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   Lexical equivalence between Irish and English
Nominalisation and prepositional pronouns
Recent loans from English
Formal aspects of compounding
Productive affixation
Words discussed in various journals (external link)

The vocabulary of modern Irish shows many layers resulting from its history. There are of course inherited words of Indo-European stock, but also many older loans. The main sources of these are Latin during the Old Irish period and afterwards, Old Norse loans from the Scandinavian period (9th to 11th centuries). Anglo-Norman words entered the language from the end of the 12th century onwards. In addition to these, there are many loans from English, some stemming from the early period of English in Ireland, i.e. before 1600, and many others from more recent times.

Inherited Indo-Euopean words fear ‘man’, bean ‘woman’, deich ‘ten’, céad ‘hundred’
Latin manach (< L monachus) ‘monk’, cill (< L cella) ‘church’, cáis (< L caseus) ‘cheese’, corp (< L corpus) ‘body’
Old Norse margadh (< Old Norse markadr) ‘market’, seol (< ON segl) ‘sail’, bróg (< ON brók) ‘shoe’
Anglo-Norman páiste (< AN page) ‘child’, garsún (< AN garçon) ‘boy’, dainséar (< AN danger) ‘danger’
Older English loans faoitín ‘whiting’, bácús ‘bakehouse’, halla ‘hall’, seacéad ‘jacket’
Recent English loans ficsean ‘fiction’, coiminiséir ‘commissioner’, telefís ‘television’

Lexical equivalence between Irish and English

In general it is true that Irish has few borrowings from Latin and Greek compared to English. Irish has some neo-classical compounds in the areas of science and technology but by and large the language uses its own means for expressing words which have a Latin or Greek base in English. This also means that Irish uses everyday words, often in phrases, where the equivalents in English are single words which derive from non-native vocabulary.

leathscéal [half-story] ‘excuse’ flichshneachta [wet snow] ‘sleet’
cur síos [putting down] ‘description’ cos ar bolg [foot on stomach] ‘oppression’
éirí amach [rising out] ‘rebellion’ caitheamh aimsire [spending time-GEN] ‘hobby’
fianaise bréige [witness lie-GEN] ‘perjury’ urú gréine [darkening sun-GEN] ‘eclipse’

Because Irish has not a second layer of words like the Romance stock of English there is much more polysemy (several uses of a single word), e.g. focal ‘word, remark’, stór focal ‘vocabulary’, céim ‘step, college degree’, cuma ‘shape, form, appearance’, aois ‘age, century’. In some cases a single Irish word corresponds to several English equivalents (see second column in following table). In other cases Irish shows considerable word-formational and phraseological flexibility which might not be obvious to learners initially (see first column in following table).

cuir ‘put’ cúis ‘a cause’
cuir chun cinn ‘advance’
cuir in aghaidh ‘to move forward, progress’
cuir in iúl ‘to inform’
cur isteach ar rud ‘to apply for sth’
cur rud i bhfeidhm ‘to implement sth’
cur síos a dhéanamh ar rud ‘to be specific about sth’
cur síos beacht ‘precise account’
cúis gháire ‘reason for laughter’
cúis ghearáin ‘cause for complaint’
cúis mhagaidh ‘source of ridicule’

Where English has a single word, Irish often has a compound consisting of two nouns with the second in the genitive.

tinneas cinn [sickness of the head] ‘headache’ seomra leapa [room of bed] ‘bedroom’
mac léinn [son of knowledge] ‘student’ slí beatha [way of life] ‘profession’
lucht oibre [people of work] ‘workforce’ lucht éisteachta [people of listening] ‘audience’

Generally, Irish does not have blends like English smog so that the equivalent is a compound, toitcheo from toit ‘smoke’ and ceo ‘fog’.

Like any language, Irish has different registers and the level of style speakers move on affects their choice of vocabulary. For instance, the Irish word for ‘future’ is todhchaí and ‘in the future’ is sa todhchaí. But in colloquial Irish it would be more common to use a phrase like san am atá romhainn [in-the time which-is in-front-of-us].

Nominalisation and prepositional pronouns

Another prominent feature of Irish vocabulary is the heavy reliance on nouns, where English would use adjectives. Semantic relations such as possession or relevance are then expressed by means of prepositional pronouns (single words combining a preposition and a pronoun).

Daoine a bhfuil líofacht Gaeilge acu.
[people that is-REL fluency Irish-GEN at-them]
‘People who are fluent in Irish.’

Bhí ocras mór orainn tar éis bheith ag snámh.
[was hunger big on-us after being at swimming]
‘We were hungry after being swimming.’

