Muskerry House Style


I am trying to use the Irish spelling adopted by the Coiste Litríochta Mhúscraí, but I may not understand it perfectly. So these are personal notes on the subject. My name for the spelling system, Muskerry House Style, is my own.

The editing of Cork Irish needs to have an eye on ensuring the compatibility of the Irish texts with other Irish being written in the present day. It would be simple to assert that the correct spelling of the word bliain is bliadhain; I myself would be an advocate of historical spelling, but the realities have been changed on the ground and so I have to take note of that. Given that no dh is pronounced in the middle of the word, and that the standardised spelling of bliain is sufficient to show the pronunciation, to write bliadhain wold be to take a decision to archaise the spelling.

It is worth noting that bliadhain was also spelt bliaghain, and that PUL wrote somewhere that there never was a dh in this word; the dh or gh was inserted at some point in the past when it was reasoned that diphthongs and long vowels need to contain adventitious digraphs in Irish spelling. I don’t have any information on the history of this word, and maybe PUL was right here. Historically correct spellings can often be incorrect etymologically, as with the word island in English, which has never had an s in the pronunciation, being derived from an Old Norse root. At some point in the past, it was thought to be connected to insula in Latin, and so gained an s

Irish words also have a complex pre-history, which makes the task of etymological spelling quite complex. Dinneen argued that words like aimsigh that have a pronounced g in the preterite and imperative need to show the gh throughout, with aimsighim, aimsiughadh, aimsighthe in the present, verbal noun and participle. PUL’s works often have verbal noun in , as there was a drift towards spellings such as aimsiú early on in the Gaelic Revival. While it would be clearer to have the gh in all parts of the verb, the spellings aimsím, aimsiú, aimsithe and aimsigh used in the Standard produce the correct pronunciation in Cork Irish. Other, more strained, attempts at etymological spelling include forms such as maróbhad for maród, where it is argued that the bh from mairbh should be seen in all parts of the verb. Whereas most second-conjugation verbs have -óch- in the future and conditional (cf. aimseóchad, which I am editing as aimseód), some verbs were traditionally spelt with -bh-, producing forms such as marbhuighim, marbhughadh, mairbhthe for maraím, marú and mairthe. One could easily ask, if there is a -bh- in marbhuighim, why is there a -gh- too? Research into the earlier forms of these verbs would be fascinating, but it seems better to follow the pronunciation, accepting the Standard spelling where it is possible to accept it for Cork Irish.

Spelling changes in the Standard that give the wrong pronunciation for Cork Irish cannot be accepted however. An example is the genitive of saol, given as saoil in the Standard, deriving from original forms saoghal and saoghail. As aoi is pronounced /i:/ in WM Irish, and there was no original aoi trigraph in this word, the pronunciation is /e:/, and so we need to adopt a spelling that shows the Cork pronunciation. The Muskerry House Style has saol in the nominative and saeil in the genitive. I am hesitant over words such as drochshaoil, where IWM shows the genitive is pronounced with /i:/: should it be edited as drochshaeil or not?

Some comments on long vowels listed in IWM

§ 281: ao – remains ao (e:), unless the pronunciation is /i:/. For this reason caora is edited as caíora. Where the pronunciation is /əi/, an alternative spelling might be employed. E.g. adhsáideach for aosáideach, as adhsáideach is listed as an alternative in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary anyway. I would prefer not to make up forms entirely, and so where an accepted alternative spelling is not available, I tend to put the IPA for the pronunciation in the glossary of the works I am editing.
§ 282: aoi – remains aoi (i:). However, in a number of generally well-known monosyllabic words, such as caoi and naoi the pronunciation is /e:/ and not the expected /i:/. These can be left as is, or a note put in the glossary. For non-monosyllables, however, it is preferable to find an appropriate spelling, e.g. caothúlacht instead of caoithiúlacht. Caoireach is edited as caeireach.
§ 283: éa – usually /ia/, but sometimes /e:/. My preference is to leave as éa, even in cases where it is /e:/, and put a note in the glossary for words like soíscéal, where the pronunciation is /e:/. Préachán is retained although the pretonic éa is pronounced /i:/, and féadaim is retained although the éa is pronounced /iə/. Such details can be entered in glossaries.
§ 284: éi – usually /e:/, and left as is where it is /əi/ unless a widely accepted alternative spelling is available (e.g., as a variant in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary). So éirím is spelt éirím, although a note is entered in the glossary, as only the manufacturing of a non-existent spelling could show the pronunciation of this word. The form eist is accepted where so written in the original, as éist was also found as eist in the meaning of “keep quiet”.
§ 285 – a long eó is shown by the síneadh fada regardless of usage in the Standard. Thus leó for leo. A short vowel (leogaim) remains spelt eo.
§ 288 ó – usually /o:/, but spelt ú where the vowel is in fact /u:/, as in for . Where the vowel is pronounced /uə/ in mór, it is left unchanged, probably because this is a rare occurrence and the word is well-known.

Some comments on diphthongs listed in IWM

§ 290 ia – this is normally /iə/ or /ia/, but can be /i:/ in pretonic positions, eg cliathán. However, the spelling is retained, as this is regularly derived change.
§ 291 ua – this is normally /uə/, but has become /o:/ in some words, such as cnósach, a spelling that would be adopted in the Muskerry House Style. A common word like nua, which is pronounced with /o:/ is left unchanged, however. Where pretonic ua becomes /u:/, as in uanán, this is left unchanged, as the pronunciation can be regularly derived. Where pretonic uai becomes /əi/, the spelling is left unchanged, as in Ruaidhrí, but a note is put in the glossary, as to change the spelling to show the pronunciation would require a major orthographical change.


