is glas iəd nə knik i vad uən’

Distant hills look green.

Note: An American variant of this week’s proverb is, “The grass is always greener in the other fellow’s yard”. We saw a similar seanfhocal earlier, “Bíonn adharca fada ar na ba i gcéin”. (Long horns are [always] on the cows abroad.) Both of these express a cynicism that was justified, at least with respect to America. For most Irish immigrants, America, especially in the nineteenth century, was just a different horror from the one they left behind. Many would escape early death in Ireland to find it in America; excavating the Erie canal, mining coal in Pennsylvania, laying track for the railroads, fighting for the Army, or succumbing to disease in the squalid Irish tenements of New York and Boston.

Note also: The pronunciation of the word ‘cnoic’ (hills) strays a bit from ‘an Lárchanúint’ (the core dialect). ‘An Lárchanúint’ was created for teaching purposes in the early 1980s from the three major dialects of Irish: Munster, Connacht, and Ulster. It is an amalgam of these dialects, containing pronunciations common to them all. Under the spelling conventions of ‘an Lárchanúint’, the letters ‘oi’ are usually pronounced as the short vowel sound o, e.g., coill, soir, goic. So the ‘Lárchanúint’ pronunciation of ‘cnoic’ should be knok´ or knoik. The second k sound is slender, and, therefore, is usually preceded with a barely perceptible short vowel sound i, called a y-glide. However, speakers from all the major dialects have promoted the y-glide to the medial vowel to form knik´. This is to emphasize the plural number of ‘cnoic’. ‘Cnoc’ (knok) is the singular form.

And still, if you listen carefully, you will hear the speaker deviate further from ‘an Lárchanúint’, saying krik instead of knik. This is a regional variation. Speakers of the Munster dialect will tend to say knik while speakers from Ulster and Connacht will tend to say krik. This is true of these dialects for all words with the letter ‘n’ following any another consonant except the letter s, e.g.:

  • cnámh (cra:v) bone
  • gnaoi (gri:) liking
  • gníomh (g´r´i:v) deed
  • mná (mra:) women
  • tnúth (tru:h) envy.

Some samples of how this regional rule does not change the sound of ‘sn’ are: snámh (sna:v) swim, snáth (sna:h) thread, sníomh (s´n´i:v) spin, snoíodóir (sni:-do:r´) sculptor. Linguists call this phenomenon denasalization, replacing the alveolar nasal phoneme with the corresponding nonlateral alveolar liquid phoneme. There is a reverse phenomenon in Old Irish called nasalization, ach sin scéal eile.