Hermeneutics of Irish texts

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wyeuro
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Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 15 May 2009, 07:50

Notes on the Hermeneutics of Irish texts


When you read of a character who needs "twelve heroes to lift up the hair about his eye with iron forks"? you should question the translation (imo).


Currently accepted translations of Irish texts were made long after the language in which they were written had become unintelligible to existing Irish speakers, so they were done not by native speakers of old or middle Irish, but by scholars using the techniques of their times to reconstruct the extinct language, and not all of these were even native speakers of an extent Irish dialect. It was a very difficult undertaking, which could only ever be experimental. Much of it was done when there were so few scholars working in the field that they had few critics – their work was never tested or checked over at the time, and still hasn’t been, except tautologically (and therefore not validly), using the lexicography and grammar derived from the translation itself, not from any outside source.

Their methodology – the way they went about working things out – would not get them a pass at undergraduate levels in this day and age. Academic methodologies have advanced greatly since the promotion of scientific enquiry to academic levels in the 19th century.

These days, in any piece of research, a single experimental attempt and its results should have to show repeatability before it could be awarded the marks, or get funding. But the old texts of many languages that came to light during and after the Renaissance including the Irish texts, were translated long ago by methods that would no longer considered sound in any other discipline. Where more than one translation was attempted, the winner prevailed in an academically insane one-only knock-out competition. Then chronologies have been got up for these texts on the basis of what would be now considered to be inadequate evidence. These have never been revised in the light of modern advances in hermeneutics. (Hermeneutics = the interpretation of texts.) Subsequence retranslations almost invariably use the lexicons and grammars derived from the established ones, which of course, tautologically ‘confirm’ not that the earlier translations are correct (such retranslations don’t test them at all), but only that their dubious lexicography and grammars are internally consistent.

A typical translation, usually done more than a century ago or based on work done then, proceeds more or less as follows:
• A text is selected for the attempt and a methodolgy devised.
• It is identified, dated, and contexts are noted, since data of this kind can shed light on the possible meanings of words.
• The language it is written in is identified as accurately as possible – this is based on observations of similarities its vocabulary and grammar might have with extant languages to which it may be related.
• An attempt to translate it is made.
• During this process, the words that most resemble words in extant relatives of the text’s language are considered to be close in meaning (usually), and these are entered into the lexicon. It should be noted that this process is not simple translation, but is already dependent on the comparative philology (as it was then called) of the time. Comparative philology assumed that if a word in one language resembles a word in another in both sound/form and meaning, they are probably related. As a corollary, the assumption can only be that if a word in one language resembles a word in a language that is thought to be related, it’s is possibly the same word and may have a similar meaning. As you can see there is considerable room for error here.
• Words that bear no clear resemblance to any words in any closely related languages are examined for resemblances to words in less closely related languages. Thus the translator must use the comparative philology of the time to find possible meanings and the scope for error takes a quantum leap! (The comparative philology of the 19th century was very naively done from a very unrealistically restricted database, by scholars who were still forging the rules, and even now, historical linguistics as it is now often called, has not responded to advances in linguistics made since De Saussure in the twentieth century. Much 21st century historical linguistics is still based on academically unsustainable assumptions about language change made before then. These educated guesses go into the lexicon. All this is nevertheless okay, as long as no one loses sight of the FACT that this is all hypothetical (i.e., controlled, educated guesswork.)
• Affixes and regular initial letter mutations etc (including grammatical inflections) are sought and examined and from observations of them a grammar is deduced. If the lexical guesses are accurately recorded, and this deduced grammar is accurately described, any attempt to translate the text using that lexicon and that grammar should produce (or be able to produce) the same translation every time. If it does, then the work is internally consistent and therefore a good attempt – provided that the translation makes sense. So such an experiment is good in itself, but it can only provide us with one scholarly opinion. Before it can be claimed as knowledge, it must be validated - it must be checked for repeatability by other scholars. Later, more modern experimenters must see whether, using modern methods, they obtain the same lexicon and the same grammar. To use the lexicon and grammar derived from an earlier experimental translation to check that translation is tautological – it will always prove it correct, but it will not tell us whether the lexicon itself is correct, nor the grammar.

This independent checking has NOT been done in the case of most of the Irish texts, as far as I know. If it had been, the Dictionary of the Irish Language and Thurneysen’s Grammar would no longer be in use.

For best results, double-blind conditions should apply. That means that those who make other attempts should not consult the work of those who have made previous attempts.They must start with the same equipment as the other experimenters: the text and all the academic resources of their own time, and a mind as untainted as possible by the existing dogmas. Those who gave us the translations we have now compiled their own lexicons and derived their own grammar, and those who check their work must likewise build their own without referring to that of their predecessors in the field.

Perhaps a 21st Century test for repeatablity would look like this.
• The text is selected given to six teams of experts in the field. (In double blind experiments these teams do not consult each other’s work at all, or the work of previous workers in the field.) These experts must know well all extant dialects of Irish (native speakers should be chosen, and must also have a good knowledge of all languages that may be related to the text – I would consider other modern Celtic languages, English, Dutch, Danish, Icelandic, German, French, the Spanishes, Moorish and Portuguese to be essentials. They don’t have to speak them all, but should have closely examined their vocabularies and grammars. They should be well acquainted with other old texts, bearing in mind that their previous translations, lexicons and grammars are the result of unrepeated, therefore unverified guesswork, and so cannot be used to support their own guesses as that would be a violation of the double-blind. They may however use their own interpretations of them, done under similar double-blind conditions. These would include the old English mss, the Gothic, Flemish, Icelandic, etc texts and even Sanskrit and Hebrew would be relevant. They must also have had sound training in postmodern hermeneutics, which keeps a sharp look-out for personal biases, political assumptions, subtle ‘spin’ and other distortive psychological factors. The translations we have are imo badly distorted by political, cultural and ecclesiastical assumptions held by the translators and the dominant culture of their day.
• A 21st century methodology is devised - each team builds its own. Advances in methodology since the existing translations were made have been very considerable. Hermeneutical training these days teaches the translator to identify and eliminate their own personal, political, ecclesiastical and cultural biases (or at least declare them). Not revising the old translations in the light of those advances is like insisting that the world is flat on the basis of 12th century church dogmas.
• Its identity is checked carefully, an attempt is made to decide on the age of the MS, and all relevant contexts are noted, since data of this kind can shed light on the possible meanings of words. Strict veracity must be maintained. This has not yet been done. The science of dating mss is a bit of a vicar’s egg – very good in parts, but most of us would ask for a new egg. In 21st century work, sometimes the correct answer is ‘we don’t yet know’. A translation with a lot of gaps in it is sometimes a more truthful and accurate one than one without – especially when the meanings are odd or meaningless. Similarly, where a team of experts work together on a single text, whenever their opinions differ, the final translation should show all the opinions of the group, along with their reasons for them.
• The language it is written in is identified as accurately as possible – this is based on observations of similarities its vocabulary and grammar might have with extant languages to which it may be related.
• An attempt to translate it is made: where there is disagreement within a team, these should be declared in the final translation.
• During this process, the words that most resemble words in extant relatives of the text’s language are considered to be close in meaning (usually), and these are entered into the lexicon. It should be borne in mind that modern Irish speech has been contaminated by the introduction of words from the lexicon, which has been derived unscientifically. These words are usually easily enough recognised by sensitive scholars. Errors are possible here, but usually not too bad.
• Words that bear no clear resemblance to any words in any closely related languages (dialects of modern Irish) are examined for resemblances to words in less closely related languages using the comparative philology of the time. (other celtic, then english, icelandic etc . Errors are more likely here, and can be minimised by leaving gaps (when the translator has no idea) or offering several opinions (when the translator considers several possibilities, or when two team members disagree). These educated guesses go into the lexicon.
• Affixes and regular initial letter mutations etc (including grammatical inflections) are sought and examined and from observations of them in the light of a deep and detailed knowledge of the way such indicators of grammar are used in other languages, a hypothetical grammar is deduced.

Now we have not one scholarly attempt at a translation, but seven, one done in the past when the hermeneutical sciences were in their infancy, the other six using state of the art hermeneutics.

Now comes the test. Compare the results. Where all seven agree as to the meaning of a sentence, it might be safe to say that they are probably correct – but not that they are correct. When most of them agree but one disagrees, the certainty is less – more research needed – and gets less the more they disagree. Perhaps they all agree fairly well on the words that occur also in Irish, but you could expect an array of opinions, even within a group, on words not recognisable as irish, and these should all be declared.

To put it simply, if all six teams come up with a lexicon that exactly resembles that which is included in the DIL, plus an exact replica of Thurneyson’s grammar, they might have a case for maintaining that the existing translations are accurate. Otherwise, they have not. And they have not until such a test has been done. All such conscientious, academically sound attempts must be given equal credence the old ones, done according to out-moded methodologies, using 19th century comp.phil (or older) should be regarded with acute skepticism.

It doesn’t stop there. Once you have a good variety of opinion, swarms of scholars working over them all with fine-tooth combs comparing them minutely, observing where they all agree (probably right) and where they split into two, three or more camps (any or none could be right) would make dramatic progress towards a much more realistic translation: decades of work could be done. Where difference of opinion occured, more research might resolve the problem. New translations working from their own lexicons would continue to arise, and my guess is that opinion would soon begin to converge on much more realistic interpretaions of the old texts than we now have. But while a highly trained Oxford scholar ( I name no names) can say blithely, ‘There is only one opinion in Celtic Studies’ we may as well all pack up and go home!
(In an article this short there are bound to be some over-simplifications, but I believe I am making an essentially valid statement.)

