The Interesting Case of the Dative: Lenition or Eclipsis?

A chairde dílse,

I have noted several questions in the forums about why both of these forms of initial consonant mutation are accepted in the dative case (with a simple preposition and the singular article) e.g. Tá uisce ar an fhuinneog/bhfuinneog.

This is a matter of dialect, but both are accepted in the Official Standard (see below). My recommendation is that you learn one system and stick to it.

Which one should you learn? If your goal is to learn Ulster Irish, lenite; otherwise, eclipse. If this is not accepted by the course, please report it. I refer you to the relevant course notes for further information, particularly if you have not encountered this yet.

Go n-éirí an cúrsa libh go léir. Best of luck to all of you with the course.

dubhais N.B. Available in Irish only, but the relevant tables (starting on p. 18) are self-explanatory for the possible systems of rules that can be used.

October 30, 2014


For those with a taste for linguistic history, the reason for the lenition vs. eclipsis split can be found here.

It also references this in the Official Standard to be fair, albeit in passing. An analogous case is that of the present subjunctive, which we don't teach explicitly in this course. For those interested, go raibh maith agat is an example of the present subjunctive as is the final sentence in my original post.

For people who are learning Irish — particularly those who weren’t schooled in Ireland — the reference in the Irish language Official Standard could be challenging to comprehend. The information in the page is in English, and for that reason is, I believe, worthy of note to beginners in Irish who have an interest in the historical background.

I am aware of this, as I believe my disclaimer above makes clear. In any case, it is peripheral to the point of the post. It is there for those who wish to access it out of interest, mainly historical, as you say, and your link gives a fuller account of it anyway.

Now, if only the standard would keep progressing and accept all dialectal forms (for example: t-prefixing on masculine nouns, sa eclipsing, and using do as a past tense particle). That way, it'll do more of what it was intended to do, instead of killing off the dialects, because children raised in them have to use the super-fake "standard" to write.

I think it's pretty clear where I stand on it...

Two out of three of those are accepted by the Standard, under various systems:

T before masculine nouns beginning with s in the dative singular: p23 Eclipsis after sa: p22

I read an interesting analysis of this in someone's thesis recently. I think Irish is need of a bona fide language academy that has responsibility for both grammar and terminology. It isn't fair or wise to task solely the Translation Section of the Oireachtas with providing a literary standard, when its primary function is to translate legal documents. Indeed, this is what its Principal Translator said (emphasis my own):

Tá rannóg an Aistriúcháin bródúil as an méid atá bainte amach aici ó bunaíodh an stát chun an teanga oifigiúil agus dhlíthiúil a fhorbairt.

I would tend to agree with this. The Standard is most used in this context and functions as an in-house style guide, probably the only of its kind in Irish. Literary language is and should be different and arguably doesn't need a standard as that would be to miss the point somewhat, I feel.

I think the decline of the dialects has more to do with demographics than the teaching of a written standard, and these are unfortunately more difficult to reverse.

I was unaware that they were accepted; last I heard, most dialectal forms weren't.

I do agree that it shouldn't rely on the Translation Section, and that it's not their job to come up with a literary standard.

> I think the decline of the dialects has more to do with demographics than the teaching of a written standard, and these are unfortunately more difficult to reverse

I disagree here. When native speakers lose marks for writing in their native talk, it can't help butt destroy the dialects. If the government really wanted to preserve a natural language (ha, a joke!), they wouldn't have forced the standard to be taught in schools in the Gaeltacht. As with any standard, people always then assume it's the "correct" way to speak, always at the expense of dialects (and, in this case, the only natively spoken dialects).

The Official Standard is a "written" standard: it does not apply or claim to apply to spoken language. Please see this quote from p7 of the same.

beart suntasach ar son na gaeilge ab ea foilsiú an chaighdeáin oifigiúil ag rannóg an Aistriúcháin sa bhliain 1958. iarracht mhór a bhí ann caighdeán scríofa a bhaint amach don teanga

While I agree that losing a few marks in an examination is likely to discourage dialect use (does this happen?), it is hardly an adequate explanation for the state of Irish as a spoken daily language in the Gaeltacht today. A perfect case-control experiment for this would be the now lost Gaeltacht areas in the North, where it was only a spoken language that died out as such without ever a mark being lost on an exam due to the Standard.

