"Bean mhòr."

Translation:A big wife.

December 25, 2019



Is "bean" used only for 'wife' these days? Am Faclair Beag has it as 'woman, wife', which is what I learnt years ago, but do you only use 'boireannach' for 'woman' today?


I'm wondering this too. In Irish 'bean' can mean wife but usually it means woman, and for wife we'd use 'bean chéile'. I'm wondering is the distinction more clear in Gàidhlig.


The usual explanation is that woman is a new concept. In the past you were a caileag (Irish cailín, English maiden) until you married. Then you became a bean (Irish bean /ban/ English woman). When social attitudes changed, and an all-encompassing word was needed, Irish and English just expanded the meaning of the words, but Gaelic repurposed an old word, boireannach (originally 'something female', hence neuter, masculine in Modern Gaelic).


But why isn't it "Bhean mor?" Is Bhean mor also correct? Up to this point adjectives have been unchanged and only nouns have been lenited. Now we're leniting adjectives too? How do I know when to add lenition to the noun and when to the adjective?

Òbh òbh :(


A feminine noun lenites a following adjective, eg beinn mhòr. You'd not lenite a preceding noun AFAIK, only a following one, eg mòr bheinn.


Also the feminine definite article lenites, so it would be a' bhean mhòr and a' bheinn mhòr.


In general, what is a background of the lenition? Has it any practical reason? Let us say, would be Gaelic language understandable without that?


A very important question as people are often put off when they learn a new language by thinking 'what's the point of this?' But what's the point of learning is/are/am in English? It virtually never makes a sentence clearer by having three words to juggle with that mean the same thing, and no one (including you, I'm sure) is upset that they all translate the same way in Gaelic.

Well I don't understand the psychology, but all natural languages do seem to require this duplicate information, or 'redundancy' to use the technical term. It means that if you misunderstand - or mishear - one word, there is usually enough duplication that you understand from the rest of the sentence. So it does help with overall comprehension. In terms of whether it would actually make any sentence ambiguous if it were left out, the answer is 'rarely in Gaelic' (a 'her' and a 'his' being the main example, and even then there are ways to get round the problem), but these mutations (plural, see below) tend to be more important as you go south.

The historical explanation is that all Insular Celtic languages have them. I don't know about the extinct continental languages like the Gaulish that Asterix spoke. Yes I did say 'them'. One in Scotland but as you go south it gets worse. Two in Ireland and the Isle of Man. Four in Wales. About five (?) in Cornwall and Brittany. So it goes back to before these languages split, possibly even further - I guess that's well over 2000 years ago. That's well before writing in this part of the world (except for literally one or two words recorded in Latin texts). So everything we know is what has been figured out from later sources (with not much in Irish before the 8th century, or Welsh before the 12th century).

It's not unusual or surprising that sounds should be affected by their neighbours. This is called 'sandhi'. For example in French, the b after a vowel in Latin liber became a v in livre. We know, both from the Celtic languages, and from related words in other languages, that all lenition was originally caused when the previous word ended in a vowel, so the equivalent of my boat in Proto-Celtic became mo bhàta in Gaelic. This is the same sound change as in the French example, but across a word boundary. This is called external sandhi. Eventually this became 'grammaticalized' - that is, it became a rule in the language, rather than just something based on sounds. Once it was a rule, it no longer mattered if the word changed and no longer ended in a vowel, as the rule was stuck. So all words that cause lenition used to end in a vowel. They may no longer, but even if they don't, you can almost always find a related word in a related language that does.

Does that help at all? I am quite sure that literally millions of words have been written on this subject, so this is only a tiny start. D


Thank you for the comprehensive answer. It is the first time I hear about a phenomenon called sandhi. It surely helps me in my study and prehension of Gaelic and other languages too.


You are always so helpful and informative.


Seeing as I'd had "bean math" accepted for a previous question, I thought I'd try "bean mòr" for this one. Again, it was accepted as correct without lenition of m in mòr, and with no suggestion of a typo. Is this a problem with Duolingo, or is lenition optional?


Entirely a problem with Duolingo. It is not optional at all.

Note that there are some situations where the lenition is debatable, for example where the word is gender fluid, but this is not one of them. There had always been lenition here since the earliest written records of Old Irish about 1400 years ago.


I thought that was the case. I really wish that Duolingo would recognise this as a bug and correct it. I can't remember now whether this was a "Type what you hear" question, but this problem appears to me to occur particularly with that type of question, allowing some totally ridiculous answers to be accepted. I raised a bug report for it on 1st March 2020 but, apart from an email acknowledgement that the report was received, have had no response.


bean can be woman or wife and either translation should be correct here.


There has already been extensive discussion of this point on this page, so please contribute to the discussion, rather than just stating your position without evidence or reasoning.


or a big woman - both are right!


or woman - see previous comment (and Faclair Beag

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