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby Beith » 16 May 2009, 22:15

I am afraid that most of the statements in the above post are entirely wrong and made without basis of knowledge in the areas cited above nor in the forms of Irish language mentioned. All the assumptions about scholarship - past and present -are entirely wrong, ditto assumptions about the language and eras thereof and how the translation process and that of comparative philolgoy works in Celtic languages; and indeed about the fact that Irish is a continuous and live language,with a literary tradition spreading back 1500 years or so and oral tradition for longer. Not a dead language where nothing is known about it.

I would trust the opinion of an educated Oxford scholar in this field far above someone who does not have professional training in the the subject matter commented upon.

Beith

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 17 May 2009, 00:13

Thank you, Beith. :)

Perhaps you can give us a 'scholarly' response to this?

To do this you would have to take a particular statement (use the 'quote' button) and discuss it in a scholarly way. Say why you disagree. If you can't, you have the option of not answering at all. :)

It's not enough to cast personal aspersions on the scholarship of the person whose opinion you disagree with. You have to be able to engage academically with the opinion itself. :)

wyverne /|\

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby skh » 17 May 2009, 00:39

wyeuro,

The "problem" with academia (and why it works quite well as a means of acquiring and refining knowledge) is that when you just wave your hands in the air and say that "they got it all wrong", that will not result in your being taken seriously -- it smells a bit too much like a conspiracy theory, or like someone who just hasn't understood the problem set in the first place.

So, in order to understand what you want to tell us: could you please share a piece of old irish which you think has been translated wrong, offer a better translation, and give the references to other languages and whatever you think necessary to explain the choices you made in the translation?

Or, maybe, a piece of current academic research which you find lacking, a journal article or a book, and explain in more detail where you think the author errs, to what conclusions you came and why?

It is very easy to make up theories without backing them up with facts and sources. (Also, I'd like to add that your attitude towards Beith makes these threads rather stressful to read and reply to.)

peace /|\
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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby Kat Lady » 17 May 2009, 01:03

Thank you, skh, for the reminder of the purpose of the Celtic Studies forums.

If I might point out the forum rules:
This is a forum for serious discussions and debate on Celtic linguistics and other scholarly topics regardic Celtic history and culture. Questions are welcome and those forum members who are knowledgeable in this field will do their best to provide questioners with accurate, verifiable answers or help them locate the answers for themselves. Opinions are welcome also, but it must be made clear that any unreferenced statements are the poster's own opinion and not necessarily historical fact. Please be ready to cite sources for any assertions you may make.
While the prelude using the word "notes" implies opinion, it might be helpful to clarify that is opinion and to cite the sources used to help you come to that opinion so that comparisons between texts might be made.
If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.--Mark Twain

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 17 May 2009, 01:12

I'm seriously sorry if I come across as offering anything but scrupulous politeness to everyone on the board, including Beith. I am aware that my opinion differs from hers, but credit her with enough maturity to be able to tolerate a diversity of opinion.
could you please share a piece of old irish which you think has been translated wrong, offer a better translation, and give the references to other languages and whatever you think necessary to explain the choices you made in the translation?
Yes, I will do this, and you are right, I should already have done so as part of the above post.
wyverne /|\

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 17 May 2009, 01:21

Sorry, Katlady - I didn't see your post there straight away.

Thanks for the timely reminder regarding the rules, and yes, I do reiterate - these are my own opinions!

I would like to remind people reading this thread that my opinions differ from the currently accepted opinions, which is precisely why I'm offering them.

wyverne /|\

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 17 May 2009, 07:40

Hallo again,

Sonja,
when you just wave your hands in the air and say that "they got it all wrong", that will not result in your being taken seriously -- it smells a bit too much like a conspiracy theory, or like someone who just hasn't understood the problem set in the first place.
I understand what you're saying, but I'm not really doing that. I'm simply saying that the rules for academic discourse are not being followed in the parts of Celtic Studies which are based on old texts. My argument tis that they have not verified the existing translations by academic means. They have not checked the experiment of translation for repeatability. This isn't something someone else said, so I can't refer you to a text-book that says so. I'm really talking about a failure of academic method.

I can't demonstrate this: you would need as I said teams of experts working independently of each other to do so. But I can give an example of what happens when you rely mainly on a modern Irish dictionary, containing only words known to be truly Irish words and leave the Dictionary of the Irish Language with its many super-added entries and Thurneyson's Grammar well alone. They can only give tautologically a predetermined translation that has never been academically verified - and that, as Beith admits, only with great difficulty - and the translations are full of characters like the one who needed "twelve heroes to lift up the hair about his eye with iron forks". Quite frankly, I don't believe in them.

This will be a long posting, and I'd like to thank in advance anyone who has the patience to read through it all as well as all those who have read the article above, and also, I'm grateful to the Board in general for the opportunity to say my piece. :) May it do no one harm.

Bríocht Síothlaithe Cheannmhara

The only ‘official’ translation of this I've seen interprets it as a sinister spell of 'pacification', involving the magical disempowerment of a king. Many Old Irish poems (earlier than 12th Century) can, with a bit of imagination and a not too inconvenient amount of veracity, be translated so as to represent the Irish as sinister magicians, easily enraged, always at war, especially if the translator is making inappropriate use of inaccurate dictionaries and glosses, or those appropriate to texts written in completely different languages or dialects from the one in which the poem is written.

The Dictionary of the Irish Language has been compiled from several sources, including both modern Irish vocabulary gathered and verified from native speakers (as it should) AND words gathered from the lexicons developed by the translators of the old texts. These lexicons were made in the fashion described in the article above: the comparative philology they used is out-moded and not sustainable by late 20th and early 21st century academic standard. I have avoided using it, although I have referred to it, and to a translation which did make use of it, which I will include in this post.

Using only a modern Irish dictionary (I’ve used Collins Irish Dictionary: Express Edition 2nd Edition 2006) and my own comparative analytic techniques (explained in the gloss wherever possible) to verify vocabulary, and a modern grammar (I’ve used Mícheál Ó Siadhail’s ‘Learning Irish: and Introductory Self-Tutor’ University Press New Haven and London 1988) to elucidate the grammar (with comparative analysis from the basis of a sensitive study of the prevailing linguistic climate in which the text originated to help out where it isn’t clear), those texts that actually are mainly in Irish (and many that aren't) tend to depict a well-regulated, religious, industrious people, fond of children and animals, rational in war-time and grateful for peaceful years and fruitful harvests.Here's the poem (actually I think it’s a song) followed by my gloss and after that, my translation of it. After that, for comparison, you will find Seán Ó Tuathail’s translation of it, which Mark Williams of Oxford University has confirmed still has official approval.

My qualifications?

I have no university degree (yet?) but I have studied at well-respected universities at undergraduate levels, mostly in the fields of linguistics and hermeneutics. In 1970, matriculating with five years of French and Latin, I entered the University of Adelaide (a world-class university) with my heart set on studying comparative philology as it was then called. To this end I studied Ancient Greek, Latin, French, and later German. This study was interrupted by a series of personal crises and I finally gave it up after five years, without graduating. As you can imagine, I continued to read everything I could get my hands on on those subjects and I also read widely on ancient history, mythology, and general linguistics, including making a study of the Rev Skeet’s delightful etymological dictionary and the Indo-European rootwords and the theory surrounding them, and kept up my French and my little bit of German by reading and convesring with a friend in those languages too. I read dictionary etymologies for pleasure, becoming deeply absorbed if I don’t watch myself. 

In the 1990s I spent seven years part-time at Deakin University – another highly regarded university, doing post-modern studies in hermeneutics (the interpretation of texts), semiotics, feminist critique (which is excellent training for the critiquing of academic discourse from any perspectives, not just feminist ones), comparative studies in religion, and also in science (specifically, scientific (knowledge) revolutions and the critical analysis of various types of academic and non-academic discourse and its claims to be or to produce ‘knowledge’), and literature. The literature course included a good deal of traditional material, including classical and Celtic texts. Before I could graduate, my studies there were interrupted by my aging mother’s health crises, which were compounded by the traumatic, untimely death of my eldest brother (whom I loved deeply). My mother took his death badly and she needed every bit of my time and attention during the rest of her life until her death a year later.

Meanwhile, as an independent scholar I became increasingly focused on Celtic history and traditions. I learned modern Galway Irish from Ó Siadhail’s book and cassettes, and Cornish (by correspondence from the Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek in Cornwall – succeeding in the third grade gans bri i.e., with distinction, but forgoing the final year because I disagree with the comp phil which forms a major part of the course. I retrieved my Latin, made significant advances in ancient Greek and took up Dutch and Spanish. My normal school day’s work includes six hours of language study separated by half-hour periods of other activities conducive to successful study. I do four days of school and one of reading on general historical linguistics and history per week. In my spare time I read the myths and the primary texts, usually in translation. My studies of language are oriented towards linguistic analysis (comparative) with intensive etymological study written into the schedule. I blog in Irish, Cornish, Latin, and French (just starting), and about hermeneutics. (See my blogs on http://romans-kernewek.blogspot.com/) Click on View my complete profile to access the full list. My hobbies include the study of folklore, folksongs and old ballads. I have done serious studies of old English texts also.

