1: Perthshire Gaelic dialects

Article and photos by Linden Alexander Pentecost, written December 2021

Brief summery of some of the things in this article: photo of Perthshire moorland landscape, introduction to the topic, ways of classifying Gaelic dialects, word and sentence examples of Perthshire Gaelic, comments on Gaelic monadh and its possible connection to a Mazatec word and others, comments on the Picts.
Section contains 1980 words.

I thank the teachers of indigenous languages who have taught me some of the words in this article, and I also thank Àdhamh ó Broin for his commitment to Gaelic dialects and to indigenous languages in general.

Photo below: Perthshire landscape today, taken recently with my father

This article is about Perthshire Gaelic in general, and I have researched this from various different sources, including the Survey of the Gaelic dialects of Scotland: questionnaire materials collected for the Linguistic Survey of Scotland - edited by Cathair Ó Dochartaigh, and the voice recordings on Tobar an Dualchais. However everything I learned about the prosody and word-division is from the book The Gaelic of East Perthshire by Máirtín Ó Murchú. In the context of the following article, I am referring to Perthshire Gaelic in general, but am emphasising the eastern features of the dialect, many of which are found in other parts of Eastern Scotland.


Perthshire is a county in Eastern Scotland, the Gaelic here is sometimes like Argyll Gaelic, for its pre-aspiration, and in a wider sense, it is like other Gaelic dialects on the eastern side of the Highlands, in having a differing underlying pitch and emphasis structure to the dialects in the central and western areas, which is too associated with phonological differences, like apocope, aka the loss of the final syllable of many words, where a vowel. There are many differences throughout the Eastern Gaelic dialects too, and Perthshire Gaelic for example, shares certain things with Argyll Gaelic, or rather, with a large number of Argyll Gaelic dialects. I believe that Gaelic dialects can be roughly defined in these ways:


1).Features of the dialect which are shared with a wider area, for example, apocope, pre-aspiration, voicing of certain stops.

2).Features which are specific to a local dialect dialect within the larger dialect group, but which may be shared with other Gaelic dialects in Scotland.

3).Features which are specific particularly to a specific dialect or area, for example, unique lexical items or a unique pronunciation of words which does not fit with either of the two definitions above.


Gaelic dialects are generally not written, variations as in types 1 and 2 can often be written however, but are often not, and this does not include a precise pronunciation of the phonemes. In order to write dialect words according to point 3, individual spellings have sometimes been created for individual, local dialects. But these are in a sense limited in their coherence to Gaelic as a whole, and whilst I like these spellings, they are still spelled according to the complex Gaelic orthography, which is mainly based on that of Classical Irish.


Trying to write all Scottish Gaelic dialects using a classical, formal and literary register spelling of Goidelic, is

understandably a bit challenging. Whilst I feel that this does theoretically work, and I do like it, I still feel that for Gaelic dialects to flourish, they need to have their written disguise removed a little. It would be hard I think to write readable poetry in East Perthshire Gaelic, using only the standard spelling of Scottish Gaelic. On a theoretical level, one spelling works, but if the knowledge about the dialects needs to be brought forth, without people already speaking Scottish Gaelic, then I don't think that the standard orthography is the only way. This is why, I am not going to try and spell Perthshire Gaelic according to the Classical Gaelic spelling, although some things will look very similar.


The examples below are more specific to the Gaelic of East Perthshire. I have decided to spell the Perthshire Gaelic here, keeping in mind the information about word-division as given in the book The Gaelic of East Perthshire by Máirtín Ó Murchú.

In East Perthshire, I think that it is the norm to attach the definite article onto the following noun, usually with no vowel, in this sense, East Perthshire Gaelic tends towards initial consonant clusters, and begins fewer syllables with a vowel. This is I guess related to the prosody properties of the dialect. For example, dun- a man, person, ndun - the man, ȷular - eagle, nȷular - the eagle,, bàcht - boat, mbàcht - the boat, fear - man, mvear - the man. The dialect also has a [z] which occurs as a devoiced mutation of initial s, for example samhr - summer, nzamhr - the summer, cria - heart, ngria - the heart. The vowel is also dropped elsewhere, for example rìsd - again, standard Gaelic spelling a-rithist, njo - here, standard Gaelic spelling: an-seo. When I write j here I am referring to the sound as in 'Jack'.


seo' nȷular smua - this is the biggest eagle
seo an iolair is motha

han l-ios am deȧ tha lèu - I do not know what she or he is reading
chan eil 'fhios agam dé tha e/i a' leughadh

bha-ad lèu nleawar mór - they were reading the big book

bha iad a' leughadh an leabhar mór

bha-ad thȧirs air bhail - they were beyond the town
bha iad thairis air a' bhaile

nro u lèu nleawar mór seo? - were you reading this big book
an robh thu a' leughadh an leabhar mór seo?


