Gaelic Baby Talk – 1

Our home is one of the very few in the US in which Scottish Gaelic is being spoken to a child. Having learnt this wonderful language in Scotland as an adult, and expanded my vocabulary somewhat while living in Nova Scotia, teaching it to a child and using it in informal, daily settings is a real challenge. I believe that there are important cognitive, cultural and ethical reasons for raising a child bilingually, especially with a minoritized, indigenous language (as more fully articulated by others such as in this article).

While there are a few resources of which I’m aware that offer some terms and phrases, it seems to me that there are huge gaps in what’s easily available to those of us who are attempting this challenge. I would be glad to be pointed towards useful collections of Gaelic materials, if they exist, but I have exhausted the obvious printed and online materials available to me and found them lacking in the full range of words and usages that are naturally part of parenting a child.

I was able to glean some useful terms from Gaelic-speaking friends during the first year of Róisín’s life while we were still in Nova Scotia. The challenges are complex: there are many aspects of material culture and cultural practice that simply didn’t exist 50 or 100 years ago, when Gaelic communities were still resilient and coining neologisms; social norms and activities normal for parenting and childhood now are quite different from what they were then as well. So, do we search for and repurpose old terms, create new ones based on old roots, or adopt English ones into Gaelic phonology? How does one accommodate the different dialects of Gaelic if there are multiple terms or phrases to choose from, but one does not have any hereditary reason to prefer one over another?

What I hope to do in this blog entry, and a couple more to follow, is to compile some of the common useful terms and phrases that I have collected in the first 15 months of my daughter’s life and feel comfortable sharing with others. I also pose questions and invite corrections in the hopes that other Gaelic speakers and learners can offer their suggestions in adding nuance and further material. (I have marked my own coinages with *.) I will edit contributions and corrections into this text as they are posted in the reply section. I am grouping these phrases and terms according to context and usage, and have tried to accommodate both North American and British Englishes in the translations.

Ages and Stages

Naoidhean: From new-born to crawling age.
Màgaran, snàigean, snàgan: A baby of crawling age.
Leanabh: Infant (a small child of nursing age?).
Cìocharan: “Suckling”, i.e., infant of nursing age.
Caodachan: A toddler (at early stage of walking).
Pàiste: A child (until what age/stage?).
Cnapach: A youngster, pre-teen (boy by default).
Cnapach caileig: A female pre-teen.
Isean deireadh linn(e): The youngest child in a family.
An aona mhullach: an only child.

Icky Stuff

Aileag: Hiccup.
Badan: Diaper, nappie. Cuireamaid badan ùr ort.
Braim, bram: Fart. Leig thu braim.
Bromag, brùchd: Burp. Leig thu brùchd!
Brùchd-bainne*: Spit-up of milk.
a' cur a-mach: vomiting
Dileag: Pee, urine.
Mùn: Urine. Chaill am balachan a mhùn: the wee boy wet himself.
Seile, sile: Saliva.
Sgeith: Vomit, puke.
Sgigean: Baby poo (more appropriate and polite for children than cac.)
Sglongaid, splangaid: Mucus, snot.

Bed-Time, Sleeping and Waking

Aodach-oidhche*: Pajamas. Bheir sinn dhiot an t-aodach-latha, is cuiridh sinn aodach-oidhche ort.
An d’ fhuair thu norrag(-chadail)? Did you get some sleep?
Gabh norrag(-chadail). Take a nap.
Tha i ’na leth-chadal. She is dozing lightly.
Tha i ’na suain. She is in a deep sleep.
cadal a' gheòidh fighting sleep, eyes not totally closed
Bha i air chois aig seachd uairean. She was on her feet (ie, awake) at 7 o’clock.

Emotional / Physical State

Dé do chor? How are you?
Dé am fonn a th’ ort? What mood are you in?
Am bheil thu ann an deagh shunnd an-diugh? Are you in a good mood today?
Dé tha cur ort? What is troubling you?
Có tha ag obair ort? Who is bothering/annoying you?
Tha fonn ciatach ort. You’re in a great mood.
Nach tusa tha crosta a-nochd? Aren’t you in a bad mood tonight?
busach pouting (with big lower lip)
frionasach sensitive, irritable
greannach grumpy
sona sunndach bright and cheery
togarrach cheery, positive, buoyant

Ain’t Misbehaving

Sguir dheth. Stop that.
Fàg sin. Leave that alone.
Cuir gu taobh sin. Put that aside.
Thoir an aire (dha sin). Pay attention (to that).
Stad. Stop (moving).
(Gabh) air do shocair (e). Take it easy.
dèanamh a' ghille showing off, acting out, seeking attention (is this gender specific?)
Ìsd! Be quiet!
Tha thu cho luasganach ri losgann*. You are as squirmy/wiggly as a frog.
Bith modhail (rithe). Be polite / mannerly (to her).
Bith laghach (ris). Be nice (to him).
Bith ciùin (rium). Be gentle / kind (to me).
Chan fhaod thu sin a dhèanamh. You can’t do that.
Chan eil sin còir. That’s not nice.
Bidh rud ann nach robh ’s an altachadh! You’ll get something that wasn’t in the grace! (a warning to children)
Feuch nach X thu. Try not to X. Feuch nach bean thu ris. Try not to touch it.
Fuirich far am bheil thu!  Stay where you are!
Fuirich do chas! Hold your foot still!

Spideag: A badly-behaved child.
Uilleagan: A spoilt child.