So I know my subject.


Understanding nevertheless that not having a degree might undermine my credibility as an independent scholar, I joined Mensa, the high IQ society in 2007, and I have been a contributor (not on linguistics) to the Australian Mensa Newsletter, TableAus for the past eighteen months. No one there has questioned my good sense. (Pm me if you want to know how to verify my Mensa membership.)

I have not studied the DIL or Thurneyson’s Grammar in depth because I do not believe in the translations they give: I don’t believe in that man who needs 12 heroes to lift up the hair around his eyes with an iron fork, or the Irish kings who mated with horses or that CuChullain bled a fountain of blood from the top of his head while his knees turned backwards as a prelude to going into battle. I say that the emperor who says it is so is stark naked.

Now to the poem: first in irish, then my gloss, then my translation, then Seán Ó Tuathail’s ‘official’ version for comparison.
Bríocht Síothlaithe Cheannmhara

Síothal lán, síothal slán.
Luigsim féin féin ra cach mál.
Síothal shuain, síothal sámh.
Bear úr uaibh

do cheann slúaigh d'fhiachaigh mál.

Síothal glan, síothal gart
um rígh mborb.
Síothal slán, síothal suain.
Bear úr do Mhogh Chorb.

Síothal airgid agus óir agus cruain,
Síothal shíog agus rígh agus rúain.
lúthar libh agus uaibh do Mhogh Ruith
is d'fhir Coirb
is do Bhuan.

Lúthsat féin
feacht fo thrí
ra feacht fáth
beact for rígh.

Báidhfe tart!
Beofaidh brígh!
Fóirfidh cach!
Sóefidh síath,Síothal!

GLOSS: This gloss is my own and not necessarily in agreement with those of other translators. I have made the entries as detailed as seemed necessary, with enough detail to let you see my logic in arriving at them, so that where this translation differs from others, you will understand why I have made the choices I’ve made.

• agus = modern Irish ‘agus’ meaning ‘and’.
• airgid = modern Irish ‘airgead’ meaning ‘silver’.
• at = mdoern Irish ‘ad’ short form of ‘agat’ meaning ‘to you (s)’.
• báidhfe = form of modern Irish ‘báigh’ meaning ‘drown’, ‘soak’. I think the –fe indicates a passive voice ‘will be drowned’.
• beact = modern Irish ‘beacht’ meaning ‘accurate’, ‘exact’, ‘precise’.
• bear = a form of the modern Irish ‘beirigh’ meaning ‘boil’ or ‘bake’. I translate it as ‘brew’.
• beofaidh = future tense of modern Irish ‘beoigh’ meaning ‘enliven, ‘animate’.
• bhuan. Modern Irish ‘buanaí’ means a reaper, which fits so well that I use it here, assuming ‘buan’ to be a variant of it, and bhuan a form of buan.
• borb = modern Irish ‘borb’, which means ‘fierce’ when it denotes a fire, an attack or a person; or ‘coarse’ or ‘rugged’; or, when it denotes a sound, ‘harsh’.
• brígh = modern Irish ‘brí’ meaning ‘strength’, ‘energy’, ‘force’, ‘significance’, ‘sense’, ‘meaning’.
• cach = modern Irish ‘gach’ meaning each, every.
• cheann = modern Irish ‘ceann’ meaning ‘head’, ‘extreme’, ‘end’, ‘one’, ‘roof’ and also, in phrases like ‘ceann teaghlaigh’ and ‘ceann roinne’ means ‘head of a family’ or ‘head of a department’. So I have translated ‘c(h)eann sluaigh’ as ‘chief of hosts’, (Seán Ó Tuathail agrees, except he calls it ‘head of hosts’.
• Coirb genitive of ‘Corb’, a personal name.
• cruain, genitive of cruan = modern ‘cruan’ meaning ‘enamel’.
• d’ see ‘do’.
• d'fhiachaigh = modern Irish ‘d’fhiachfaí’ which means ‘one would owe’.
• do = modern Irish ‘do’ meaning ‘to’.
• fáth = modern Irish ‘cause’ (noun).
• feacht = modern Irish feach ‘look’, ‘see’, ‘observe’.
• féin = modern Irish ‘féin’ meaning ‘self’.
• fhir see fir.
• fir = modern Irish ‘fir’ meaning ‘men’.
• fo = modern Irish ‘faoi’ meaning ‘under’.
• fóirfidh = modern Irish future tense. Various words incorporating fóir- have to do with form, fitness, help, relief etc.
• for = modern Irish ‘fíor’ meaning ‘truly’.
• gart: gar- is a form of the cor- or kor- of the Cornish kortes, Spanish cortez, and occurs in Modern Irish with a different suffix – ach instead of –t - as ‘gar-ach’ instead of ‘gar-t’. Garach means helpful, obliging, or forthcoming, and that’s how I’ve translated gart.
• glan = modern Irish ‘glan’ meaning ‘clean’.
• is = modern Irish ‘is’ meaning ‘and’.
• lán = modern Irish ‘lán’ meaning ‘full’.
• libh = modern Irish ‘libh’, meaning ‘with you (pl)’.
• luigsim is contracted to ‘luím’ in modern Irish. It’s a first person singular of the present indicative active of modern Irish ‘lóigh’ or ‘luigh’, meaning ‘to land’, ‘lie down’, ‘incline oneself’, ‘lean over’, or ‘settle’.
• lúthar: the ‘lúth-‘ is the same as the ‘lúth’ of the modern Irish ‘lúthcheas’ meaning ‘athletic exercise’, and the ‘–ar’ is an adjectival suffix as in ‘uaf+ar’, ‘awful’, and found within some forms as ‘-air-’, eg, ‘scholaireacht’, ‘bleachtaireacht’.
• lúths = modern Irish ‘lúth’ meaning ‘movement’, ‘agility’, ‘athleticism’, ‘suppleness’.
• mál is a variant of mol = modern Irish ‘moladh’ a verbal noun meaning ‘praise’ or ‘recommendation’.
• mborb (see borb).
• Mhogh Chorb. I agree with Seán Ó Tuathail here: it is a personal name. I could say much upon the subject but it is not vital to this exercise.
• óir = modern Irish ‘óir’ meaning ‘golden’.
• ra = a form of the modern Irish ‘rá’, a verb-noun meaning ‘saying’.
• rígh = modern Irish ‘ríghin’ meaning ‘tough’, ‘stubborn’, ‘stiff’.
• rúain: not modern Irish ruainne, meaning bit, morsel etc but a borrowing from the English: round. I could write a short essay on this too.
• sámh = modern Irish ‘suaimh(neach)’ meaning ‘quiet’, ‘tranquil’, ‘relaxed’ ‘calm.
• shíog see síog
• shuain = modern Irish suaimhn(each), which means here ‘gentleness’, ‘pleasantness’, ‘sweetness’, rather than the more common meaning of ‘sleep’. It is related to ‘suaimhneas’ meaning ‘serenity’ as well as the English ‘swoon’.
• síath: the brew.
• síog = modern Irish ‘síog’ meaning ‘cancel’, ‘strike out’, ‘streak’. Re a coalmine it is a seam.I think it could mean scored or carved, and refer to a decorative pattern.
• síothal = modern Irish ‘soitheach’ meaning ‘vessel’ or ‘bowl’. Its first syllable, ‘síoth-’, is related to the English word for ‘seethe’, and the whole means a ‘seething vessel’ or ‘cauldron’.
• slán = modern Irish ‘safe’ ‘secure’, ‘sound’, ‘intact’, ‘whole’.
• slúaigh = modern Irish ‘slua’ meaning ‘crowd’, ‘multitude’, ‘throng’, ‘army’.
• Sóefidh: future tense of a verb perhaps related to ‘sómhar’ meaning comfortable and luxurious.
• tart = modern Irish ‘tart’ meaning ‘thirst’.
• thrí = modern Irish ‘trí’ meaning ‘through’ ‘throughout’.
• uaibh: this is the 2nd person plural prepositional pronoun form of ‘ó’ meaning ‘from’ or ‘since’.
• um = modern Irish ‘um’ which means ‘about’, ‘around’, ‘in’, ‘at’ or ‘on’.
• úr = modern Irish ‘úr’ meaning ‘fresh’, ‘new’, ‘novel’.


Here’s my translation, but first, a note. The fourth line of the poem is a translator’s note, and not part of the original poem – so I have put it in brackets.

Full cauldron, healthful cauldron
I bow, I say each (word of) praise,
Sweet cauldron, serene cauldron,
A new brew from you!

(To a chief of hosts one would owe praise.)

Clean cauldron, courteous cauldron
Boiling hard,
Healthful cauldron, cauldron sweet.
a new brew for Mag Corb.

Cauldron of silver and gold and enamel,
Cauldron carved and rigid and round.
Let there be sprightliness about you and from you to Mog Ruith
and to the men of Corb and to the retainers.

Be quick-running itself
look about throughout
telling the reason for fetching
exactly and full vehemently.

Quenched will be thirst!
Vitality will enliven!
Everyone will be healed!
Seethed will be the brew,
Cauldron!

Okay, now compare with Seán Ó Tuathail’s version.


