Seann vs sean

Ciamar a chanas mi.... / How do I say...
Duncan MacCall
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Seann vs sean

Unread post by Duncan MacCall » Sun Apr 12, 2009 7:40 pm

I'm at my wits end.

Dwelly says "Sean does not aspirate a word following it if begins with d, l or t. It is pronounced and spelt seann when preceding a noun beginning with d, n, t, l, n or r but spelt sean and pronounced seann when placed before a noun beginning with any of the other letters."

Watson says "sean, before d, s, t, l, n or r seann (adding s), lenites except for d, s & t (superceding s for l - okay, I know l is never lenited, but what about the s?)... and then gives also these examples: seann chaistel and seann phoileasman. Does it mean seann can be used before other letters than those listed above?

To make matters worse, Mackinnon's 1971 Teach Yourself says "sean (when used before the noun it takes the form seann)", which seems to me to imply the difference of sean being put like most other adjectives after the noun, and seann being put before it. But that's in clear contradiction to the quotation from Dwelly.

Can somebody make it at least less confusing to me?

PS Just now I noticed that Dwelly lists n twice ("a noun beginning with d, n, t, l, n or r"), so probably he meant s as well... but that's just a minor point, the bulk of the confusion remains.



neoni
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Unread post by neoni » Sun Apr 12, 2009 8:07 pm

okay

sean (shen) - with one n - always goes after the noun and doesn't do anything strange. it's just a perfectly normal adjective.

50% of the work down, how's that?

seann (sh ow n) is more confusing.
it works like droch and deagh in that it precedes the noun and lenites it, but it is the n at the end which causes the trouble. there's a thing called the "sgian dubh" rule, where some dentals (in particular d, t and s sometimes too) don't get lenited if they're preceded by an n. it is largely dialectical, you will hear people say "seann shaighdear", but probably not "seann dhuine"

a little tip, don't try and learn what consonants get lenited under normal circumstances. i've seen some books with ridiculous lists (put an h after b, g, f, h, etc etc... who takes that in?), just use your sense. ever seen this word; "nhochd?" looks wrong, right? what about lheugh?

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Unread post by Seonaidh » Sun Apr 12, 2009 10:02 pm

Rhight, then. Chan eil mi eòlach air Dwelly is fhaclair. Cha toil leamsa Gàidhlig ionnsachadh bho fhaclairean. Tha Neon ceart airson "sean" is "seann": seo stiùir air do shon - DENTAL. Nuair a bhios "seann" (is mòran facail eile le -n) air beulaibh facal a thoisicheas le D, N, T, L, cha bhi sèimheachadh ann:-

seann duilleag
seann naidheachd
seann taigh
seann leabhar

ach 's dòcha gum bi beagan dèanamh coltach ann, m.e. uaireanan cluinnidh tu "seannuilleag" is "seannhaigh"

Duncan MacCall
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Unread post by Duncan MacCall » Mon Apr 13, 2009 8:38 pm

Ceud taing dhuibh! The warning came too late, the damage was already done ;-), for I did take it in (I can really tell you without looking it up that eg s isn't lenited when followed by g, m, p or t, it was in one of my very first lessons), but luckily I'm already getting into the phase when I can now and then feel that something just does/doesn't look/sound right, without knowing why.

Great about sean, anyway - I guess in case of emergency I can use that, though AFAICT from my (so far very limited) experience it's used much less (unless predicatively). And thanks also for telling me about the dentals, it made me search some more, discover there were also labials and velars (all these three words being new to me) and finally find out why the hell it's MacDhòmhnaill but not MacGhriogair!

(Agus gabh mo leisgeul airson sgrìobhadh sa Bheurla, a Sheonaidh - tha mi gad thuigsinn agus 's dòcha gum b' urrainn dhomh fiù 's na sgrìobh mi shuas eadar-theangachadh, ach dh'fhaodadh sin fad an latha a thoirt. Even this sentence took about ten minutes ;-).)

neoni
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Unread post by neoni » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:03 pm

it wasn't for nothing - that sentence was brilliant

a more common adjective is aosta - always regular, exact same meaning

Duncan MacCall
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Unread post by Duncan MacCall » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:25 pm

Thanks again. Can aosta also be used about things, though? My dictionary says "aosta & aosda (of people) old". (Yes, I know it was already proved wrong once, that's why I ask.)

neoni
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Unread post by neoni » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:52 pm

thinking about it now, actually, that sounds right. whoops!

