A quick Irish lesson

I thought I would use the Feynman technique: trying to explain something you learned so simply a small child could understand it. I don’t think I simplified quite that much but these are some of my early observations of Irish language.

In Irish, life, beatha, is a word that sounds like Baja in Spanish, a little bit, with a more subtle ‘h’ sound in the middle. The word for water, uisce, (ish-kuh) is the Irish/Gaelic where ‘whisky’ comes from, and the Irish word for food is bia which sounds like beer (in dialects of English where r is not fully pronounced) so it gets a little confusing.

English is Sasanach, because they putting on too much sass, and also because it means literally Saxon. Saying where you are from is like the German -isch, Spanisch, Englisch, etc. except words end in ach (which is also a German word and an Irish word for but!) or each, so Spanish is Spáinneach, German is Gearmánach, American is Meiriceánach.

Is Meiriceánach mé. I am American. Is Meiriceánach mé as Boston ach tá mé i mo chónaí i gCorcaigh annois. I am American from Boston but I live in Cork City now. This sentence uses two different forms of ‘to be’: ‘tá’ expressed things about someone and ‘is’ expresses *what* they are. You could also describe the difference as, tá expresses temporary conditions and location, and is expresses permanent ones, a lot like the Spanish ser/estar, but there are too many exceptions to that to make it really helpful. So far the best explanation I found is tá expresses something about something (often its state, condition, or location) and is expresses what that person or thing is: I am living in Cork City is literally ‘I am in my living in Cork City’: Tá me in mo chónaí i gCorcaigh. I am German: Is Gearmánach mé. I am an artist: Is ealaíontóir mé.

Tá cathaoir ansin. Literally: Is chair there. Verbs come before nouns in Irish which is not hard to get used to for me because in German verbs can com before nouns if you want them to, even in declarative sentences. In Irish I guess they just do and that is that. To change a statement to a question tá becomes an bhfuil (pronounced: an will). An bhfuil an chathoir ansin? Is the chair there? An bhfuil cathoir ansin? Is there a chair there?

There is no ‘a’ article in Irish. Tá cathaoir ansin. There is a chair there. Literally: Is chair there. The article for ‘the’ is ‘an’ and when you use it the noun takes on a different form depending on the gender. I write down the word with ‘the’ to learn the word because that teaches me the gender at the same time.

You don’t have to memorise the gender of each word, what the word does next to ‘the’ gives it away. The gender becomes part of the word itself rather than being signified by an article. Tá an chathair ansin: the chair is there. Chair is feminine, I remember, because after ‘the’ feminine nouns starting in a consonant add an h after the first letter which is called lenition. It is harder to remember cathair is feminine but if I know an chathair I just know right away.

Feminine nouns beginning with a vowel do not change. Masculine nouns beginning with a consonant do not change and beginning with a vowel t- before the word. Cathair, an chathiar. An t-árasán, the apartment. With this information you can easily tell when you encounter a noun with ‘a’ what gender it is. I make flashcards like: chair: “cathair / an chathair / na cathaireacha.” There is also a plural ending which I put in my cards and there are a few different possibilities: this one adds an -eacha ending. Sometimes the end of the strem changes in a plural, sometimes you just add the ending. Na is like plural ‘the’ which we don’t have in English: just turn an around and you have na, and then add the plural ending of the word.

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