An interesting word I heard yesterday on Raidió na Gaeltachta was tonnmharcaíocht or surfing – literally “wave riding”. I hadn’t heard it before, but was able to work out the meaning from its component words. Another word for this kind of surfing is tonnscinneadh (wave glancing / skimming). Surfing the internet is scimeáil ar an Idirlíon, and sciméail also means to skim (milk).

Words related to marcaíocht (riding, to ride / drive / lift), include marcach (rider / horseman), marcaigh (to ride) and marcshlua (cavalry). The root of these is marc, the Old Irish word for horse, which is related to the Welsh march, the Cornish margh, and the Breton marc’h, all of which mean stallion.

The words for mare in Old High German (marah), Norse (marr), and Anglo-Saxon (mearh) as well as the English words mare and marshal are also related and can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European *mark (horse).

11 thoughts on “Tonnmharcaíocht

  1. How conservative is Irish Gaelic – do view prefer neologism than borrowing from English?

  2. The impression I have is that native speakers of Irish in the Gaeltachtaí borrow freely from English, while second language speakers and native speakers who have been to college or university might prefer to coin words from Irish roots rather than borrow English ones.

    The situation is similar in Wales – university-educated Welsh speakers tend to use relatively few English loanwords in their Welsh. For example, the formal word for computer is cyfrifiadur, while the colloquial word is compiwtr or cympiwtr.

  3. I know that a lot of Catalan speakers use a fair few Spanish words. Sometimes they don’t even realise that these words are Spanish and not Catalan. I suppose this is because these two languages are fairly close to each other.

  4. There are lots of ‘Wenglish’ words I personally try to avoid ie. pwrpas “purpose” and plismon “policeman” etc. What about Breton over borrowings between Welsh, French or even English?

  5. @Simon,

    Why, in your opinion, do university-educated Welsh speakers tend towards colloquial (“non-imported”?) words? Is it just because they are more familiar with and accustomed to the local words than English? I often wonder if, during a certain stage of education, there is an attraction of regress, which left untempered by further inquiry becomes a recess from the blinding colorful lights of progress, and lingers as a desire for grandfather’s black-and-white “good old days” back when things like language and plants were pure.

  6. Tommy – I suspect that there is a desire to make Welsh as ‘pure’ as possible when speaking on formal occasions and on the radio and TV. I’ve heard that some people find the Welsh on the radio and TV quite difficult to understand as a lot of the words are not common in colloquial speech. People who’ve studied Welsh at college or university, who make up perhaps the majority of radio and TV presenters, are said to have “swallowed the dictionary”.

    In informal conversation people tend to use a lot more English words and Cymricised English words, perhaps because they don’t know the ‘proper’ Welsh words, or because it’s easier or they’re used to using them. The proportion of Welsh to English varies a lot from speaker to speaker though. A lot of people use English for numbers, dates and times, for example.

  7. ‘university Welsh-speakers’ don’t make up new words to make the language pure and certainly not because of your slightly patroising (with a hint that they’re fascistic?) comment, ‘recess from the blinding colorful lights of progress, and lingers as a desire for grandfather’s black-and-white “good old days” back when things like language and plants were pure.’

    It’s bescause the welsh language has the capacity to accomodate new modern concepts, it’s not just a translation of English. There is obviously an argument within Welsh about which words should be borrowed (usually from Latin / Greek) for new concepts (though, people invariable say they’re English words).

    In a way, Welsh (and other languages) can’t we. If we create new words, then we’re being ‘backward’ ‘purist’ verging on fascistic; if we borrow new words, then rather than being ‘modern’ or ‘post modern’ the language is ridiculed for not ‘having any words of its own’.

    People’s relationship with Welsh is complex and varies between individuals and communities and generations. People who’ve ‘had education’ maybe more familiar with terms in Welsh as it’s used in their course work. Others may not. There is also an inbuilt colonialism, where to use an English word is a way of saying to the other speaker, ‘I believe my language (Welsh) is not as good as another language (English) and I’m reinforcing my view by using English words even though I could use Welsh ones’. There is a linguistic term for this as it’s common among all lesser used (colonised) languages.

  8. The same seems to be true for Irish. Second-language speakers tend to use neologisms, while in the Gaeltachtaí, particularly Conemara (where Raidio na Gaeltachta and TG4 are based) use a lot of English words.

    I don’t like the scorn of people who try to avoid borrowing from their native language when learning a foreign one. For example, it’s not interesting for me to use Effizienz in German. I would rather use a German derived word, because that is interesting for me as a native English speaker. The same applies to all the languages I’m learning, including Irish.

  9. @Macsen,

    I am not directing my comments and concern at Welsh people, but rather generally at that stage in the universal learning process in which “older” becomes equated with better or more “appropriate”. I am sorry for not making that clearer.

    As far as neologisms go, I believe that, even if we encounter other life forms of the cosmos, every human language has the building blocks to construct humanly comprehensible concepts or innovations, but also that every language can have a unique way of conveying that concept depending on the particular makeup of the particular language. The quaintness or cleverness with which a certain language describes something is, for me, a source of joy and inspiration, and I daydream of the mind which can see and describe the world not within the hiearchary or based on the “purity” of a single language, but based on the specific context and expressed tastefully and multilingually.

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