Prosthetic f, backformation or eagal and feagal
Prosthetic sounds are nothing unusual in the… ah OK, right you are. A prosthetic sound is a "random" sound that gets stuck in front, the middle or at the end of a word to make it conform better with the sound rules of whichever language.
Many languages do this, such as Spanish. Spanish phonology has a rule saying that no word may begin with [sp] [st] or [sk]. However, there are words in Spanish which either have these initials historically or have them from loan words coming into Spanish. To get around this problem, Spanish phonology says "prefix [e]" … so Latin spīritus, scola, stabilis become espirito, escuela, and estable. Similarly Scandinavia, spot and Stockholm become Escandinavia, espot, and Estocolmo.
- 1 Errr and backformation?
- 2 Or cheat
- 3 But why are there so many place-names with initial h?
- 4 Simplifly, simplify
- 5 Let's talk about your sister
Errr and backformation?
Backformation means that speakers of a language take a native or adopted word and re-analyse it, as it were. This often happens in loanwords or native words whose meaning has become opaque. Opaque, when a linguist uses the word, means that the meaning is not clear from just looking at the word. For example, you can look at the word drumstick and figure that it's a stick that's used with a drum. But no matter how hard you stare at a hot toddy, chances are you won't figure it comes from a Hindi word for a palm-tree.
Where was I? Ah, backformation. English, for example, adopted the French word for cherries, cerise from Latin ceresia, both mass nouns which means there is no singular form. But because English has a very prominent -s plural, English speakers figured that the s must obviously be a plural. So, if many of those little fruits are cherries, one must obviously be - a cherry. This is called backformation. Gaelic does that too, but because it has the phenomenon of lenition at the beginning of words, unlike English, it tends to create backformations at the beginning of words.
Now, Gaelic phonology does not forbid words beginning with a vowel (don't laugh, some languages have no words beginning with vowels!) but it does have something like prosthetic sounds. Most notably [f]. In the case of Gaelic this comes about when native speakers re-interpret words beginning with a vowel as "a word which has lenited X". However, there is more than just one backformation. Let's have a quick look at what can happen:
|[h] ⇨ [t], [d] or [s]||because lenited [t] or [s] yields [h], failing that, you drop it. [d] is rare, possibly via [t].|
|[ð] ⇨ [d]||because lenited [d] used to yield [ð]|
|[θ] ⇨ [t]||because lenited [t] used to yield [θ]|
|[v] ⇨ [u] or [b]||because lenited [b] yields [v] or failing that, sounds a bit like [u]|
|[j] ⇨ [g]||because lenited [g] yields [ʝ]. This happens in words with a soft onset which is an almost [j] sound, as in English iota, which to Gaelic ears sounds like the word begins with gh th or dh|
|initial vowel ⇨ [f]||because lenited [f] is silent - and this is by far the most common one, and about the only one, still active in modern Gaelic|
|initial vowel ⇨ [t], [s] or [ʃ]||Because the masculine article in front of a vowel is an t- and the t- is sometimes wrongly attached to the noun itself. In rare cases, via t » t-s » this might become [s] or [ʃ]|
|[sw] ⇨ [sb]||This is rare but works on the basis that [sw] is not a permissible initial in Gaelic but the phonetically close [sb] is, i.e. a simple de-lenition of [w] ⇨ [b]|
There are more, but those are the most common ones.
Examples to your heart's content, most of them are loanwords, except the ones beginning with f + vowel from Old Irish. Note that in most cases it's almost impossible to tell if a loan was from Scots or English, so they're usually listed together unless it's very clearly a Scots word. English can also stand for Old or Middle English. It's not that relevant to this topic, so I'm taking shortcuts!