Bríocht Síothlaithe Cheannmhara = Kenmare's Pacification Spell
from: The Excellence of Ancient Word: Druid Rhetorics from Ancient Irish Tales
by
Copyright © 1993 John Kellnhauser
May be reposted as long as the above attribution and copyright notice are retained

Melt away (expire, soften) fully, melt away completely
I swear this myself to every prince.
Melt into sleep, melt in tranquillity.
Be borne a bright newness
to (the) head of the hosts of Fiacha of princes.
Melt clean(ly), melt (with) generosity
(all those) around an ignorant (unjust) king.
Melt away completely, melt away into sleep.
Be borne a fresh newness.
(But) of Mogh Corb
melt away his silver and gold and enamel (jewelry),
melt away fairy (allies of the king) and king and great ones,
empowered with you and from you to Mogh Ruith
and from (the) men of Corb
and to Buan
empowered himself
a sight (seen to be done) three times
with that a sight of wisdom
the (high) king made humble
The draught will be drowned
(Magical) energy will enliven,
each will be healed,
will transform into peace. Melt away.

Go to it. :) Just bear in mind that the same critical eye you pass over my work must also be cast over Seán Ó Tuathail’s version. That means that where he uses the DIL etc, you should explain with what justification he does so, which would involve answering my criticism of it in a scholarly way.

in the peace of the grove
wyverne /|\

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby mwyalchen » 17 May 2009, 09:39

I have not studied the DIL or Thurneyson’s Grammar in depth because I do not believe in the translations they give: I don’t believe in that man who needs 12 heroes to lift up the hair around his eyes with an iron fork, or the Irish kings who mated with horses or that CuChullain bled a fountain of blood from the top of his head while his knees turned backwards as a prelude to going into battle. I say that the emperor who says it is so is stark naked.
The Irish kings who mated with horses are from Giraldus Cambrensis; the story may well be untrue, but it was written in Latin and the translation is not in doubt.

And I don't see the problem with the man who needs 12 heroes to lift up the hair around his eyes, or with the Cuchullain hyperbole. If you don't choose to "believe" in them, well, fine; but there's nothing implausible about them as elements of a story. Think of Rabelais' Gargantua, or of Gulliver's Travels, for examples where there is no translation problem. Or from old Wales, there's Ysbaddaden Bencawr, who has to have his servants raise his eyelid with forks; a certain parallel here, I think, dating from a period at which Old Irish was still spoken. If we're going to do away with every element of the tales which isn't factually plausible to the modern mind, we'll also have to dispense with Bran wading the waters, Lleu turning into an eagle, Taliesin's encounter with Ceridwen...

Meanwhile, if reexamining selected texts produces new insights; well, that's great. But if, as you suggest, the foundations of Old Irish study are completely unsound, it's a miracle that the universities aren't already full of ambitious young scholars trying to make a glorious career by overturning the work of their teachers' teachers. After all, this is how academic reputations are made. And what you're suggesting is essentially that a large team of scholars should do again what was done in the first place, but do it better - while throwing out anything done in the meantime. Is the discipline really so flawed that nothing done since has any value at all?

If it really is, maybe I could make a modest request: once you have found your first seven paragons of linguistic scholarship, why not start with the Ogam texts, and see if seven scholars will all independently and identically confirm the theory you've posted elsewhere on the board: that this mediaeval Irish text is based on crude transliteration from a language with a remarkable resemblance to modern English.

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby skh » 17 May 2009, 10:40

wyeuro,

I'm so deep in Sanskrit paradigms at the moment that they are coming out of my ears, so I need your help to understand how you reached the conclusions that led to your translation. Maybe just the first few lines. Also, can you give me a bit of context from which text this part is taken, how old it is, when it was written down and in what context etc.?

I collated the original (in bold), the two translations (yours in cursive first), and your glossary.
Síothal lán, síothal slán.
Full cauldron, healthful cauldron
Melt away (expire, soften) fully, melt away completely
  • síothal = modern Irish ‘soitheach’ meaning ‘vessel’ or ‘bowl’. Its first syllable, ‘síoth-’, is related to the English word for ‘seethe’, and the whole means a ‘seething vessel’ or ‘cauldron’.
  • lán = modern Irish ‘lán’ meaning ‘full’.
  • slán = modern Irish ‘safe’ ‘secure’, ‘sound’, ‘intact’, ‘whole’.
What word class is síothal? Does it have an inflectional ending, if yes, which one? I notice that Mr. Ó Tuathail chose to translate it as a verb, why did he do that? Why didn't you?

Where does the change from 'síoth-' to modern irish 'soith-' come from? Is it regular, can you give other examples for this specific sound (or spelling?) change?

How much did meanings widen, narrow, or plainly change between old and modern irish in general? How in 'lán' and 'slán'?
Luigsim féin féin ra cach mál.
I bow, I say each (word of) praise
I swear this myself to every prince.
  • luigsim is contracted to ‘luím’ in modern Irish. It’s a first person singular of the present indicative active of modern Irish ‘lóigh’ or ‘luigh’, meaning ‘to land’, ‘lie down’, ‘incline oneself’, ‘lean over’, or ‘settle’.
  • féin = modern Irish ‘féin’ meaning ‘self’.
  • ra = a form of the modern Irish ‘rá’, a verb-noun meaning ‘saying’.
  • cach = modern Irish ‘gach’ meaning each, every.
  • mál is a variant of mol = modern Irish ‘moladh’ a verbal noun meaning ‘praise’ or ‘recommendation’.
You seem to agree on the first verb luigsim (if not on the meaning), but if 'ra' is a verb too, what is its form? Why doesn't it end in -m if you translate it as first person singular? Is it an irregular verb in old irish? Which word means "praise"? In which case (with which ending) does it stand here?
Why is 'féin' repeated?
If 'mál' is a variant of 'mol', what kind of variant, and by which rule? Or just grammatical form, then: which one?
Where does the 'prince' in the translation of Ó Tuathail come from?
And again, semantics, why do you assume modern irish meanings?
Síothal shuain, síothal sámh.
Sweet cauldron, serene cauldron
Melt into sleep, melt in tranquillity.
  • shuain = modern Irish suaimhn(each), which means here ‘gentleness’, ‘pleasantness’, ‘sweetness’, rather than the more common meaning of ‘sleep’. It is related to ‘suaimhneas’ meaning ‘serenity’ as well as the English ‘swoon’.
  • sámh = modern Irish ‘suaimh(neach)’ meaning ‘quiet’, ‘tranquil’, ‘relaxed’ ‘calm.
Ó Tuathail uses 'into' with nouns - why?, while you use adjectives - why? Why do you reject 'sleep' as a translation for 'shuain'? What word class are 'shuain' and 'sámh'? How solid, in general, is the distinction between nouns and adjectives in old irish? (And again: modern meanings?)
Bear úr uaibh
A new brew from you!
Be borne a bright newness
  • bear = a form of the modern Irish ‘beirigh’ meaning ‘boil’ or ‘bake’. I translate it as ‘brew’.
  • úr = modern Irish ‘úr’ meaning ‘fresh’, ‘new’, ‘novel’.
  • uaibh: this is the 2nd person plural prepositional pronoun form of ‘ó’ meaning ‘from’ or ‘since’.
Where's the verb? Which form? If you insist on there not being a verb, what form exactly is 'bear'? How do inflections work in modern irish compared to old irish, how much has been lost? Is the form you assume accounted for in old irish use?
Where does the 'bright' in Ó Tuathail's translation come from?

I am aware that some of these questions may not apply, some may be obvious if you know old irish, and that I probably overlooked important aspects, being just a generic historical linguist.

Thanks (in advance) for elaborating. Beith, if you have the time answering my questions regarding old irish grammar I'd be most grateful as well of course.

peace /|\
Sonja
I don't think anybody ever died thinking they loved people too much, or had too much joy, or made too much music.

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 17 May 2009, 23:47

morning everyone :D
Thanks for your kind attention to my ideas, and your thoughtful responses.

mwyalchen said,
Think of Rabelais' Gargantua, or of Gulliver's Travels, for examples where there is no translation problem.
These books and many others, including Don Quixote, the Fairy Queen and yes, many others, were presented as fiction, not fact, (whether they were or not, and because careful publishing records and copyright were not kept, they often drew from fragmentary sources that they did not need to mention that were suffering from serious translation problems. Read Don Quixote for Cervantes' hilarious account of the conditions under which some very old historical texts from all parts of europe, Africa and the middle east were distributed, pirated, copied, imitated, and horribly mistranslated and misrepresented for all sorts of reasons from ecclesiastical/political considerations to the romantic interests of the pampered mignons of the nouveau riche.
If we're going to do away with every element of the tales which isn't factually plausible to the modern mind, we'll also have to dispense with Bran wading the waters, Lleu turning into an eagle, Taliesin's encounter with Ceridwen...
yes, but the experiment should be tried, and not evaded just to preserve the beloved fantasy.
And what you're suggesting is essentially that a large team of scholars should do again what was done in the first place, but do it better - while throwing out anything done in the meantime. Is the discipline really so flawed that nothing done since has any value at all?
No. What I said was that six smallish teams of scholars should do it independently WITHOUT throwing anything out, so that we end up with seven attempts to compare, instead of just one which, without any attempt to verify it, is misrepresented to us as perfect. Where all seven agree, and to the extent that they do, you have confirmation, but where there is little or no agreement, we only have tentative suggestions. Lexicons should include all words, noting those where there is no agreement. and grammar based on unverified work is unverified grammar.

