barhomeeiceathurasoireachtstair agus cultursiopascaidhplearscail

Stair agus Cultur






A brief Comparison between some Aspects of Irish and German Grammar and Vocabulary

Liam SS Réamonn 14/Nodlaig/2005

[I] Grammar in Phrase Formation

[II] Vocabulary

(III) Numerals and personal Pronouns

(IV) Use and Formation of Words


Irish and German grammar and vocabulary may readily be compared. The formation of nouns and adjectives, the declension of these and the use of prefixes, for example, are some of the points of interest.

[I] Grammar in Phrase Formation

Nearly twenty shared grammatical structures are shown. They may be taken to indicate a certain linguistic heritage.

Freya in Her Goddess of Battle aspect.

Freya Girded for War
artist unknown


(A) Verb to End of Phrase (a Similarity long quoted in Ireland )

Irish: chuaigh sé go Corcaigh le péire bróga, den mhéad cheart dá mháthair, do


he went to Corktobuy a pair of shoes of the right size for his mother

German: ich sollte nicht so viel Kohl während der Pause essen

I ought not to have eaten so much cabbage during the break

ich möchte einmal nach Hause wieder gehen

I should like to go home again sometime

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(B) Special Uses of the present Tense {with (i) ‘since’ and (ii) the verb ‘to come’

plus the Infinitive}

Irish: tá mé ag feitheamh anseo le trí uair anuas - I am (have been) at waiting

since three hours ago

German: er wartet seit drei Stunden auch - he is waiting (has been waiting) for three

hours also

Irish:tagaim anseo le brí an dlí a mhíniú dhíbh – I come (have come) here to

explain the meaning of the law to you

German: er kommt euch zu warnen - he comes (has come)to warn you

(C) Passive Meaning attained with the Verb ‘to be’ and le/zu plus the Infinitive

Irish: ní raibh duine le feiscint sa tsiopa - there was nobody to be seen in the shop

German: ist meine Schwester zu sprechen? - may my sister be spoken to?

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(D i&ii) The Infinitive with and without a(do)/zu

Irish: caithfidh mé dul ann anois - I must go there now

ní féidir é sin a dhéanamh - that can’t be done

German: ich muss lachen - I must laugh

ich wunche nach der Stadt zu gehen - I wish to go to town

(E) Use of the subjunctive Mood

Usage in Irish and German is only sketched below. Direct overlap is now limited.

Irish: [I] Present Subjunctive

in the main clause to express a wish {see [V] below}; and

in subordinate clauses of

-(i) purpose; or

-(ii) time; or

-(iii) open condition (possible outcome not revealed)

Examples: (a) go dté tú slán - go safely, now

(b)-(i) imigí, go siúla mé abhaile - go away, so that I may walk home

-(ii) coimeád ciúin, go n-imí sé - be quiet until he goes

-(iii) muna dtaga tú anseo, ní rachfaidh mé ann - if you don't come

here, I shall not go there

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[II] Past Subjunctive:

in subordinate clauses of closed condition (outcome unsure) {see [IV](a)below};


in subordinate clauses of purpose/time, with the verb in the main clause in the

past tense

Examples: (a) bheithfeá-sa sásta, dá léinn an leabhar - you would be pleased, if I

read the book

(b) chuaigh sé abhaile, sara bhfeictí é - he went home before he would be


bhí siad ina suí sara ndéaradh sé focal - they were up before he

would say a word

Palu, The Cat Goddess, 1976.
by Jim Fitzpatrick  http://www.jimfitzpatrick.ie/ 
(C) 1977, Used with Permission.

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German uses the subjunctive as follows:

[III] Reported speech, where the main clause verb is in the past.

sie sagte, dass er gehe (present subj.) - she said that he was going

sie sagte, dass er gegangen sei (perfect subj.) - she said that he had gone

sie sagte, dass er gehen werde (future subj.) - she said that he would go (subj.

only for reported speech of 3 rd person - otherwise the conditional tense is used)

(The ‘dass’ may be dropped and the normal word order used in the subordinate clause.)