|Brythonic linn||pool, lake (cf. Welsh llyn||Gleann Iucha Linlithgow
with linn being re-interpreted as lenited and slenderised ghlinn
|Latin fundus||foundation||bonn; fonn||bonn|
|Latin Ianuarius||January||Gèanair, Gion-bhair, Gineamhair||Eanáir|
|Latin jocosus||droll||geocach itinerant, vagrant
(original meaning referred to a town crier/street performer)
|Latin Thūlē or Greek Thȳlē||Thule||Tìle
though this may already have had initial /t/ when borrowed from Latin. It depends largely on the exact pronunciation in the giver language at the time
|Latin vanus||empty||fànas||fánas gap||faanys gap|
|Latin vesper||evening||feasgar||feascar vesper||fastyr|
|Latin (in) vetere lege||(in) old law||peitearlach|
|Latin vulpēs||fox (possibly whelp/hvelpr)||uilp|
|Norse eyrr||gravel bank||tiùrr|
|Norse haf||sea, ocean||tabh, also tabh-bhéist, seal; tabh-uan seal pup|
|Norse háfr||hand-net||tàbh/àbh||tábh, abhadh|
|Norse hár + bolstaðr||high + farm||Tàbost|
|Norse haugr||howe, mound||Togha Mòr/Beag, Toghsgaig|
|Norse hjalt + land||hilt + land||Sealtainn||Sealtainn|
|Norse hlíð||gap (in a fence)||(cachai)leith|
|Norse holmr||holm, small island||tolm, An Talm Holme||tolmán|
|Norse hóp||small land-locked bay||tòb/òb1|
|Norse hvalr||whale||Bhàlasaigh, Valasay; Bhàlaigh, Vallay|
|Norse hvarf||turning||Am Parbh, An Carbh Cape Wrath|
|Norse þeisti||black guillemot||taibhse|
|Norse þerna||tern||*teàrn » steàrn(ag)||*tearn » stearnal|
|Norse þili (or poss. OE deal)||wainscot||déile||tile|
|Norse þingvǫllr||assembly field
There are even examples of delenition in Scots here: Dingwall, Tinwald, Tingwall
|Cnoc an Tiongalairidh Tiongal, Eilean Thingeartsaigh Eilean Thinngartsaigh||Tinvaal|
|Norse þópta/þófta||thwart||tobhta||tochta, tafta||thowt, taft|
|Norse Þórkætill||Thor's cauldron (name)||Torcall|
|Norse Þórir||Thorir (name)||Tòrasdal, Torsa|
|Norse Þórmóðr||Thor's courage (name)||Tormod|
|Norse Þorolf||Thor's wolf (name)
The English form Torulf is a rare case of backformation in English.
|Norse Þrasi||Thrasi (name)||Trosaraidh|
|Norse þræll||slave, serf||tràill, Tràilligil||tráill|
|Norse Þrondr||Thrond/Trond (name)||Tròndairnis, Tranntail|
|Norse Þrum||Thrum (name)||Truimisgearraidh|
|Norse þurs||giant, ogre||tursa (tursaichean/tursachan)|
|Norse þytr||whistling sound||sitrich||seitrighim|
|Norse svartbakr||black-backed gull||farspag/arspag; farspach|
|Norse vík||bay, cove||ùig|
|Norse víkingr||viking||Ó hUiginn Higgins, uiging pirate fleet|
|Old Irish abra||eyelid||fabhra/abhra||fabhra/abhra|
|Old Irish acallam||addressing, conversing||agallamh||agallamh||taggloo|
|Old Irish (f)acus||nearness||fagas||fogas||faggys|
|Old Irish aicill||preparing, readiness||faicill||faichill|
|Old Irish aicsiu||seeing||faic(s)inn||feicsin(t)||fakinagh|
|Old Irish áinne||ring||fàinne/àinne||fáinne||fainey|
|Old Irish airiugad||perceiving||faireachadh||aireachtáil|
|Old Irish all||cliff||faill/aill; mac-alla/mac-talla
(cf. Norse fjall which itself got borrowed in place names as -bhal, for example Ceapabhal) and mac-alla in Gaelic, which then either via the old aspiration of -c- as /kʰ/ or backformation of -alla as -talla has yielded mac-talla)