In the samples above, the dotless j, ȷ stands for the semivowel [j] as in 'yeah'. The vowel combination ȧi, stands for when [ɛ] occurs after a broad consonant, whereas is written for a short [ɛ] after a slender consonant, e.g. deȧ. The sign - does not indicate a pause, but indicates where an otherwise separate part of speech is connected, it is also written to reduce the writing of double vowels, .e.g aa.


Apocope is the loss of the final vowel in a word, and is a process in language, or at least it is usually described giving the impression of it being a process. For a Germanic language, English has extensive apocope, and for a Romance language, French has extensive apocope. Within Scottish Gaelic, the eastern dialects have apocope. Apocope also occurs in the Western dialects of Danish, the Northern dialects of Norwegian, and in the eastern Savo dialects of Finnish.


But I don't think that apocope is just a process, it is certainly observed as a process when we can observe that a word is adopted into a language and changes to its phonetic rules. But I believe that this can sometimes give a false impression that apocope is a sound change, and it has even been incorrectly described as a 'lazy' was of speaking. I wonder if in fact, apocope is also a more deeply central part of the historic language in a particular area, and also relates to phonology as a whole, and particularly to prosody.


In standard Scottish Gaelic spelling, I can write the words monadh - 'mountain, upland, moor', and samhradh - 'summer'. In East Perthshire Gaelic, these words are mon and samhr. On one hand, it could be said that these words have apocope, because apocope is simply more common and general a 'trend' in this dialect. On the other hand, it could also be said that neither of these words, in Indo-European, originally possessed the suffixes that are evident in Goidelic as a whole.

Rather than being a Gaelic word originally, monadh is actually thought to be a Pictish word, because there is mynydd in Welsh, and menydh in Cornish, and other examples, such as Breton menez, and something like monid or minid in Cumbric. But this final -t or -d is in a sense detachable as far as Indo-European is concerned. Which begs the question, was the suffix ever in East Perthshire?

I also think that this word, despite being represented in Indo-European languages, is not necessarily an Indo-European word. Possible examples of this word in Ireland, taken to be 'Brythonic', are perhaps more likely from an earlier language which later evolved into Brythonic, to some extent, even if this language was not necessarily even 'Celtic' by our definition of the term. In fact, there are words similar to this one that pop up in so many languages, that I don't think it can be used to define Pictish or Brythonic, or be seen as direct evidence of them. For example, in Proto-Mazatec, the word for 'hill' is *ni̜³ntú³ [2], similar words indicate how this original form has been adapted in a tonal language. The Chinantec languages are different, in that the proto-language appears to only have mono-syllabic words, so there may be an example of this word in Chinantec but consisting of two separate words or concepts, from the *mon part and the *tu part. In Nuxalk, an indigenous language from BC, the word for mountain is smnt.

I do not believe that this word exists in so many languages because of contact across the Atlantic Ocean in ancient times. I feel that instead it is related to onomatopoeia, and that nature and the cosmos has 'given' certain peoples, similar sounds, often in similar environments or places. In this sense the word in question might, in a way, be older than our whole world, which begs the question, to what extent did people actually create language, and to what extent did the cosmos and its creative forces in nature create the languages we speak? Just an idea

The word samhr in Perthshire Gaelic, or samhradh in the standard spelling, is common in certain Indo-European languages. Without the suffix, we have samhr, recognisably similar to the English word summer. The Brythonic Celtic cognates also do not have the suffix, nor do they even have the -r suffix preceding it, so in Welsh it is haf, in Cornish: hav, if I made a Proto-Brittonic/Ancient British form, it may have been *samos or similar. So it is perhaps noticeable in this word, that this word in Indo-European has rules about suffixing which we do not really understand. The Germanic and the Goidelic forms both have -r, but for some reason, the Brythonic words do not, despite that they are Celtic and one would expect then that they would have the same form in Proto-Celtic.


Perthshire was a central part of the Pictish world, but I do not feel that any of the features of Perthshire Gaelic nor of other Gaelic dialects, can be attributed to a Brythonic language, even if a P-Celtic language was spoken by a minority, I do not feel that this language had any real influence on Gaelic. Nor do I believe that Pictish is in any way older than Gaelic. When we research Pictish, we might be looking at the underlying parts of Goidelic, but I do not believe that this 'underlying' language was a Brythonic nor a P-Celtic language.


[2]: Kirk, Paul Livingston. 1966. Proto-Mazatec phonology. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Washington.

.The Gaelic of East Perthshire by Máirtín Ó Murchú - primary phonetic resource for Perthshire Gaelic which taught me originally the information presented in this article.

(update January 2023): .Gaelic in East Perthshire, and other languages and dialects in Eastern Scotland - another article written by the author, later in 2022 with information about East Perthshire Gaelic, available in my free ebook: A journey of languages around the Northern Seas with discussions on Germanic Celtic and Salishan languages second edition, the article about East Perthshire Gaelic is available also on pages 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21. Originally the article was published in the Silly Linguistics magazine, before being updated and included in this ebook.