30: Kintyre Gaelic dialects and links to the ancient past

By Linden Alexander Pentecost, published on the 19th of June 2024. This page/section includes: "A note from the author", "Introduction to Kintyre Gaelic", "Kintyre Gaelic dental fricatives, and comments on prehistoric language links", "The ancient spiritual traditions of Kintyre in connection to Kintyre Gaelic", "References:", "Some (not all by any means) of the other sources on some other topics in close connection to this, written by the author:". Section/page contains 2215 words. This article is written in honour of my cat, and to the people of Scotland.


A note from the author

Note from the author: In this article I do not cover Kintyre Gaelic nearly to the extent that I have covered many other dialects nor does this article include so many word examples. There is a lot of Kintyre Gaelic material which I have yet to look through, and at this time I have only had the time to write about some of my observations and ideas about the dialect, which are presented below. The Kintyre dialects of Gaelic are Argyll Gaelic dialects which I hope to become more familiar with in the future. In this article I also use "literary Scottish Gaelic" or similar to refer to the standard spelling. If you are interested in this work, please check out my various works on Arran Gaelic, these will help also a little to better understand the background of Gaelic in this part of Argyll, although Arran Gaelic is very different to that of Kintyre too. This article looks at Kintyre Gaelic but then more specifically at Western Kintyre Gaelic and with more examples of that, which then relates to the sections of this article: "Kintyre Gaelic dental fricatives, and comments on prehistoric language links", "The ancient spiritual traditions of Kintyre in connection to Kintyre Gaelic".


Introduction to Kintyre Gaelic


The Kintyre Peninsula is a long, narrow peninsula that separates the Firth of Clyde in the south, from the Hebridean Sea to the north. The peninsula itself extends outwards towards County Antrim, Condaidh Aontroim in Ireland. So far in my work on Scottish Gaelic dialects, I have looked extensively at several Argyll Gaelic dialects, especially so that of Arran to the south of Kintyre.

Kintyre Gaelic does not display many of the features that make Arran Gaelic unique in its own terms, but in terms of the Arran and Kintyre Gaelic dialects in Argyll Gaelic as a whole, the Arran and Kintyre dialects are similar in many ways. Examples of this are seen in the pronunciation of certain vowels, e.g. Kintyre Gaelic ȯiche (1) or ỳ̰iche (1)- “night”, Arran Gaelic oìche, ỳiche or öiche, literary Gaelic spelling: oidhche. Compare also Jura Gaelic: ȯiche or ÿichï. Note the nasalisation in the Kintyre form ỳ̰iche (1), the nasalisation being written as the tilde below the . In other senses the vowels differ between Arran and Kintyre Gaelic, for example in where the vowel [ɛ] occurs as a variation of [a], for example Kintyre Gaelic: mȧidinn (1)- "morning", Arran Gaelic: maidinn, literary Scottish Gaelic: madainn. The orthographic d in the Kintyre and Arran forms however is often [dʃ], whereas in most dialects of Scottish Gaelic the form is a "broad" d, meaning that the Kintyre and Arran forms of this word are closer to the Irish maidin - "morning" where the sound is generally a palatal sound or has a variant form of affrication, depending on the dialect of Irish. Sometimes the occurance of [ɛ] as a variant of [a] is similar in both Kintyre and Arran Gaelic, for example Kintyre Gaelic: bȧnais (1)- wedding, Arran Gaelic: bwȧnais, literary Scottish Gaelic: banais. Note that the Kintyre form lacks the w-glide found in Arran Gaelic bwȧnais. This w-like sound is common in "broad" Arran Gaelic, but is entirely absent in Kintyre Gaelic.

Like Arran Gaelic and most dialects of Argyll Gaelic, Kintyre Gaelic has glottal stops, for example in the word raʔad (1) - "road", literary Scottish Gaelic: rathad, boʔa (1)- bow, literary Scottish Gaelic: bogha and leoʔar - "book" (2) (informant 39) and groʔach - "business" (2) (informant 39), literary Scottish Gaelic: gnothach, teʔa - "hot" comparative (2) (informant 39), literary Scottish Gaelic: teotha. Glottal stops are seemingly not as common in Kintyre as they are in some other parts of Argyll.