|Old Irish allas||sweat||fallas/allas||allas|
|Old Irish anad||staying, remaining||fanachd, fantainn etc||fanacht||tannaghtyn|
|Old Irish ásaim||I grow||fàs||fás||aase|
|Old Irish atúd||kindling||fadadh/adadh||fadú||foaddey|
|Old Irish ecla||fear||eagal/feagal||feagla/eagla||aggle|
|Old Irish ed||distance, interval||eadh/feadh||feadh||feayn-|
|Old Irish (f)íarfaigid||inquire||fiafraich/feòraich||fiafraigh|
|Old Irish filliud||folding||filleadh/pilleadh||filleadh||filley/pilley|
|Old Irish étáil||gain, wealth||eudail/feudail||éadáil|
|Old Irish fogal||pillaging||othail/fothail||fothal|
|Old Irish forud||shelf, bench||àradh/fàradh||aarey|
|Old Irish fuiseóg/uiseóg||lark||uiseag/fuiseag||fuiseog||ushag|
|Old Irish ilur||eagle||iolaire/fiolaire||iolar||urley|
|Old Irish nóinín||daisy||neòinean/eòinean/feòinean||nóinín||neaynin/eaynin|
|Old Irish omhtann||thistle||fothannan||onnane|
|Old Irish osclaicim||I open||fosgail||foshil||foshil|
|Old Irish rádharc||vision, view||radharc/fradharc||radharc||reayrt|
|Old Irish taidbse||ghost||taibhse/aibhse||taibhse|
|Old Irish uacht||cold (n.)||fuachd||fuacht||feayght|
|Old Irish úaig||sew||fuaigh||fuaigh||fuailley|
|Old Irish uar||cold (adj.)||fuar||fuar||feayr|
|Old Irish uath||hate||fuath/uath||fuath|
|Old Irish urusa||easy||furasta||furasta|
|French jeune||young||diùn-laoch young hero|
|Welsh Gwgan||gwg "frown"||Úgán "Wogan"|
|Scots yair||fishing weir||geàrr||geárr|
|English flatter||bladar (?) flatter|
|English hackle (?)||sisteal||siostal|
|English hatch (n.)||saitse||haiste|
|English hay (n.)||saoidh(e)|
|English heckle (n.)||seiceal||seiceal|
|English jot (poss. L. iota)2||a bit||tiota2||giota|
|English thole||dola thole-pin||tholley thole-pin|
|English thrang||trang "busy"||trang(láil)|
|English throng||drong "busy"||drong|
|English tuck(er)||stretch cloth (i.e. fulling)||tùcadair/ùcadair/fùcadair||úcadair||tucker|
|English ward||bàrdaig/bàrdainn warning||barda, bárdaim|
|English ware(s)||bathar, bàirig|
|English warn/warning||bàrnaigeadh, bàirligeadh|
|English warrants||barantas guarantee||barántas||barrant|
|English whack||faic anything|
|English wheel||cuidheall||faoileáil (?)||queeyl|
|English whig||A' Chuigse Whigs||uig/fuig, An Fuig Whigs||quig|
|English Wight||Wight||Inis Iocht Isle of Wight, Muir nIcht The English Channel|
|English whisper (probably)||piosarnach|
|English wick||buaic||bite (?)|
|English yoke||geòc yoke but also geòcaire etc
(semantic shift from yoke to throat, neck)
1 So basically some areas dropped the h- and some turned it to t-, which is also the explanation for those awful spellings with t-H or weird t- initials you sometimes see on Gaelic street signs like An t-Òb/Muinntir an t-Òb (Leverburgh on Harris for example). It's nothing of the sort, it's just a case of tòb i.e. the place is actually called An Tòb - which makes muinntir an Tòb a totally regular form without any need for grammatical contortions.
2 Although tiota in Gaelic is conceivable a case of the t of the definite article latching onto the noun i.e. an t-iota > an tiota. But with Irish giota clearly a backformation, it could equally be iota > *thiota > tiota.