I'll defend my ogham theory on that thread if you want to post your protest there :) :shake:

I'm interrupted here and will get back in a little while :oops:

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 18 May 2009, 04:40

Hallo Sonja
Síothal lán, síothal slán.
Full cauldron, healthful cauldron
Melt away (expire, soften) fully, melt away completely
• síothal = modern Irish ‘soitheach’ meaning ‘vessel’ or ‘bowl’. Its first syllable, ‘síoth-’, is related to the English word for ‘seethe’, and the whole means a ‘seething vessel’ or ‘cauldron’.
• lán = modern Irish ‘lán’ meaning ‘full’.
• slán = modern Irish ‘safe’ ‘secure’, ‘sound’, ‘intact’, ‘whole’.


What word class is síothal? Does it have an inflectional ending, if yes, which one? I notice that Mr. Ó Tuathail chose to translate it as a verb, why did he do that? Why didn't you?
Síothal is a noun in the vocative case, according to my interpretation. Normally in Modern Irish, this might be lenited, but it varies. Sometimes, but again, not always, it might be preceded by the vocative particle ‘a’. It does consist of a stem, síoth, which has many variants in many languages, include words for seeth, south, sooth etc, and even heat, hot, and here takes the originally plural ending, -al, which also occurs as -very often used, as here, as an adverbial ending, (giving seeth –al) which is then put into service as a noun. It follows the pattern of the English word ‘know-all’, or a 'carry-all', or a 'hold-all'.
Where does the change from 'síoth-' to modern irish 'soith-' come from? Is it regular, can you give other examples for this specific sound (or spelling?) change?
No. One of my main objections to current etymology is the assumption they seem to be working on that language change is regular and logical. Grimms Law, Werner’s Law etc point up some of the very few regularities to be found, but most language change is
• unrecorded, since it happens among illiterates or people whose literacy is despised and their writings therefore soon lost because they use spelling conventions deemed ‘wrong’ by the dominant culture, and grammar and word forms also.
• irregular, being idiosyncratic and aften associated with large numbers of influential speakers, such as mothers in the case of intermarriage, learning a second language under difficult conditions - no two would learn it in exactly the same way, and many seemingly random variants are generated in individual households until the whole thing settles down after a generation or two, with most variants falling into disuse and local usuage tending to prevail, but never completely.

If you can imagine the syllables síoth- and soith- coming not directly from a single ancestral forms, but from a background of varied usage of ancestral forms by people with a wide range of accents. If you’re a native English speaker or au fait with the range of accents, try to think of the range of variation in the way the word south is pronounced world-wide, or even within the UK, and try to imagine how a naïve speller would spell it. Include foreign accents. My list includes sooth, sarth, suff, sothe, saws, thoth and sars, and would be very much longer if I set my mind to it. It is from this active mixture of languages resulting from intermarriage, which would result at first in children who mix their parents languages but whose children would be tending to reduce their use of ‘foreign’ sounding forms when they dealt with the outer world, particularly in school, where teachers spoke only their father’s language. It would be futile and unreasonable to look for a kind of ‘Grimm’s Law’ equivalent to explain the difference, and it would be equally unreasonable to look for linguistic uniformity throughout Ireland especially when brides were often imported and mass-weddings brought new languages into the land. (Read Siegfried for an account of a cultural exchange with Germans, Lugh called dairy farmers in from overseas, and the Irish and the Welsh have also intermarried. English speaking Irish have intermarried with Irish speaking Irish, too.)

How much did meanings widen, narrow, or plainly change between old and modern irish in general?
To the best of my knowledge this hasn’t been studied in any satisfactory way. We can use the old texts to guide us only when they’ve been accurately translated, and the translations verified by the double-blind tests for repeatability I’ve described, or some equally reliable method. Only from reliable translations can we get a chronology. Unfortunately the translations can only be reliable if they have been made with a sound knowledge of the prevailing linguistics of the area and time, against a broad linguistic awareness, and those can’t be determinded except from reliable translations. Even the latin and especially the Greek, and especially the Koine have to be taken with a grain of salt until verified. This is a ‘chaotic’ situation, which is very difficult to work with, but not impossible, and besides, since it undeniably pertains, it's the one we have to work with imo. We need postmodern insights to do this, and so far, very few scholars are working with that and they face solid resistance from scholars with a heavy investment in the status quo, precisely because the assumptions underlying current scholarship do not stand up to post-modern enquiry.
How in 'lán' and 'slán'?
In modern Irish, lán means full, not fully. go lán could mean fully. Slán means a healthy person or health, or farewell, or as an adjective safe, secure, sound, intact. It doesn’t mean completely, even with go in front. So in lán and slán, I’m assuming that they haven’t changed much, whereas Ó Tuathail's interpretation depends on their having done so. I see no need for it, since the very same word exists in everyday modern Irish.
Luigsim féin féin ra cach mál.
I bow, I say each (word of) praise
I swear this myself to every prince.
• luigsim is contracted to ‘luím’ in modern Irish. It’s a first person singular of the present indicative active of modern Irish ‘lóigh’ or ‘luigh’, meaning ‘to land’, ‘lie down’, ‘incline oneself’, ‘lean over’, or ‘settle’.
• féin = modern Irish ‘féin’ meaning ‘self’.
• ra = a form of the modern Irish ‘rá’, a verb-noun meaning ‘saying’.
• cach = modern Irish ‘gach’ meaning each, every.
• mál is a variant of mol = modern Irish ‘moladh’ a verbal noun meaning ‘praise’ or ‘recommendation’.

You seem to agree on the first verb luigsim (if not on the meaning), but if 'ra' is a verb too, what is its form? Why doesn't it end in -m if you translate it as first person singular? Is it an irregular verb in old irish?
Very lucid questioning, Sonja! Rá is normally a verb-noun, but I interpret it as a simple participle here. Acknowledging that it is anomolous, I note that the usage I’m proposing is common in Cornish and English – I haven’t begun Welsh yet. So literallyish it is I bow myself, or lean myself over, myself saying each praise. (féin means self)
Which word means "praise"?
mál means praise. These days it is moladh.
In which case (with which ending) does it stand here?
I don’t know that we’ve got a case ending here, so I hesitate to call it accusative case – I’d prefer to call it simply the ‘object’ of the participle ‘rá’.
Why is 'féin' repeated?
The first time it refers to the first verb, the second time to the participle. 'I lean myself over, I myself say each praise'.
If 'mál' is a variant of 'mol', what kind of variant, and by which rule? Or just grammatical form, then: which one?
Just a variant. If you are writing phonetically, even making ‘spelling errors’ while using shool-book spelling conventions, Mál would be one person’s spelling of a word that someone else would spell ‘mol’, even if they both pronounced the vowel the same.

Language change doesn’t always follow neat rules in real life, and the organic rules that shaped the many many local variants and their interaction and their rates of change have never been studied in the light of late 20th and 21st century advances in historical linguistics, pitifully few and far between as they are imo :???: .
Where does the 'prince' in the translation of Ó Tuathail come from?
I haven’t the faintest idea! I’m more concerned about where he gets his ‘to’! :shrug:
And again, semantics, why do you assume modern irish meanings?
Because it comes from Connemara, and has a number of modern Irish words in it. Slán, lán, rá, féin etc. Plus other words are close to modern Irish words.
Síothal shuain, síothal sámh.
Sweet cauldron, serene cauldron
Melt into sleep, melt in tranquillity.
• shuain = modern Irish suaimhn(each), which means here ‘gentleness’, ‘pleasantness’, ‘sweetness’, rather than the more common meaning of ‘sleep’. It is related to ‘suaimhneas’ meaning ‘serenity’ as well as the English ‘swoon’.
• sámh = modern Irish ‘suaimh(neach)’ meaning ‘quiet’, ‘tranquil’, ‘relaxed’ ‘calm.

Ó Tuathail uses 'into' with nouns - why?,
I think he’s actually getting the ‘into’ as part of the verb. In Irish verbs come first in a sentence, so in translating, you naturally suspect the first word in a sentence of being a verb. So he is translating síothal as a verb, melt’ and letting it imply ‘into’ – I say without sufficient justification, especially in view of the fact that it is inconsistent – he has not treated it the same in the preceding verse - but others might support his opinion?
while you use adjectives - why?
I treat Síothal as a vocative – a form of address. If I do that, it is followed in the first verse by two well-known adjectives, so to be consistent, shuain and sámh have to be adjectives too. This satisfies both the grammar and the ‘verbal/semantic rhythm’ (if I can call it that) of the song.
Why do you reject 'sleep' as a translation for 'shuain'?
I see it as an adjective, so it would be sleepy, but I believe it is related to the modern word ‘suaimhneas’, which doesn’t mean sleep, it means calm, related I believe to ‘suave’ in English. If the mh were already not being pronounced, you could spell it ‘suai(’)n-‘. The modern adjectival form of it is suaimhneach. I’m proposing that suain is an earlier form. Shuain is a lenited form of it – I can’t explain why it would be lenited here.
What word class are 'shuain' and 'sámh'?
They are adjectives according to my interpretation.
How solid, in general, is the distinction between nouns and adjectives in old irish? (And again: modern meanings?)
Well, this isn’t ‘old’ Irish – it’s fairly recent going by its similarity to modern Irish. I’ve never been able to find a date for it – I think it’s just classified as ‘mediaeval’, but going by feel, I think it is much more recent than that – even 19th century. Within modern Irish there is considerable variation. Some adjectives are formed from a stem by adding –(e)ach. Others are just indistinguishable unless you know them. Álainn, lán, uaigneach, ard, sásta – all are adjectives.
Bear úr uaibh
A new brew from you!
Be borne a bright newness
• bear = a form of the modern Irish ‘beirigh’ meaning ‘boil’ or ‘bake’. I translate it as ‘brew’.
• úr = modern Irish ‘úr’ meaning ‘fresh’, ‘new’, ‘novel’.
• uaibh: this is the 2nd person plural prepositional pronoun form of ‘ó’ meaning ‘from’ or ‘since’.

