Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Review of The Irish of Iorras Aithneach, County Galway
AUTHOR: Ó Curnáin, Brian TITLE: The Irish of Iorras Aithneach, County Galway, Vols. I-IV, with audio CD PUBLISHER: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (School of Celtic Studies) YEAR: 2007
Elizabeth J. Pyatt, Penn State University
SUMMARY This set of volumes is an extensive linguistic description of the variety of the Celtic language Modern Irish as spoken in the Iorras Aithneach peninsula on the southern coast of the Connaught region on the western coast of Ireland. At four volumes and over 2,700 pages, this is a monumental study. As the Iorras Aithneach peninsula is part of the Connemara Gaeltacht (that is an area with a relatively large proportion of Irish native speakers), any field data from that region is well appreciated by researchers of Irish linguistics. The coverage includes extensive discussions of phonology, morphology, basic syntax, language contact issues and changes over several generations from the late 19th century to the modern era. The study ends with several sample texts, a glossary and includes an audio CD.
The study is divided into four volumes, each about 600-750 pages. Volumes can be purchased individually; however it should be noted that the detailed map and audio CD can be found only in Volume IV. Volume I includes an overview of the Iorras Aithneach penisula and profiles of the speakers and covers basic phonetics (vowels, consonants, sound changes, sound variations) and nominal morphology (except for plurals). Volume II covers the morphology of plural nouns, which is quite complex in Irish, verbal morphology and pronominals. The first half of Volume III covers prepositions (including conjugated prepositions), ''functors'' (preverbal particles, conjunctions and adverbs) and initial consonant mutation. The latter part of Volume III turns to the grammar of ''higher register'' texts (primarily verse and prayer); the linguistics of word borrowing and onomastics (personal name patterns). Finally, Volume IV contains sample texts and a glossary.
EVALUATION A strength of this work is that it cites actual spoken forms of Irish rather than prescribed written forms. The data is very detailed, often covering variations of individual speakers and social networks. Volume I, in particular, includes an extensive discussion of phonemic status of nasal vowels in Irish which is not normally covered in other descriptions of Irish. As might be expected, the focus is more on description than on theory. For instance, although there is an excellent description of the distribution of ''tense'' coronal sonorants, the description does not attempt to include any phonological analysis of what ''tense'' corresponds to in terms of phonological features. Similarly, different sentence types are documented, but there is almost no discussion of a syntactic analysis for marked features such as VSO word order.
The description is an invaluable addition to Irish linguistics, but as with many reference works, there are issues of ''navigation'' that the reader must conquer. The use of phonetic transcription and Irish orthography is also not entirely consistent. Modern Irish spelling is idiosyncratic enough to warrant the use of phonetic transcription (especially for dialectal forms), yet the glossary in the final volume only shows the Irish orthography without the phonetics. Also, I was perplexed with the decision to print the map of the region inside the front cover of Volume IV, but not in the rest of the volumes. Since most of the volumes refer to different locations, a map would be valuable for all the volumes. Finally, only Volume I includes information about the speakers, sources and region - even though all volumes refer to codes for speakers and sources. The length of the text necessitated the split into four volumes, but my impression is that only minimal editing was done to make each volume work as an independent unit.
Despite these quirks, I believe any serious researcher of the Irish language would be more than willing to work through these issues to discover the riches within.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Elizabeth Pyatt earned a Ph.D. in linguistics, specializing in Celtic morphology, phonology and syntax.