3 It depends on the timing - modern English has a /j/ at the start of use but the original loan from Norman French us did not have this initial /j/. So if it is a really old loan, the ù just represents English /u/. If it's a more recent loan, it's a backformation of /ju/ » /uː/.
What on eart?
On occasion, this also took place in the middle or at the end of a word, though much more rarely:
though it's not entirely clear if this was deliberately backformed
Of course in Hiberno English (the English spoken in Ireland), this particular change is so common it's practically the default i.e. wherever in the word English has a /θ/, you get dental /t̪/ and where English has /ð/ you get dental /d̪/, so not only does three become tree but also math becomes mat.
I thought Gaelic had words with f and p or indeed s?
Yes, it does, but initial f seems to occupy a strange space, perhaps because it is the only initial that actually lenites to zero (linguist speak for "it lenites and leaves no sound trace") and because p itself lenites to /f/. As a result, there is a regular merry-go-round between words with f, p and initial vowels - and on occasion even m:
|Latin marculus||small hammer||fairce/fairche||fairce/fairche/farcha|
|Norse hjálm||helm||palmair (via failm)||pailmaire/failmaire|
|Norse páll||hoe or spade||fàl||fál|
|English fine/fining||paighne / paighneachadh|
|English Flemish (language)||Pléimis|
|English (the) flux||pluicis|
|English frying pan||praidheapan|
(poss. via a 3rd language)
Add a pinch of madness...
Even without turning to loanwords, this can get downright crazy when you throw the effects of nasalization and rebracketing into the equation. The Old Irish root of the word nettle is nenaid which eventually yields neannt + ag. But this is where the fun starts. Because this is very common with the definite article, an neanntag quickly results in people thinking of this as an eanntag. Which some folk of course mis-interpret as a case of an fheanntag, giving rise to feanntag. Not to be outdone, some folks took an neanntag and considered it to be the result of nasalization i.e. they assumed the word had to be an deanntag. The only ones missing for a full set are *teanntag and *peanntag!
There are several other close contenders for the Top Morpher prize though:
|Modern Gaelic||Meaning||Variants||Root||Source language||Notes|
|builmean||bubble (Scots bummel being a by-form of bubble)||puilmean, fuilmean, cuilmean||bummel||Scots/English (?)||The c- form is either backformed p » c or the whole root may be based on an undocumented *uilmean|
|deodha||hemlock||a-teodha, a-theodha, de-theodha, i-teodha||dedga||Old Irish||Historically this root seems to have referred to various plants, in particular the centaury, henbane and hemlock. All Scottish Gaelic incidents of this root collected in actual field-work (Lhuyd ettiô, DASG, Dieckhoff tetheotha) gloss it as hemlock. Dineen and O'Reilly gloss deodha as 'henbane', which may be the source of various entries in Scottish Gaelic dictionaries which gloss some of the forms of deodha as 'henbane'. Deriving deodha from dedga is fairly trivial, what's slightly more perplexing is the set of suffixes it seems to have picked up, even though between them they just represent confusion of d as an t-
Old Irish glosses give dedga/deadhgha as meaning 'centaury' but note that this was an ambiguous term in older usage referring at least to two distinct plant families, centaurea or centaurium. Henbane is rare in Scotland, especially in Gaelic-speaking areas, so the name may have transferred from an earlier plant to the much more common hemlock.
