Ar 10:29 AM +0000 1/5/99, scríobh Jim Rader:
> I'm not quite sure that I can agree with Dennis that the syntax
> and idiomatic structure have remained remarkably stable.
Given that I agree with all Jim said in his very interesting and
thoughtful response, I think that the only thing in question is the
interpretation of "remarkably stable". I was prompted to that opinion,
in any case, by a phenomenon I have observed in Old Irish classes:
A student diligently prepares the week's reading. She has glossed
the meaning and grammatical description of each and every word.
And still, the sense of a sentence eludes her, and all the other
students as well... except me (the one who is just auditing, the one
who has often scarcely prepared at all). The only difference between
them and me is that I have a fairly good command of Modern Irish
and Scottish Gaelic. The sentence that makes no sense to the rest,
even though they know all the words, strikes me often enough as a
perfectly ordinary idiom.
This sort of thing happens with greater frequency, probably, when
the student encounters Middle Irish mixed into the Old Irish of a
text. The fact is, of course, that this sort of admixture is quite
common, the outcome of the "editing in transmission" of the scribal
tradition. An example? Here are some lines taken from where I
randomly opened my copy of "Togail Bruidne Da Derga":
Cía rédes ruind? for Conaire. Ocus ba ges damsa in triar ucut do
dul rium, for Conaire, na trí Deirg do thig Deirg. Cía ragas ina
ndíaid co taesead i llorg chugamsa?
(Who rides before us? said Conaire. And it would be geis for me
for those three to go before me, said Conaire, the three Reds to the
house of a Red. Who will go after them (to tell them) they should
come from behind to me?)
OK, this is clearly some distance from the Würzburg Glosses, but
aside from some spellings like "chugamsa" (= cuccumsa), it's still
basically good Old-to-Middle Irish. At the same time, all you need
to do is update the spelling and make two lexical substitutions
(noted with asterisks - both verbs, no surprise), and voilà, it's
easily readable as Modern Irish, word for word, and only slightly
Cé *ghabhas* romhainn? ar Conaire. Agus ba gheis domsa an triúr
úd do dhul romham, ar Conaire, na trí Dhearg do thigh Deirg. Cé
rachas ina ndiaidh (lena rá leo) go *dtagaid* i lorg chugamsa?
It's precisely the little idioms like "ina ndíaid" that have
remained stable in the language and that foul up learners because
their construction is so unlike English.
Having pointed up the similarities, no one should conclude that if
you know Modern Irish, you can easily read Old Irish, and vice versa.
There is still a formidable barrier between them, compounded of
differences in spelling, a humongous revolution in the verbal system
(as Jim pointed out), and a lot of lexical replacement and semantic