Àirigh – Notes on Lesson 1

Blog: Kilted Scot
Categories: 6-minute read

The inaugural class of Autumn 2014’s the OLL (Office of Lifelong Learning) Gaelic 1.1 course wasn’t just a matter of repeating “parrot-like” set phrases, grammar points and vocabulary. Our tutor also gave us some interesting side notes and information about the Gaelic speaking communities, history of certain words and various other interesting snippets to keep us entertained.

We learned about àirigh which is Gaelic for sheiling (bothy) which is a one build small house, normally just one room without modern conveniences such as toilets. During Summer the cattle would move for better grazing and the crofters would follow with their families and where the cattle stopped was where the àirigh would be. Families would spend about 6 or 7 weeks during the Summer in their sheilings, often without properly washing, which was great for kids.. not so good for teenagers. Nowadays the bothies can often be found a few miles away from Stornoway and in some cases they’ve turned into drinking dens for tho who have been banned from the Island’s few pubs!

Though not so interesting but certainly vital to learning the language, we were taught that the structure of Gaelic is Verb Subject Object (VSO), whereas English is Subject Verb Object (SVO) and Japanese is Subject Object Verb (SOV).. I couldn’t pick a language that shares a structure with one I already know, could I?

Feasgar (afternoon/evening) is masculine, Oidhche (night) is female.. this distinction affects the word math (good) in the common greetings Feasgar Math and Oidhche Mhath with the female form aspirating the adjective.

Gaelic is full of words that don’t exist, for example the name Mhàiri doesn’t “traditionally” exist in Gaelic. The name Mhàiri is the aspirated version of the original name Màiri. Aspiration or lenition is difficult to explain so I’ll leave you in the capable (and ALWAYS accurate) wikipedia for this one:

Grammatical lenition

In the Celtic languages, the phenomenon of intervocalic lenition historically extended across word boundaries. This explains the rise of grammaticalised initial consonant mutations in modern Celtic languages through the loss of endings. A Scottish Gaelic example would be the lack of lenition in am fear /əm fɛr/ (“the man”) and lenition in a’ bhean /ə vɛn/ (“the woman”). The following examples show the development of a phrase coning of a definite article plus a masculine noun (taking the ending –os) compared with a feminine noun taking the ending –a. The historic development of lenition in the two cases can be reconstructed as follows:

Proto-Celtic *(s)indos wiros IPA: [wiɾos] → Old Irish ind fer [feɾ] → Middle Irish in fer [feɾ] → Clascal Gaelic an fear [feɾ] → Modern Gaelic am fear [fɛɾ]

Proto-Celtic *(s)indā be IPA: [venaː] → Old Irish ind ben [ven] → Middle Irish in ben [ven] → Clascal Gaelic an bhean [ven] → Modern Gaelic a’ bhean [vɛn]

Synchronic lenition in Scottish Gaelic affects almost all consonants (except /l̪ˠ/ which has lo its lenited counterpart). Changes such as /n̪ˠ/ to /n/ involve the loss of secondary articulation; in addition, /rˠ/ → /ɾ/ involves the reduction of a trill to a tap. The spirantization of Gaelic nal /m/ to /v/ is unusual among forms of lenition, but is triggered by the same environment as more prototypical lenition. (It may also leave a residue of nasalization in adjacent vowels. The orthography shows this by inserting an h (except after l n r):

