Language is one of the most fascinating presences within the world, by its sense of commonality not only does it veil and define many cultures, it is a mirror to the reality and outer workings of those that use it, as too is it a vessel of growth and evolution and stands as a medium to the understanding of the dynamics it exists within.
The language of the Irish Traveller Pavee can usually be found in one of four titles – that of Shelta, Gammon, Thaari and Kant.
Such a large variance in linguistic form has come to pass through the demographic and geological identities of those that use it, and much of the words that remain exist through the recordings of earlier sociologists and linguistics that found the Irish Traveller Pavee language a unique and intriguing development of both political and cultural adaption. These works of words along side those that remain and cling to the lips of the older generations, which silently whisper to the forgotten echoes of time amass the majority of the foundation when coming to understanding the language, as both a living spirit of expression and a body of growth and cultural survival.
Although hints of the language has being acknowledged to exist though a much older history it was not until 1876 that a American scholar and poet named Charles Godfrey Leland took it upon himself to record and dictionaries the language.
Among many things from his earlier work we can clearly identify the title of Kant arising from Canuit which is Gaelic for "dialect". It is also too worth the thought that often when the language is identified through its own self title, is is not only called 'Kant' but 'The Cant', representing it not only as the language but unwittingly expresses a lesser known and misunderstood linguistic variation.
'Cant' is the term applied to a language when it takes on a argot or crypolect form, which is characteristic of a secret language used only by members of a group to conceal the meaning from those that are not among its ranks.
The title of Shelta is also thought to have its origins within the Gaelic language, the verbal adjective for "walking" is Siulta and through social evolution and used verse the word has modified itself to a slightly eroded form, while the title of Gammon and that of the lesser known Thaari are words that have there origins within the language itself.
Gammon is largely thought to of derived from the Shelta word 'Ghob-on', one which means 'Talking away'. It is interesting to note that the more common expressed word for this act, that of 'Thaari' is a direct translation of the Shelta word 'Speech' as found by one of the few early records of the language. This was also the case with the recorded work of Charles Godfrey Leland and later reinforced in 1937 by the words of Robert Alexander Steward Macalister in his book The Secret Languages of Ireland.
It must be noted however that early experts in the field of Celtic linguistics, such as Professor Kuno Meyer of the Royal Irish Academy and John Sampson of the Gypsy Society assert that the language goes as far back as the 13th century, while others like David Macritchie of the Gaelic society, Inverness, 1899-1901 and Joseph Campbell, the American icon of folklore and mythology affirm many earlier Celtic tones and examples within the language.
The variation of 'Thaari' and that of 'Gammon' is much like most words within such an expansive language, that it is often held within heated controversy, but research and the present existence of its use seems to suggest it to be localised mostly among the Irish Pavee of the central plane of the country rather then the isle itself, portraying a clan type modification rather then a variation of the original root word origin.
It should be noted that while great effort has being made to verify a factual representation of the language; scholars and those that actively use the language itself sometimes disagree. When ever such discrepancies arose it was decided that the interpretation of a majority of the sources would become the one used, as this would best represent the language as a whole rather then lose itself in the debate of selection and constant modification.
Shelta/ Gammon/ Thaari/ Kant
It must be stressed that the below is not an attempt to feign or create any language out of idle interest or political persuasion but to align the linguistic form with a potential framework both accessible by todays speakers as well as protective in the art of salvaging an authentic and meaningful tradition.
Undoubtedly not all the sophisticated associations or multifarious aspects of the syntax are traditionally associated with Shelta, but in both defence and explanation the majority of these aspects are living and dynamic entities within the language itself, albeit somewhat weakened and sparse due to the adoption of the Anglo verse.
To deny the platform of this or any other reasonably appropriate aid would be to deny the virtues and possibilities of human and cultural progress.
Due to the earlier practical application of writing and the mass illiteracy of the earlier culture, which was much in line with most early Irish as a whole, the language is a primarily verbal one with little to no secondary support. Due to this circumstance the written words are based on a phonetical understanding of those that use it. However, due to the array of accent as well as individual modifications the language itself can be found in great variance.
