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Gaelic spelling conventions (was: Thorn and Eth)

From:Thomas Leigh <thomas@...>
Date:Thursday, July 11, 2002, 1:14
> On I love is how in Irish, they would put a dot over the letter to be > modified. Like th would be a T with a dot over the T to show it was
TH. That, actually, is a story of Gaelic GeniusT. That dot originated with a scribal convention called the "punctus delens" -- when a scribe made an error in copying, he would put a dot over the bad letter, which indicated "this letter should not be read" and then carried on copying. Now when an F is lenited in Gaelic, it disappears in pronunciation. So somewhere along the line, some really smart Gaelic monk decided to show this disappearance in sound by writing the punctus delens, the "do not say this letter" dot, over F's when they were lenited. Later on, some other really smart monk realised that instead of just marking the letter F when its sound disappeared, he could use the dot could to represent the sound change itself -- which resulted in the disappearance of the sound in this particular instance -- instead, and so applied it to other letters whose sounds also changed. Eventually the practice was extended to all lenitable consonants. Geniuses, those monks! :)
> Worse is when you get BH, which is pronounced as V or like.
What's "worse" about it? The fact that (I believe due to printing) the practice of placing a dot above a letter to indicate lenition ended up being replaced by the practice of writing an "h" after the letter? How is sticking an extra symbol afer any worse than sticking an extra symbol on top? Or is it the sound change of /b/>/v/ you mean? That happened/happens in lots of languages. Nothing unusual, by any means.
> Donnabhain=Donovan.
So? In Gaelic the sound /v/ is represented by the letters BH. In English, the sound /v/ is represented by the letter V. We just respelled the Gaelic name according to our own conventions. What's odd about that?
> Or wierdness being when you have Samhein (Sort > Holloween), but it is like Savain or like.
Samhain is the spelling. In Scottish Gaelic it's (roughly!) /'savin/, with a nasal /a/ and a palatal /n/ at the end (I don't know how to represent that in ASCII-IPA), but in Irish Gaelic the MH is, as far as I know, usually vocalised to /w/, i.e. /'sawin/ (again, with palatal /n/). I speak Scottish Gaelic but not Irish, so there may be some dialects of Irish Gaelic which preserve the /v/ that I don't know about. Originally, /b/ changed to /v/ (written BH) and /m/ changed to a nasalised /v/ (written MH). In modern Irish the nasalisation is usually lost, AFAIK. In modern Scottish Gaelic it is transferred onto the adjacent vowel(s). Also -- back to Thorn and Edh! -- in Old Gaelic /t/ and /d/ changed to the corresponding fricatives /T/ and /D/, written TH and DH (or, in the old days, dotted T and D) respectively. At some point -- I forget when, 12th century maybe? 13th? -- the sounds /T/ and /D/ disappeared, and TH fell in with SH (/h/) while DH fell in with GH (/G/, voiced velar fricative). Which is why we have spelling problems today! :) BTW, in modern Gaelic (both Irish and Scottish) the word "Samhain" is used as the name of the month of November, not just the first day thereof. Thomas ...Gaelic geek! :)


John Cowan <jcowan@...>