are visible in Primitive Irish (4th to 6th centuries), and all of them are already complete in archaic Old Irish (8th century). A capsule summary of the most important changes is (in approximate order): # Syllable-final (from PIE , ) assimilated to the following phoneme, even across word boundaries in the case of syntactically connected words. #* Voiceless stops became voiced: > . #* Voiced stops became prenasalised . They were reduced to simple nasals during the Old Irish period. #* Before a vowel, 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. #* became (later lost unless the following syllable was stressed). #* was eventually lost (much later). #* became a nasalised continuant (; perhaps or ). #* remained, but the non-lenited variants were strengthened to (see #Phonology, phonology section above). # Extensive Affection (linguistics), umlaut ("affection") of short vowels, which were raised or lowered to agree with the height of following Proto-Celtic vowels. Similarly, rounding of to or often occurred adjacent to labial consonants. # Palatalization (phonetics), Palatalization of all consonants before front vowels. # Loss of part or all of final syllables. # Loss of most interior vowels (syncope (phonetics), syncope). They led to the following effects: * Both the palatalised ("slender") and lenited variants of consonants were phoneme, 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. -stems: "son" (nom. acc.) vs. (gen.), "back" (nom. acc.) vs. (gen.), cf. Latin (nom.), (acc.) vs. (gen.); ** in fem. -stems: "tribe, people" (nom.) vs. (acc. dat.), "pig" (nom.) vs. (acc. dat.); ** in -stems: "father" (gen.) vs. (nom. acc. dat.). * 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 "they say" vs. "they do not say" or "he surpasses" vs. "he does not surpass" (where the stressed syllable is boldfaced).

Examples of changes

The following are some examples of changes between Primitive Irish and Old Irish. :


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 Clitic#Word order, 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: : The following table shows how these forms might have been derived: : The most extreme allomorphy of all came from the third person singular of the -subjunctive because an athematic person marker was used, added directly onto the verbal stem (formed by adding 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: :

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 , , , , , and all clusters involving (except , , where only the 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 (phonetics), 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. > ; etc. > ). ** Otherwise, adjacent obstruents assumed the voicing of the second consonant (e.g. > ; > ; > ). ** not adjacent to a vowel became syllabic and then had a vowel inserted before them (e.g. "world" < < < ; "sin" < ). However, in the case of , that occurred only when the nasal had not previously been joined to a following voiced stop as a result of nasal assimilation: compare "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: "name" (one syllable), "widow", "they are shown".

Proto-Celtic short vowels, vowel affection

All five Proto-Celtic short vowels (, , , , ) survived into Primitive Irish more or less unchanged in stressed syllables. However, during the runup to Old Irish, several mutations (umlaut (linguistics), umlauts) take place. Former vowels are modified in various ways depending on the following vowels (or sometimes surrounding consonants). The mutations are known in Celtic literature as ''affections'' or ''infections'' such as these, the most important ones: # -affection: Short and are raised to and when the following syllable contains a high vowel (, , , ). It does not happen when the vowels are separated by certain consonant groups. # -affection: Short and are lowered to and when the following syllable contains a non-high back vowel (, , , ). # -affection: Short , , are broken to short diphthongs , , when the following syllable contains a or that was later lost. It is assumed that at the point the change operated, -vowels that were later lost were short while those that remain were long . The change operates after -affection so original may end up as . Nominal examples (reconstructed forms are Primitive Irish unless otherwise indicated): * "old (nominative singular)" < , but "old (genitive singular)" < (-affection), "old (dative singular)" < (-affection and -affection) < < PIE , "old (accusative plural)" < (-affection but no -affection because remains) < PIE . * "man (nominative singular)" < (-affection), but "man (genitive singular)" < (no -affection), "man (dative singular)" < (-affection) < < PIE , "men (accusative plural)" < (no -affection because the remains) < PIE . * "strength (nominative singular)", but "strength (dative singular)" < (-affection but no -affection, which was blocked by the cluster ) < < PIE . * "honey" (-affection) < PCelt , "sweet" < (-affection). * "miracle (nominative singular)" < (-affection; from Latin ), "miracle (nominative plural)" < . Verbal paradigm example: : The result of -affection and -affection is that it is often impossible to distinguish whether the root vowel was originally or ( < and < have identical declensions). However, note the cases of vs. above for which -affection, but not -affection, was blocked by an intervening .

Proto-Celtic long vowels and diphthongs

Proto-Celtic long vowels and diphthongs develop in stressed syllables as follows: : The Old Irish diphthongs , , stem from earlier sequences of short vowels separated by *, e.g. "druid" < "tree-knower". Most instances of and 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 (linguistics), hiatus: ‘hundred’ < Proto-Celtic (cf. Welsh language, Welsh ) < PIE .