Unlike Arran Gaelic, and like most other dialects of Scottish Gaelic, Kintyre Gaelic does possess pre-aspiration to some extent, for example in sochgar - "ease"  (2) (informant 44), literary Scottish Gaelic: socair; but pre-aspiration is not as common in Argyll as it is elsewhere, e.g. there is no pre-aspiration in the forms for litir - "letter" given in source (2) regarding Kintyre Gaelic informants.


Kintyre Gaelic dental fricatives, and comments on prehistoric language links


Like a few other Argyll dialects, which I have discussed elsewhere, dental fricative sounds were found traditionally in certain parts of the Kintyre Peninsula. This is reported by Nils M. Holmer in his book, The Gaelic of Kintyre. In Kintyre, this voicless dental fricative sound occurs before a broad r as an alteration of s, for example θraʔar (1) - straddle, literary Scottish Gaelic: srathar, and θruʔan (1) - "stream", literary Scottish Gaelic: sruthan. This sound only occurs in the Tayinloan area of the Kintyre Peninsula. Tayinloan is a coastal village in western Kintyre that faces the islands of Gigha and Islay. This makes sense, as the [θ] sound also occurs in Jura, close to Islay, and in Southwest Mull Gaelic, both of which are easily accessible by sea from Tayinloan (when the weather makes it safe to make the crossing). It would appear therefore that this θ sound is in a sense a feature connected to coastal contact between dialects, and in this sense the Tayinloan dialect of Kintyre Gaelic is somehow more connected to those specific maritime links.

I have postulated in my ebook Prehistoric Dartmoor language, North Sámi and Gaelic, and other topics (only available in PDF format) 27/02/2024, in the section/chapter: More on Mull Gaelic dialects and Mesolithic language that the distinctiveness of the Southwestern Mull Gaelic dialects might be connected to the ancient maritime peoples in that area, including those on the island of Ulva. I will discuss this topic further now in relation to Kintyre: What is fascinating here, is that the occurance of the [θ] sound in Mull Gaelic, Jura Gaelic, the Gaelic of the Slate Isles, and Kintyre Gaelic, is that this sound does not occur consistently, which would seem to indicate rather that it was an indigenous sound to these specific areas, before being incorporated into the formation of Argyll Gaelic dialects, and doing so in separate ways in those respective places. This implies to me that the [θ] (the voiceless dental fricative) sound is indigenous to some previous, pre-Celtic language associated with the places in question where it occurs, and possibly in association with a particular Mesolithic or older tribe in these areas which originally had this sound.

Whilst I am not aware of any Mesolithic sites of this sort close to Tayinloan on Kintyre, I think this would indeed be a prime location to look for Mesolithic sites, for the precise reason relating to the possibility of [θ] relating to Mesolithic language, and the presence of this sound in the Gaelic of Tayinloan.

The form of voiced dental fricative, written here as δ also occurs in Mull and on the Slate Isles. I would say actually that this sound, δ, whilst commonly considered as aspect of Easdale Gaelic (The Slate Isles), and being found in Southwest Mull Gaelic, it appears that, at a time, it had a wider distribution, but was less common outside of the core areas. In Kintyre and Arran, the δ seems to be primarily a mutation of the broad velarised L, and only used by certain speakers, perhaps again in areas where there was connection and contuinity with certain prehistoric cultures, likely coastal. In Kintyre, this sound appears to be indeed specifically connected with the coastal area around Largieside in Western Kintyre, not far south of Tayinloan. It occurs for example in the word δaégh (1)- "calf", Arran Gaelic: lög or lᴇ́g, literary Scottish Gaelic: laogh; the form MacFhionnδa (1) for MacFhionnlagh, or for example the place-name Tayinloan, which could be written as Tᴇȷ an δoin (1). In Kintyre however, and unlike the voiceless dental fricative, the voiced dental fricative also has other sound variants in West Kintyre, for example [v] according to (1). Thus the word for "ashes" in this region is, as I write it: vuaich (1), standard literary Scottish Gaelic: luaith. Are these particular sound variations indicative of dialects and variations of the Mesolithic languages, that were then compacted into this particular area and into the local Gaelic?