[IV] In ‘if’ sentences, where the ‘if’ clause is not in the present tense:-

  • wenn er anriefe, fü hre ich heute noch (the main clause verb is strong so the subjunctive may be used over the conditional) - if he phoned, I should go today

wenn er käme, wäre ich froh - if he came, I should be glad {See [II](a)


  • wenn er angerufen hätte, wäre ich heute noch gefahren (both clauses are shown with the pluperfect subjunctive but the conditional perfect may be used in the main clause) - if he had telephoned, I should have gone today

  • wer das gesagt hätte, hätte gelü gt - anyone who said that would have been lying

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[V] Third-person commands may use the subjunctive as above:

es lebe Deutschland - long live Germany {See [I](a) above}

[VI] Softening a suggestion may entail using the past subjunctive:

wäre Ihnen das recht? would that be alright by you, then?

[VII]als ob/wenn – as if

sie sah aus als ob sie nicht heilig sei – she looked as if she weren’t holy

[VIII] To express purpose after damit and (so) dass:

sei ruhig, damit er das Bild aufhänge – be quiet, so he may hang the picture

The use of the subjunctive facilitates precision of thought. This finer aspect of language has been eroded to an extent in recent decades. In everyday parlance, the present subjunctive in Irish may be replaced, in subordinate clauses, by the future tense. The past subjunctive may be replaced by the conditional tense. In German, the past subjunctive can be replaced with the present. Both forms can be avoided.

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It is worthwhile to compare the circumstances when Gael and Teuton see doubt to arise and then use the subjunctive.

(F i&ii) Impersonal/Reflective Verbs Impersonal verbs in both Irish and German can function as personal verbs.

Irish: tá sé de dhíth orm – I lack: is oth liom – I regret

German: es fehlt dir an (+dat) – you lack: es gelingt dir – you succeed

Irish: Irish has no reflective verbs. However impersonal verbs, which take

personal pronouns in the dative case, perform this function:

is cuimhin liom - it is a memory with me (I remember)

German: There are reflective verbs to be viewed against the Irish construction, with personal pronouns in the dative or the accusative case:

sich erinnern des Tages: to remember to oneself of the day (to remember

the day)

sie sehnen sich nach der Heimat - you cord (stretch) yourself towards the

homeland (you long for home)

(G) Anticipatory Object

Pronouns can be used as an anticipatory object in the main clause.

Irish: dúirt an máistir liom gur fearrde thú dul ar scoil ‘chuile lá -

the master said tome that you would be better off for it, to go to school

every day

German: sie hat es fertiggebracht, ihre Geschichte zu erzählen -

she has managed it, to tell your story

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(H) Schlangenwörter

German grammars give the following example of a long compound word:

Dampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftsdirektorsstellvertretersgemahlin -


Irish can manage a concatenation of nouns in separated noun compounds, eg:

Bus scoile pháistí lucht labhartha Ghaeilge na hÉireann

(The) school bus of the children of the people of the language of Gaelic of


(I) Wortbildung

German will use a word root modified with prefixes or suffixes to form families of words, eg:

widersprechen - to contradict, Gespräch - conversation, Zweigespräch –

dialogue, Fernsprecher – telephone, Fürsprecher - intercessor

Irish, again, does a little of this -

teacht - to arrive, imeacht (imtheacht) – to leave, teachta - envoy,

teachaireacht - message, teachtaire - messenger, teachtmhar - suitable

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(J) Use of the definite Article for Parts of the Body

Irish (occasional): d’imigh na cosa uaigh - the feet went from under him

baineadh an lámh ón uileann de - the arm was amputated at the


German: ich wasche mir die Hände - I wash the hands

(K) Use of the possessive dative Case

Irish: tá an leabhar ag mo shean-chara - my old friend has the book (the book is

at my old friend)

bhí cara liom ann - a friend of mine was there (was a friend with me in it).

German: er schüttelte seinem alten Freunde die Hand - he shook (at) hisold friend

the hand

(L) Use of the verbal Noun

Both Irish and German can use the Infinitive form of the verb as a noun.

Irish: Slán gan mhoill dár gcaoineadh duairc - banished our cheerless elegy

German:Hoffen ist ein hartes Wort - to hope is a hard word (to have to accept)

(M i) Omission of Articles

The indefinite article is not used after the verb ‘to be’.

Irish: ‘Mise Raftaire file…’

I am Raftery, the poet

That this poem actually begins erroneously with ‘Mise Raftaire an file’ has led many scholars to suggest that it was not, in fact, written by the great man himself.

German: sie ist Musikerin – she is a musician

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(M ii) Omission of Articles

The article of the first noun is omitted before a second noun in the genitive case.