PIE consonants


See Proto-Celtic for various changes that occurred in all the Celtic languages, but these are the most important: * PIE > Proto-Celtic (but PIE > ). * Loss of aspiration in . * Loss of . Initially and intervocalically it was simply deleted; elsewhere, it variously became , , 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 is lenited to , which then disappears between vowels. In general, Old Irish when not word-initial stems from earlier geminate (often still written as such, especially in archaic sources). * Proto-Celtic remain in Ogam Irish ( "son" (gen. sg.)) but become simple in Old Irish. Occasionally, they leave their mark by rounding the following vowel. * Proto-Celtic is lost early on between vowels, followed by early hiatus resolution. In some cases, combines with a preceding vowel to form a diphthong: "living, alive" < < < . Other instances of become , which still remains in Ogam Irish. By Old Irish times, this becomes initially (e.g. "man" < , "lordship" < ), lenited after lenited voiced sounds (e.g. "bull" < , "widow" < ), after lenited (lenited "sister" < ), and is lost otherwise (e.g. "two" < , unlenited "sister" < ). * Proto-Celtic becomes after a consonant, much as in Latin. The vowel often survives before a lost final vowel, partly indicating the nature of the final vowel as a result of vowel affection: "heart" (nom. gen. dat.) < < < PIE (e.g. gen. ). After this, 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: * , e.g. "swimming", "marrow", "stream", "shadow, reflection", "he scratches (out)", "misery (?)". * , e.g. "blood", "fame", "nut". * , e.g. "sun", "clear", "customary". * , e.g. "heavy', "garment", "jealousy, passion". * , e.g. "he climbs", "he cleaves". * , e.g. "land", "milch". * , e.g. "belly", "flower". Modified initial clusters: * > , e.g. "lordship" < , "heather" < . * / > (lenited ), e.g. "sister" (lenited ) < < PIE . * > , e.g. "I go" < < post-IE . * lose the . * PIE > Proto-Celtic > , e.g. "woman" (gen. sg.) < < PIE , an extremely archaic noun form.Originally a neuter Proto-Indo-European nominals#Early PIE, proterokinetic noun of the form (nom. sg.), (gen. sg.). The original PIE nominative is still preserved in poetic or legal Old Irish "woman" (still neuter!) < Proto-Celtic < PIE . The normal Old Irish nominative is (feminine) < Proto-Celtic < + normal feminine *-ā. No other IE language preserves the original neuter gender.

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 are repurposed to indicate the non-lenited sounds when occurring after a vowel and not before a consonant. Cluster reduction involving : * > unlenited (normally written ). Note that PCelt , > > but > like : "hundred" < PCelt (cf. Welsh language, Welsh ) < PIE ; "way" < (vs. Breton language, Breton ); , "he reaches" < (vs. Bret "must, owe"); "luck" (vs. Bret "fate"). * > unlenited with compensatory lengthening of a preceding vowel; > > similarly to : "swan" < PCelt < PIE (vs. Dutch "goose"). Cluster reduction involving : * Medial > : "I am" < PIE . * Medially, > (but > , > ). * > , > (but after an unstressed syllable), > : "nest" < PIE . Lenited stops generally disappear before sonorants , with compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel. Many examples occur in reduplicated preterites or words with consonant-final prefixes (such as ): * "I have purchased" < *-xexr < PCelt *-kikra; * "he heard" < < PCelt ; * "number" < ; * "a moving to and fro" < θ-aɣm (verbal nouns of "he drives" and compound ); * "assembly" < (cf. Old Welsh ). However, , , survive: "he perforates" < PCelt ; "goat" < PCelt (cf. Welsh ); "shame" (cf. Welsh ).


Old Irish is a fusional language, fusional, nominative-accusative language, nominative-accusative, and verb-subject-object, VSO language. Nouns declension, decline for 5 grammatical case, cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, prepositional case, prepositional, vocative; 3 grammatical gender, genders: masculine, feminine, neuter; 3 grammatical number, numbers: Grammatical number#Singular versus plural, singular, Dual (grammatical number), dual, plural. Adjectives agreement (linguistics), agree with nouns in grammatical case, case, grammatical gender, gender, and grammatical number, number. The prepositional case is called the dative by convention. Verbs Grammatical conjugation, conjugate for 3 grammatical tense, tenses: past tense, past, present tense, present, future tense, future; 3 grammatical aspect, aspects: Uses of English verb forms#Simple, simple, perfective aspect, perfective, imperfective aspect, imperfective; 4 grammatical mood, moods: Grammatical mood#Indicative, indicative, subjunctive mood, subjunctive, conditional mood, conditional, imperative mood, imperative; 2 grammatical voice, voices: active voice, active, and passive voice, passive; Dependent and independent verb forms, independent, and Dependent and independent verb forms, dependent forms; and Old Irish grammar#Independent and dependent forms, simple, and Old Irish grammar#Independent and dependent forms, complex forms. Verbs display grammatical tense, tense, grammatical aspect, aspect, grammatical mood, mood, grammatical voice, voice, and sometimes portmanteau forms through suffixes, or word stem, stem vowel changes for the former four. Clitic#Proclitic, Proclitics form a verbal complex with the core verb, and the verbal complex is often preceded by preverbal Grammatical particle, particles such as (negative marker), (interrogative marker), (perfective marker). Object (grammar)#Types of objects, Direct object personal pronouns are infixed between the preverb and the verbal word stem, stem. Verbs Agreement (linguistics), agree with their Subject (grammar), subject in grammatical number, person and grammatical number, 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. Preposition and postposition, Prepositions inflection, inflect for grammatical person, person and grammatical number, number, and different prepositions Government (linguistics), govern different grammatical cases, cases, sometimes depending on the semantics intended.

See also

*Early Irish literature *Dictionary of the Irish Language *Auraicept na n-Éces *Goidelic substrate hypothesis




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External links

An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language
MacBain, Alexander Gairm Publications, 1982

Old Irish Online
by Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel and Jonathan Slocum, free online lessons at th
Linguistics Research Center
at the University of Texas at Austin
(digital edition of the ''Dictionary of the Irish Language'')
glottothèque - Ancient Indo-European Grammars online
an online collection of introductory videos to Ancient Indo-European languages produced by the University of Göttingen {{Authority control Old Irish, Languages attested from the 8th century Medieval Ireland Medieval languages, Irish, 1 Culture of medieval Scotland