GENDER IN LANGUAGE PROJECT
Modern Irish, occasionally identified as Gaelic, is a masculine-feminine gendered language in the Celtic language family, and is currently considered endangered (i.e., most children do not learn it as a native language). It is primarily spoken in Ireland. The modern language is frequently in contact with English.
Apart from its system of masculine-feminine morphological gender, which classifies every noun as either masculine or feminine grammatically, Modern Irish contains a feature common to all modern Celtic languages: word-initial consonant mutation. Many embedded grammatical categories show features of mutation which depend on the morphological gender of a given word or the gender of a given language user. These features of gender are implicated in unique morphophonological processes in Modern Irish.
INCLUSIVE PARTIAL GRAMMAR OF IRISH
by KEIRA COLLELUORI
This grammar identifies all sites of gendered personal reference in Modern Irish (i.e. everywhere that the gender of the word aligns with the gender of the referent). We display prescriptive masculine and feminine forms as well as any attested gender-inclusive forms. This grammar does not identify the sites of Irish grammar that do not have gendered personal references, like the entire verbal system. This grammar is a living document that intends to show a nonexhaustive list of examples for each lexical class listed.
'they [NOM. SG./PL.]'
'them [ACC. SG./PL.]'
In Modern Irish, the third-person plural personal pronoun siad is used as a gender-inclusive singular pronoun. This change in progress perhaps bears influence from English in the sense that the gender-inclusive singular personal pronoun they takes plural verbal agreements and it itself both singular and plural prescriptively.
Unlike other masculine-feminine languages, Irish nouns usually do not come in pairs that differ only by inflectional gender morphology (though exceptions like athair/máthair exist). They also don't necessarily relate to the noun's social gender, as seen in cailín 'girl'. Words referring to people that are gender-neutral semantically, like duine 'person', are often masculine. An Irish noun's gender cannot be necessarily be discerned using the form or lexical semantics of the noun itself.
Word-initial consonant mutation is a notable feature of all modern Celtic languages. Irish has two word-initial mutations: séimhiú (lenition) and urú (eclipsis). In lenition, the consonant is "softened" in a standard manner, which is represented in the orthography as the addition of an <h> after the consonant (e.g. teach → theach 'house'). Lenition cannot occur when the noun starts with a vowel, and certain consonants or consonant clusters are never lenited (e.g. /n/, /sp/). In eclipsis, voiceless stops (plus /f/) are voiced and voiced stops are nasalized. In the orthographic form, letters are added before the initial consonant, but what letters depends on the initial consonant itself (e.g. práta → bpráta 'potato' but bainne → mbainne 'milk'). Words starting with vowels gain an initial /n/ and consonants that are not stops do not undergo eclipsis. These initial mutations occur in many environments, but in this document, we focus on those that are triggered by the gender of a speaker, referent, or the grammatical gender of a noun referring to people. Where the property of gender originates is different for different grammatical items.
In each column, the orthographic form is at left. The IPA transcription of the phonology of the orthographic form is at right.
*In some dialects, this sound is pronounced [w].
†/s/ lenition occurs when followed by /r, l, n/ or a vowel, but not before /p, t, c, m/.
Word-initial mutations on nouns following definite articles are based on the grammatical gender and number of the noun.
'the [NOM. SG.]'
'the man [NOM.]'
'the [GEN. SG.]'
'(of) the man [GEN.]'
'the [NOM. SG.]'
'the woman [NOM.]'
'the [GEN. SG.]'
'(of) the woman [GEN.]'
The most relevant context where initial mutations occur, in regards to gender, is following the definite article an ("the"). In the nominative singular case, feminine nouns are lenited and masculine nouns are unchanged. In the genitive singular case, the opposite is true. (Note: an is realized as na for plural nouns and the feminine genitive case.)
an bhean (the woman) vs. an fear (the man)
an fhir (of the man) vs. na mná (of the woman)
Word-initial mutations on nouns following possessive articles are based on the gender and number of the possessor.
Each possessive pronoun listed is the same word, though they trigger (or don't trigger) distinct word-initial mutations on the following word. The masculine possessive pronoun is marked for lenition and the feminine form triggers no mutation.
CITE THIS PAGE
Colleluori, K. (2022). Irish. Gender in Language Project. www.genderinlanguage.com/irish
Ní Choistealbha, L. (2018). An Folclóir Aiteach. https://usi.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/AN-FOCL%C3%93IR-AITEACH.pdf
Stenson, N. (2020). Modern Irish: A comprehensive grammar. Routledge.