"James is so fun."

Translation:Tha Seumas cho spòrsail.

June 5, 2020

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Is there much difference between Seumas and Seamus? Why are there two spellings that I've seen (outside Duolingo)?


The typical Sc. Gaelic spelling is Seumas, the typical Irish spelling is Séamas. In older texts (both from Scotland and Ireland) you find also spellings with -us instead of -as. And because of tradition of such writing some people still use those forms for their names (eg. Séamus Ó Beaglaoich, an Irish singer).

The problem is that in Goidelic languages (somewhere around Middle Irish period) most unstressed short vowels were reduced to single /ə/ sound – that means that in most contexts short ⟨a⟩, ⟨u⟩, and ⟨i⟩ in an unstressed syllable are pronounced the same, as /ə/.

The Norman French name James was borrowed into Goidelic languages as /ˈʃeːməs/ – and there are a few ways to write this down.

The long /eː/ is typically è (or é in Irish) but before a broad consonant (because of the leathan ri leathan, caol ri caol rule) it needs an additional broad vowel, so we end up either with èa or eu (for some reason the length mark is not written before u, and Scottish tends to prefer eu over èa while Irish sticks to éa).

Then in the other syllable there is a schwa sound /ə/ between two broad consonants – and since most unstressed vowels merged into a single shwa sound, it could be written as either ⟨a⟩, ⟨u⟩, or ⟨i⟩, of which ⟨a⟩ and ⟨u⟩ are broad so they fit between the broad consonants, hence two options: -mas and -mus.

In a modern standardized orthographies both languages decided to favour a in this word, hence Seumas and Séamas (but since the tradition is strong, and there are lots of older texts, you’ll find all possible variants in different places).

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