How dialectal should a good course in Irish be?

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    Re the OP –
    Lughaidh mentions possibly making a Gaoth Dobhair version. Wouldn’t it be amazing if versions were produced for every sub-dialect (including those areas barely surviving like NW Mayo) 🙂
    A fantasy, perhaps.

    Yeah, that’s my fantasy for sure! :cheese: I think a Múscraí version of this would sure be nice.

    Of course, all of this is perfectly possible if there is the will to do it.


    By the way, does your method use dialogues or is it a “reader” like “Learning lrish”?

    Excellent question. I’d like to have dialogues, perhaps with the occasional text. Have to admit that is by far the hardest part. I teach university courses and write academic articles for a living, so writing about grammatical features and explaining them is not that hard. Writing dialogues is something completely different – particularly as the dialogues should not really contain grammar that hasn’t yet been introduced. So the final dialogues are easy, anything beyond chapter 20 is no real worry in that regard (though still not that easy to write dialogues in any language). The real problem are the first chapters. In general, I introduce two grammatical concepts in each chapter. The first chapters introduces the definite article (only for singular masculine nouns, I talk about gender in the second chapter) the lack of an indefinite article, and . If anyone knows how to write an entertaining dialogue using sentences like Táim anso, Tá an fear ansan, Tá bia ann… Well, I’m all ears 😉

    Honestly, I don’t know anything about writing dialogues, but I believe it’s an art in itself. But I suppose as long as it’s fun for the writer, it will also be fun for the learner. In case you’re looking for inspiration, I quite like the “Catchphrase” course for Welsh which has been out for years, but is still available on the BBC website. It’s fascinating how little grammar is actually needed to write an intelligent dialogue even for complete beginners, while introducing all the basic structures of the language.
    The Scottish Gaelic course “Beag air bheag” is also quite nice in terms of structures and vocabulary, but I think it gives far too little grammar for understanding how the language works.

    An Lon Dubh

    It’s actually “tumáint” in CD. (See Ó Sé). Reminds me of “tuicéad” with a broad t in CD.


    When you say Classical Irish, do you mean the language of the poets, Early Modern Irish?

    Yes, the language of the poets. It’s actually quite confusing, I know there were at least four registers in Ireland in the 1200-1600 period:
    1. The everyday language, with the dialects we see today present.
    2. The speech of the educated classes. What the poets and brehons would have spoken to each other, as well
    as doctors and nobles.
    3. The standard language of the poets, the one in which they composed their poems and recited genealogies, what
    the Annals of the Four Masters was written in.
    4. An archaising style used in law texts and special poems, that apparently most poets did not master.

    I know “Classical Irish” refers to (3.), but I’m not sure if Early Modern Irish refers to (3.) or all four registers. Do you know,
    does it just designate any form of Irish of the 1200-1600 period?

    Daithi Carr

    I was just wondering were you planning a purely book form or an online course?

    I think a good in depth online course might have more appeal than you think.
    By looking at what other language learning courses do well (and don’t) it should be possible to come up with something really good.

    Something with spaced repetition and a lot of exercises, along with sound files from native speakers. (unlike say Éamonn Ó Dónaill with his Italians speaking Irish to try make it trendy and cool).

    Another idea might be to have some exercises where you have to type the words, I really find this helps you really get to know the words and sounds by breaking it down and being tested on it. With an extensive vocabulary and grammar lessons such a learning tool could be invaluable. You might even get school kids using it as it would be a “easy” way to learn.

    I think one of the hardest parts of Learning a Dialect from the beginning is the lack of material. If you made a good system for Corca Dhuibhne Irish it could be easily changed by others to add different dialects to the same lesson plans . So you could perhaps one day pick any of the dialects to earn through

    I know such a undertaking could be expensive in time and money, but surely there could be others who would help and perhaps the possibility of things like crowed funding ?


    At least we can guess it because the modern dialects haven’t appeared within a few centuries from Classical Irish, languages develop slowly.
    (Btw I saw Breton speeches written at the time of the French revolution, ie. in the 1790s, they were intended to be read to “normal people” so they were written in dialect, and there’s almost no difference from the way they speak now in the same area, about 220 years later… I think it was the same way with Irish. I’d like to know how people would speak at the time monks would write in Old Irish 🙂 )

    Daithi Carr

    (unlike say Éamonn Ó Dónaill with his Italians speaking Irish to try make it trendy and cool).