|de-tibheach||gullet||fe-tibheach, i-tibheach, le-tibheach, tibheach||díbechán, dimechán||Old Irish||the derivation of díbechán, dimechán itself is not clear but either way, the dí probably first led to re-analysis of the d as being an t-, resulting in i-tibheach, which then easily would have resulted in re-analysed fe-tibheach. The le- form is rather unusual. Suggestions?|
|fadag-chruaidh||weather-gall||adag-chruaidh, badag-chruaidh, fadadh-cruaidh, fadag-ruadh||?||?||These are clearly related but it's hard to say what the underlying form is. There is one form, ceanna-cruaidh which seems to suggest cruaidh as part of the root but it could equally be that's the underlying form here is something like *ceannag-rua(i)dh. Which might hint at these all having ruadh as the second element i.e. fadag as fada + ag ("stump"?) plus ruadh i.e. "red stump" (red/yellow being quite dominant in rainbows).|
|failm||tiller||ailm||hjálm "helm"||Norse||the derived form failmadair has a de-lenited form palmadair and the form talman ("rudder bar") is also almost certainly related.|
|falmaire||hake||talmadan and colmaire (including Irish colmóir)||kolmúli "coal snout"||Norse||The o «» a variation (cf fola/fala could easily yield *calmair(e) and from there *almair(e) and finally falmair(e). The form talmadan makes makes it look a tad shaky though. Compare also Danish kulmule|
|feachaireachd||horseplay, based on eachaire "equerry"||peachaireachd||ech "horse"||Old Irish||though the root seems fairly obvious, *eachaireachd is actually unattested|
|feaman||tail, stump (ultimately from the same root as feamainn)||eaman, seaman||femman "seaweed"||Old Irish||presumably via *teaman or directly via an t-eaman|
|feanntag||nettle||eanntag, deanntag, neanntag||nenaid "nettle"||Old Irish||oddly enough, the form closes to Old Irish, neanntag, is very rare today|
|feilmigear||ridgeling||seilmigear, teilmigear||?||and I haven't got a clue what the underlying word is for once!|
|maighdeag||a cowrie (lit. small maiden because, well, google a picture and use your imagination)||baighdeag, caighdeag, faighdeag, paighdeag||maigd- "maid-"||Old Irish||The caighdeag form is decidedly odd, though it's possibly a p » c backformation|
|muir-bhuachaille||diver (bird)||mura-bhuachaille, muna-bhuachaille, buna-bhuachaille, bura-bhuachaille, burbhailleach||muir "sea" + búachaill "cowherd/servant/boy/guardian"||Old Irish||A little conjectural but muir- seems to be the only likely derivation (see also muir-chlach)|
|muir-chlach||shingle beach||mura-chlach, bura-chlach (mul-chlach, mol-chlach)||muir "sea" + cloch "stone"||Old Irish||A little conjectural but considering muir-bhuachaille above, muir- seems to be the only likely derivation. The forms mol-chlach/mul-chlach could be either down to a different derivation vial mol shingle or they're also muir- with the mol-/mul- being a form of folk etymology.|
|naosg||snipe||faosg||naescu "snipe"||Old Irish||*aosg oddly enough does not seem to be attested|
|pullag||pulley||fullag/fulag and ullag/ulag||pulley||Scots/English||though there's probably two different roots here, one derived via English 'pulley' and the other via the root ullamh 'ready'.|
|sail-chuach||related to salach, so something like "filthy bowl" originally||dail-chuach, fail-chuach||sal- + cuach "violet"||Old Irish||Presumable we're looking at an t-sail-chuach giving an dail-chuach via eclipsis and via an unattested *tail-chuach » *ail-chuach we get fail-chuach. Ay dios...|
|seillean||bee||teillean||?||the root of this word is not clear.|
|triullasg||astray/awry||friollasg/iollasg||?||don't ask me what the root is|
When it comes to verbal nouns, rebracketing can lead to some interesting ... detours due to the historic -g in ag/a':
- ràdh/gràdha, selling
- reic/creic, selling
- ulfhart(aich)/gulfhart(aich)/sgulfhartaich, howling
Now in theory it's conceivable that a word like gulfhart could morph into something even weirder such as *dulfhart (via /g/ » /ɣ/ » /d/) which could conceivably result in *tulfhart (via re-analysis of *dulfhart as *an tulfhart) but to date, I haven't spotted one. But I'll keep looking. But sgulfhartaich where there g from the particle ag has picked up a prosthetic s- isn't bad for starters.
So English may excel at punning but there's nothing quite like the interplay between lenition, nasalization and rebracketing in Goidelic languages to delight the phonologist and to drive etymologists to substance abuse...
