A Survey of Spoken Irish in the Aran Islands.

Project Description:

This Survey constitutes a highly detailed micro-dialectological study of spoken Irish in the Aran Islands, focusing on geographical and social variation linked to generations (older and younger age-groups), genders (male and female), and level of education. It provides for the first time ever for any language anywhere in the world an extensive analysis of a wide range of phonological and grammatical variation on a dialectal and sociolinguistic basis. In the case of the largest of the three islands, Inis Mór, the Survey includes detailed information on phonological, grammatical and lexical variation at the level of individual townlands. The geographical layout of these townlands and the strategic position of the archipelago in Galway Bay in relation to the surrounding mainlands in Connemara, East Galway and Clare lend a remarkably potent visibility to the spectrum of linguistic variation displayed in the study. As such, the Survey echoes and also builds on Heinrich Wagner’s 1958-69 work Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects to provide an unrivalled portrait of Irish as it was spoken in Aran in the late twentieth century. Presenting a novel and ambitious exploration of complex linguistic change embedded in a social context, the Survey represents a milestone contribution to dialectology and sociolinguistics – and, indeed, to the Irish language itself – that is of international significance.

What a great project, and what a great thing to put online! You can read about it in a good Irish Times story by Lorna Siggins. This is particularly pleasing to me because Inis Meáin is where I practiced my Irish — learned at the Dublin Institute from Mícheál Ó Siadhail — four decades ago. Thanks for the links, Stan and Trevor!

Comments

  1. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, as opposed to Dublin Institute of Technology.

    Google also finds Dublin Institute Of Vibrational Medicine and the like; “Institute” is not a protected word in Irish commercial law.

  2. Trond Engen says:

    What’s bad about everyone in Missouri speaking like Huckleberry Finn?

  3. Nothing, if you are a Norwegian and encouraged to “write standard, speak dialect.” But if you are an American, whose school system strongly discourages speaking dialect, it’s a problem. (The school system is neutral about local accents.)

  4. Ian Press says:

    This study looks wonderful and will without the slightest doubt get me back to Irish. The mention of Mícheál Ó’Sialaidh clinches it: years ago I was working hard with ‘Learning Irish’, emailed him about the recordings, and received by return all the cassettes, a gift. Never met him, but it turns out we’re almost coevals. A poet who writes so well about language(s), what can one say?

  5. Yes, he’s a grand fellow. Got me drinking Guinness for lunch, as well.

  6. Greg Pandatshang says:

    tangentially OT: I can’t figure out whence come the rococo orthographic vowel sequences that are so distinctive of written Irish. For instance, modern Irish “Gaeilge” (“Irish language”), from Early Modern Irish “Gaedhilge”, genitive of “Gaedhealg”. Per Wikipedia, there was some vowel breaking in Old Irish due to metaphony. However, based on my very limited knowledge, it seems that the more dramatic vowel clusters appeared later, in the Middle Irish period. For instance, the example above is from Middle Irish “Gaoidhealg”, from Old Irish “Goídelc”. Are the further developments of cohabiting vowels mostly just orthographic “fictions” that indicate palatalisation or lack thereof for the neighboring vowels? i.e. they were never pronounced as independent vowels. That would explain the “a” in “-dhealg”, but what about the “a” in “Gaoi-“? Maybe some of those vowel pairs are just digraphs that actually indicated a simple vowel? It appears that, in some cases, the sequences of vowels reflected an underlying sequences with glides: e.g. the “taoi-” [tˠiː] in “taoiseach” seems to reflect an underlying *towi-.

  7. Are the further developments of cohabiting vowels mostly just orthographic “fictions” that indicate palatalisation or lack thereof for the neighboring vowels? i.e. they were never pronounced as independent vowels.

    That’s it, all right.

  8. Yup.

    That would explain the “a” in “-dhealg”, but what about the “a” in “Gaoi-“?

    Without it, it would be pronounced something like “Gwi-.”

  9. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Without it, it would be pronounced something like “Gwi-.”

    Which is only a problem if the orthography is out of synch with the sound changes in the spoken language (either systematically or as idiosyncrasy of this case). That is, you’d expect that either “Goídel” would develop the “gwi-” onset, or else that the spelling would not be associated with those sounds. However, many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip: and so, if it ended up the case was usually pronounced one way but the reflex of “Goídel” was pronounced another way, it would make sense that they would add another orthographic vowel to disambiguate.

  10. Greg,

    “Which is only a problem if the orthography is out of synch with the sound changes in the spoken language”

    You’ll find the orthography is…fluid – if you read a range of texts. Basically it reflects the spoken variety of the writer mashed up with more standard spellings, of which there can be several.

    “That is, you’d expect that either “Goídel” would develop the “gwi-” onset, or else that the spelling would not be associated with those sounds. However, many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip: and so, if it ended up the case was usually pronounced one way but the reflex of “Goídel” was pronounced another way, it would make sense that they would add another orthographic vowel to disambiguate.”

    “Gwi” is an approximation. It is velarized, not labialized. “Goídel” – the vowel isn’t long.

    “-ao” is pronounced rather like ‘ei/ except that it’s velarized, and this particular spelling convention e.g “gaon” (No such word) indicates that both the preceding and succeeding consonants are velarized, unlike “gein” (gene, genus) where both are palatal.

  11. “-ao” is pronounced rather like ‘ei/ except that it’s velarized

    I think this means that any consonants preceding it and following it are velarized, correct?

    Question: why is this spelling convention adopted to represent [ei] with velarized surrounding consonants? Is it derived from a former pronounciation involving [a] or [o] or both? If not, what is its origin?

  12. ao is derived from Early Old Irish */ai/ and */oi/, merging in Classical Old Irish as something like */ʌi/. It’s variously pronounced as [ɛ:], [ɯ:], [ɨ:], etc. according to dialect. It was formerly written ae.

  13. I should have said that the Old Irish sounds before nonpalatalized consonants were spelled áe óe, which became interchangeable in Classical Old Irish. At any rate, I understand that the real deep structure of the Modern Irish vowel system is really quite exotic, though others here know much more about it than I do.

    While we’re at it, OI. had three consonant qualities: neutral, palatal and labial.

  14. David Marjanović says:

    others here know much more about it than I do

    Wikipedia is really thorough.

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