Níl dul uaidh agat.
[is-not going from-it at-you]
‘You cannot escape it.’
Is fada liom uaim í.
[is far with-me from-me she]
‘I miss her a lot.’

In some cases this may make a pseudo-poetic impression on speakers of other languages which is not felt by speakers of Irish. An example would be the sentence Tá fad na teanga air (lit. ‘is length tongue-GEN on-him’) ‘He is very talkative’. Because such structures were often translated literally in earlier forms of Irish English, many English-speaking Irish today regard this heavily nominalised syntax as antiquated usage, smacking of stage Irish.

Recent loans from English

The position with recent English loans is fluid: many words are used in more or less their original form, i.e. one is dealing with code-switching. This occurs not just with poor speakers of Irish but with native speakers as well. Indeed the latter very often have a more relaxed attitude to code-switching, integrating the English words into the grammar of Irish in the process, e.g. Ná bí ag rusháil back amáireach. ‘Don’t be rushing back tomorrow’, Bhí an-night aici san óstán nua ‘She had a great night at the new hotel’.

Whether one can regard the equivalents to English as established in Irish frequently depends on register. There are many calques on English compounds and phrases which are found in formal and technical writing in an attempt to reach an Irish equivalent. Some of these are English stems with an Irish verbal ending, e.g. brabhsáil ‘browse’. Some are translations, piece by piece of English originals.

idirghabhalaí [between-goer] ‘mediator’ mórchuid [big-part] ‘the majority’
íoslódáil [down load] ‘download’ sruthlíneach ‘streamlined’

Others are semantic equivalents created in Irish, often to neo-classical words in English.

halla éisteachta [hall hearing-GEN] ‘auditorium’ ubhchruthach [egg-shaped] ‘oval’
neamhshuim [non-interest] ‘indifference’ ardú céime [rise level-GEN] ‘promotion’

Apart from the above types, Irish has further techniques of word formation by which it can create new words from native lexical stock. Compounding with productive prefixes is a frequent device resulting in new meanings.

iargúlta (< iar ‘back, west’ + cúlta ‘cornered’) ‘remote’ ainbhios (< ain ‘not’ + fios ‘knowledge’) ‘ignorance’
insealbhú (< in ‘in’ + sealbhú ‘possession’) ‘acquisition’ tráthchuid (< tráth ‘time’ + cuid ‘part’) ‘installment’

Formal aspects of compounding

Although Irish is a post-specifying language with VSO word order in declarative sentences, the modifier precedes the head in compounds, e.g. gearrfhoclóir ‘short, concise dictionary’. This is in contradistinction to syntactic groups of noun plus adjective where the modifier follows, e.g. foclóir ghearr ‘a short dictionary’.

A noun preceded by a modifier, such as another noun or an adjective is normally lenited. The exception to this is where both the end of the modifier and the beginning of the head consist of an aleveolar consonant.

Lenition of head corrdhuine ‘an occasional person’
deadhuine ‘a nice person’
drochdhuine ‘a bad person’
seanbhean ‘old woman’
No lenition seanduine ‘an old person’

Such compounds can be preceded by an article where the context expresses definiteness: An seanduine a bhí sa teach. ‘The old person who was in the house.’ The semantics of compounds versus syntactic groups can be exploited contrastively where required. The compound would seem to imply a permanent and inalterable quality whereas the syntactic group is found in instances where the meaning of the qualifier is not highlighted in the discourse, e.g. seanbhean ‘an old woman’ versus bean shean ‘a woman who is old’.

Productive affixation

Many endings can function as extensions to stems, e.g. -ach as with the noun misneach ‘courage’, but can also form an adjective from a noun, e.g. geanas ‘modesty’ : geanas+ach ‘modest’, daoine ‘people’ : daoineach ‘populous’, or one adjective from another, e.g. deimhin ‘certain’ : deimhneach ‘positive’. Sometimes there is an epenthetic consonant (here: t) between stem and ending, e.g. fealltach ‘deceitful’ from feall ‘treachery, foul play’.

Alternative endings within the same word-class also exist, e.g. -(e)ach and -(e)anach with adjectives, e.g. millteach ‘destructive’, millteanach ‘terrible’. Consider also nimhiúil ‘poisonous’ and nimhneach ‘sore’, both stemming from nimh ‘poison’ as well as sean ‘old’ and seanda ‘old, antique’. Also tuirseach ‘tired’ and tuirsiúil ‘tiresome’ along with te ‘hot’ and teasaí ‘ardent, heated, hot-tempered’, both related to teas ‘heat’. A constrast between a bare stem and a stem + suffix can be seen in dubh ‘black’ and dubhach ‘dismal, gloomy’.