How about without?
Sure, that works too, depending on the combination of sounds, an offending initial can also just get dropped:
|Latin habitus||dress, attire||eabaid/abaid||aibíd|
|Latin hecticus||hectic (in the medical sense)||èiteag|
|Norse haf||sea, ocean||abh|
(prob. via Middle English hat)
|Norse hóss||river mouth||ós|
|Norse hrams-á||ramsons river||Rhumsaa|
|Norse hrókr||croaker ; rook||ròc(as)||rúcach|
|Norse hrukka||wrinkle||roc, rug||roc, ruc|
|Norse húfr||hull||ub (prow)|
|Norse ulfr||wolf||ulfhart (possibly)|
|English Harlaw||hard + law||Àrla|
Most likely the Gaelic words for St Kilda and St Kildans also belong in this category. There is Hiortach, Iortach and Tiortach but nobody is exactly sure as to which one is the underlying one. Oddly enough, there is no attested form with a C- or Ch- (odd because one of the main theories of the origin of the place names revolves around the Norse word kelda "well, spring" - though there are other, phonetically more convincing ones such as the theory of it being linked to Norse hjǫrtr "hart, stag").
And yes, Welsh is just as much fun
Because this remodelling of sounds is not even exclusively Goidelic. Welsh and the other Brythonic languages do it too, with their own twist (having 3 mutations helps): On occasion, even the permissible fricative f- turns into, well, other stuff, through the same process:
|Latin mespilum||medlar||mesper, gwesper|
|Latin Veneris||Friday||Gwener||(dy') Gwener||Gwener|
|Latin viridis||green||gwyrdd||gwer||gwer, gwyrdh|
|Norman French vilein||peasant||milain/bilain||bilen|
|English waste||gwast||gwastya||(v.) gwastañ|
And French, Italian, Spanish and so on as a matter of fact
Even outside Celtic this is not unheard of. People just don't think about it. Many Romance languages borrowed foreign words (especially Frankish words) beginning with /w/ with a /g/ and Basque, due to a lack of f at one point, strengthened loanwords from Romance languages to b or p:
|Frankish *wad||ford||French||gué (ford)|
|Frankish *waddi||pledge||French||gage (pledge)|
|Frankish *waidon||(v.) graze||French||guéder (v. sate)|
|Frankish *waigaro||a lot||French||guère (hardly)|
|Frankish *wahtōn||(v.) watch (for)||French||guetter, guette (watch for)|
|Frankish *waidanjan||get food||Italian||guadagnare (earn)|
|Frankish *walha||non-Germans, foreigners||French||Gaule (Gaul*) and via French also Spanish Gales (Wales)|
|Frankish *walhlaup||(v. gallop)||French||galoper (v. gallop)|
|Frankish *want||glove||Catalan||guant (glove)|
|Frankish *wardon||(v.) guard||Italian||guardare (earn)|
|Frankish *warjan||protect||French||guérir, guérison (v. cure)|
|Frankish *warjan||protect||Italian||guarire (get better)|
|Frankish *warnjan||protect||Italian||guarnire (v. garnish)|
|Frankish *waskan||(v.) wash||Italian||guazzare (v. wallow)|
|Frankish *wastil||nourishment||French||gâteau (cake)|
|Frankish *wenkjan||vacillate||French||guincher (v. boogie)|
|Frankish *werra||war||French||guerre, guerroyer (war)|
|Frankish *weron||adorn||French||guirlande (garland)|
|Frankish *wespa||wasp||French||guêpe (wasp)|
|Frankish *wid-malve||marshmallow||French||guimauve (marshmallow)|
|Frankish *wigila||ruse||French||guile (deception)|
|Frankish *wīhsela||sour cherry||French||guigne (sour cherry)|
|Frankish *Willahelm||William||French||Guillaume (William)|
|Frankish *wimpil||headscarf||French||guimpe (wimple, gimp etc)|
|Frankish *wingjan||wink||French||guigner (v. eye)|