Where's the verb? Which form? If you insist on there not being a verb, what form exactly is 'bear'?
Bear is a verb-noun, 'a brewing' according to my interpretation, a verb according to Ó Tuathail.
How do inflections work in modern irish compared to old irish, how much has been lost?
The verbs and pronouns are regularly inflected, but not nouns, adjectives etc. In Old irish, nouns were inflected. Modern Irish still has classifications of nouns, but as in English, they only vary in the genitive and the plural, and not always by adding an ‘inflection’ – sometimes just by modifying the final consonant.
Is the form you assume accounted for in old irish use?
I haven’t checked. The only reference available to me is the DIL which is unreliable. The point of this exercise was to try an alternative translation that does not depend on the DIL and Thurneyson’s Grammar.
Where does the 'bright' in Ó Tuathail's translation come from?
Úr is an adjective which means new, fresh, novel, according to my dictionary of modern Irish. It gives the example ‘péint úr’ which means ‘wet paint’. So I suppose he’s taking poetic licence in translating a word that means simply ‘new’ as a ‘bright newness’. But úr is not a noun in modern Irish.
I am aware that some of these questions may not apply, some may be obvious if you know old irish, and that I probably overlooked important aspects, being just a generic historical linguist.

Thanks (in advance) for elaborating.
I enjoyed working with your deep, probing questions. Thanks for your respectful, professional attitudes. I felt as if you really wanted to understand both attempts, to honour both equally (as I do), and that you had no preconceived ideas or prejudice against me personally that might close your mind to what I'm saying, or any interest in 'shooting me down in flames' or 'getting' me on minor points. Yet you never abandoned your lucid, critical, non-committal position. A very refreshing approach. :shake:

blessings on your Sanskrit: I'll be starting that very soon I hope, when I start my next wave of language learning.

in the peace of the grove

wyverne /|\

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby Art » 19 May 2009, 07:34

The law of parsimony tells us that if two answers exist for a given problem, and one requires that well established laws of logic and common sense be suspended whilst the other does not, the latter is most likely the correct one. In other words, the simpler and more compliant the solution, the more likely it is to be correct.

On the other hand, seemingly extreme solutions do on occasion prove to be correct and yield that long sought “eureka” moment...the utterly delightful intellectual epiphany. Rarely however do those solutions materialize out of a vacuum completely isolated from contemporary wisdom.
Therefore I find it difficult to grasp the isolated opinion snatched from the ether in total contradiction to prevailing reason. Of course when an opinion is supported by evidence in the form of either documented source information or confirmation by others doing similar research in a given field, the weight of that view is enhanced considerably.

Many different opinions are expressed on this board every day most of which are the product of independent research. I would suggest that the law of parsimony still applies and that those opinions which are backed up by vetted scholarship and acceptance by acknowledged experts in the field in question should carry more weight than those of independent (if well versed) scholars who have no vetted support for their conclusions.

Now with that said, we do accept the notion that divine inspiration may strike anyone at anytime. I would however submit that the spark of inspiration that inspires that alternative or radical interpretation will cloak it with an aura of truth such that the robed masters of the field will readily, if begrudgingly, sing praise songs and prostrate themselves in exaltation.

The voice of reason most often speaks with overtones of footnotes, references, and compliance with accepted contemporary conclusions. The voice in the wilderness supported only by a personal deduction contradictory to all prevailing thought and contemporary knowledge must (at times unfortunately) be taken with a grain of salt.
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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 19 May 2009, 07:54

Thank you Art.

As usual, a sane, balanced attitude.

BUT!!!!! :-)
Of course when an opinion is supported by evidence in the form of either documented source information or confirmation by others doing similar research in a given field, the weight of that view is enhanced considerably.
This I agree with. The poem analysed here is a case in point. On a word by word basis, O Tuathail gets his meanings out of the ether or else from sources that get them out of the ether, whereas mine all come from a dictionary of modern Irish as she am now spoke, with little variation, all variations explained except where they're obvious. I state this in the text, hence no need for a foot-note. It's my own original work, so to whose work can I refer you? The text I refer to is printed in full - ain't that a reference? :grin:
The voice of reason most often speaks with overtones of footnotes, references, and compliance with accepted contemporary conclusions.
Yes, but nobody asked the kid who yelled 'The Emperor is naked' for foot-notes and references. |-)

blessings and feel good everyone.
wyverne /|\

It's safest to take nothing too seriously - it's all just opinions. :thinking:

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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby skh » 21 May 2009, 13:19

Dear wyeuro,

please allow me, at this point in the discussion, to recapitulate where it started, and what we're each trying to achieve.

In your opening post, you claim that the existing body of academic research on the Irish language, and particularly one of its more prominent by-products, the translations of Irish texts written in earlier stages of the language, are fundamentally flawed. While you don't use this specific term, you ask for a complete reconstruction of these earlier stages of Irish, following a set of guidelines describing what you'd consider a sound, scientific method.

While linguistics is traditionally grouped with the humanities, it is in large parts, and especially today, based on observable data: speech or written texts, produced by native speakers, either today or at any time in the history of humankind. (I follow the traditional definition of "history" here, having it start with the first surviving written inscriptions or documents in a given culture and calling everything before that "prehistory" [1] (<-- That's an endnote, see the end of this posting for literature references. I include it as an example for what I'd accept as a proper reference to existing literature.))

Your initial statements were certainly eloquent and logically consistent internally, but I think that they sorely miss actual data to back them up. Also, I am also a -- as you might say -- textbook-brainwashed historical linguist, even if still in training, and I find your opinions so far off, both from how I experience actual scholars' work and methods, and from what I happen to know about ancient languages, that I am honestly interested in how a sane and intelligent person could arrive at such daring conclusions.

This is why I was asking you to give us something to work with:
  • A piece of Old Irish which you think has been translated wrong
  • A better translation made by you
  • References to other languages and whatever you think necessary to explain the choices you made in the translation
My motivation for these questions are two-fold: first, if I want to counterbalance your theories on this subforum with the current state of research in historical linguistics, I need to understand your reasoning first, as weird as it seems to me. Please do not mistake this effort to understand you for an endorsement of any of your statements.

Second, you decidedly ask to be taken seriously, so in order to do that, I'm asking you to show us that you know the current state of research which you are rejecting, that you know the history of the study of Old and Middle and Modern Irish, that you have understood the works of the 19th century grammarians who you so despise, and that you can not only say that the definitions given in current dictionaries are wrong, but also point out to us why the actual entries are erroneous and how you would go and find out the correct meanings.

I am aware that if you are right, the complete reconstruction of Irish would be a huge undertaking that you could not do on your own. But I was asking only for a short piece of work, as an example that you are able to comply with the standards you came up with yourself:
These experts must know well all extant dialects of Irish (native speakers should be chosen, and must also have a good knowledge of all languages that may be related to the text – I would consider other modern Celtic languages, English, Dutch, Danish, Icelandic, German, French, the Spanishes, Moorish and Portuguese to be essentials. They don’t have to speak them all, but should have closely examined their vocabularies and grammars. They should be well acquainted with other old texts, bearing in mind that their previous translations, lexicons and grammars are the result of unrepeated, therefore unverified guesswork, and so cannot be used to support their own guesses as that would be a violation of the double-blind. They may however use their own interpretations of them, done under similar double-blind conditions. These would include the old English mss, the Gothic, Flemish, Icelandic, etc texts and even Sanskrit and Hebrew would be relevant. They must also have had sound training in postmodern hermeneutics, which keeps a sharp look-out for personal biases, political assumptions, subtle ‘spin’ and other distortive psychological factors.
Your answer was a translation of an Irish text you could not, or refused to, date. You did not give a source for it either, nor a reference to the translation you chose as your counterexample. Maybe I should have been clearer in my question: I had actually expected you to take something from the body of current scholarship in celtic studies, which has been published in a journal relevant to the subject, or in a book by a respected publisher, has undergone peer review and is considered to be a part of the "system" you are questioning.

This would be the kind of reference I can find at the library (I love interlending!), and, if necessary, I could have read the work you criticize, find out how its author came to their conclusions, checked their references, and so on...

But there were no references, so I had to do some research on my own. I found this article on the web [2]:
The Excellence of Ancient Word: Druid Rhetorics from Ancient Irish Tales

by Seán Ó Tuathail

Copyright © 1993 John Kellnhauser
May be reposted as long as the above attribution and copyright notice are retained
(John Kellnhauser seems to have acted as publisher of this article in some form at some point in time, hence the copyright notice. I did not find any hint that this article may have appeared in print before, but books from the early 1990's may still have escaped being noticed by The Internet. For mere curiousity, if any of you know more about this article, please let me know.)