    His Gaeilge gan stró books, they are nicely laid out and very easy to get in to , unlike say the old Teach yourself Irish.
    But you have some audio files which sound to me like L2 speakers, and one of the first you encounter an Italian. Hardly a great introduction to the phonetics.

    I think a course should have a good introduction in to the phonetics, not too technical, but some words you can practice at various points to help you in the right direction. Along with descriptions and maybe diagrams of how you achieve those sounds.


    Thanks for all the interesting and valuable comments. I’m currently in a hectic period with three weeks of intensive travelling and working, but I’ll be back soon to comment more in detail on the many excellent suggestions you’ve made!

    Daithi Carr

    i would also suggest including sample sentence and phrases ( that you could learn) which would show the various contexts in which a certain word can be used.

    Learning a word and its direct English translation is easy, the hard part is knowing when and how to employ it ( or not)

    An Lon Dubh

    Can I ask, apart from the written language, what evidence do we have of 1 and 2 above? I would have thought we would know little of actual speech if many people were illiterate and the written language was standardised. Of course, every languages has differences based on social class and area but I’m just wondering what evidence we actually have of everyday speech?

    Oh, very little in truth for the first type. I know that scribal mistakes and a few rare passages where a poet will remark on the spoken language are essentially enough to demonstrate that the modern dialects were already in existence by 1400-1500. There are remarks about Bhíos vs. Bhí mé, for example.
    For the second type there is quite a bit more evidence, personal letters of poets, letters from people of various professions (doctors, e.t.c.). Now of course this is still a written language, but the language displayed in the texts is quite different to the standard language of the poets and they claimed it was essentially the way they spoke. Whether it really was is another question, but certainly it was a sperate register. It was called Canamhain where as the proper standard (3. in my list) was called Ceart na bhfileadh or simply Ceart. “The Irish Language” by Mairtín Ó Murchú, has some nice examples. Similar material is in his article in The Celtic Connection, Ed. Glanville Price, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
    Más buan mo chuimhne, tá cuntas gearr ar Chanamhain le fáil ins an aiste a scríobh Damian McManus, i Stair na Gaeilge.

    An Lon Dubh

    tuíncéir – another word with broad instead of slender t in Corca Dhuibhne.

    Go raibh maith agat as na samplaí!


    I’ve got a few small suggestions:

    1. I think it’s fine to go with the [u:] sound as long as you mention the fact that [o:] is widely used and is quite correct. I personally think that authenticity is more important than how widespread something happens to be. So, teaching the actual dialect of Dún Chaoin and Dún Urlann would be brilliant!

    2. I think you should definitely use bead, beir, beam, etc. because synthetic verbs like these are in use and are the authentic forms of the actual dialect. Stuff like “beidh mé” should be mentioned, of course, but the main focus should be on traditional usage.

    3. The same goes for the copula – use the form that is most authentic while being sure to mention the other forms that learners will run across.

    4. Go ahead and use An múinteoir is é é while also mentioning Is é an múinteoir é.

    1. I’m leaning in that direction. I have to proof-read when I’m finished, because sometimes I’ve thought to use the one, sometimes the other, so my IPA is a mess between [o:] and [u:] right now.

    2. Here I’m leaning in the opposite direction. Beidh mé is much more common in Corca Dhuibhne than bead, and I think I’ll go with the main current usage, while mentioning other forms.

    3 and 4. Definitely 🙂

    Add illustrations. Even the simple line drawings in Buntús Cainte made the book much more readable and interesting.

    Don’t scrimp on exercises and examples. There should be plenty of examples to look at and lots of exercises to work on.

    Interesting, cause I’m the opposite. I usually find drawings frustrating and a waste of space. I might enjoy the occasional picture, but not drawings. So I’m afraid drawings are out – particularly given how bad I am at drawing :p

    Dialogs are nice and give the learner a good sense of what an actual conversation would sound like.

    Sound files by fluent native speakers are super-important. The more sound files the better!

    A good thorough glossary in the back of the book is always nice.

    I very much agree. While it’s a pain writing dialogues, I think it’s important if the course is to be good. And sound files by native speakers from Corca Dhuibhne would be a must, at least of all the vocabulary lists and the dialogues. And definitely a two-way glossary at the end with every word in the course.


    1) [o:] is more common overall in Munster (including both “living” and extinct subdialects) apart from some words like “nó” where [u:] seems to be have been used everywhere in Munster (seems . . . but I could be wrong). Do you have Ár Leithéidí Aris by Pádraig Ua Maoileoin? He gives a brief account of An Chanúint Mhór vs An Chanúint Bheag. Haven’t seen any other such account in any other text. I can post some details here if you’re interested.

