Do Re Im or The History of the Prepositions

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
Gearr leum gu: seòladh, lorg

Urk ... where do I start.

In Old Irish, there was a fairly regular system of endings which you stuck on the back of the prepositions and presto, you had your conjugated form. But for a number of reasons, to some extent, over time, this changed. Today we have a system that looks as if there should be some rule but it isn't obvious any more.

So, how did you make a conjugated preposition in Old Irish? First, you needed the preposition. Next you needed the ending which was derived from the possessive pronouns (mo, do, a, a h-, ar n-, far-n, a n-), not the personal pronouns. You stuck them on the end and there you were. Mostly. Let's look at this paradigm:

Singular Plural
1 -m(m) -n(n)
2 -t -b
3 masc/neutr -u/-o (prep. with accusative)
-e/-i (prep. with dative)
-aib (prep. with accusative)
-u (prep. with dative)
3 fem -(a)e (prep. with accusative)
-i/-e (prep. with dative)
-aib (prep. with accusative)
-u (prep. with dative)

Now, we're going to solve Big Mystery 1 - the 3rd person -s prepositional pronouns that are used when the definite article is present. If you had a look at the page on lenition, you'll remember that the old Indo-European definite article used to be sindo/sinda. And wherever an Old Irish preposition, very long ago, had a consonant at the end, that consonant merged with the s- in sindos/sinda. That merger got carried over into our day and age. An s with history you might say. Let's look at an example: frith + sindos » friss » ris. The wow factor setting in?

We'll look at a few more examples, but not all (if you want more, let us know) and we'll also add the modern Irish and Manx forms for comparison. The Manx comes with IPA to avoid head-scratching.

The basic form of this preposition was frith. With the endings we get:
frium friut fris frie ḟrinn friḃ frithu
rium riut ris rithe rinn ribh riutha
*riom *riot/reat *ris *ria *rinn *ribh *riú

In case your computer doesn't display it properly, there's a little dot over the f in frinn. The dot means that the f has been lenited which shows that the initial f's were on the way out, even back then.

We'll solve another mystery for you. In Old Irish, the r was not at the beginning of the word, as you can see. The f simply got lenited away, over time. But, because fri was pronounced as [frʲi], the -r- was fixed in the linguistic memory of people as being non-initial and slender. That's the reason why, today, we mostly pronounce ri as [rʲi] and not *[Ri]. If you want to know why some of these initial r's are now broad, read the section on modern ri, above.

The asterisk before the Irish line means that Irish has merged ri with le, so ri does not exist any more as a preposition on its own. Instead, le is used throughout, which can make for quite amusing idioms. For example, ag cainnt le bean, which in Irish means "speaking to a woman", sounds to a Scottish Gael a bit like the wife is a mouthpiece since le is primarily the means of marking the use of a tool to implement an action.

The basic form of this preposition was oc and ocind with the article. With the endings we get:
ocum ocut occo occi ocunn occaib oca
agam agad aige aice againn agaibh aca
agam agat aige aici againn agaibh acu

As you can see, it's mostly regular. Except for the last form oca - even in Old Irish things weren't perfect!

Now, we really want to look at one of those 'Nasal in Root' ones, don't we? This is also where the mystery of the weird -p- gets solved, because the oldest root forms of this were imb. Although, even back then, imm had become the most common form, except before certain endings:

immum immut imbi impe immunn imib impu
umam umad uime uimpe umainn umaibh umpa
umam umat uime uimpi umainn umaibh umpu

Soo ... why does imbi lose the -b- and impe does not lose the -p-? Most likely, it's because in the feminine 3rd person pronoun an s is kicking around somewhere - compare Irish 'she' or Old Irish a s- > Gaelic a h- 'her'. The mm is so dominant that it would normally gobble up (OK, assimilate) the soft -b- and leave no trace. But the -s- devoices the -b- into a much harder -p- which has been able to hang on till now. It would have gone something like this - the asterisk means that these forms are not attested (not found anywhere), but we figure, based on historical linguistic processes, they might have taken these forms:

imb-i *imb-se
imbi impe
immi impe
uime uimpe

Manx has changed this set quite a lot. It has dropped the initial vowel and - much more interestingly - developed the form mysh. That probably came about to align it with the more commonly heard 3rd person forms like lesh and rish.

Last, but not least, one of the mad ones:

dom duit dúnn dúibh doaib
dhomh dhut dha dhi dhuinn dhuibh dhaibh
dom duit di dúinn daoibh dóibh

As you can see, do was irregular even back then ... so we might as well just learn it as it is.

Righty, I've had two questions - one about the bho/o variants and one about chugam/thugam - I'll try my best.

The bho ~ o is an interesting case. Let's look at the paradigm first:

(h)úaimm (h)úait (h)úat (h)úadi (h)úainn (h)áuib (h)úaidib
(bh)uam (bh)uat (bh)uaithe (bh)uaipe (bh)uainn (bh)uaibh (bh)uapa
uam uait uaidh uaithi uainn uaibh uathu

It seems that even Old Irish was at a bit of a loss here because in the old manuscripts you find both forms freely scattered about - with the h and without the h. Seeing that Old Irish is not one of those languages which does not permit a vowel at the beginning of a word, the option of h, or no h, may be the leftover of some sound that was there a long time ago. Unfortunately, the literature doesn't say much about this h. In the modern languages, the h seems to have ended up as a [v] sound because the Gaelic languages are very reluctant to allow initial h- without something going in front to cause an h sound. So, next to the somewhat labialising (= lippy) [u] sound, [v] must have seemed like a good substitute.

And as you can see, Manx has opted to have the [v] throughout. Irish dropped [v] completely, and has done so for a long time. Not even the famous dictionary by Ó Duinín mentions a form with bh- !! And Scottish Gaelic is undecided. Which, in a mad sort of way, is a nice continuation of this very ancient headache. In modern Gaelic it's really a matter of choice (unless you follow GOC too closely) depending on whether you pronounce the [v] or not.

Now, gu is a bit easier. Remember the question I got was whether chugam or thugam was a "more correct" form.

cuccum cuccut cucci cuicce cucunn cuccuib cuccu
thugam thugad thuige thuice thugainn thugaibh thuca
chugam chugat chuige chuici chugainn chugaibh chucu

What does this tell us? Quite a lot actually. The basic form of this preposition was co and all the forms are based on cu-. So, we can safely assume that the initial sound began life as [k] and later lenited to [x]. So, should we all be spelling it with ch-?

Well ... yesno. The issue here is that in the modern languages, in some dialects, this sound has changed further to [h]. Even in Irish you can hear two variants of this, both [xugəm] and [hugəm], just as you get both [xugəm] and [hugəm], in Scottish Gaelic. As you can see, Manx has opted for the [h] whereas Irish has retained the ch- spelling. Today, in Scotland, it appears that the [h] pronunciation is more common than the [x], so it makes sense to use the th- spelling. Does that help?

So much for Old Irish prepositions. Sometimes it helps to understand the history of something like this but it doesn't work for everybody.

Beagan gràmair
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