Irish: aimn an duine – the name of the person

German: Frage der Woche – the question of the week

This example shows that a particular observation may be misleading. The construction did not exist in Old Irish and so opens other questions. This Paper argues primarily on the number of similarities found.

(N) Idiom shows, in a way, how we see the world. The examples above cover some common ground, which has been kept between Irish and German. Nonetheless, structures do evolve. For example, the Irish phrase “tá mé ag dul go dtí an chathair” is one way of saying: “I am going to the city”. This literally means: “I am (at) going until the city comes”. The Middle Irish ‘go dtí’ (‘until comes’) shows the introduction of a relativistic concept. Modern Irish speakers will not take cognizance of this underlying meaning.

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[II] Vocabulary

The sample list on the next page contains over 120 leximes, found at random. These were sometimes inherited by both Irish and German from Indo-European, were taken from Latin or simply went from one language to the other. In all, a much greater comparable vocabulary is indicated.

It is pronunciation, not spelling, which is most important. Old spelling forms can be a useful guide to the origin of syllables. Apart from established processes of linguistic change (please see Annex), slang usage can play a part. A common example of slang is the French word ‘tête’ (f, head). It derives from the Latin testa (f, jug).



aingeal (m, angel - Greek ‘angelos’ or messanger)

ainm (m, name - Greek ‘onoma’)

aintín (m, aunt - Latin ‘amita’)

angar (m, deprivation)

áit (f, place) Ort (n, place)

a/márach (tomorrow)

asal (m, ass - Latin ‘asinus’)

athair (m, father - Latin ‘pater’)


beirt (f, both - Old Norse ‘báthir’)

béal (m, mouth: bh = v, mh = v)

bladar (m, cajolery)

bláth (m, flower - Old Norse ‘blóm’)

bogadh (to move)

bád (m, boat)

bord (m, table)

briste (broken)

bruite (boiled)

buíon (f, band, troop)


cáis (f, cheese)

cancar (m, malignancy - Latin ‘cancer’ or crab)

an chill (f, the church)

coinín (m, rabbit/little dog)

compánach (m, companion)

comh/arbacht (m, inheritance)

c/liste (clever)

clog (m, bell - mediaeval Latin ‘clocca’)

cling (f, tinkle)

coirb (f, basket)

craic (f, conversation)


díreach (direct)

Domhnach (m, church - Latin ‘domus’or house)

doras (m, door - Indo-European root in Greek ‘thura’)

dorcha (dark)

droch- (prefix, bad)

dúr (stupid)


eas (m, waterfall - Indo-European root in Greek ‘hudór’)

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fada (long)

fás (to grow - Indo-European root in Greek ‘auxanein’)

fead (m, whistle)

Féile (f, feastday)

is féidir (it is possible)

feis (f, festival)

fíor (true - Latin ‘verus’)

fios (m, knowledge)

forleag (to overlay, printing term)

forordaigh (to pre-ordain)

fuinn/eog (f, window)


gabhann sé (he goes)

gáire (m, laugh)

gairdín (m, garden)

géar (sharp, Gaé - spear, Old Irish)

greim (m, grip)


íosfaidh (shall/will eat)


labhairt (to speak)

last (load, m)

léacht (m, lecture)

leathar (m, leather - Indo-European root in Welsh ‘lledr’)

léine (m, shirt)

loch (m, lake)

lochar (m, spoliation, Lit.)

locht (m, fault)

log (m, place, Lit. - Latin ‘locus’)

loise (f, radiance, Lit.)

loscadh {be (utterly) consumed by fire}

lúdramán (m, loafer)

luigh (to lie - Indo-European root in Latin ‘lectus’)

lucht (m, people)


maighdean (m, maiden)

maise (m, joy)

máistir (m, master)

manach (m, monk)

marg (m, silver coin in Gaelic times)

máthair (f, mother)

meas (m, act of measuring)

méinn (f, mind, disposition)

mó (more)

morg (to decompose)

muir (f, sea)

nochtadh (to bare)