There are certain formal criteria which can help to determine what the stem is underlying various formations: if there is a further word class derived from the first syllable of a noun, then the latter is the stem, e.g. fánach ‘occasional, aimless’ and fánaí ‘wanderer’ show that the stem of the latter is fán-. Equally, fiosrach ‘inquisitive’ and fiosraigh ‘inquire’ show that the stem is fiosr-, although this does not occur on its own. The same is true of many other sets of forms, e.g. suaimhneach ‘peaceful’ and suaimhneas ‘tranquility’ which both derive from a stem suaimhn-.

The connection between a prefix and the meaning of a compound word may not always be obvious. Take for instance the prefix dearbh- ‘true, own, blood-’ (found in deartháir ‘brother’). This is also found in dearbhán ‘voucher’ where the semantic relation is not obvious. But the verb dearbhaigh ‘confirm, prove, testify’ provides the bridge between the meaning of the prefix and the noun just mentioned.

Some prefixes contain semantic extensions which are not found in English, e.g. dún ‘close, shut’ : dúnmharú ‘murder’ (dún + ‘killing’) and feall ‘treachery, foul play, deceive’ : feallmharaigh ‘assassinate’ (feall + ‘killing’)

Some prefixes now exist only in compounds, e.g. dírbheathaisnéis ‘autobiography’ (dír + ‘biography’), dírshliocht ‘lineage’ (dír + ‘offspring’) which contains dír- ‘due, proper, pertaining to’ as an initial element.

Orthography may now render the internal structure of words opaque, e.g. dúghlas ‘dark green’ derives from dubh ‘black’ and glas ‘green’ but the spelling has been adjusted to reflect the fact that -ubh, formerly /-ʊv/, has long since been pronounced as /-u:/. Another example would be fionnuar ‘cool, refreshing’ < fionn ‘fair’ + fuar ‘cold’, i.e. fhuar in this compound.

Generally, prefixes do not assimilate to the palatality of the beginning of the stem to which they are attached. However, there are exceptions, notably leath- /la/ ‘half’ which appears as leith- /lɛ/ before a stem with palatal initial sound, e.g. leithchéad [half-hundred] ‘fifty’, leithinis [half-island] ‘peninsula’.

Occasionally, there may be instances of double prefixes, especially when these augment the meaning of the compound, e.g. fíordhrochlá ‘very bad day’.

The following tables offer a selection of the productive prefixes of Irish which add specificiable meanings to word stems.

Ain- ‘un-, anti-’
     aineolach ‘ignorant’
     aingiallta ‘irrational’
     ainspiorad ‘devil (anti-spirit)’
     aintiarna ‘tyrant’

Ais- ‘re-’
     aiséirigh ‘rise again, resurrect’
     aiseolas ‘feedback’
     aisfhreagra ‘back answer, retort’
     aistarraing ‘withdraw’

As- ‘out-’
     aschur ‘output’
     aslonnaigh ‘evacuate’
     astitim ‘fall-out’

Ath- ‘re-’
     athaontú ‘re-unification’
     athbheochan ‘revival’
     athbhreithniú ‘review, revision’
     athbhríoch ‘ambiguous’
     athbhunú ‘re-establishment’
     athchairdeas ‘reconciliation’
     athchló ‘reprint’
     athchóiriú ‘to renovate’
     athluaigh ‘repeat, reiterate’
     athmheas ‘reconsideration’
     athscríobh ‘re-write’
     athsmaoineamh ‘afterthought’

Barr- ‘top; uppermost’
     barrachas ‘surplus’
     barrchéim ‘climax’
     barrshamhail ‘ideal’

Comh- ‘co-, together’
     chomhaimseartha ‘contemporary’
     chomhdháil ‘conference’
     comhaontas ‘alliance’
     comhcheangal ‘combination, affiliation’
     comhdháil ‘conference’
     comhfhreagras ‘correspondence’
     comhghairdeas ‘congratulations’
     comhlíonadh ‘fulfilling’
     comhoibriú ‘cooperating’
     comhordú ‘co-ordination’
     comhphobal ‘community’
     comhtharlúint ‘coincidence’
     comhthéacs ‘context’
     comhthreomhar ‘parallel’
     comhuaineach ‘simultaneous’

Corr- ‘occasional, odd’
     corrchith ‘occasional shower’
     corrchlár ‘occasional programme’
     corrdhuine ‘occasional person’
     corrfhocal ‘odd word’

