An Old Irish Primer. Wim Tigges in collaboration with Feargal Ó Béarra. Nijmegen/Münster: Stichting Uitgeverij de Keltische Draak/Nodus Publikationen, 2006.

ISBN-10: 90-806863-5-2 (NL) ISBN-13: 978-90-806863-5-9 (NL) ISBN 10: 3-89323-085-8 (D).

200 pp. 20 EURO (Hardcover only).


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This Primer aims to be a pragmatic introduction to Old Irish — a language in which many fascinating prose narratives and moving as well as witty lyrical poems have come down to us, but which unfortunately has some very complicated and possibly off-putting features for the new-comer. The only available English-language course-book, R.P.M. and W.P. Lehmann’s An Introduction to Old Irish, may be felt to be too com-prehensive for the beginning student and possibly too academical for the interested layperson. Moreover, the information given there is not always reliable. E.G. Quin’s Old-Irish Workbook is rather old-fashioned and cannot be used independently from other sources of linguistic informa-tion, and Pádraig Ó Fiannachta’s more basic SeanGhaeilge gan dua is obviously inaccessible to the learner who has little or no knowledge of Modern Irish.

The present volume largely follows the approach of Ó Fiannachta in terms of its presentation of grammatical information, combined with that of the Lehmanns with regard to providing textual material with full glosses and grammatical explanations. For the latter purpose a choice has been made here in favour of lyrical texts, which on the whole are linguistically relatively simple but at the same time substantially sophisticated and therefore hopefully more challenging than the syntactically informative but otherwise not terribly exciting Old Irish Glosses which have often been the beginning student’s main alternative. It may be objected that this choice is problematical from a linguistic point of view, in that the lyrics are often “contaminated” by Middle Irish forms, but these can be easily taken in stride by beginners. Moreover, students with a mainly linguistic interest will soon find their way to more scholarly handbooks.

This Primer is divided into twelve chapters, each comprising three sections of grammatical information as well as one or more glossed texts. Some additional items, similarly glossed, are provided at the end of the volume. The material is presented so as to be usable for the purpose of an introductory academic course as well as to the individual learner. For the sake of those familiar with Modern Irish, the glosses will also provide the modern reflexes of the vocabulary.

The poems, which have been mainly arranged in order of increasing difficulty, and which have been culled from the items listed below, are generally from the Old Irish period (i.e. c. 600 to c. 900 AD), but a few items from what is properly speaking the Middle Irish period (up to 1200) are included as well. No attempt has been made to present so-called diplomatic versions. The ins and outs of Old Irish textual editing, the history of the language, as well as a more detailed cultural and historical background to the texts, can be left to later study, or alternatively additional material to this end can be used at the teacher’s or learner’s discretion. For the same reason, language-historical detail has been kept to a minimum, as other handbooks, such as Thurneysen’s authoritative Grammar, are available for more in-depth investigation. A basic familiarity with the terminology of phonetics and syntax is assumed, but terms that are specific to the grammar of Old Irish will be entered in bold print on their first occurrence, and explained.

Users are kindly requested to send their comments, improvements and suggestions to Bernadette Smelik or Rijcklof Hofman. All relevant suggestions will be incorporated in a second, revised edition of this Primer , with full acknowledgements.




p. 3 Preface

p. 5 References and acknowledgments

p. 9 Abbreviations

p. 11 Chapter 1: §1 Old Irish and the Celtic languages §2 Spelling and pronunciation Text I: Daith bech buide §3 Word order Text II: Och, a luin Assignments

p. 21 Chapter 2: §4 Nouns and adjectives: (i)o- and (i)ā-stems, sin­gu­lar Text III: Cride hé §5 Personal pronouns, possessive adjectives and prepositions Text IV: Úar ind adaig §6 The definite article, singular Assignments

p. 27 Chapter 3: §7 The verb: the present tense, third person singular Text V: Atá ben istír §8 The relative and passive verb forms Text VI: Int én gaires §9 Nouns and adjectives: i-, i- and u-stems Assignments

p. 36 Chapter 4: §10 Prepositions and prepositional pronouns; the emphatic suffixes Text VII: Messe agus Pangur bán §11 The present tense: complete paradigms; the substantive verb and the copula in the present tense §12 The deponent verb in the present tense Assignments

p. 46 Chapter 5: §13 The imperative Text VII continued §14 The noun: the consonantal stems §15 The definite article in the plural Text VIII: Fégaid úaib Assignments

p. 54 Chapter 6: §16 The (i)o- and (i)ā-stems in the plural Text IX: Int én bec §17 The compound verb §18 The preterite and the perfect, third person singular Text X: Cétamon caín rée Assignments

p. 68 Chapter 7: Text XI: Ro cúala §19 The suffixed and infixed pronoun §20 The numerals Text XII: Imbu macán cóic bliadnae §21 The subjunctive present Text XIII: Dom-ḟarcai Assignments

p. 82 Chapter 8: §22 Word formation Text XIV: A ben, bennacht fort §23 The subjunctive past §24 The degrees of comparison Text XV: Cen áinius Assignments

p. 94 Chapter 9: Text XVI: Ní fetar §25 The future tense Text XVII: Ticfa Tálcenn §26 The uses of the cases §27 The secondary future or conditional Text XVIII: A Bé Find Assignments

p. 106 Chapter 10: §28 Particles and prefixes; interrogative pronouns; demonstratives §29 The imperfect or habitual past §30 The adverbials Text XIX: Aithbe dam cen bés móra Assignments

p. 118 Chapter 11: §31 The preterite active and the perfect §32 The dual §33 The preterite passive and the participles Text XIX continued Assignments

p. 132 Chapter 12: §34 Coordination and subordination with conjunctions §35 The verbal noun §36 Phonological aspects Text XIX concluded Assignments

p. 149 Appendix 1: Middle Irish levelling

p. 151 Appendix 2: Verbal paradigms

p. 160 Additional texts: Text A: Is acher in gaíth innocht Text B: Ar corrucán cumraide Text C: Clocán bind Text D: Is mebul dom Text E: Techt do Róim Text F: Is lán ler Text G: Ron-bris, ron-bruí, ron-báid Text H: Tánic sam Text I: Scél lem dúib Text J: Mac Ríg Múaide mid samraid Text K: Ó fu-rócbath a chride Text L: A ben, nacham ṡaig- i-lle Text M: Mé Éba, ben Ádaim uill Text N: Tan bím eter mo ṡruithe Text O: Is scíth mo chrob ón scríbainn .

p. 198 Subject index