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obair (f, work)

an oíche/oidhche (f, the night)/anocht (tonight)

oideam (m, maxim)

ord (m, order - Latin ‘ordo’)

pás (m, pass)

pian (f, gs péine, pain)

péire (m, pair)

préachán (m, crow)

poc (m, he-goat)

ponc (m, point)


rá/radh (to say)

raiste/rois (cainte) {m/f, burst (of speech)}

rath (m, prosperity)

riail (f, rule)

ridire (m, knight)

ríocht (m, kingdom)

ritheann (runs or otherwise moves)

rod (red, spirited)

rothar (m, bicycle)

sáith (f, sufficiency)

screadaíl (to scream - OldNorse ‘skraekja’)

scríobh (to write)

scoil (f, school - Greek ‘skholé’)

seacadadh (to send)

searbh (sharp)

seift (f, device)

siúl (to walk)

slocach (rutted)

slogadh (to swallow)

s/macht (m, control)

smig (f, chin)

sneachta (m, snow)

srón (m, nose)

sona (happy)

sparán (m, purse)

stad (m, stop)

stráice (m, length)

suí/suidhe (to sit)

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teach (m, house)

teanga (m, tongue - Latin ‘lingua’)

toil (f, will)

trácht (m, traffic)

uair (f, hour, occasion)

umhal (humble, submissive – mh = bh = w)

um (at, around)

Engel (m, angel)

Name (m, name)

Tante (f, aunt)

Hunger (m, hunger)

as (from) aus (from)

Morgen (n, morning)

Ezel (n, ass)

Vater (m, father)


beide (both)

Maul (n, mouth)

blasan (to blow)

Blume (f, flower)

Bogen (m, curve)

Boot (n, boat)

Bord (m, shelf)

brechen (to break)

a/bruhen (scald)

Bund (m, union)

Kase (m, cheese)

krank (sick)

d’Chile {f, the church - Schwytzert ütsch/Aargau (East)}
Kaninchen (n, rabbit/little dog)

Companie (f, company)

Erbe (m, heir)

List (f, cunning)

Glocke (f, bell)

klingen (to ring)

Korb (m, basket)

Krach (m, crash, noise)

direkt (direct)

Dom (m, cathedral)

Tür (m, door)

dunkel (dark)

Drück/eberger (m, shirker)

Tor (m, fool)


Wasser (n, water)


Faden (m, thread)

wachsen (to grow)

pfeifen (to whistle)

Feirer (f, celebration)

fähig (able)

Fest (n, festival)

wahr (true)

wissen (to know)

Verlag (m, publishing firm)

verordnen (to prescribe)

Fen/ster (n, window)


gehen (to go)

lachen (to laugh – metathesis, dental exhange)

Garten (m, garden)

germanisch (spear-carrier – Latin ‘germanus’)

greifen (to grasp – intervocalic aspiration)


ess/en (to eat)


labern (to blab)

Last (f, load)

Lektor (m, lecturer)

Leder (n, leather)

Leines (n, linen)

Loch (n, hole)

lochen (to perforate)

sch/lecht (bad)

Lage (f, site)

los (free - Old Norse ‘lauss’)

löschen (to extinguish)

Luder (m, wretch)

liegt (lies)

Leute (f, people)


Madchen (n, maiden)

Musse (f, leisure)

Meister (m, master)

Monch (m, monk)

Mark (f, coin)

Mutter (f, mother)

messen (vt, to measure)

Meinung (f, mind, opinion)

mehr (more)

morsch (rotten)

Meer (n, sea)

nüchtern (clear-headed), nackt (naked)

Arbeit (f, work - metathesis)

Nacht (f, night)

Idee (f, notion)

Ordnung (f, order)

Pass (m, pass)

Pein (f, pain)

Paar (n, pair)

s/prechen (to speak)

Bock (m, he-goat)

Punkt (m, point)

redan (to speak)

Rutsch (m, slide)

ratloss (helpless)

Regel (f, rule)

Reiter (m, horseman)

Reich (n, kingdom)/Rechte (f, right hand)

rennen (to run)

rot (red)

Rad (n, wheel), Rohr (n, pipe)

satt (satisfied)

schreien (to cry)

screiben (to write)

Schule (f, school)

schicken (to send)

scharf (sharp)

schaffen (to manage)

Schuh (f, shoe)

schlagen, schlug (to beat)

schlucken (to swallow)

Macht (f, power)

schmeckt (tastes)

Schnee (m, snow)

schnarchen (to snore)

schön (beautiful)

Sparkasse (f, savings-bank)

Stadt (f, town)

Strecke (f, length)

sitzen (to sit)


Dach (n, roof)

Zunge (f, tongue)

wollen (to want)

tragen (to pull)

Uhr (f, clock)

übel (sick, wicked)

um (at)

Germanic tribes became known as teutonisch (from adj. tuath – left-handed, northern) and germanisch (from géar). The word Volk (n, people) may also have Celtic connections. With metathesis, the Gaelic word focal (m, word) resembles Volk. Das Volk, therefore, may have been distinctive tribes of ‘Speakers’. Perhaps they were noted by the main body of Celts to be using some new words. This recognition may date back to the differentiation between Celtic and Germanic peoples.