Quoting stuff from the 'net is still a bit complicated in academics. To simplify the problem: how do I know that I can trust it? I would immediately accept a reference to sites like the text database from the TITUS project (http://titus.uni-frankfurt.de/indexe.htm), based on the reputation they have from the fact that they are hosted by a known linguistics department at a known university. At the other end of the spectrum I would not consider a blog post relevant for scholarly discussion, unless it itself gives proper references to published works.

The text we have here is somewhere in-between: I can't know whether it has been changed or if it is really what Seán Ó Tuathail wrote, but at least there are some explanations where the Irish poems which he translates come from, and also some very insightful notes about the changes Ó Tuathail did to the texts.

(Dear audience: for the following comments, please keep in mind that I have no Irish, old, middle or modern, and no knowledge about Irish literature. I am just summarising the parts of Ó Tuathail's text which I find relevant for the current discussion.)

The whole text is a collection of so-called 'roscanna':
The word "rosc", plural "roscanna", is a rhetorical, usually magical, chant, and this word will be used throughout this book to distinguish a "poem" that can topple gods or conjure whole nations from the modern less potent variety.
He collects them from various sources. The one quoted by you is taken from a part of a manuscript called the Book of Lismore:
FORBUIS DRUIM DAMHGHAIRE

Forbuis Druim Damhghaire ("The Siege of the Ridge if the Stag's Cry") from the Book of Lismore is a fine source of druidic roscanna of a variety of types.

[...]

The narrative of Forbuis Druim Damhghaire relates the refusal of Munster to pay a double cattle tribute to Cormac, high-king of Ireland, the subsequent invasion of Munster by Cormac with a large retinue of royal court druids and other magical allies, and the magical battle engaged against them in defence of Munster by the independent druid Mogh Ruith and his assistants. While a detailing of the development of druidism in Ireland is beyond the scope of the present book, it must be noted that the "free-lancers" easily win against the combined magic of all of the royal retainers, and that this has important implications. In the earliest sagas, powerful druids are attached to royal courts. In later tales, this is emphatically not the case and in a story set sometime before FDD, Tara itself must be saved from magical attack by the semi-outsider Fionn when the royal wizards prove impotent. In FDD, set at a yet later date, we have progressed from the "establishment" druids not merely needing to be helped by an outsider but being soundly defeated, en masse, by a "free-lancer". Druidism is depicted as being "alive and well" but most definitely not among the sycophants at court. By the time that St.Patrick defeated the court-druids, all the "real" druids may have been "off in the woods" cheering the down-fall of the royal toadies!).
I am omitting all comments from Seán Ó Tuathail himself about possible spelling errors in the manuscript and the changes he chose to make in specific poems because I don't want to discuss them in this thread -- it already deals with the foundations of modern comparative historical linguistics which I find quite daunting. If necessary, I politely ask that people start a new thread for that. Thanks :wink:

There are some comments about Ó Tuathail's motivation for the translation he made:
Most of the roscanna included in the present work have never been translated before. The present author is first a poet, and second a scholar (a distinction that the ancient Irish might not have accepted) and the texts have been studied and the poems translated with this in mind (e.g. "damh" has been translated by some scholars as "ox" but it also means "stag" - as the modern poet Michael Hartnett has so translated it. When one encounters a druid riding in a chariot pulled by "damha", these are hardly oxen but must be shamanic stags; when the word is found modified by the adjectives "fierce, divinely mad" etc, such a beast amy be an ox to the lexicographer, but between the two, to the poet could be only ever a stag. The roscanna are poetry before they are grammar and vocabulary, and must correctly be approached as such.
Apart from that, it is most interesting for our discussion here, that he also edited the Irish texts considerably:
One of the purposes of the present collection is to make the archaic roscanna more readily available to the modern reader, in both English and Irish. With this in mind, and in contrast to many "scholarly editions", the orthography has been modernized, within the limits of phonetic accuracy, i.e., "ben" has been rendered as "bean" because the former is simply the older orthography for the latter, and only the latter will be recognizable by the modern Irish reader; however, "túatha" has been left in the older form and not rendered as "tuatha" because the difference between the two forms is not one of spelling, but basically of pronunciation ("too-uh-thuh" versus "tueh-heh"). Without a long thesis on Old Irish phonetics, this will go some way toward making the roscanna readable by persons who know Modern Irish, provided they remember that aspirated medial consonants are pronounced (e.g. "Teamhair" is said as two syllables). In a few cases has out-right modernization been employed (e.g. "cen" is given as "gan"). Such "normalization" of spelling is not, admittedly, by any means standard practice, but no less a respected scholar than Myles Dillon (in his Stories from the Acallam, DIAS 1970) argued for its use. However, much of the archaic grammar has been retained, such as inbed initial object pronouns prefixed to verbs and dative plurals in "-ibh" because in such cases to give the modern rendering would completely destroy the phrasing and scan of the lines.
Reading this, the following comments of yours, wyeuro, certainly appear in a different light:
Well, this isn’t ‘old’ Irish – it’s fairly recent going by its similarity to modern Irish. I’ve never been able to find a date for it – I think it’s just classified as ‘mediaeval’, but going by feel, I think it is much more recent than that – even 19th century.
It also explains where your approach of using a dictionary of Modern Irish for a text written in an older stage of Irish comes from.

I can, if you like to, go through your comments on your translation and my questions on it in detail in a separate post. This one I'd like to end with the request to you to repeat this exercise with a genuine old Irish text, with reference to the manuscript(s) and, if applicable, the printed edition you used, and a published academic translation of it, again, with bibliographical references if you'd be so kind.

We could also let the discussion end here and have the thread sink into the archives as it is, if you prefer.

peace /|\
Sonja

[1] see Gosden, Chris Prehistory - A Very Short Introduction (Oxford and New York 2003), Chapter 1
[2] http://www.imbas.org/articles/excellenc ... _word.html
I don't think anybody ever died thinking they loved people too much, or had too much joy, or made too much music.

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wyeuro
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Re: Hermeneutics of Irish texts

Postby wyeuro » 22 May 2009, 04:47

thank you, Sonja,

before we begin:

• I do not despise the work that produced the current translations. my only objection is that they have never been verified by other scholars equipped with 21st century historical linguistics working with their own lexicon and deriving their own grammar from their own translations, without using the DIL and Thurneysen’s Grammar which were derived from the existing translations.
• I have not claimed to be equipped to do this – I specified that teams of impeccably educated scholars in universities should do it, indeed, should have done it - but have done my best to demonstrate that the DIL and Thurneysen’s grammar give an unlikely translation for a poem for which a modern Irish dictionary (Collins) and grammar (Mícheál Ó Siadhail’s) give a reasonably sensible one. Since this can be shown for one poem, I suggest my opinion that many of the existing translations are wrong is a reasonable one.
Dear wyeuro,

please allow me, at this point in the discussion, to recapitulate where it started, and what we're each trying to achieve.

In your opening post, you claim that the existing body of academic research on the Irish language, and particularly one of its more prominent by-products, the translations of Irish texts written in earlier stages of the language, are fundamentally flawed. While you don't use this specific term, you ask for a complete reconstruction of these earlier stages of Irish, following a set of guidelines describing what you'd consider a sound, scientific method.
well, no, not a complete reconstruction, i ask for the existing work to be verified in an academic way. if the existing translations, the DIL and Thurneysen’s grammar are all sound and accurate work, then other scholars working ‘blind’, that is, without reference to any of the work that produced or sustains those translations, lexicography and grammar, but using their own knowledge of historical linguistics and modern related languages, would come up with nearly identical translations. not to have done such tests already would seem to me to be unacademic. my belief is that five teams would produce five substantially different translations.
While linguistics is traditionally grouped with the humanities, it is in large parts, and especially today, based on observable data: speech or written texts, produced by native speakers, either today or at any time in the history of humankind. (I follow the traditional definition of "history" here, having it start with the first surviving written inscriptions or documents in a given culture and calling everything before that "prehistory" [1] (<-- That's an endnote, see the end of this posting for literature references. I include it as an example for what I'd accept as a proper reference to existing literature.))

Your initial statements were certainly eloquent and logically consistent internally, but I think that they sorely miss actual data to back them up.
my observation is that the translations haven’t been verified in an academically acceptable way. this is undeniably true. there has never been a concerted effort by scholars working under academically acceptable conditions to verify them by testing for repeatability.

i know of no website and no book and no journal article to which i could refer you. it’s a bald observation that ayone could make. it’s as if i said that the queen has never been to the moon, and you asked for references and footnotes. if she’d been there, there’d be mountains of them, but since she hasn’t there just aren’t any. that doesn’t mean she’s been there, and it doesn’t mean that the belief that she hasn’t been there is unreasonable. it just means that no one with a university degree has considered it worth mentioning that she hasn't because it’s so obvious.
Also, I am also a -- as you might say -- textbook-brainwashed historical linguist, even if still in training, and I find your opinions so far off, both from how I experience actual scholars' work and methods, and from what I happen to know about ancient languages, that I am honestly interested in how a sane and intelligent person could arrive at such daring conclusions.
I’m saying that the translations haven’t been verified (which is true) and i offer the opinion that they should be (which is arguable). why do you find that daring?

my dissatisfaction with the textbooks is that they accept unquestioningly the current translations of old texts which in the case of the irish texts have never been verified.
This is why I was asking you to give us something to work with:
• A piece of Old Irish which you think has been translated wrong
• A better translation made by you
• References to other languages and whatever you think necessary to explain the choices you made in the translation
i don’t claimed to offer a ‘better’ translation, only one based on modern irish rather than on the DIL. i personally think the result makes more sense.
My motivation for these questions are two-fold: first, if I want to counterbalance your theories on this subforum with the current state of research in historical linguistics, I need to understand your reasoning first, as weird as it seems to me. Please do not mistake this effort to understand you for an endorsement of any of your statements.