|Frankish *wīsan||fashion, manner||French||guise (way)|
|Frankish *wīpan||(v.) wrap||French||guiper, guipure (cover with silk)|
|Frankish *wītan||know||French||guide, guider (v. guide)|
(influenced by Latin vitica)
|Frankish *wrakjō||servant, boy||French||garçon (boy)|
|Frankish *wrist||instep||French||guêtre (gaiter)|
|French voiture||car||(Northern) Basque||boitura (car)|
|Gothic waida||woad||French||guède (v. dye)|
|Gothic wīmon||leap||French||guimbarde (Jew's harp)|
|Middle High German Welfen||Guelphs||Italian||Guelfi (dynasty)|
|Middle High German Wibellingen||Ghibelline||Italian||Ghibellini (dynasty)|
|Latin faba||bean||Basque||baba (bean)|
|Latin fāgu||beech||Basque||pago/bago (beech)|
|Latin ficu||fig||Basque||piku (fig)|
|Latin fīlum||thread||Basque||biru (thread)|
|Latin fortis||strong||Basque||bortitz (strong)|
|Latin fricātū||rubbing down||Basque||perekatu (v. caress)|
|Latin Vascōnēs||Basques||French/Gascon||Gascon, incl. the derived surname Gascoigne|
|Latin vigilāre||(v.) watch||Basque||begiratu (watch)|
|Latin vīpera||snake||French||guivre, givre (snake)|
(influenced by Frankish *wīhsala)
|Latin voluntātem||will||Basque||borondate (will)|
|Norse vík||bay||French||guichet (gate, wicket etc)|
|Norse vinda||(v.) wind||French||guinder (v. hoist)|
|Nahuatl ahuacamolli**||avaocado sauce||Spanish||guacamole|
|Nahuatl huacalli||calabash tree||Spanish||guacal (calabash tree)|
|Nahuatl huaxin||white leadtree||Spanish||guaje (white leadtree)|
|Nahuatl huexolotl||turkey||Spanish||guajolote (turkey)|
|Nahuatl huīpīlli||woman's blouse||Spanish||güipil/guaypil (traditional Mexican woman's blouse)|
|Romance verde||green||Basque||berde (green)|
|Spanish fraile||brother||Basque||praile (friar)|
|Spanish Francia||France||Basque||Prantzia (France)|
|Spanish fundamento||foundations||Basque||puldamentu (foundations)|
*The similarity to Latin Gallia is a coincidence, these are two different roots.
**Nahuatl hu represents /w/
I don't want to go overboard with examples but just to make the point, you can find this kind of thing all over the planet. Say European loanwords in Asian languages, often related to /f/ or /v/ sounds which often don't exist in the native sound system or are not allowed in certain positions (initially, finally etc):
|English lift||Cantonese||𨋢 līp||lift, elevator|
|English offside||Cantonese||噏西 āp sāi||offside|
|French vacances||holidays||Japanese||バカンス bakansu||holidays|
|Portuguese vidro||glass||Japanese||ビー玉 bīdama||marbles|
|Portuguese veludo||velvet||Japanese||ビロード birōdo||velvet|
Returning to Gaelic, cheating works too of course, just as an aside. This happens particularly with loanwords which have an initial h. Initial h does make a regular appearance in Gaelic - but only in certain grammatical contexts, such as the genitive of feminine nouns or the plural if there's a definite article, for example doras na h-eaglaise or na h-ùbhlan. So in some cases, when Gaelic borrowed words which began with h, it slaps an extra article on which wasn't there in the language it borrowed from. For example:
|Norse hǫfn||harbour||Na Hann|
|Norse haugr||mound||Na Hogha Bheag|
|Norse hérað||type of administrative unit||Na Hearadh|
|Scots Foxhole||A' Bhogsolla|
Often, like in Na Hogha Bheag, you're left with a word which obeys the sound rules of Gaelic but has what looks like shifty grammar (you'd expect *Na Hogha Beaga) which is often a telltale sign of a fricative-initial loanword that was squeezed into a corset to make it sound ok.
