Mutations in present-day Irish
Realisation of the mutations
Palatalisation – depalatalisation
Conditions for the mutations
This module offers information on the realisation of the initial mutations in present-day Irish and the conditions under which they occur. As has been mentioned in the first module of the morphology sub-menu, initial mutation should be viewed together with change to the right margins of words, i.e. palatalisation (of non-palatal bases) and de-palatalisation (of palatal bases). The alternations at the left and right margins of words are a key feature of Irish morphology and frequently occur together, e.g. in noun morphology where they can distinguish gender and case.
Realisation of the mutations
From the point of view of initial mutation the distinction palatal/velar is irrelevant: if one consonant of a palatal/velar pair is mutable then so is the other one. Nine of the fifteen consonant pairs of Irish can be subject to lenition. The six that do no lenite can be divided into two groups:
As the second group consists of elements which are themselves the outcome of lenition, the matter is irrelevant. But in the case of the sonorants, the lack of lenition means that grammatical categorie are not formally marked with them. This means, for instance, that a verb which begins in a sonorant will not lenite in the past, e.g. rith sé ‘he ran’, and that a masculine noun beginning in a sonorant will not lenite in the genitive singular, e.g ainm an naoimh ‘the name of the saint’. However, in cases like the latter both the palatalisation at the end of the word and its syntactic position (preceded by an article and a qualifying noun) are sufficient for the genitive to recognised unambiguously.
Lenition is the first and foremost the fricativisation of stops. Two fricatives in Irish – /s/ and /f/ – can also be subject to lenition. The results are irregular in these cases: /s/ lenites to /h/ while /f/ lenites to zero. Due to a shift which took place by the Middle Irish period at the latest, /d/ shifts to a velar fricative.
The irregularities of lenition means that with some consonants the outcome of lenition is homophonous with that of another consonant. This leads to three mergers as follows:
In some dialects the outcome of leniting /m/ – /v/ – may show a degree of nasalisation, but this is subphonemic and hence does not have systemic status.
Historically, there are instances of loanwords (from Anglo-Norman or English) where the initial segment of the word was regarded as lenited and then reversed on borrowing. This applies in particular to /v-/ and /w-/ which appear as /b-/ on borrowing, e.g. baránta ‘waranty’, balla ‘wall’, bigil ‘vigil’, bís ‘vice’.
Because the lenition of /f/ leads to zero, there can be cases where it is uncertain if a word which begins with a vowel is a case of a truly vowel-initial word or one where the initial /f/ has been lenited. This situation must be resolved by children during first language acquisition and the evidence of some words shows that previous generations misinterpreted vowel-initial words as instances of initial lenited /f/ and then ‘restored‘ the unetymological /f/. Such a development lies behind words like fuar (< uar) ‘cold’ and faidhb (< aidhb) ‘problem’.
Palatalisation – depalatalisation
To treat palatalisation and depalatalisation together, one can talk of a feature [palatal] which can have a positive or negative value. The citation forms of words will have a given value for this feature. Citations forms are used for dictionary entries and are generally the shortest forms of the word class in question. The following are common citations forms.
The value for [palatal] can vary between words. For instance, the right margin of bord ‘table’ has a negative value for [palatal] while cáin ‘tax’ has a positive value. When these nouns occur in the genitive, the values for [palatal] are reversed. Other processes may also be involved, for instance with fifth declension nouns where the right margin changes to [+palatal] in the genitive a suffix is also added: méid na cánach ‘the amount of tax’.
Palatalisation involves changing the final consonant of a word stem from a velar to a palatal point of articulation. This is indicated in writing either by adding an -i before the final consonant or by exchanging an -i for another vowel in this position:
|leithead an chosáin
‘the width of the path’
|an t-éan miotasach
‘the mythical bird’
|na héin fhadghobacha
‘the long-beaked birds’
In this case the syllable bearing vowel remains intact although there is a palatal off-glide to the altered final consonant. This holds for long vowels and a short vowel before the cluster /-xt/ which on palatalisation only changes the final /t/ to a palatal. In other cases of short vowels palatalisation tends to change a stem vowel from a back to a front vowel, for instance a word with the vowel of the SIOC lexical set (when the right margin is [-palatal]) frequently switches to the vowel of the FIOS lexical set when the right margin is [+palatal] (the reason for talking about the vowels in lexical sets is that these can vary across dialects, but there is still a back – front difference between the short vowels).
|‘a body’||‘pains in one’s body’|
|‘strength’||‘increase in strength’|
|mac||cailín a mhic|
|‘son’||‘his son’s girlfriend’|
When palatalisation originally arose in the pre-history of Irish it involved only one step, the articulation of a sound in the region of the palate. But in the course of time, various developments took place which complicated the picture. Labial sounds could not become palatal as they would then have lost their labial quality so they developed a short [j], heard on the release of the labial when it underwent the phonological process of palatalisation. This glide can still be heard in a word like fionn ‘fair’. With non-palatal sounds, a [w] glide sometimes developed between the non-palatal and the following sound. This glide is noticeable in northern Irish pronunciations of a word like fáil ‘getting’.
