Monday, March 12, 2007

Nollaig Mac Congáil's "Irish Grammar Book"

Another recent Amazon post, and another in the big three 21c grammars I recommend.

This book's a useful entry in what I'd recommend as the troika of grammatical references that'll pull you ahead as a learner of Irish through snowdrifts and impassable ruts. Irish grammar for English speakers offers few recognizable landmarks by which to orient one's self. This book is a straightforward reference, the 'Leabhar Gramadaí Gaeilge' from 2002; this English version is also from the same publisher, the fine Irish-language book and music purveyor Cló Iar-Chonnachta. (I presume that as Noel McGonagle this same author wrote for Hippocrene Press the shorter resource "Irish Grammar." That book is not the same as this one!) Based on Niall Ó Dónaill's Foclóir Gaeilge- Béarla, the standard dictionary, IGB sets out the Irish terms and paradigms in an attractive green font; the English translations appear side by side in an italicized green boldfaced. This handsome layout appeals to the learner.

Unlike Éamonn Ó Dónaill's "Teach Yourself Irish Grammar," IGB lacks any exercises. The explanations are here slightly more detailed in places than in TYIG. This book lacks the immediate classroom usefulness that Donna Wong's college-level "Learner's Guide to Irish" possesses with that book's expensive spiral-binding and larger, easier to hold, format. But, for concision, IGB may be sufficient for quick answers and simple demonstrations of conventions. If not here, than in LGI would be the expected order of investigation for topics; TYIG than could be used for drills and reinforcement by practical examples for student practice.

I spot-checked ordinal and cardinal numbering, for me a difficult concept. IGB offers a bit more than TYIG, far less than LGI, so it fits my estimation of the coverage intended by each of these three basic grammatical works for learners, all written in this century, therefore attentive to how Irish is taught to learners in urban, far-flung, and self-tutored set-ups beyond the typically near-uniform Irish schoolroom.

Unlike LGI and TYIG, the Irish vocabulary used for explanations and exemplification is not always translated. My four-star ranking reflects this, although per se it may not be a shortcoming. I look at this book, however, from the perspective of a student, and so ask myself: if some of its illustrations are given also in English, why not all of them? Generally, lists appear of Irish words left as such; their English equivalents generally appear only when rendering phrases into Béarla. So, those needing the support of English might want to be more confident in their level of comprehension, although a dictionary on hand is an obvious necessity anyway. Yet, having the IGB reinforcement when learning of phrases alone and not vocabulary in English and Irish appears uneven. LGI and TYIG give the impression they could be used by learners anywhere, as they take pains to balance Irish with English; perhaps IGB reflecting its genesis is intended more for applications within classrooms in Ireland?

I would buy IGB before LGI; as a handy reference it's well-designed, laid out so as not to crowd the page, and pleasing to the eye of the otherwise overwhelmed newcomer to this fascinating but convoluted language-- at least as it appears to many native English-speakers. Including information on idioms, "varia," and expressions, although all are dealt with on only a page or two respectively, is a useful supplement that shows attention to a learner's needs. Any student of Irish can benefit from IGB, and along with LGI and TYIG may find that he or she will soon want to set all three on the same shelf to complement their aims and compare their explanations on fine points and how-to's of grammar.

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