/p/→ /v/bog /pok/ “soft” → glé bhog /kleː vok/ “very soft”
/pj/→ /vj/ (before a back vowel)beò /pjɔː/ ‘alive’ → glé bheò /kleː vjɔː/ ‘very alive’
/kʰ/→ /x/cas /kʰas̪/ “eep” → glé chas /kleː xas̪/ “very eep”
/kʰʲ/→ /ç/ciùin /kʰʲuːɲ/ “quiet” → glé chiùin /kleː çuːɲ/ “very quiet”
/t̪/→ /ɣ/dubh /t̪uh/ “black” → glé dhubh /kleː ɣuh/ “very black”
/tʲ/→ /ʝ/deiil /tʲeʃal/ “ready” → glé dheiil /kleː ʝeʃal/ “very ready”
/k/→ /ɣ/garbh /kaɾav/ “rough” → glé gharbh /kleː ɣaɾav/ “very rough”
/kʲ/→ /ʝ/geur /kʲiaɾ/ “sharp” → glé gheur /kleː ʝiaɾ/ “very sharp”
/m/→ /v/maol /mɯːl̪ˠ/ “bald” → glé mhaol /kleː vɯːl̪ˠ/ “very bald”
/mj/→ /vj/ (before a back vowel)meallta /mjaul̪ˠt̪ə/ “deceitful” → glé mheallta /kleː vjaul̪ˠt̪ə/ “very deceitful”
/pʰ/→ /f/pongail /pʰɔŋɡal/ “exact” → glé phongail /kleː fɔŋɡal/ “very exact”
/pʰj/→ /fj/ (before a back vowel)peallagach /pʰjal̪ˠakəx/ “shaggy” → glé pheallagach /kleː fjal̪ˠakəx/ “very shaggy”
Loss of condary articulation
/n̪ˠ/→ /n/nàdarra /n̪ˠaːt̪ərˠə/ “natural” → glé nàdarra /kleː naːt̪ərˠə/ “very natural”
/rˠ/→ /ɾ/rag /rˠak/ “iff” → glé rag /kleː ɾak/ “very iff”
/s̪/→ /h/sona /s̪ɔnə/ “happy” → glé shona /kleː hɔnə/ “very happy”
/ʃ/→ /h/asmhach /ʃes̪vəx/ “conant” → glé sheasmhach /kleː hes̪vəx/ “very conant”
/ʃ/→ /hj/ (before a back vowel)òlta /ʃɔːl̪ˠt̪ə/ “y” → glé sheòlta /kleː hjɔːl̪ˠt̪ə/ “very y”
/t̪ʰ/→ /h/tana /t̪ʰanə/ “thin” → glé thana /kleː hanə/ “very thin”
/tʰʲ/→ /h/tinn /tʲiːɲ/ “ill” → glé thinn /kleː hiːɲ/ “very ill”
/tʰʲ/→ /hj/ (before a back vowel)teann /tʰʲaun̪ˠ/ “tight” → glé theann /kleː hjaun̪ˠ/ “very tight”
/f/→ Øfann /faun̪ˠ/ “faint” → glé fhann /kleː aun̪ˠ/ “very faint”
/fj/→ /j/ (before a back vowel)feòrachail /fjɔːɾəxal/ “inquitive” → glé fheòrachail /kleː jɔːɾəxal/ “very inquitive”
Reduction of place markedness
In the modern Goidelic languages, grammatical lenition also triggers the reduction of markedness in the place of articulation of coronal sonorants (l, r, and n sounds). In Scottish Gaelic, /n/ and /l/ are the weak counterparts of palatal /ɲ/ and /ʎ/.
/ɲ/→ /n/neulach /ɲial̪ˠəx/ “cloudy” → glé neulach /kleː nial̪ˠəx/ “very cloudy”
/ʎ/→ /l/leisg /ʎeʃkʲ/ “lazy” → glé leisg /kleː leʃkʲ/ “very lazy”

Finally, we found out that Western Isles ladies are very forward (sweeping generalisation and obviously not true.. though it does tie in with my experience of Western Isles student nurses whilst working in a certain Irish bar in Aberdeen!). The following is a converation in full which we practiced in class and translated for “homework” in our own time:


Halò. Is mi Màiri, cò thu? (Hello, I am Mairi, who are you?)


Is mi Pàdruig. (I am Patrick.)

Ciamar a tha thu? (How are you?)


Tha mi gu math, tapadh leat. (I am well, thank you.)

Ciamar a tha thu fhèin? (How are you, yourself?)


Tha mi sgìth. (I am tired.)

A bheil thu sgìth? (Are you tired?)


Chan eil. (I’m not.)

Cò às a tha thu? (Where are you from?)


Tha mi as Na Stàitean. (I’m from The States (United of America fame).)

Cò às a tha thu fhèin? (Where are you from, yourself?)


Tha mi à Alba. (I am from Scotland.)

A bheil thu pòsda? (Are you married?)


Chan eil. (I’m not.)

A bheil thu pòsda? (Are YOU married?)


Chan eil. (I’m not.)

Hey you, what’s your name? where are you from? oh, you’re tired, I e, ARE YOU MARRIED?


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