Another development was the vocalisation of palatal sounds in word-final position. This happened in all word which were later written with -(a)igh, e.g. ceannaigh where the final syllable is /i:/. It also happened with the ending -(a)ith and -(a)idh and usually with -(a)-imh. This means that for many words the change of /x/ to /xʲ/ on palatalisation is now a shift from /x/ to /i:/, cf. marcach ‘rider’ ~ ainm an mharcaigh ‘the name of the rider’. In still other cases there is an alternation between schwa and /i:/, again due to an early vocalisation of word final sounds, e.g. culaith ‘suit’ ~ culaithe ‘suit’-GEN.
|feirmeoir||talamh an fheirmeora|
|‘a farmer’||‘the land of the farmer’|
|cuid||ag fáil a coda|
|‘share’||‘getting her share’|
|cuir||ag cur seaca|
|‘put’||‘frosting’ (lit.: putting frost-GEN)|
|socraigh||ag socrú cruinnithe éigin|
|‘arrange’||‘arranging some meeting or other’|
Conditions for the mutations
As a rule citation forms of words are not lenited. There are, however, a small number of words which are permanently lenited.
|chuig||‘to’||thú||‘you’-SG (in object function)|
In the following tables are offered in which the effect of a qualifying element or grammatical category, e.g. case, is specified in term of mutation. L stands for lenition and N for nasalisation. The lists are exemplary and not exhaustive.
1) Possessive pronouns
|masc||fem||masc + fem|
|1||mo + L ‘my’||ár + N ‘our’|
|2||do + L ‘your’-SG||bhur + N ‘your’-PL|
|3||a + L ‘his’||a + H ‘her’||a + N ‘their’|
The label H indicates that the mutating particle triggers a h-prefix, if the following word begins with a vowel, otherwise their is no change (zero mutation). This situation also applies to plural nouns after the article na.
1a) Third person possessive pronoun
|a + H: ‘her’||a cairde
|H=prefix h before vowels. otherwise no change|
|a + L: ‘his’||a chairde||‘his friends’||L=lenition|
|a + N: ‘their’||a gcairde||‘their friends’||N=nasalisation|
2) Mutation after forms for the article
|Common||(an) Ø||(an) L||(na) H||(na) H|
|Genitive||(an) L||(an) H||(na) N||(na) N|
|Vocative||(a) L||(a) L||(a) L||(a) L|
Conditions for the occurrence of lenition
Lenition with nouns
with masculine nouns in the genitive case
with feminine nouns in the common case
Lenition with adjectives
Generally lenition of adjectives follows that of nouns:
Lenition with verbs
but not the autonmous form
with the conditional
with the past habitual
In a verbal environment
Lenition in a verbal environment
|a)||gur||Dhearbhaigh sé gur shroich siad an taobh eile.|
|‘that’||‘He asserted that they reached the other side.’|
|b)||nár||Dhearbhaigh sé nár shroich siad an taobh eile.|
|‘that’-NEG||‘He asserted that they did not reach the other side.’|
|c)||a||Na fir a shroich an taobh eile.|
|‘who’-REL||‘The men who reached the other side.’|
When a also occurs before a transitive verbal noun it lenites:
Bhí sé ar tí é a dhéanamh. ‘He was about to do it.’
The element ag which occurs with the same verbal element (in a durative sense) has zero mutation:
Tá sé ag freagairt na ceiste. ‘He is answering the question.’