    2) Mmm. Maybe as a footnote but if the course is on CD Irish I think you should stick with that throughout. I think Ó Siadhail’s Modern Irish also makes some mention of this. Have you read Seán Ua Súillleabháin in Stair na Gaeilge? My understanding is that “ba mhúinteoir é” is not used anywhere in Munster (including recently extinct subdialects, Béarra, Cairbre, etc). I could be wrong, though.

    3) I say it again, Gaeilge Chorca Dhuibhne is a fantastic book, it really is, but it doesn’t take in “na hairde ó thuaidh”. And here’s a really dissident opinion: what about the Leitriúch? Yes, I know, Irish is almost as dead as a doorknob there today but that’s not the point; Wagner was there in the 1950s and collected material and that should be analysed and taken into account. Anyway, all of that is for another day’s discussion and your book is aimed at someone today who goes there and wants to learn the local Irish. So, “ab ea é” is probably ok. Why not email R na G in Baile na nGall and ask them if “ab ea é” or “dob/abh ea é etc” is more common in Baile na nGall etc? Remember, we’re both learners so “gut feelings” are ok but no harm getting a bit of evidence behind them. 🙂

    4) Yes, “meach”. As you know, this came from the genitive plural “crónán etc na mbeach” > “mbeach” > “meach”. Other widespread examples in West Munster are: méile (béile) and “mb’fhéidir”: Mb’fhéidir go bhfuil, mb’fhéidir ná fuil, etc.

    So, check out Diarmuid’s word list in An Teanga Bheo.

    1. Yes, [o:] is more common. Only problem is that since I speak a “ú-dialect”, I’m not sure when [o:] is used, not sure about the exceptions (like nó or mór) where there’s no [o:]. I have a few books by Pádraig Ua Maoileoin but not Ár Leithéidí Aris?

    2. I think you’re right. I don’t recall ever hearing “ba mhúinteoir é” in CD.

    3. Definitely, and if I ever decide to try to have the book published, I would definitely want to have it read by at least two native speakers from CD to make sure.


    I wouldn’t worry too much about using variant spellings. They shouldn’t be a problem at all, as long as they are to be found in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary (or at least in Dinneen’s). Of course, whenever you use a variant, it’s okay to mention the “standard” spelling, too.

    True. If the variant is mentioned in a standard dictionary or commonly accepted in texts written in the dialect, there’s nothing to worry about. However, I’ve never seen “cineál” spelt as “cionál” or “arán” as “rán”, although that’s how they are pronounced in Connemara. Neither would I recommend spelling “luí” as “loighe” or “níos laige” as “níos loige”, which is what O’Siadhail does in his otherwise excellent book. On the other hand, I would use dialect spellings for Munster words like “neomat” and “fanúint” which differ too much from Standard Irish. So, my theory isn’t quite consistent, I’m afraid. 🙂

    It’s a difficult balancing act. For instance, I use “ag” in spelling but [eg´i] in IPA, just like “ar” in spelling but [er´] in IPA, of course. And needless to say, I use “tigh” instead of “teach”, “anso” instead of “anseo” etc. On the other hand, I do write “tiocfaidh” even though “tucfaidh” would be in line with what is said. So not very consistent. As far as possible, I try to follow what writes from CD have used in their books (the non-standardised forms). In the IPA, I always give the actual pronunciation, so “tiocfaidh” is [tukig´].


    One more point; whatever people actually use locally is authentic. I’m not sure why synthetic forms of the verb are more or less authentic than analytic ones.

    The emphasis, I think, should be on the local dialect and the CO forms should either be kept to an absolute minimum or not included at all. There are no end of books out there describing the verb, etc in the CO.

    I agree, that’s the principle I try to follow. I must admit to one case of hesitation:

    I’ll mention both forms of questions in the past, Ar chuiris? and An gcuiris?. I admit to having a preference for the first one, though I would say the second one is at least as common. So both are mentioned, but in the examples and dialogues, I tend to go for the “ar”-forms right now. Still haven’t taken any final decision on that. Of course, Ar chuiris? is not wrong and would not strike CD-speakers as odd.


    I was just wondering were you planning a purely book form or an online course?

    Good question. Right now I haven’t thought about it. Step 1 is finishing it, only then will I think about possible publishing strategies. As it’s not for the money, any method that would make the book accessible and interesting for as many potential learners as possible is good.

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