ERobert52 at aol.com ERobert52 at aol.com
Sat Feb 6 17:03:20 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

rmccalli at sunmuw1.MUW.Edu writes:

> I've read that in the Highlands and in parts of Ireland that due to
> the influence of Gaelic, /f, ph/ was perceived as a local "lenited form"
> where others /wh, w, bh/ and that pronunciation passed over to English,
> where it was also equated with /f, ph/, and occasionally back to Gaelic
> hence English "whiskey" [from uisge beatha ?sp?] occasionally became
> "fuisce".

In NE Scotland /hw/ is routinely replaced by /f/ in the local dialect of Scots,
so "wha", "whaur" and "whit" (who, where, what) become "fa", "faur" and "fit",
although when speaking standard English the locals use /hw/.  Traditionally the
phenomenon has also applied to words like "white" and "whisky", but less so
nowadays. It is localised to this particular area and does not occur as far as
I have noticed in Scotland in areas that were Gaelic-speaking more recently
(where Scots is less of a living language as compared with Scottish English),
or in more southerly dialects of Scots. If indeed NE Scotland was Gaelic
speaking at any time: it may have gone straight from Pictish, whatever that
was, to Scots.

So I don't know if there can be a connection between the NE Scots use of /f/
and the modern Scottish Gaelic aspiration rule of F > FH, i.e. /f/ is lenited
to /null/. I gather things are more complicated in Irish with the eclipsis of
F- to BHF- (/f/ to /v/, I think) being possible as a change as well as
aspiration, which seems another possible candidate. (Does this represent a
historically earlier stage?) I also notice Scottish Gaelic "uinneag" (window)
is "fuinneag" in Irish.

Do these things tell us anything about what language was spoken in the NE of
Scotland before Scots or when the transition maybe happened? As for the
Brythonic languages, of which Pictish might alternatively have been one, I
can't begin to remember what the mutation rules are, but I don't think any of
them relate F and WH. Of course, the sound change /hw/ to /f/ may have nothing
to do with Celtic at all.

Ed. Robertson

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