Fá dtaobh de

The Irish expression fá dtaobh de means about, as in tá mé ag cainnt fá dtaobh de (I am talking about it). It is most commonly used in Donegal in the northwest of Ireland, where it’s pronounced something like /fa’duːdə/. In other parts of Ireland it would be pronounced something like /fa.d̪ˠiːv.dʲe/, though other words are generally used: faoi or ina thaobh.

I’m familiar with the Dongel version of this expression, as I’ve been going to Donegal to speak and sing in Irish every summer for the past 8 years, but I’d never seen it written down before so didn’t know how to spell it. I came across it today in a spoof article in the Donegal Dollop, in which a Donegal man discovers that ‘faduda’ is not a real Irish word. The article mentions a number of other Donegal expressions, such as “mashadahollay” (más é do thoil é = please) and “cateeya” (cad chuige = why). These ‘phonetic’ spellings give a better idea of the Donegal pronunciation than the standard spellings.

Students of Irish often struggle with is spelling and pronunciation – when you hear Irish words spoken and compare them to their written versions it can be hard to make connections between the two. Irish does have a regular spelling system, but it is quite complex – many letters are not pronounced, or are pronunced in unfamilar whys – e.g. bh & mh = /vˠ/ or /w/, and words run into each other and bits fall off. For example, thank you is go raibh maith agat – pronouncing the syllables separately you get something like /go/, /ɾˠɛ̝̈vʲ/, /mˠa/, /agˠət̪/, but in normal speech it’s more like /gˠərˠəmˠagˠət̪/, at least in Donegal.

Pronunciation can take quite a while to get to grips with, even with languages with relatively straightforward spelling systems and phonologies like Spanish and Italian. There are many subtleties of pronunciation that can only really be acquired with a lot of careful listening and mimicing.

2 thoughts on “Fá dtaobh de

  1. The difference between spoken and written Irish is pretty much exemplified by comparing the Irish and Manx orthographies.

  2. Standard Irish orthography fits Conamara and Munster Irish a good deal better, however. Donegal has always been the odd man out (an t-éan corr) phonologically. Manx orthography looks to the uninitiated as if it would be a closer fit, or at least easier for the English speaker to decipher. But the gap between what Manx looks like it sound like and what it actually sounds like turns out to be chasm.

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