The dental fricative sounds are not shown in West Kintyre Gaelic in source two (2), (Survey of the Gaelic dialects of Scotland: questionnaire materials collected for the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, edited by Cathair Ó Dochartaigh); but source (2) does show some examples of [l̪ˠw] from West Kintyre (this is not actually how it it is written in source (2)). For example slwuai (form given by informant 43 of (2)) for standard literary Scottish Gaelic sluagh - people, crowd.


The ancient spiritual traditions of Kintyre in connection to Kintyre Gaelic

Kintyre has many legends. Additionally, in Nils M. Holmer's book there are a number of words or references in stories that I think are indicative of the presence of ancient animistic traditions in Kintyre, which is not surprising. And I think it entirely possible that some of the words in Kintyre Gaelic pertaining to mythology may be incredibly ancient, and linked to prehistoric peoples and beliefs. The word fofer (1) - "giant" or "supernatural being" may be a later formation in its current form, but nevertheless in source (1), Nils H Holmer's book, one story connects a fofer to a prehistoric standing stone, which shows a connection between language and the ancient standing stone. The story in question in Source (1) with the fofar or famhair in literary Scottish Gaelic, is titled The Standing Stone at Beacharr and is located on page 116 of Source (1). I also noticed in Source (1) the use of the word béist to describe a supernatural entity, in the story Allt na Béist on page 132 of source (1). The word béist/béisd is used similarly in the mythology of Arran.

Another legend of Kintyre is about a giant boar, which could perhaps be described as a cryptid, although I am not keen on this word. Certainly the Boar of Kintyre is, like many other beings, an example of a being that seems in many ways undefined by the physics of our world. The legend of this boar may indeed be very ancient, and this "being" may be a part of the mythological reality of prehistoric peoples, from whence it entered Gaelic folklore as we know it.

Another word mentioned in source (1) is sìigach (1) – equivalent to literary Scottish Gaelic sìdheagachsìthiche, sìth referring to those ancestors called the Daoine Sí, which is the Irish name. This word is perhaps related to Old Icelandic seiðr - a form of magic, and Northern Sámi sieidi - a type of sacred site, I have discussed the meaning of sieidi more elsewhere.



Much of this and the ideas came from my own research. None of the Kintyre Gaelic words in this article are taken from the following two sources as they were written there, I have instead used the information provided about Kintyre Gaelic in the following two sources, to spell Kintyre Gaelic as I have chosen to in this article, with aspects of the local phonetics of Kintyre Gaelic incorporated into that spelling, as sourced from the sources below. Hence a Kintyre Gaelic word and its translation being followed by (1) or (2) means that the word was written phonetically in my spelling in accordance with how the word's phonology is attested in the following source.


(1). The Gaelic of Kintyre, by Nils M. Holmer

(2) -  Survey of the Gaelic dialects of Scotland: questionnaire materials collected for the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, edited by Cathair Ó Dochartaigh (Phonetic information from the language of informants 39, 43 and 44 of West Kintyre).


Some (not all by any means) of the other sources on some other topics in close connection to this, written by the author:

1). The standalone article: Gaelic dialects of Arran and Arran's prehistory, on Omniglot here: https://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/arrangaelic.htm - (not the only thing I have written on Arran Gaelic by any means)
2). Prehistoric Dartmoor language, North Sámi and Gaelic, and other topics (only available in PDF format) 27/02/2024, in the chapter or section titled: More on Mull Gaelic dialects and Mesolithic language. This ebook is available on this website (the one you are currently gazing at)
3). An exploration of Gaelic dialects, other languages, and other sections including the missing Omniglot article - this is another of my ebooks available on this website (the one you are gazing at), which contains a section or chapter about Jura Gaelic.
4). The standalone article with references to Jura and ancient language:  Pre-Celtic elements in the Goidelic languages, on Omniglot here: https://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/precelticelements.htm - (I have written much, much more on pre-Celtic elsewhere too).