There are words which have an intriguing characteristic. Whilst they carry the same root in Irish and German - they have opposite meanings. The Irish word freagra (m) means answer but the corresponding German word Frage (f) means question. Similarly the Irish verb gheibheann siad means they get but the German verb sie geben means they give. The Irish sníodh means to knit whilst the German schneiden means to cut.

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(III) Numerals and personal Pronouns


Irish: aon, dó, trí, ceathair, cúig, sé/seasca (60), seacht, ocht, naoi, deich

Scots Gaelic: aon, dà, tr ì, ceithir, c óig, sia, seacht, ochd, naoch, deich

Welsh: un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump, chwech, saith, wyth, naw, deg

Breton: unan, daou (m)/div (f), tri (m)/tier (f), pevar (m)/peder (f), pemp,

c'hwec'h, seizc, nav, dek

German: eins, zwo (coll.), drei, vier, fünf, sechs (metathesis), seben (inter

-vocalic b), acht, neun, zen

Personal Pronouns (nominative/accusative Cases):

Irish: mé, tú, sé (sí), muid, sibh, siad

German: mich, du, er (sie), mer (coll.), sie, sie

Brotherhood and a transparent system of determining one's honour (as reflected respectively by e.g. the relationship between kings and their people and the Brehon Laws) meant that, uniquely today, there is no du/Sie divide between the Gael. A plural sibh may be used only in addressing a Priest, on the understanding that he may be carrying the Sacred Host and, therefore, be not alone.

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When Art MacMurrough and three other Irish Kings visited Richard II in Dublin, the English were horrified to see the royal guests sitting down to table with their minstrels and retinue. The Master of Ceremonies wrote: “They told me this was a praiseworthy custom in their country”. However, democratic conduct was foreign to the feudal English and the Kings were brought to separate table. The record of the Master of Ceremonies continues: “ The Kings looked at each other and refused to eat, saying I had deprived them of their old custom, in which they had been brought up.”

As regards the right to respect, the meanest clansman stood on an equal footing with his chieftain. It is interesting to note the pride of the chieftains in their upbringing.

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(IV) Use and Formation of Words

(A) Names of Rivers take the definite article in both Irish and German: an Life - the Liffey, ‘einmal am Rhein’ - once by the Rhine. So can the days of the week and the seasons. In Scots Gaelic, all the months are used with the definite article.

(B) Verbs 'to be'

Irish: raibh mé - I was not bhíos - I was

German: ich war (- metathesis) - I was du bist (‘bessen’ root) – thou art

Irish:is last é - it is a load

German: es ist (ein) last - it is a load 

(C) Prefixes common to Irish and German

German: ent-/emp- can mean 'away from' as in

kommen (to come) entkommen (to escape)

Irish: teacht (to come) imtheacht (or imeacht - to go)

More striking perhaps are for-/ver-, úr-/ur-, mí-/miss-, um-/um- and a-:

Irish: for- (over, outer) - forshuíomh (m, superimposition)

German: ver - (away) - versetzung (f, transfer)

The prefix meanings here are close. But dictionary translations do not tell the full story:

Irish: forthreise (f, great strength), fordhubhaigh (to darken), forlíonadh (to


German: verstärken (to strengthen), verdunkeln (to darken), vervollständigen (to


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Irish: úr (m, anything new) - úrchoill (f, greenwood), úrscéal (m, novel)

German: ur- (original) - uraufführung (f, first performance), urmensch (m, primitive


Irish:mí- (bad, dis-, mis-) - mísheachadadh (m, misdelivery), míshlachtmhar –

badly finished

German:miss- (mis-, dis-) - missdeuten (to misinterpret), missbrauchen (to abuse)

Irish: um-/im-/iom/- (circum-) - umchasadh (m, vertigo), uimfhilleadh (to fold


German: um- (around) - umsegeln (to sail around), Umstände (m pl,circumstances)

Irish: a- (to, Latin ad) - an Ghaeltacht abú! (Gaeldom to victory!)

athdhéanamh (to redo, to do again/more)

German: a- (to) - ade, mein Schatz! (farewell, my dearest!)

