I frequently check in with (isfogailsi) …. never explained the voice from your mouth, a feisty and frighteningly learned blog written by Kristina, a grad student exploring the remoter reaches of Japanese history who always has interesting things to say about East Asia, academic life, and whatever else strikes her fancy. Ever since I first started visiting I have vaguely wondered about the name of the blog, but never got around to asking her what “isfogailsi” meant and (at least as important) how it’s pronounced. Now she’s answered my unasked question, and I feel like an idiot because I should have figured it out (it’s Old Irish, and I’ve studied Old Irish), so as public penance I’ll explain it here.
Old Irish has the most complicated verbal morphology I’ve ever had the pleasure of studying; a drastic reduction of unstressed syllables that took place before the Old Irish period turned a language that looks rather like Latin in the few grave inscriptions we have (and that probably would have been as easy to learn) into a nightmare of vanishing morphemes. This particularly affects verbs, which very often have prefixes that in prototonic forms (stress on the first syllable, meaning the prefix) get mashed into the verb stem with appalling results. Thus the deuterotonic (normal) form of the verb ‘they say’ is as-berat, with the stress on -ber-, but the prototonic form is -epret. (Did I mention, by the way, that t is pronounced d and p b?) LIkewise, do-lugai ‘(he/she) pardons’ gets mashed into –dilgai.
So the verb fo-gleinn ‘learns’ has deuterotonic forms like fo-glésed (past subjunctive) and fo-giguil (future), which are bad enough, but the “verbal of necessity” (comparable to the Latin gerundive) is always prototonic, in this case giving the form fogailsi, pronounced FOgalshi (palatalized s is pronounced sh). And since the verbal of necessity always occurs after the copula (which in Old Irish, conveniently, looks just like English: is), we arrive at the phrase that gives the blog its name: is fogailsi ‘it must be learned.’ (Compare Latin delenda est ‘it must be destroyed.’) The fact that it’s written as one word in the blog title gives me a feeble excuse for not recognizing it.
The above explanation doubtless makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t studied old Irish, so if your eyes glazed over, here’s the gist: it’s pronounced “iss FOglshi” and it means ‘it must be learned.’ And if you have any suggestions for a new version of “you never explained…,” Kristina wants to hear them.
Update. Isfogailsi disappeared sometime late last year—it didn’t just stop being updated, it vanished from cyberspace, leaving not a rack behind. Furthermore, its creator hasn’t responded to e-mails. Kristina, if you see this, could you please drop me a line to let me know how things are going? I miss your online presence in general and your blog specifically; nobody else discusses the things you did. Where am I going to go for my Ainu toponyms now?