Dea- ‘good’
     deabholadh ‘aroma’
     deachleachtas ‘good practice’
     deachomhartha ‘good sign’
     deachroíoch ‘good hearted’
     dea-mhéin ‘goodwill’
     deamheas ‘respect’
     deaobair ‘good work’
     deashampla ‘good example’
     deasheirbhís ‘good service’
     deathapa ‘very quickly’

Dearbh- ‘true, genuine, authentic’
     dearbhán ‘voucher’

‘dis-, non-, un-’
     díchéillí ‘foolish’
     díchiumhne ‘forgetfulness’
     dífhostaíocht ‘unemployment’
     dímheas ‘disrespect’

Do- ‘un-, in-’
     dobhéas ‘bad habit’
     dobhréagnaithe ‘undeniable’
     dochloiste ‘inaudible’
     dochreidte ‘incredible’
     dodhéanta ‘difficult, impossible’
     dofheicthe ‘invisible’
     doleigheasta ‘incurable’
     doléite ‘illegible’
     domharaithe ‘immortal’
     doshiúlta ‘impassable’
     dothuigthe ‘incomprehensible’

Eas- ‘dis-’
     easaontas ‘disagreement, disunity’
     easaontú ‘disagreement’
     easlán ‘invalid’
     easurraim ‘disrespect’

Éi- ‘un-, in-’
     éiginnte ‘uncertain’
     éigiontach ‘innocent’

Féin- ‘self-’
     féinfhostaithe ‘self-employed’
     féiniúlacht ‘identity’
     féinmharú ‘suicide’
     féinmhuinín a fhorbairt ‘to develop self-confidence’
     féinrialtas ‘self-government’

Fo- ‘sub-, under’
     fo-bhrat ‘undercoat’
     focheann ‘odd, occasional one’
     fochéimí ‘undergraduate’
     fochlásal ‘subordinate clause’
     fochoistí ‘sub-committees’
     fochupán ‘saucer’
     fo-éadach ‘under-garment’
     fo-eagarthóir ‘sub-editor’

For- ‘great’
     foréigean ‘violence’
     forfheidhm ‘main aim’
     forleathan ‘extensive, widespread’
     formhór ‘great number, majority’
     formhór an daonra ‘most of the population’
     forneart ‘force’
     fortheach ‘annex’

Frith- ‘anti-, counter-’
     frithbhuaic ‘anticlimax’
     frithbhualadh ‘repercussion, recoil’
     frithchaith ‘to reflect’
     frithchaitheamh ‘reflection’
     frithchosúlsacht ‘paradox’
     frithghníomh ‘counteraction, reaction’
     frithghníomhaí ‘reactionary’
     frithshuigh ‘contrast, set against’

Geal- ‘bright, very’
     gealgháireach ‘very amusing’

Iar- (prefix) ‘former, post-, past, late’
     iarchéim ‘postgraduate degree’
     iar-eagarthóir ‘former editor’
     iarfhocal ‘epilogue’
     iarghnó ‘grief, regret; annoyance’
     iargúlta ‘remote’
     iar-múinteoir ‘retired teacher’
     iarnóin ‘afternoon’

Il- ‘many, poly-’
     ilchineálach ‘mixed, heterogenous; varia’
     ilchumasc ‘assortment’
     ildaite ‘coloured, comely’
     ildaite ‘colourful’
     ildánach ‘versatile, with many skills’
     ilghnéitheach ‘diverse, various’
     ilghnóthaí ‘activities, general concerns’
     ilmheáin ‘multimedia’
     ilteangach ‘multi-lingual’

In- ‘in-’
     inbhreathnú ‘introspection’
     inchinn ‘brain’
     inchloiste ‘audible’
     inchur ‘input’
     indéanta ‘feasible’
     indíreach ‘indirect’
     infheistíocht ‘investment’
     inghlactha ‘acceptable’
     inmheánach ‘internal’
     inmholta ‘advisable’
     inrialaitheach ‘autonomous’
     inrochtana ‘accessible’
     insealbhú ‘acquisition’
     inseolta ‘navigable’
     instealladh ‘injection’
     intuigthe ‘assumed’

Mí- ‘mis-’
     mí-ádh ‘misfortune’
     mí-ámharach ‘unfortunate’
     míbhéasach ‘unmannerly’
     míbhuntáiste ‘disadvantage’
     míchothrom ‘uneven, unequal’
     míchruinn ‘inexact’
     mídhlíteach ‘illegal’
     mífhoighne ‘impatience’
     mífhoighneach ‘impatient’
     mífholláin ‘unhealthy, unwholesome’
     mígheanas ‘indecency’
     mí-iompair ‘misconduct’
     mí-ionraic ‘dishonest’
     mímhúinte ‘rude’
     mímhúinte ‘rude’
     mínádúrtha ‘unnatural’
     míshásta ‘dissatisfied’
     mí-usáid ‘misuse’