So, in order to strengthen the foundation from which the language is to be understood, a reliance of its mother tongue of Gaelic as well as an adaption of English has being used to maintain the infrastructure of both recording and understanding, as well as reinforce it's aspects of practical application.
Embodiments of Shelta
Noun and verb
Plurals of nouns
Third person singular
Adjective and adverb
Lenition and Spelling
For a greater alliance with the majority of sources, along side that of the practicalities of simplification the title of 'Shelta' will be used when noting the Irish Traveller Pavee language, this is not an entirely biased reasoning of choosing the adoption of a title above another, but as a way of drawing together and knotting the strings of the language into a secure whole.
It can also be noted that at times when reference to the title of 'cant' it is spelt 'kant' with a 'k' instead of a 'c'. Although it is a break from the greater popularity of use, it is more in keeping with the phonetic heritage of the word as a primary word of mouth language, with little secondary support, then its more recent assimilation into its Anglicised form.
The linguistic origin of the Shelta language can be located from a study of the etymology of the words themselves. From the research based on the recorded words there is a amalgamation of both the English and Gaelic language, as well as a collection of core word forms unique to Shelta alone.
It has being debated that the Shelta language reaches as far back as the 13th century medieval era, with suggestions found in the recordings of that time, while others believe it came to form as a separate identity around the 18th century, and while it may rise some interesting points in the exact origins and growth of the language as both a working tongue and one of secrecy, the focus remains on its current position and state.
The language use itself is found in great variance, often with the words being held within a ever evolving lexicon state that is most often represented as Slang, in which its uses and meaning are being adapted and assimilated into the larger community. This is mainly due to the sociological principles that promote the mass cohabitation of many Irish Travellers into one area, and which encourages the use and growth of the language within the larger community, due to a frequency of use and a promotion of social assurance. Such motions are often a primary factor in the identity and security of most communities as a whole.
A large amount of its wording comes from the lexical reconstruction of its primary and secondary sources, the items are reconstructed using techniques such as reversal, reversal plus suffixation/substitution, adding arbitrary prefix, adding a suffix and a prefix, deaspiration, denasalization, apocope, adopting archaic forms and so forth.
Excluding the words of self creation found within all evolving languages, it is clear that with social adaption and cultural growth that English words were often borrowed to meet any deficiencies within the standard Shelta lexicon.
Examples of this would be:
Shelta Irish English Modification
kam mac son reversal
t’rpog brat rag reversal + suffix ‘og’
gather athair father add prefix ‘g’
grula ubhal apple add prefix ‘gr’ and suffix ‘a’
skop oscailt open deaspiration
bin min good, great denasalization
glox oglach man apocope
karb ‘brac’ grandmother reversal of archaic Irish form
English provides the principal infrastructure for the surviving Shelta, this is more so now in present times with a greater reliance on the Norman tongue.
For an example of explanation I will use the Shelta word Gra, meaning love to explain the grammatical meaning and application of the word process.
Gra "Love" is both the romantic emotional sense as well as a act of physicality but due to social adaption it can be applied to things that one may enjoy or like, in both a literal and symbolic form.
This traditionally adaptive method can reveal a lot about the dynamics of the ever evolving and interchangeable language, dependant on the awareness of those that use it as well as the language as a whole, granting a lot of symbolic and symbiotic depth to the words and there usage.
Noun and verb
These forms are very interchangeable, with the context and placement being determined by how each Shelta word is being used within the context of each occurrence.
While its primary linguistic origin of Gaelic is gender sensitive, beyond the case words Shelta more or less remains gender neutral.
This tense is determined by adding the suffix "-ed" onto the Shelta verb, just as in English. The word "Loved" would result in Graed.
This tense is constructed by prefacing 'misli-in too' to the verb. As example "I will (am going to) love you" would result in Mweel misli-in too gra yoordjeel.
