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More English loanwords in SG than in Irish?

I'm getting the impression from the course so far that there are more English loanwords in Scottish Gaelic than in Irish, e.g. flòr/bláth, càr/gluaisteán, coimpiutair/ríomhaire and purpaidh/corcra being SG/IG words respectively for flower, car, computer and purple.

Is this an accurate impression? Is there a history to it? Things like car and computer I could imagine having a story to do with the decline of the language in modern times — though the even-more-modern Internet didn't get a loanword, so that's no excuse. "Flower" and "purple" looking like loanwords however just seems weird: is heather so common here that nobody ever thought it worth talking about (I mean yes, fraoch, obviously, but you get my point)? Maybe just a coincidence?

May 12, 2020



I'm not an expert in this field by any means but I can have an educated guess.

Irish and Scottish Gaelic are sister languages. Indeed Irish is still often referred to as Irish Gaelic, or just Gaelic. So they'd be descended from the same proto-language in Ireland in late antiquity/the early Middle Ages which some speakers brought over to Scotland. So Scottish Gaelic had more exposure to Anglic languages at an earlier stage in its development, and its contact with those (and to a lesser extent, probably the native Brythonic languages) probably inform much of the divergence between it and Irish. In particular, it's explicitly an immigrant's language, having a smaller community at its outset and probably both more contact with and more openness to outside influence, whereas in Irish foreign influences would be more easily lost.

Another factor is that there was generally less social division between speakers of different languages in Scotland than in Ireland. When English nobles invaded Ireland in the 12th century, not only did they speak French as a first langauge (rather than English), but they often set themselves up essentially as separate communities from the native speakers, so any English-speakers that came with them didn't necessarily have that much contact with Irish-speakers. All the formal communication, in law courts, the Church, etc. would have been in French or Latin, so again not much linguistic interaction between English and Irish. Eventually English-speakers did come to Ireland in large numbers and English started to spread more widely, but relatively late in the day.

In Scotland, the line between Anglic speakers and Gaelic speakers was much fuzzier and less well-defined. Scottish Gaelic also had more contact with the Norse (Irish had a bit, mostly around Dublin). While Scots/English did eventually spread and supplant Scottish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic had a much longer period of coexistence to assimilate their influence than Irish did. It may be that "English" loanwords in Scottish Gaelic are not actually English per se, but actually Scots or Norse, but are similar enough to English terms that they look like English loanwords.


It's worth bearing in mind that both of these Celtic languages (and the others) have been in close contact with English, and before that the same languages that influenced English (eg Norman French, Old Norse) for a very long time. While the very modern words (eg computer) certainly come via English, some of the older words are/may be cognate because both languages borrowed from Norman French, Old Norse, or even Latin or Greek.


As for càr, notice that Irish has also carr, coming directly from Old Irish carr ‘cart, wagon’ from Proto-Celtic *karros – a native word, not a borrowing – though its modern meaning was surely influenced by English.

Since it’s càr and not *carr in Scottish Gaelic – maybe here it really is an English borrowing – but then it’s an interesting one since the English word goes back through Latin carrus to Gaulish and Proto-Celtic *karros. So, even if that particular word is borrowed, ultimately its origin is Celtic anyway, and it has native cognate in Irish still in use.

As others mentioned – some of those borrowings are actually from Latin or Anglo-Norman (dialect of French) rather than from English (and it so happens that English borrowed them too). Then both languages borrowed from Norse because of viking settlements (but here Scottish had more contacts with those too).

But Irish has its own share of those, look at béar for a bear when Sc. Gaelic has native mathan (in Irish literature, place names, and surnames you may find mathghamhain in older spelling or mathúin in modern too, but not used in daily speech).


This may be true - I hardly find many loanwords from English in the Irish course so far. My guess would be that Scottish Gaelic has been influenced by English more with the fact that it borders England itself and because Scots, being a Germanic language very similar to English, was also used in Scotland.


I don't think these are English loanwords. In my opinion they all come from Latin and were introduced into English and Gaelic alike. Flòr ist obviously derived from flora, and purpaidh came from Greek porphyra via Latin to purple (had to look this up). I'm pretty sure Latin cart is the father of càr. There is even computare - a Latin verb, which is obviously the ancestor of the computer, although I think this one actually was borrowed from English. It's probably because the Romans invaded England while there were a lot of Gaelic native speakers on the other side of the wall. They brought all their words with them. You can find them all over Europe.


Firstly, corcra exists in Gaelic as corcair, as does purpuir in Irish, although they are both very old-fashioned.

More importantly, these two words have exactly the same origin. It was not a standard colour until aniline dyes were invented as it was a very expensive dye, indicating wealth and prestige. This is its sense in all 49 occurrences in the Bible, which was brought over by monks using Latin. But when they first came over there was still no p in Old Irish, so it was transcribed with a c. Once you realize that then it is easy to see the connection. Later (after they started accepting p- words, the word was re-borrowed. It is not easy to see what route it took.


Sometimes I think that a language's evolution is rather like spaghetti sticking to a wall. A hand full of options for a change is boiled and thrown, and one or two noodles might just stick and the rest are swept away. Similar to how media has affected the changed to English in the last few years.


It is very easy to see a few apparent SG borrowings from English, when you know the Irish word is different, but no one has yet considered the cases where the Irish is the same as the English but the SG isn't. My impression from the little Irish I know is that it is 50-50. How about

siopa - bùth
séipéal - eaglais (although eaglais is also used in Irish)
scór - fichead (although fiche is also used)

To get a few more I found a list on Wiktionary. A lot of the words were obviously not of English origin, even if they were possibly borrowed through English, such as hairicín, graifítí, fuisce, treabhsar. The last two are ironic as they are actually Celtic in origin.

They I shoved this list into Google Translate. Some of the translations were quite farcical, and some of the rest may well be wrong. In addition there may be a choice of words in Irish and/or SG. Sadly I did not have time to check all of these in detail, but I am sure at least the majority are valid.

Gaeilge Gàidhlig
aeradróm port-adhar
aicsean gnìomh
amatól neo-dhreuchdail
ambasadóir tosgaire
banda còmhlan
ceaintín ionad-bidhe
citeal coire
cniotáil fighe
cnota snaidhm
coincréit cruadhtan
critic càineadh
custam cleachdaidhean
dabht do-sheachanta
doiciméad sgrìobhainn
frása abairt
frog losgann
gairdín gàrradh
giosta beirm
incrimint àrdachadh
ioncam teachd-a-steach
jab dreuchd
leibhéal ìre
marc comharra
meaisín inneal
normal àbhaisteach
poipín crom-lus
poitéinsiúil comas
soicind diogan
sópa siabann
stop stad
tástáil deuchainn
teicníc innleachd
tiúin fonn
vaigín carbad
véarsa rann
vól lamhallain
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