But why are there so many place-names with initial h?
Good question. I'm making an educated guess here but I think it's because place names, in the past, mostly occurred in the genitive or dative. Today we put up roadsigns and have lists of place names but that's a fairly recent thing. When you're actually talking 'normally', usually place names don't appear in grammatical isolation like that. And in Gaelic, that puts the place name into a leniting environment. Let's use Glaschu as an example. You can be 'in' Glasgow, which is probably the only non-leniting example: ann an Glaschu. But if you're going to Glasgow, you're a' dol a Ghlaschu and the people or shops of Glasgow are muinntir Ghlaschu and bùithtean Ghlaschu.
So ignoring the modern past-time of writing, even a native Gaelic place name like Toirbheartan would very often have a (spoken) initial /h/: a' dol a Thoirbheartan, muinntir Thoirbheartan and so on. Plus most prepositions one is likely to use in front of a place-name (bho, do (a), tro, ro) cause lenition (the main exception being à but which is, incidentally, less common statistically than the others).
So in context, place names like the examples below don't jar as much in the ears of a native as some others might.
|Norse hár + klettr||high + cliff||Hàcleit||Habost|
|Norse heastr + staðr||horse + farm||Heasta (with nearby Allt na Heasta)||Heaste|
|Norse horna + fjall||horn + mountain||Hòrnabhal||Horneval|
|Scots haugh + kirk||Hacraig||Halkirk|
No, languages don't always simplify stuff because otherwise we'd all be going round pointing at stuff saying 'uh' and nothing else. But let's leave that topic for another article. Another thing that effectively hides the origins of many Gaelic words is the simplification of certain sounds, either because this change happened throughout the language anyway or because it was necessary to adjust the sounds to fit the language (like the th > t change above).
For example, a language internal process changed many nd/nt sounds to nn and lt/ld to ll. You're probably aware of the coltas/collas issue. That's just an instance of a language internal simplification of lt to ll, nothing to do with English.
So here are some fun examples:
|Latin argentum||silver||airgead "money"||airgead||argid|
|Latin hic pāx datur||peace*||pòg "kiss"||póg||paag|
|Old Irish cruind||round||cruinn||cruinn||cruinn|
*part of the old Celtic liturgy where peace was given just before Communion, involving a symbolic kiss
Let's talk about your sister
A particularly bizarre example of this is the Gaelic word for sister because it went through this several times:
- Indo-European used swesōr.
- Proto-Celtic used swesūr - Proto-Celtic, as in before Brythonic (Welsh 'n all that) and Goidelic (Gaelic 'n all that) split.
- Old Irish used siur AND fiur.
OK, this requires some explaining. In the days before Old Irish, the words for my, your and his already caused lenition. So far so good, but this meant that Proto-Celtic swesūr became hwesūr, just like leniting s today. But as the hw never sat well with the language (a bit like thing becoming fing in London) it soon turned into an f, but our, your (pl.), their didn't, and didn't lenite. So, by the time we arrived at Old Irish, unlenited our/your/their sister had become ar siur, far siur, a siur, but lenited my/your/his sister had become mo fiur, do fiur, a fiur. Yes, slightly confusing.
- To get from Early Irish fiur/siur to the modern forms, we now have to go via the genitive forms for Gaelic (something which did not happen in Irish - don't sigh). So modern Irish just continues with the old roots using deirfiúr "sister" from deirbh fiur "true sister" and fiúr "kinswoman" (because two words are better than one…).
- However, Scottish Gaelic grabs the old genitives, fethar/sethar, and muscles them into piuthar. The p appears, of course, because f is quite obviously lenited p. Now why didn't you think of that before? 😂
Anyway, to get back to the point, this is the reason why you will hear some Gaelic speakers pronounce certain words with f and some without. It's a process that's still in the middle of happening, so until the language decides on whether it will stick with eagal or adopt feagal, you can take your pick about which one you prefer. It makes no difference, either way, as both are good Gaelic words.
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