"Mòran taing! Math fhèin!"

Translation:Many thanks! Excellent!

July 23, 2020

This discussion is locked.


Is that the natural spelling of fhèin or is it lenited by math?


It’s just the way it is usually spelt. The spelling actually doesn’t reflect the pronunciation exactly either, since fh is typically silent but fhèin is pronounced /heːn/. It’s never written without lenition.

One could argue that a better spelling would be just hèin but that would not look like typical native Gaelic word (they rarely start with /h/, and when they do, it’s because of lenition of s or t), another would be shèin but there’s no tradition of writing it this way, so fhèin stays.

The historical reason why fhèin has f written in it is more complicated, but I believe it’s related to the fact that in Old Irish the sound /s/ could lenite either to /h/ (typically) or to /f/ if it historically came from PIE. /sw/, and fhèin comes from PIE *swé and is directly related to English self, German sich, Polish się.

See also how Old Irish siur ‘sister’ lenited to fiur – because it comes from PIE. *swésōr (and thus is related to En. sister or German Schwester with the original /w/ still visible) and it gave rise to modern Gaelic piuthar because the lenited variant fiur sounded like it were *phiur, a lenited form of piur.

Irish cognate of fhèin (with similar pronunciation: /heːn′/) is written as féin (although some do write fhéin in Irish too), and there are some small areas in Munster where it’s actually pronounced with /f′/).


Yes, but why would lenition occur anyway here?

Do you know anything about the other words where fh is /h/? D


No idea why the lenition occured initially. But my point here was that fh here does not denote lenited /f/. It denotes original lenited /s(ʷ)/ (which typically gave /f/, hence regional Irish féin pronounced with /f´/; but sometimes was levelled to other /s/s and gave /h/, like in Gaelic and most Irish dialects in f(h)éin).

As for why no form with original /s/ survives – I guess it was originally (somewhere in 4th–7th c.?, the transition period between Primitive Irish and Old Irish) mostly used in leniting contexts and already in OIr. it was levelled to only the lenited form. Compare how Sc. Gaelic only uses lenited fheàrr for better even when there’s nothing to cause it (while in Irish you’ll see eg. is fearr liom é without lenition).

But that is just my own speculation.

EDIT: Probably The Reflexes of Proto-Indo-European *su̯e in Celtic, in Peter Schrijver, Studies in the History of Celtic Pronouns and Particles, 1997 (Maynooth Studies in Celtic Linguistics; II), ISBN: 0-901519-59-6, pp. 71–76… would provide more information.

But it’s out of print and seems to be not possible to obtain using either legitimate and less legitimate ways.


That is intriguing. I had already thought that the /h/ was not from the /f/ but 'from somewhere else' but I had not got any further.

Now if it was /s(ʷ)/ and this could go either to some labial, when /f/, or to /s/, then the question is in what circumstances we might get /s/ → /h/. We know about Gaelic/Irish lenition but we are ruling that out as there is no cause. But most sound changes we see in lenition are sound changes that can occur on their own in other languages, so let's see where this particular change occurs. There are two main languages - Greek and Welsh.

In Greek we see

Sia - six - hex[agon]

and indeed we find ἑός (heos) from PIE *swé, meaning 'his/her own'. We can rule this out both because it died out 3000 years ago and because Gaelic did not borrow too many words from Greek.

But the Welsh looks more promising. We see the change in, for example,

Sean[n] - sen[ile] - hen

Now the Welsh for 'self/own' is hun[a[i]n]. Almost every time I investigate a Gaelic/Irish difference where there is no obvious explanation, I seem to find the Gaelic form (and sometimes Ulster Irish) is more similar to the Welsh - or occasionally the Norse. So I am beginning to think more and more that Gaelic is Irish, heavily influenced by Welsh and a wee bit by Norse. So it looks to me as if fhèin is simply a hybrid of féin and hun, in both the spoken and written form.

There is further excitement when we look up 'sister'. You have already suggested the same PIE sound may be responsible for fhèin and piuthar. Well according to one theory in Wiktionary it's not the same sound - it's the same word. So what happened to this word in Welsh? It is chwaer. It is quite rare for words in Welsh to start with ch (unless resulting from a mutation, of course) but those words that do exist usually relate to words that start with an s in other languages. It appears that ch is just an alternative to h in this context, and so chwaer is essentially the same as Irish s[w]iur. I was wondering about the w in chwe[ch] 'six', but apparently six had a w in too. D


But absolutely most of the Irish also has /heːn´/ here (only very limited areas in Cork supposedly use /f´/ – and I’ve actually never heard a native speaker using /f´/ in féin which I find a bit sad to be fair).

So this is not a Scottish Gaelic/Irish isogloss at all. It’s just that Irish sticks to more traditional written féin while Gaelic writes this fhèin (although, as I mentioned, some people also write fhéin in Irish, but that’s not the traditional nor official written form). Just very marginal dialects actually have /f´/ there.

Interestingly Old Irish had forms starting with f- (fadéin, féin, fadessin) and with c- (cadein, céin, cadessin) and it seems there was some semantic difference between all those, at least initially. I wish I had access to the Schrijver’s book mentioned above. I have no idea how to explain the c-. I have no idea how to explain the development into /h/ in Irish and Gaelic (except that it already was /h/ in some dialects during Old Irish period, inherited from the /sʷ/ period instead of /f/ seen in literary language).

Similar phenomenon is seen in Irish where the future ending is written -faidh but everywhere is pronounced with /h/ (/-hə/, /-həɡ´/, etc.) and nobody uses /f/, except for the autonomous form -far which actually does have /f/. Maybe I’ll find something in Stair na Gaeilge when I get to parts about Old Irish morphology…

As for piuthar /pju.ər/ – Old Irish had siur /s´i.ur/ ‘sister’ lenited to fiur (eg. a fiur ‘his sister’, confusingly sometimes also written just a siur, as lenition wasn’t consistently marked). Later languages regularized this to ‘normal’ lenition /s/ → /h/ or /p/ → /f/ differently, thus siúr, a shiúr (sister in a religious order) in Irish, shuyr, e huyr in Manx, but piuthar, a phiuthar in Gaelic (the two syllables in Gaelic and long vowel in Irish are remnants of original di-syllabic hiatus in OIr. siur /s´i.ur/). The original lenition might be visible in Irish deirfiúr ‘sister’ (from dearbh + siúr), but it’s also possible that the /f/ there is just bh devoiced to f by the following sh /h/, like in scríobhtha → modern orthography scríofa ‘written’.


As for other words with fh /h/ – no idea. fhathast comes ultimately from OIr. fecht (apparently through in fecht so ‘at/in this time’), which in turn comes from PCelt. *wextā ‘turn, course, time’. So it seems to be a legitimate lenition of /f/ – no idea why there’s /h/ and it isn’t just silent.


Is it possible to say just "Taing!" as one might say "Thanks" in English?


Definitely. But in my experience it is more slangy than thanks. I would probably say it matches the English word ta which Wiktionary defines as

(colloquial, chiefly Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand) thanks

I have also heard taing mhòr which I have interpreted as a greater amount of thanks, perhaps thank you very much.

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