(D) Illision of Article and Preposition

German: an dem = am (to the), in dem = im (in the), bei dem = beim, auf das =

aufs, in das = ins

Irish: ó an = ón (from the, singular), ó na = óna/ósna (from the, plural), fá an =

fá’n, fána = fána, de an = den, de na = dena/desna

The 's' in 'ósna' and 'desna' is an Indo-European remnant, sometimes used.

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(E) Weak, strong and mixed Declensions

German has weak nouns which add -n or -en to the nominative singular to form other cases. Strong nouns add -s or -es to form the Genitive singular. Mixed nouns are strong in the singular (-s/-es) but weak in the plural (-n/en).

Irish has weak plurals which have an 'i' before the final consonant of the nominative plural or add a terminal 'a'. All other plurals are strong.

Germanstrong Declensions modify the root vowel of the word in the plural:

Class 1 nouns (no addition to plural):Kloster, Klöster (n, cloister), Apfel, Äpfel (m, apple).

Class 2 nouns (add 'e' to plural): Fuss, Füsse (f, foot), Traum, Träume (m, dream).

Class 3 nouns (add 'er' and modify): Amt, Ämter (n, office).

Irish Declensions have root vowel changes, in the genitive case singular or plural nominative, such as the following:

First Declension: fear, fir (genitive singular and nominative plural) (m, man); gaiscíoch, gaiscígh (genitive singular and nominative plural) (m, hero).

Second Declension: bruíon, bríne (genitive singular) (f, struggle).

Third Declension: crios, creasa (genitive singular) (m, belt) - the reverse of the First Declension vowel change.

(F) Formation of Nouns

The doers of an action add the suffix '-óir' to the noun in Irish, '-er' in German.

German: der Fischer - fisherman, der Bäker - baker

Irish: ealaíontóir - artist, intealltóir - engineer

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German diminutive suffixes are -chen and -lein. A comparable Irish suffix is -ín.

German: Hamburg ist ein shönes Stätchen - Hamburg is a beautiful little town

Sie ist ein treues Schätzelein - she is a true wee treasure

Irish: cailín (m, girl, little woman), poitín (m, an intoxicating drink, a potion) - these words begin the last syllable with an l sound and the German tch sound respectively. In Irish cailín is masculine and in German Mädchen (girl) is neuter because of these suffixes.

Roots of different origin can be used in the declension of single noun.

Irish: bean (f, woman linked to Arabic bint) has a plural mná (linked to Latin

femina )

German: Kaufmann (m, storekeeper) has the plural Kaufleute

(G) Formation of Adjectives

Irish can use a suffix to form an adjective:

-mhar: luachmhar - valuable, pianmhar - painful

-ach: amadach - foolish, siúlach - fleet, seachtrach – extramural

-is: Spáinnis - Spanish, Rúisis - Russian

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German uses similar suffixes (In Irish, mh = v and bh = v):

-bar: wonderbar - wonderful, fruchtbar - fruitful

-ich/-ach: scharlach - scarlet, herzlich - heartfelt, ehrlich - honest

-ig: dort - dortig (of that place), hier - hiesig (of this place), fertig - ready,

patzig - snappish

-isch: hämisch - malicious, spanisch - Spanish, irdisch - earthly

Adjectives may lose a vowel in the syllable being inflected.

Irish: deacair (difficult) níos deacra (more difficult)

German: Eine üble Laune (a bad mood)

Rough hints for pronunciation. In the Irish 26-letter alphabet, d and t sound as in French. Vowels sound close to the German. Consonants may be reversibly softened with an added ‘h’ (grammar!). Thus: BH = W, CH = CH, DH = J, FH = -, GH = J, MH = BH/W, PH = V, SH = H, TH = H, SA = SA, SE = SCHE, SI = SCHI

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Annex: Some Tools of lexical Archaeology

Etymology determines the sources and development of words. Philology is the study of comparative and historic linguistics. This paper does not speak from either discipline, as such, but reviews very briefly some observed linguistic connections between modern Irish and German.