Although this is not always applied in each case, as some words themselves have independent and secular tenses that carry no direct phonetical association with its previous tense.
An example of this would be the Shelta word for drink which is “Lush”.
That of drinking is “Lushin”.
That of drunk is “Lushed”.
Those of 'I will be going drinking' would be “Misli-in Lushin” but it is also found in the form of “Misli-in Deyuchana”.
Although 'Deyuchana' carries slightly similar phonetical overtones and perhaps reveals the root word origin (in it being an almost identical phonetical representation of the Gaelic word for Drinks 'Doechanna') it is not held within the usual flow of tenses.
Plurals of nouns and the third person singular of verbs are represented by attaching the suffix "s."
"Loves" would be Gras. "The fellow loves me." would be “An feen grooskills mwī’l”
Possessives are formed by adding an apostrophe and "s", a suffix, to the root Shelta noun, as in English.
To simplify, as an example "That fellow's loves hard." would be rendered to the “An feen's gras thadyur”.
There is a lack of the various forms of the verb "to be", as too of some other definite articles and demonstrative pronouns, such as: "this" and "that."
These terms are currently with social adaption interchangeable with the Gaelic and English terms, often finding form with the words “Dis” and “tath”.
Adjective and adverb
These forms are also interchangeable and can be developed from nouns and verbs by adding the usual English adjectival endings: mostly "-y" to adjectives and "-ly" to adverbs.
An example would be if one wanted to describe a person as "lovely" he or she would be graly.
The comparative and superlative endings for adjectives are the same as in English: -er and -est.
This state is described by an adjective, in example "loving" from "lovely," would take the traditional Shelta suffix of "-ath" to convert it into such a word.
The word "Loveliness" would result in “Gra'ath”.
This state is also described by a verb, in which “Loving" from "(to) love" would take the traditional Shelta prefix of "a-" to convert it into such a word. "Loving" would result in “A-gras”.
The points of differentiating are too numerous to go into, but more or less fall into the flow of commonality with the English forms.
Although dependant on some rare modifications, which would be best assigned to the ideals of a bard like past, usually the subject precedes the verb which precedes the object, if there is any.
Martin (The subject) loves (The verb) Mary (The object).
Martin (The subject) gras (the verb) Mary (The object).
The first word in the phrase or sentence is A, followed by the verb, subject and object, if there is any.
An example would be::
“Do you love Mary, Martin?”
“A gra hoo Mary, Martin?”
The early transitional state of the language, its political inspired and social willed modifications as well as it's speakers physical movement and active repetitive relocation, along side the presumed educational standards has led, during the passage of time to a lot of phonetical erosion and adaption.
These changes have often found themselves to take the form of dissipating the word to a more rudimentary sound, while still retaining its phonetical overtones to the original word . This is most prevalent with such words as 'And – Ang', 'Of – O', 'To – Du', 'The – Dha'.
Thankfully Shelta as a primarily and almost exclusively spoken language has mostly retained its connection to the words of origin, which can easily be located once held within the context of a sentence.
Most words with a slight variance are represented as they are spoken, for example some are represented with a long 'A' like that in the English word “day” rather then a short 'A' found in the English word of “dad”.
These open and closed vowels are being represented as a double form. From this the English word Day would be found as Daay.
This is again due to the pre-literacy adaption of the language as well as an aid to learning from its usage, arising through the simplification of the primary English language to a form most easily accessed by those that may seek it.
Throughout this work when the apostrophe is used within Sheltatic script, it is to signify a lengthening of verbalization of the letter that proceeded it.
Most letters are pronounced similarly to its two primary languages of Gaelic and English. The broad consonants t and d and often n have a dental articulation as in Gaeilic and are in a contrast to the alveolar articulation common in the English language.
Lenition and Spelling
The lenition of some consonants have special pronunciations: bh and mh are often represented as [v]; dh, gh is [ʝ] or [ɣ]; th is [h], or silent; ph is [f].
Lenition of l n r is not always shown in writing. The digraph fh is almost always silent, with rare exceptions governed by the surrounding letters.