Praise and Reward

Sin thu fhéin! That’s it! Good job!
Rinn thu an gnothach! You did it (succeeded)!
Cum ort! Keep going / doing.
Nach tu am balach! You are the (good) boy!
Uragan: Favorite child.

Acknowledgements

I gleaned quite a lot of useful words and phrases from Goiridh Dòmhnallach, Lodaidh MacFhionghain and Catrìona (NicÌomhair) Parsons at the Office of Gaelic Affairs, especially when Róisín and I came visiting on father-daughter outings. Tapadh leibh, a chairdean!

Select Bibliography

J. G. MacKay. “Gaelic Idioms.” Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness 36: 9-82.

16 thoughts on “Gaelic Baby Talk – 1

  1. Does Irish offer any examples, parallels? It has regional dialects but baby vocabulary is so fundamental, it must be similar?

    • It is different enough that it would be unlikely to offer solutions, and borrowing terms as an individual / family could create further linguistic barriers to Scottish Gaelic communities. And I’m not sure that the available resources are any better than those in Scottish Gaelic.

  2. Dè cho feumail a tha e cànan (no rud sam bith) a theagasg gu dona?

    Idea snog ach mur eil thu fileanta bi e comasach gum bi thu cànan sònraichte agaibh fhèin a’ togail agus cha bhi daoine eile gur tuigsinn.

    ‘S e obair gu math doirbh a tha thu a’ dèanamh.

    • Chan e aon rud a th’ann am “fileantas” (neònach gum bheil sibh fhéin a’ cleachdadh “idea” seach “beachd” no “smuain” no …). Tha cainnt cànain sam bith air a riarachadh / roinneadh feadh raointean (“domains” ‘sa’ Bheurla), agus ged a dh’fhaodadh Gàidheal a bhith gu math fileanta siubhalach a thaobh rùsgadh nan caorach, ach gun bhriathrachas aige a thaobh rannsachadh litreachais. Sann mar sin a tha cànan sam bith agus a luchd-labhairt. Tha bunait math agam anns an fharsaingeachd, ach chan eil cainnt leanaibh agam gu coileanta.

      Nam b’i a’ Ghàidhlig an aon chànain a tha sinn ag ionnsachadh dhi, bhiodh sibh ceart, cha bu leòr e cànain “bhristeach” a thoirt dhi. Ach ‘se seo dèanadas ris an can eòlaichean “dà chànanachas a bharrachd” (no “additive bilingualism” ‘sa’ Bheurla). Cuiridh seo ri feartan inntinn agus comasan smuaineachaidh duine sam bith, agus bunait math air son treas no ceathramh cànain a thogail. Cha dèan e cron sam bith oirre dara cànain ionnsachadh, ged nach bi e aice cho iomlan coileanta ris a’ Bheurla. S ann a dh’fheumas mi cumail air thoiseach oirre, no uidh a chumail rithe, ach bidh sin feumail dhomhsa cuideachd.

      Agus tha iomadach “mion-chànain” anns an aon suidheachadh. S aithne dhomh fhìn daoine a dh’ionnsaich cànainean Tùsanach Aimearaga agus a tha ‘gan teagasg dha’n chloinn, ged nach d’fhuair iad fhéin an cànain bho’n ghlùn.

  3. Dileag (there should be an accent on the i but my keyboard won’t allow me to do that) – peepee. We always used cac, although as children we tended to say cich (which I suspect is made up).

  4. gogan, topan no clipean airson “willy” mar a bhruidhneas clann bheaga air.
    meall – a fit, THàinig meall air an leanabh. The child had a fit.
    headstands – seasamh-claidheimh
    làrach nan còig – a smack…(ceadaichte ann an cuid de dhùthchannan fhathast!)
    e.g. “fàgaidh mi làrach nan còig air do mhàs!”
    an aona mhullach – an only child
    chaill am balachan a mhùn – the wee boy wet himself
    piollagan – children’s playing clothes
    spideag – a badly-behaved child “A spideig bhig!” (you wee rascal!)
    cat-grìosaich – a child too fond of being by the fire (mas e ‘s gu bheil teine agad)
    éisg – fooling around e.g. “Sguir dhed èisg!” (Quit fooling around!)
    math air talach – referring to a child complaining about food
    bidh rud ann nach robh san altachadh! – you’ll get something that wasn’t in the grace (a warning to children)

    uragan (the favourite child) (seangarra ‘s dòcha)
    uilleagan – a spoilt child (seanagarra ‘s dòcha)

  5. Soothing Expressions

    fuil bhàn is craiceann slàn (if child is hurt)
    chan ann de shìolachadh a’ phoca-shalainn thu (you won’t melt i.e. in the rain)

    Encouraging a child to eat

    a h-uile nì chun a’ bheòil

    Children’s foolishness

    cho gòrach ris na h-eòin
    cha chreid an òige gun tig an aois

    Don’t be too hard on them

    Léintean farsaing do na leanaban òga

    Miscellaneous

    na big – the little ones
    glas-ghiullan – a lad of eighteen
    tha iad anns na h-oghachan d’a chèile (first cousins)
    Tha mise agus Seumas anns na h-oghachan.

    Answer to inquisitive children

    ubhal a’ bhìocais

  6. Thanks for re blogging this on Great Scot Mandy. Very useful as just starting my Gaelic journey! now following this blog too :)

  7. Thuirt am boireannach gun cleachdadh i ‘meòirean’ anns an t-suidheachadh sin ged as e ‘corragan’ a chleachdadh i air ‘fingers’ mar as trice.

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