Níall Beag
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Unread post by Níall Beag » Tue Apr 14, 2009 11:29 am

Yup -- aosta is like aged (agéd, clear "e" sound in "ed"), but much more common in Gaelic than aged is in English.

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Unread post by akerbeltz » Tue Apr 14, 2009 11:44 am

Apart from what has already been explained, one could add that sean- is not an active prefix anymore. In other words, when you're matching up "old" + another noun, then you must use seann these days. But in the old days, the form used was sean- so in a few set words (set in the sense that you don't have to make them up, they come ready-made) sean- does appear at the start of the word: seanmhair, seanair, seanfhacal...

Best thing to do is to take those as "vocabulary" and just accept that they are the way they are. They're easy to keep apart fortunately, they're the ones where the word "old" does not normally appear in the tr*nsl*t**n but which have taken on a totally new meaning. So seanmhair is not "old mother" anymore, it's grandmother, seanfhacal is not "old word", it's "proverb" etc.

Salude e trigu,

Am Mìcheal Eile

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Unread post by Stìophan » Tue Apr 21, 2009 11:18 pm

Another way of explaining the difference between Sean and Seann is that sean is a predicative adjective e.g.

Tha an taigh sean - The house is old

Seann is an attributive adjective:

Tha an seann chàr dearg - The old car is red.

Seann is one of few adjectives that precede the noun and because it ends in 'nn' (or 'n') it does not lenite anything beginning with d, s or t.

8-)

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Unread post by Níall Beag » Thu Apr 23, 2009 10:26 am

Stìophan wrote:Seann is one of few adjectives that precede the noun and because it ends in 'nn' (or 'n') it does not lenite anything beginning with d, s or t.
If this rule seems a bit arbitrary to anyone, think of it this way:

The aim of lenition is to make pronunciation easier -- it's essentially a lazy, incomplete pronunciation of consonants.

The "point of articulation of broad N" (essentially the place in the mouth where you stick your tongue when you want to say a broad N) is the same as for broad D, T and L.

If your tongue's already in the right place, it's easier to pronounce it completely than not to, so leniting these letters after an N would just be silly!

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Unread post by akerbeltz » Thu Apr 23, 2009 2:09 pm

Well, it really describes the same thing. Maybe I'll sum up?

Lenition historically results from a consonant getting stuck between two vowels. As in many other languages, that weakens the consonant. Compare Indo-european mātār and English mother. In the Celtic languages, that also happened across word boundaries. So you got:

wir > sindos wiros "the man" without lenition (> am fear)
ben > sinda bhena "the woman" with lenition (> a' bhean)

Now before you start shouting in joy, that rule applied thousands of years ago. Today, you must learn when to lenite. That's because the vowels causing lenition have disappeared in most cases. In a way, lenition is a distant memory of the days when these vowels were still around.

While lenition was on the upswing, there were things that impeded lenition. If two neighbouring sounds were from the same family, that blocked lenition. The families are:
cg (velars)
dntls (dentals)
bpmf (labials)

As Niall pointed out, that has something to do with what's called ease of articulation.

That's the reason for the different treatment of words like
MacDhòmhnaill vs MacGriogair
seann bhò vs seann taigh
camshron vs caimbeul

For the most part, the rule about the velars and labials does no longer apply in modern Gaelic except in fixed expressions like place names, surnames and a few stock phrases.

The blocking of lenition is still active with the following (list not complete):
any form of the definite article ending in -n
chan, bu, gun, aon, ciad
prefixed adjectives ending in dntls

Note: this rule is crumbling a bit, in parts of the Isles, chan now lenites regular verbs with some speakers (eg cha sheas vs cha seas), same thing applies to bu (eg bu thoil vs bu toil), so don't shoot me if you hear some variation in this. As always the maxim is, there's no linguistic rule that some tongue isn't breaking as we speak...

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Unread post by Lughaidh » Sat Apr 25, 2009 2:42 am

ach 's dòcha gum bi beagan dèanamh coltach ann, m.e. uaireanan cluinnidh tu "seannuilleag" is "seannhaigh"
Tha mise a' smaoineachdainn gur fo mhuinntir Leòdhais a chluinneas tu "seannuilleag" agus "seannhaigh". Nuair a bhios -n ro d- agus -n ro t-, nì mhuinntir Leòdhais seòrsa "nasal mutation" mar sa Chuimris d >n agus t > nh. So chan e sèimheachadh a tha ann ach "phonetic mutation" nach gabh a sgrìobhadh.
Air an dòigh cheudna, canaidh iad "an nhaigh" (the house) agus "an nuine" (the man/person).

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