The study of words is called lexis. The subject is complex. Changes with languages occur all the time. The focus of investigation in the foregoing work is (i) syntax and roots which have not changed very much and (ii) root changes, which did not occur in both languages, because differentiation may have interfered with the process.

Changes such as the consonant shift from ‘p’ to ‘v’ in German are not necessarily totally completed, even within the one language. There is the German ‘Bock’ and the Irish ‘poc’, for example.

Ways to look for Comparison

Linguistic relationships have been briefly reviewed at three levels:

basic word structure (morphology - analytic, inflecting or agglutinating); and

phrase formation (syntax and idiom);

which together comprise grammar and

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Having regard to the basic elements of language, useful comparisons maybe made by making reference to several paths of change. Some of these are sketched below.

Linguistic groups establish their own body of leximes (items of vocabulary with a single referrant), though the physical tendency to use ‘m’ to begin the word for mother, for example, and the use of onomatopoeia affect this. Loanwords increase vocabulary too (‘asal’ in Irish and ‘ezel’ in German come from the Latin ‘asinus’).

Sometimes a new label is introduced by using a word in a different class – conversion. For example, in Proto-Celtic the verb ‘to taste’ may have been used to provide a noun for ‘chin’. Thus today ‘schmecken’ survives in German and ‘smig’ in Irish.

Semantic range identifies a set of ideas by a particular lexeme. ‘Fad’ is used to suggest length in Irish (‘fada’). In German it is used to mean something already long, eg thread (‘Faden’).

Methatesis occurs when a morpheme it turned around as in the German ‘sechs’ (ks) and the Irish ‘seasca’ (sk).

Metonymy occurs when the name of a part is used for the whole, as in the German ‘Dach’ and Irish ‘teach’. Other slippages of meaning can occur.

Derivation (Wortbildung) is another way to introduce a label. By adding a morpheme (the smallest unit of vocabulary with meaning), new words can be made. Thus ‘Mench’ and ‘Urmensch’ (mankind and primitive man) in German and ‘scéal’ and ‘úrscéal’ (story and novel) in Irish.

‘Mench’ above is called a base and the prefix ur/úr was added. Suffixes also modify meaning as in ‘cailín’ in Irish and ‘Mädchen’ in German.

Dental consonant exchange is common. Dentals are those consonant types included in the phrase ‘no dollars’. Thus the Irish ‘dúr’ and the German ‘Tor’.

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A word may lose a final part of a word (apocope) or an internal part (syncope). Again allow this to be happening in Proto-Celtic, so that today the final element of Burg (castle) in German is lost and the dental ’r’ is exchanged for ‘l’ to give Baile (town) in Irish. The final syllables of Indo-European words are inflected (to show case and tense).

With lenition, the influence of neighbouring vowels may weaken consonants, as in the German ‘Fabel’ and the Irish ‘fabhal’. Aspiration of initial consonants may result in their being dropped altogether; in that way ‘p’ was lost from the Irish ‘athair’.

With calques one language takes the principle of a foreign word but translates its constituents elements – rather than adopting and modifying the foreign word. Thus Irish has ‘teach spéire’ and German has ‘Wolkenkratzer’ for skyscraper. Sometimes a word may enter a language by different routes as in the Irish ‘ilstórach’ (skyscraper).

A morpheme may be any discreet syllable (German ‘gut’, Irish ‘maith’) or an initial consonant cluster (as ‘bl’ in German ‘Bläser’ and Irish ‘bladar’). Consonant clusters may be divided using an epenthetic or helping vowel. This occurs especially in Irish eg with the insertion of a vowel between ‘n’ and ‘m’ in the word ‘aimn’. The comparable German syllabication has been noted.

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Short vowels tend to be interchangeable as in the German ‘Balg’ (shell, case, skin) and the Irish bolg (stomach). Such vowels are not written at all in Arabic.

Communities bind together with a common language, from which common ideas and concepts emerge through syntax and idiom, as seen in phrase formation. Such communities are as large as the level of communication between groups within them. Thus, speech changes slowly as one goes a particular route from eg Paris to Lisbon but those in neither city will understand each other. This points to the existence of dialect continua. Linguistic change is unstoppable, as in the story of the Tower of Babel .

Merian Irland, 5.XXIX/C 4701 EX s. 16 “Typen mit unverkennbar individuellen Habitus und sympathisch unkonventionell.”

The Story of the Irish Race by Seumas Mac Manus - Konecky & Konecky USA, p. 337.

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pb development