For a sobering read, I refer you to the paper quoted below. The emphasis on education, which inevitably will involve the learning of a standard in some language, is definitely misplaced.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from Irish is the one stressed above: language is not a subject that can be taught in schools effectively. For a language to be revived, it must be made relevant for use in a wide variety of contexts, including, but not exclusively, schools. It must be the necessary language (that is, another, more accessible or prestigious language cannot be available as an option) and, following Slomanson (1994), it must be spoken in such a way and in such a quantity that children of language-acquiring age can learn it.

You can't say that, while it was never meant to replace them, it has. Even if it isn't officially a spoken standard, when most of your teachers can barely even produce that, it's what the kids hear, and what they assume is correct. I think my feelings of it can be summed up by reading Lughaidh and An Cionnfhaolach in this post:

The issue isn't that there's a written standard. It's that it's being taught to native-speakers in place of their dialect, not as a supplement for interdialectal communication.

And, yes, I agree that there is a lot wrong with the way Irish is taught and promoted. I actually applied for a grant to gather opinions from youth on better ways to teach it and make it useful to them (i.e. make it so they want to learn it) The system of education currently used is horrible.

Contrary to popular belief, the standard's creation was not an apocalyptic event for the language and its dialects: that came long before. Indeed, it is hardly the first standard that Irish has had that didn't reflect the dialects. See Classical Irish.

To quote An Cionnfhaolach and presumably your own view, too:

as the Gaeltachts are weakening they are slowly turning away from the Irish being spoken as the language of the home and the community and therefore Irish is not being learned through a natural process, instead Gaeltacht children are learning their language in an artificial school setting where their only example to follow is an artificial language.


I personally don't like the Caighdeán, but it is not correct in entirety to blame it for replacing dialects. If the dialect remained the spoken language of the home and community the Caighdeán should not have affected her, and as I said above Gaeltacht children are having to learn Irish in school and therefore they learn school Irish. That said Gaeltacht children are very proud of their own dialect and the differences within their dialect. BUT, they can't be proud of the dialect the ancestors used to have when their parents/ grandparents have failed to pass it on.

The standard isn't replacing the native dialect, because the native dialect was never learned or spoken in the first place. The education issue is being overstated to the extent that the point is being missed entirely : languages and dialects in particular are primarily caught not taught. That is a linguistic observation, true the world over.

This process occurs in families and communities. The language and its constituent dialects underwent their greatest decline long before the Standard or indeed any formal instruction in Irish was ever introduced. They continue to do so now, because the language is still not being passed on to the next generation. The answer as to why is mainly demographic.

Why don't we get native teachers to teach them native dialect then? It might help a little, even if this were feasible, but it would not change the fact that Irish is not spoken at home or in the community. Better instruction is always better, but it will not change this situation, which is the main problem.

The fact that people feel resentful towards the Standard is an emotional reaction. It is a favourite scratching post for language enthusiasts and native speakers alike, but the truth is that no education system can dictate usage of dialects outside its own walls, which is what is most important for their continued survival and development.

The Standard is being scapegoated, but its proliferation is not the disease but merely a symptom thereof.

American user here, and I'm confused. I thought (from how the lessons on here are set up) that lenition and eclipsis were just different things for different contexts. I mean, I'm certainly under no illusion that I'm going to become fluent in any language solely by using Duolingo, especially this one (which I find particularly confusing), but I'd like to have some idea what I'm doing and why.

I'm very much with you lizzie, confused by this. And I'm Irish so I learned the language (ish) while growing up. In my experience Duolingo is great for vocabulary, but anything beyond very basic grammar is left out. So you generally need to guess/infer the rules from reading more and more examples. It's a fairly 'natural' way of learning - it's how we learn our first, native language; but sometimes it'd be great to have a simple concise explanation of which rule applies in which case.

In most cases, they are different things for different contexts. However, with the dative (preposition and a singular definite article (ar an, for example), either can be used. This is because the dative collapsed differently in different dialects.

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