Like the primary etymological source of Gaelic, Shelta has fada's over many of it's vowels. These accent marks are to show the extra length of the vowel. Although not strictly needed they are more in keeping with the correct pronunciation of many of the words in Shelta.
The apostrophe is also utilised within the boundaries of many words to represent a very short pauses in pronunciation.
Due to the cultural, social and political aspects in play, there is as yet, no official written standard for Shelta. The words inclosed within this work are represented and devised through the phonetical understanding of many modern users, in agreement with the surviving written records.
Due to the corruption and adaption of it's initial form many of the words will not always be in exact compliance to how localised areas pronounce and understand its spelling. However great attention has being given in keeping the spelling, pronunciation and lenition within the boundaries of modern tongue.
There is a distinct correlation within the Shelta language and with that of the Gaelic tongue, with its primary array being in keeping with the linguistic variations of Munster, Connacht and Ulster. A mix that provides in the modern age, due to family orientations and increased mobility, a wider accessibility to communication and although a much less obvious presence remains it never the less deserves acknowledgement.
The Gaelic Shelta native to Leinster, the forth province of Ireland became more or less extinct during the 20th century, although some records of there presence were made by the Irish Folklore Commission before such a depravation.
Main variation forms
In the initial mutations
In the verbal noun morphology
In the pronunciation
In the vocabulary
Notable Munster dialect variations.
The eclipsis of nouns after a simple preposition plus article. This eclipsis also affects d and t: Munster: Close the door – Kurlim an nRodus instead of Kirlin an Rodus which is common to all other dialect variations..
The Munster accentuation: non-initial long vowels and non-initial -ach are stressed. This leads sometimes into a violent obscuring of the word's identity: S'rach for Sherach - the stressed ach knocks away the non- stressed e in she
The Munster pronunciation of final -igh or -idh is most often -ig.
Notable Connacht dialect variations.
Perhaps the most wildly assimilated into the wider vocabulary is that of the Connacht Shelta dialect variation.
The intervocalic h (orthography: -th-) tends to disappear: Gro = Groth
Connacht dialects show a special form of verb used in direct relative clauses, ending in -s. This is used in the present and future tenses.
Notable Ulster dialect variations.
The presence and effect of Scottish Gaelic is certainly noticeable in this variation, which is the most probable reason for it to show considerable differences from the rest of the Shelta vocabulary.
Ulster Shelta variations shows a marked preference for non-compound preposition: Grayin'misli "Hurry" instead of the wider acknowledged "Misli". Ahr'son, "for" instead of "as" and so forth.
The Scottish Gaelic verbal particle of "cha", and that of "chan" also exists in Ulster Shelta, but even there it seems to be a comparatively recent borrowing from Scottish Gaelic.
The recorded words and collection of verbal uses indicates that it lenites the verb if it doesn't begin with d or t, which it eclipses: chan gotcha, became cha g'cha.
The verbal conjugations in Ulster Shelta are more complicated than found elsewhere. For instance, most strong verbs still have a distinction between absolute and dependent forms in the present: Su'ni, "sees" – Nill-in sūnain "wont see".
Long vowels at times become short in non-initial position, but they stay clear. Thus, the long clear/short obscure opposition is in non-initial syllable replaced by a clear/obscure opposition.
Where the current standard has -í- between two broad vowels, Ulster pronunciation often comes nearer the Classical orthography -ighe-, -idhe-.
In previously noted quantifications of the dialect, Shelta's position within the European vernacular array has being assessed as a hybrid of Anglic and Insular Celtic linguistic forms, encased within its own unique formations of patois extension.
*The structure of this post holds a lot of its form to the pioneering work of Richard J. Waters.
*An opinion is just an opinion, always use your own discernment and common sense when dealing with the revitalisation of a dying language.
*The potential for evolution exists within all things, language included so if you are a speaker or an enthusiast follow the general rule of thumb, have a hunger for the old but don't be afraid to partake with the new.