Mion- ‘small, minor, fine, detailed’
     mionaigh ‘mince, diminsh, crumble’
     mionchruinn ‘minute, detailed’
     miondealú ‘parsing’
     miondifríocht ‘slight difference’
     mionfheoil ‘mincemeat’
     mionfocal ‘particle’
     miongháire ‘smile’
     mionlach ‘minority’
     mionlitreacha ‘small letters’
     mionscrúdú ‘detailed examination’
     mionteanga ‘minority language’
     miontionscal ‘a minor industry, retail’

Neamh- ‘dis-, un-, -less’
     neamhaird ‘disregard’
     neamhaird a thabhairt ar rud ‘to disregard sth’
     neamhbhalbh ‘articulate’
     neamhbhrabúsach ‘non-profit’
     neamhbhuíoch ‘thankless’
     neamhchodladh ‘sleepless’
     neamhchoitianta ‘uncommon’
     neamhdheimhnithe ‘unconfirmed, non certified’
     neamhdhíreach ‘indirect’
     neamhfhoilsithe ‘unpublished’
     neamhghnách ‘unusual’
     neamhinniúil ‘incompetent’
     neamhiontas ‘disregard’
     neamhliteartha ‘illiterate’
     neamhní ‘nothing’
     neamhrialta ‘irregular’
     neamhshiméadrach ‘asymmetric’
     neamhshuim ‘indifference’
     neamhspléach ‘independent’
     neamhspleáchas ‘independence’
     neamhthruaillithe ‘unpolluted’

Oll- ‘major, large’
     ollmhaitheas ‘wealth, luxury’
     ollmharga ‘supermarket’
     ollmhór ‘huge, immense’
     ollscoil ‘university’
     ollsmachtach ‘totalitarian’
     olltáirgeadh ‘mass production’
     olltoghchán ‘general election’

Príomh- ‘main’
     príomhailt ‘editorial’
     príomh-aire ‘prime minister’
     príomhchathair ‘capital city’
     príomhdhuais ‘the main prize’
     príomhfheidhmeannach ‘chief executive’
     príomhlaige ‘main weakness’
     príomh-oide ‘principal teacher’
     príomhthréith ‘main characteristic’

Réamh- ‘pre-’
     réamhdhéanta ‘pre-fabricated’
     réamheolas ‘advance knowledge’
     réamhghabháil ‘anticipation’
     réamhrá ‘preface’
     réamhráite ‘aforesaid’
     réamhtheachtach ‘antecedent’

Rí- ‘very’
     rídhéanaí ‘up to date, most recent’
     rí-dhona ‘very bad’
     ríthábhachtach ‘extremely important’

Ró- ‘too’
     róghafa ‘too busy’
     róghearr ‘too sharp’
     rónaofa ‘most holy’

Sain- ‘special, particular, specific’
     saincheadúnas ‘franchise’
     saineolaí ‘expert, specialist’
     saineolas ‘expertise’
     sainfhreagracht ‘special responsibility’
     sainforás ‘special development’
     sainmhiniú ‘definition’
     sainréimsí eolais ‘specific areas of knowledge’
     saintréith ‘distinctive characteristic’

Sár- ‘super, above, best’
     sárchéim ‘superlative’
     sár-fhear ‘a great man’
     sármhaith ‘excellent’

Seach- ‘apart from, other’
     seachfhocal ‘aside’
     seachfhoirm ‘alternative form’

Síor- ‘continuously’
     síorachrann ‘continuous quarrelling’
     síoraíocht ‘eternity’
     síorbhrú ‘continuous pressure’
     síorchaint ‘continuous talk’
     síoréilimh ‘continuous demands’
     síorghlas ‘evergreen’
     síor-ól ‘continuous drinking’

So- ‘very, much, easy to, -able’
     so-aimsithe ‘attainable’
     so-bhlasta ‘delicious’
     sobhriste ‘fragile’
     sochaideartha ‘approachable’
     so-dhaite ‘very comely’
     sodhéanta ‘easy-to-do’
     so-ghlactha ‘acceptable’
     soghluaiste ‘accessible’
     soléite ‘readable’
     so-ólta ‘drinkable’

Srac- ‘drag, extort, tear’
     sracfhéachaint ‘glance, quick look’

Uath- ‘singular’
     uathlathach ‘autocratic’
     uathoibríoch ‘automatic’