Saturday, December 7, 2013

Clan vs Clann


I know you are just frothing to read this post on Old Irish spelling and Pronunciation by Dennis King (Focal an Lae—a website I used to visit often at the turn of the century). I came to the link rather curiously. Old lives meeting new ones, converging all at once—with rather odd results in the Twitterverse, of all places.

I "met" Dennis, who butted in mid-conversation on Twitter last night. OK, so it was already bizarre, to have five-way twitter conversations all in Irish—me, the only one writing in English—until Google Translate up and quit on me.

It all began because I posted this:
“Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Xhosa Madiba clan in Mvezo, in the Umtata district in Transkei, on July 18, 1918, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela. Nelson was a Christian name given to Rolihlahla in school. The clan name of Madiba, which is often used as a form of address for Mandela, comes from the ancestral chief.”
Someone immediately corrected my spelling of clan to clann and said that it meant children, or offspring, not tribe. Another said stet. leave it be. The battle lines were drawn. I said: it’s not a misspelling at all. The word clan entered into English from the Highlands ca. 1425. Clan is a kinship organized by founding member or symbolic apical ancestor. We were off on a fascinating linguistic bent.

The original question on the table was: why is the word clan spelled clann in Irish? (But not always in Scots-Gaelic). What were the rules?

Dennis, a latecomer to the conversation, instead of answering the question, decided I was the weak link and derided my lack of knowledge of Irish, in Irish. Ní gá. Is léir nach bhfuil tú eolach ar an tSean-Gh ná ar na lámhscríbhinní. Slán. It got worse. Flustered chickens could do no better at chest puffing.

Maybe there was no battle of words, maybe it was merely a case of what gets lost in translation. They were all writing in Irish—mostly in Belfast Metro Irish, at that. That's when he tried to rip me a new one because I dared to ask why. He ranted as if credentials were questioned. To be fair, I hadn't a clue as to who he was—other than he was turning out to be a twit boor.

He let fly. There was a palpable pause, a Twitter dite in the Twitterverse replete with sad emoticons. For my part, clan wars ensued. So, I Googled him, then to put it to rest, I name-dropped. I said: I'll ask my Irish professor, Dan Meila. Perhaps he can shed some light. A hit! A palpable hit!

Let's just say Dennis backpaddled: Tá an Nollaig ag teacht agus chuile strus is straidhn a thagann léi, móide laethanta giorra! His link was a peace-offering, I suspect.

But I'm sure you're all champing at the bit to find out what the frothy lit-bits were all about.

It turns out that clann was originally spelled cland in Old Irish. In the Online Etymological Dictionary we found that clann was a word imported from Latin, planta (a green twig, cutting, graft). Huh? I wasn't taking that at face value.

A little more research yielded that cland arrived via the Welsh word for child, plant. It was a borrowing from Old Welsh plant, which was, itself, a borrowing from the Latin planta

Because Irish is Goidelic, vs. Brythinic Welsh, and the Irish substituted k- or c- sound for the Welsh (or Latin) p- sound. (See Welsh map/mab, and Irish macc (son).) But not for the Irish word, páiste, the later, an imported Anglo-Norman word for child (from page). The original Irish word for child was Ieanbh. In this case, both words existed side by side. (The Handbook of Language Contact)

Of course this raises the question, what did the Welsh and Irish call themselves before they got all Latinate, —túath? But that means tribe in the larger sense. In one dictionary I found that the Irish word for clan is treibh. Circular breathing. And why did the Irish even need to import a word like clan? Or child, for that matter? What does that say about the evolving structure of identity in Medieval Irish/Celtic society? Planta doesn't seem to mean family tree in Latin. Fodder for another time.

Some of my basic orthographic questions: do clann & crann follow the same spelling rule (-nn). And why? Where does it come from? Not sure about other double consonant words like tonn, or crann.

After cracking open five dictionaries smelling of mildew an age, I found nothing, except a scrap of yellowed paper—something my grandmother had written long ago, transliterating Spanish and Nahual into Irish. That's fodder for another blog. My eyes hurt from trying to read the small print, magnifying glasses were in order. Nada. So I dusted off my old Irish grammar books.

What I found: Rudolf Thurneysen, in Old Irish Grammar, wrote that scribes refrained from doubling consonants in unlenited groups (p 86)—and it was written as cland, not clann.

Clann was also written as cland—not clann—in Old Irish Paradigms—John Strachan (p 175).

As a rule, it seems that medieval scribes didn't write -nn—as it wasted precious parchment space. It looks like a lack of lenition also affects use of double consonants.

Someone said the -nn also lengthens the vowel sound. Or it replaced lost fadas. So the double -nn is modern Irish rectifying scribal error in old manuscripts?

If cland is a Latin loanword, it explains why I didn't find it in the Táin Bó Cuailgne or the Táin Bó Fraich. But I did rediscover the saying: Atmu!


Atmu! I said to myself, beating my hand to my chest in oath, like the warrior CuChullain. It was a battle of words, alright. To the bitter end. But we emerged, a tribe.

At least I dusted off all my old Irish books—it's been decades. I’m sure this is way more than you ever wanted to know.



Some lit bits:

Richard Sharpe - Irish manuscripts and the complex page

Online Etymology Dictionary Compilation fo several dictionaries including OED

Lexilogos Portal to multiple Latin (and other) dicitionaries

DIZIONARIO LATIN great for conjugating.

MacBain's Dictionary - Gaelic Languages clann children, clan, so Irish, Old Irish cland, Welsh plant, *qlanatâ: Indo-European root qel; Greek @GtÈlos, company; Old Slavonic celjadi@u, family, Lithuanian kiltis = Lettic zilts, race, stock; Sanskrit k˙la, race. Some have added Latin populus. Usually regarded as borrowed from Latin planta, a sprout, English plant, whence Gaelic clannach, comatus.

eDIL electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) is a digital edition of the complete contents of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language based on Old and Middle Irish materials. clan atmu

Wictionary: Old Irish cland Borrowing from Old Welsh plant, from Latin planta.
macc From Primitive Irish genitive ᚋᚐᚊᚊᚔ (maqqi), from Proto-Celtic *makkʷos, a variant of*makwos (“son”), (compare Welsh mab, Gaulish mapos, Maponos), from Proto-Indo-European *meh₂ḱ- (“long, thin”) (compare Ancient Greek μακρός (makros, “long”),Latin macer (“thin”).[1]
túath Proto-Celtic *toutā, from Proto-Indo-European *tewtéh

Wictionary: Old Welsh not much use
Welsh terms derived from Latin plant

IRISH WORD  clan treibh


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