6 thoughts on “Muskerry House Style

  1. The word “bliain” contained an internal “-dh-” for etymological reasons (not sure where the “-gh-” came from). Intervocalic consonants in the Gaelic languages underwent a process of lenition which has continued to the present day. If we look at “Lebor na hUidre” we have the following sentence: “airthend da blíadan do thabairt dia n-echaib” meaning “two years’ supply of grass fodder”. In Old Irish all consonants in the orthography were pronounced. The word “blíadan” was pronounced /ˈblʲiːdən/. Compare with Welsh “blwyddyn” and Old Welsh “bloidin”. All stem from the Proto-Celtic “*blēdanī”. The intervocalic /-d-/ in the Gaelic languages underwent a process of lenition, yielding Ir. “bliain”, Sc. “bliadhna” and Mx. “blein” (interestingly, although slightly off-topic, Manx has developed a system of pre-occlusion in monosyllabic words with /ᵈ/ before /n/ and /l/, /ᶢ/ before /ŋ/, and /ᵇ/ before /m/, thereby giving us a Manx pronunciation of /blʲiᵈn/ for “blein”). Take a look at Irish “máthair” as a comparison, from OIr. “máthir” > PrCelt “*mātīr”. The intervocalic -th- was originally pronounced similarly to the -th- in English THing. Today it is pronounced (in Connacht and Munster) as /ˈmˠɑːhəɾʲ/. In Manx, the process of intervocalic consonantal lenition is at an even more advanced stage where the equivalent “moir” is pronounced /mɑːɾʲ/. Also compare the following words: Mx. Geurey, Ir. Geimhreadh, OIr. Gemred; Mx. Ayr, Ir. Athair, OIr. Fitir, Athar; Mx. Kiare, Ir. Ceathair, OIr. Cethair; etc., etc.

    • Thanks for your explanation of the etymology of bliadhain. You mentioned how Manx “is pronounced”, but Manx is a dead language – and the “speakers” of it speak it like Latin is spoken in the Vatican.

  2. As a speaker of Manx and with many acquaintances from the Isle of Man who are also fluent speakers I can assure you Manx is not dead. Certainly it is in a critically endangered position, but it is not dead. We have an active community of speakers, including a series of playgroups and a dedicated Manx language primary school in St Johns. There is a weekly news bulletin produced in Manx, as well as radio shows in Manx. There are modern Manx language music groups, books, poetry, etc. Latin on the other hand is treated more as an academic or religious interest. According to recent figures the number of Manx speakers is continually growing and includes a number of neo-native speakers. Analysing the situation, UNESCO and SIL have both reclassified Manx as “Living”, while Latin has the distinction of being classified as “Extinct” (UNESCO) and “Ancient” (SIL). Marranys cadjin y ghra nagh vel ‘sy Ghaelg agh chengey varroo. Shoh mish, Gaelgeyr as caarjyn Gaelgagh aym, as mee loayrt ‘sy Ghaelg dagh laa roosyn.

  3. Brian, you are just making a fool of yourself. If the Manx had valued Manx Gaelic, they would have maintained it. Fluent learners are not the same as native speakers at all. I expect you have numerous “invented” terms for computers and the like – none of which any of the last native speakers would have recognized. Surely it is child abuse to send a child to a Manx-language primary school? If I had children, I could search for an Ancient Hittite playgroup, but children are not just accessories for your interests, and shouldn’t be forced to speak artificially revived dead languages to satisfy your interests.

  4. Well that’s a little insulting. At the end of the day every single Irish word for anything to do with computers was invented. As were all words in English to do with computers, and a lot more besides. By your logic we should be determined here in Ireland to prevent our children from attending Gaelscoileanna. Sure isn’t Irish dead outside a very small spattering of communities along the western seaboard. Is it not child abuse to send Irish children to monstrosities such as Bunscoileanna and Meánscoileanna? Those children who have passed through the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh generally achieve results in all subjects far and above those in the monolingual English language schools, and that includes Mathematics. People like you really bug me – you spout your drivel without any knowledge of the subject. I thought, based on the topic of the website, that you may have been interested in an academic discussion. Boy was I wrong; it’s now quite apparent that you’re just another closed-minded sheep.

  5. Brian, I am totally against fake, made up words in Irish – words made up by committee in Dublin that aren’t used and never have been used in the Gaeltacht. I was in the Gaeltacht once when someone was having decking laid, and we looked up on that it was deicire. It was not used in that Gaeltacht village, and I don’t know if it is a word naturally thrown up in the Galway Gaeltacht or totally a made up word. I would suggest it is probably the latter – and that there is no Irish term, other than “decking” for decking. Someone has sat there, one hand on his “crown jewels” and the other on the keyboard, making up terms in Irish for neutrino, ectoplasm and many other things that couldn’t possibly have Irish forms.

    I agree that it is wrong to send children to Irish-language schools UNLESS each of the teachers is a native speaker of Irish. Otherwise, you get the situation where teachers who don’t speak traditional Irish – only something made up in Dublin – are transmitting that to children, and in some cases overriding the natural dialectal Irish of Gaeltacht children. It ought to be illegal for non-native speakers to teach in Gaelscoileanna.

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