The further particle which may occur before the verbal noun á acts like a possessive pronoun agreeing with the object from the point of view of mutation:
|Bhí siad á bhagairt||Bhí siad á bagairt.|
|‘They were threatening her.’||‘They were threatening him.’|
|a)||ní||Ní dhéanfadh sin cúis.|
|Neg Past||‘That won’t do.’|
|b)||níor||Níor dhúirt mé tada.|
|Past||‘I didn’t say a thing.’|
|a)||ar||Ar dhúirt sé aon rud?|
|Positive + Past||‘Did he say anything?’|
|b)||cár||Cár thug sé an scéal di?|
|Locative + Past||‘Where did he give her the message?’|
|a)||ná||Má thitim sé na bac leis.|
|Positive||‘If I fall don’t bother about it.’|
|b)||murar||Murar ghlac sé leis an tairiscint.|
|Negative + Past||‘If he didn’t accept the offer.’|
Conditions for the occurrence of nasalisation
Nasalisation is more regular in its occurrence that lenition, but it can be specified in the same manner as the other mutation, namely by word class.
a) in the genitive plural of both genders:
|seomraí na dteach||‘the rooms of the houses’|
|ceist na mban||‘the women’s question’|
b) after the prepositions i and ar (very occasionally in fixed phrases, cf. go above)
|i dtosach||‘in the beginning’|
|i dtús a bpósta||‘at the beginning of their marriage’|
c) after the numerals seven to ten:
Deich dteampall ‘ten churches’
Caithfidh tú do sheacht ndícheall a dhéanamh leis.
(throw-FUT you your seven best-attempt a do-AM with-it)
‘You’ll have to do your very best.’
d) after plural possessive pronouns, this applies even if dhá intervenes:
|ár n-imní||‘our worries’|
|bhur mbóthar||‘your-PL road’|
|barúil a dhá mban||‘their two wives’ opinion’|
Adjectives are only nasalised if they occur in a nasalizing environment and precede the noun. The only adjectives which can precede are quantifiers and numerals:
|teach na dtrí deartháracha||‘the house of the three brothers’|
|i ngach cás||‘in every case’|
|ag an gcéad fhaill||‘at the first opportunity’|
|but: ar son a dteanga dúchasaí|
Nasalisation is optional for the ordinals ceathrú ‘fourth’, cúigiú, ‘fifth’ and fichiú ‘twentieth’ after analytical preposition and article:
leis an gcúigiú / cúigiú iarracht ‘at the fifth attempt’
It is compulsory after an adjective which occurs after the cardinals seven to nine. In practice-this only arises with the following idiom (for an example with a noun, see above):
Ba sheacht bhfearr ise ná eisean.
(was seven better she-EMPH than he-EMPH)
‘She was far better than he was.’
Verb forms are not subject to nasalisation in the indication of tense or mood (contrast lenition) but are when preceded by one of a series of elements which can qualify them.
|a)||mura ‘unless’||Mura bhfuil sé in ann.|
|RESERVATIVE||‘Unless he is able.’|
|b)||dá ‘if’||Dá mbeadh sé in ann.|
|POSSIBILITY||‘If he were able.’|
|a)||sula ‘before’||Sula bhfaighidh sí ceann eile.|
|PRECEDING IN TIME||‘Before she gets another one.’|
|a)||an||An mbíonn siad le fáil?|
|FORMATIVE||‘Are they (always) available?’|
|b)||cá ‘where’||Cá mbíonn siad le fáil?|
|LOCATIVE||‘Where are they (always) available?’|
|RELATIVE+NOMINAL||An chúairt a bhfuil súil aige leis.|
|He did everything he had time for.|
|INCLUSIVE PRONOUN||Rinne sé a bhfuair sé am chuige.
‘The visit he’s looking forward to.’
|b)||go||Bhí faitíos uirthi go dteipfidh sé.|
|RELATIVE+VERBAL||She was afraid he would fail.|
Introducing clauses of
|1)||TIME||Fan go mbeidh sé níos fearr.|
|Wait until it is better.|
|2)||CAUSALITY||Beidh áthas orthu go bhfuil sibh ann.|
|They’ll be pleased that you’re there.|
|3)||PURPOSE||D’imigh sé go mbeadh an gnó curtha de.|
|He left in order to be rid of the matter.|
|4)||POSSIBILITY||Go mb’fhéidir é.|
|(in absolute form)||It may be so.|
|1)||the past indicative|
|2)||the past habitual indicative|
Prefix-D consists of d’, /d/ placed before a verb which begins with a vowel or with f, /f/ which is reduced to Ø, fh before the prefixation. It is found in the three tenses given above.
D’éist sé go cúramach leis an gceist.
‘He listened carefully to the question.’
D’fhan sé chun an taoiseach nua a fheiceáil.
‘He stayed to see the new prime minister.’
Prefix-D is not found before the past autonomous:
Iarradh uirthi gan bheith déanach.
‘She was asked not to be late.’
In Munster Irish (southern Irish) prefix D is found frequently with verbs which begin in neither a vowel nor a lenited fh:
Do dhíol mé mo theach le gairid.
‘I sold my house a short time ago’.