Second, you decidedly ask to be taken seriously, so in order to do that, I'm asking you to show us that you know the current state of research which you are rejecting, that you know the history of the study of Old and Middle and Modern Irish, that you have understood the works of the 19th century grammarians who you so despise, and that you can not only say that the definitions given in current dictionaries are wrong, but also point out to us why the actual entries are erroneous and how you would go and find out the correct meanings.
I am not rejecting current research, only intending to indicate an omission: the test for repeatability that would confirm or correct existing translation. I have the utmost respect for 19th century grammarians and for the initiators of comparative philology. I don’t believe we honour them at all by slavishly adhering to their first efforts to find the way – we honour them by observing their errors and correcting for them as we learn how. I don’t say the DIL entries derived from the unverified translation are wrong, only that they have not been verified, and that it does not give the full range of possible viable alternatives, as it should wherever uncertainty exists. when a scholar investigates a proposition, sometimes the right answer is 'i don't know'.

if i were saying that the current research is faulty, then i would have to show you that i was well-acquainted with it. but that isn't what i'm saying. i'm saying that the basis of current research is suspect, because it does not use 21st century hermeneutical techniques and does accept unverified translations. this i don't have to prove because it is undeniably true.

(i have observed that at least some modern textbooks and books on historical linguistics for the educated lay reader are still pushing the dendriform model of language evolution, which is unsustainable imo. there are dendriform events within language evolution, but there's a lot more going on than just simple branching. i believe creoles, pidgins, linguae francae and patois (esp) are much more important than they're currently thought to be. mass marriages between distant polises, the education of children from books, the widespread imposition of the language of a powerful dominant culture over a wide area via books on people who cannot hear the language spoken, education by foreign teachers, and migrations haven't been properly studied. if they were, just these few shifts of thought would require a careful rethinking of comparative historical linguistics, and there are many other causes of language change being discovered and observed by linguists working with extant language worldwide. yet the proto-indo-european rootwords are still getting approval from university experts in the field. that's why i've quit university to study on my own. a major paradigm shift is well overdue. could you study a subject at university if you sincerely believed that it was based on unsound scholarship?)
I am aware that if you are right, the complete reconstruction of Irish would be a huge undertaking that you could not do on your own. But I was asking only for a short piece of work, as an example that you are able to comply with the standards you came up with yourself:

wyeuro wrote:These experts must know well all extant dialects of Irish (native speakers should be chosen, and must also have a good knowledge of all languages that may be related to the text – I would consider other modern Celtic languages, English, Dutch, Danish, Icelandic, German, French, the Spanishes, Moorish and Portuguese to be essentials. They don’t have to speak them all, but should have closely examined their vocabularies and grammars. They should be well acquainted with other old texts, bearing in mind that their previous translations, lexicons and grammars are the result of unrepeated, therefore unverified guesswork, and so cannot be used to support their own guesses as that would be a violation of the double-blind. They may however use their own interpretations of them, done under similar double-blind conditions. These would include the old English mss, the Gothic, Flemish, Icelandic, etc texts and even Sanskrit and Hebrew would be relevant. They must also have had sound training in postmodern hermeneutics, which keeps a sharp look-out for personal biases, political assumptions, subtle ‘spin’ and other distortive psychological factors.
well, yes, but remember, i have not claimed to be qualified to carry out the repeatability experiment, only said that experts who are qualified should do it, and indeed should already have done it.
Your answer was a translation of an Irish text you could not, or refused to, date.
refused? well, no, failed to, but and yes, should have. sorry, i was a bit slack there:
Book of Lismore
also known as
Leabhar Mac Carthaigh Riabhach
Book of McCarthy Reagh
RIA MS 23 P 2

Believed to have been composed just before 1417, the Book of Lismore is a vellum manuscript, prepared at the School of Lismore, in what is now County Waterford. It's creation is thus:

"The Book of Lismore was compiled from the lost Book of Monasterboice and other manuscripts in the latter half of the fifteenth century, for Finghin mac Carthaigh Riabhach and his wife Catherine, daughter of Thomas, eighth earl of Desmond" (Stokes 1890:v)1
The book contains a number of saints' lives, as well as the only copy of "The Siege of Knocklong"--a rare text detailing the battle between Cormac mac Airt and the King of Munster; it also markes the apperance of the druid Mogh Roith.[2] The manuscript also contains "Caithreim Cellachain Caisil"--a detail of the wars between the Norse and the Irish, including material on Cormac mac Cuilennan, the bishop-king of Munster. It also contains a copy of the travels of Marco Polo.

The twelve saints' lives include those of Patrick, Columbcille, and Brigid--the three best-known and often-written-about saints of Ireland.

The manuscript was placed in the posession of Michael Cleary, one of the writers of The Annals of the Four Masters at Timoleague Abbey on June 20, 1629. It's history is then hazy, and went missing until 1814, when it was found, with a crozier, at the Castle of Lismore, originally built by Prince John in 1185. It was translated in 1890 by the scholar Whitley Stokes.
this info comes from http://www.maryjones.us/jce/lismore.html
You did not give a source for it either, nor a reference to the translation you chose as your counterexample. Maybe I should have been clearer in my question: I had actually expected you to take something from the body of current scholarship in celtic studies, which has been published in a journal relevant to the subject, or in a book by a respected publisher, has undergone peer review and is considered to be a part of the "system" you are questioning.

This would be the kind of reference I can find at the library (I love interlending!), and, if necessary, I could have read the work you criticize, find out how its author came to their conclusions, checked their references, and so on...

But there were no references, so I had to do some research on my own. I found this article on the web [2]:
The Excellence of Ancient Word: Druid Rhetorics from Ancient Irish Tales

by Seán Ó Tuathail

Copyright © 1993 John Kellnhauser
May be reposted as long as the above attribution and copyright notice are retained
i did give that reference at the start of Ó Tuathail’s translation. i didn't feel the need to give a reference to the translation because i presented it in full with its own account of itself.
(John Kellnhauser seems to have acted as publisher of this article in some form at some point in time, hence the copyright notice. I did not find any hint that this article may have appeared in print before, but books from the early 1990's may still have escaped being noticed by The Internet. For mere curiousity, if any of you know more about this article, please let me know.)
whitley stokes translated the lives of the saints from book of lismore but i was unable to find his translation of this poem. O Tuathail says his is the first translation of it, so stokes must have omitted it because it wasn't included in the 'lives'.
Apart from that, it is most interesting for our discussion here, that he also edited the Irish texts considerably:
Ó Tuathail wrote:One of the purposes of the present collection is to make the archaic roscanna more readily available to the modern reader, in both English and Irish. With this in mind, and in contrast to many "scholarly editions", the orthography has been modernized, within the limits of phonetic accuracy, i.e., "ben" has been rendered as "bean" because the former is simply the older orthography for the latter, and only the latter will be recognizable by the modern Irish reader; however, "túatha" has been left in the older form and not rendered as "tuatha" because the difference between the two forms is not one of spelling, but basically of pronunciation ("too-uh-thuh" versus "tueh-heh"). Without a long thesis on Old Irish phonetics, this will go some way toward making the roscanna readable by persons who know Modern Irish, provided they remember that aspirated medial consonants are pronounced (e.g. "Teamhair" is said as two syllables). In a few cases has out-right modernization been employed (e.g. "cen" is given as "gan"). Such "normalization" of spelling is not, admittedly, by any means standard practice, but no less a respected scholar than Myles Dillon (in his Stories from the Acallam, DIAS 1970) argued for its use. However, much of the archaic grammar has been retained, such as inbed initial object pronouns prefixed to verbs and dative plurals in "-ibh" because in such cases to give the modern rendering would completely destroy the phrasing and scan of the lines.

Reading this, the following comments of yours, wyeuro, certainly appear in a different light:
wyeuro wrote:Well, this isn’t ‘old’ Irish – it’s fairly recent going by its similarity to modern Irish. I’ve never been able to find a date for it – I think it’s just classified as ‘mediaeval’, but going by feel, I think it is much more recent than that – even 19th century.
yes, the modernising of the spelling can make a difference to the apparent date, but spelling can be idiosyncratic, and 'older' spellings can be hard to distinguish from spellings that are just different. the original word is still accessible, whether the spelling is bean (pronounced like ben) or ben. the a in bean only tells us to broaden the following n.
It also explains where your approach of using a dictionary of Modern Irish for a text written in an older stage of Irish comes from.
how?
I can, if you like to, go through your comments on your translation and my questions on it in detail in a separate post.


sure, go ahead.
This one I'd like to end with the request to you to repeat this exercise with a genuine old Irish text, with reference to the manuscript(s) and, if applicable, the printed edition you used, and a published academic translation of it, again, with bibliographical references if you'd be so kind.
i'll see what i can do. give me a week or so.

wyverne /|\


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