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Review of  The Irish of Iorras Aithneach, County Galway

Reviewer: Elizabeth J. Pyatt
Book Title: The Irish of Iorras Aithneach, County Galway
Book Author: Brian Ó Curnáin
Publisher: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies)
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Irish
Language Family(ies): None
Issue Number: 19.2187

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AUTHOR: Ó Curnáin, Brian
TITLE: The Irish of Iorras Aithneach, County Galway, Vols. I-IV, with audio CD
PUBLISHER: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies)
YEAR: 2007

Elizabeth J. Pyatt, Penn State University

This set of volumes is an extensive linguistic description of the variety of the
Celtic language Modern Irish as spoken in the Iorras Aithneach peninsula on the
southern coast of the Connaught region on the western coast of Ireland. At four
volumes and over 2,700 pages, this is a monumental study. As the Iorras
Aithneach peninsula is part of the Connemara Gaeltacht (that is an area with a
relatively large proportion of Irish native speakers), any field data from that
region is well appreciated by researchers of Irish linguistics. The coverage
includes extensive discussions of phonology, morphology, basic syntax, language
contact issues and changes over several generations from the late 19th century
to the modern era. The study ends with several sample texts, a glossary and
includes an audio CD.

The study is divided into four volumes, each about 600-750 pages. Volumes can be
purchased individually; however it should be noted that the detailed map and
audio CD can be found only in Volume IV. Volume I includes an overview of the
Iorras Aithneach penisula and profiles of the speakers and covers basic
phonetics (vowels, consonants, sound changes, sound variations) and nominal
morphology (except for plurals). Volume II covers the morphology of plural
nouns, which is quite complex in Irish, verbal morphology and pronominals. The
first half of Volume III covers prepositions (including conjugated
prepositions), ''functors'' (preverbal particles, conjunctions and adverbs) and
initial consonant mutation. The latter part of Volume III turns to the grammar
of ''higher register'' texts (primarily verse and prayer); the linguistics of word
borrowing and onomastics (personal name patterns). Finally, Volume IV contains
sample texts and a glossary.

A strength of this work is that it cites actual spoken forms of Irish rather
than prescribed written forms. The data is very detailed, often covering
variations of individual speakers and social networks. Volume I, in particular,
includes an extensive discussion of phonemic status of nasal vowels in Irish
which is not normally covered in other descriptions of Irish. As might be
expected, the focus is more on description than on theory. For instance,
although there is an excellent description of the distribution of ''tense''
coronal sonorants, the description does not attempt to include any phonological
analysis of what ''tense'' corresponds to in terms of phonological features.
Similarly, different sentence types are documented, but there is almost no
discussion of a syntactic analysis for marked features such as VSO word order.

The description is an invaluable addition to Irish linguistics, but as with many
reference works, there are issues of ''navigation'' that the reader must conquer.
The use of phonetic transcription and Irish orthography is also not entirely
consistent. Modern Irish spelling is idiosyncratic enough to warrant the use of
phonetic transcription (especially for dialectal forms), yet the glossary in the
final volume only shows the Irish orthography without the phonetics. Also, I was
perplexed with the decision to print the map of the region inside the front
cover of Volume IV, but not in the rest of the volumes. Since most of the
volumes refer to different locations, a map would be valuable for all the
volumes. Finally, only Volume I includes information about the speakers, sources
and region - even though all volumes refer to codes for speakers and sources.
The length of the text necessitated the split into four volumes, but my
impression is that only minimal editing was done to make each volume work as an
independent unit.

Despite these quirks, I believe any serious researcher of the Irish language
would be more than willing to work through these issues to discover the riches

Elizabeth Pyatt earned a Ph.D. in linguistics, specializing in Celtic
morphology, phonology and syntax.