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  • The Gaelic-English dictionary/Am Faclair Gàidhlig-Beurla by Colin Mark
  • David Stifter
The Gaelic-English dictionary/Am Faclair Gàidhlig-Beurla. By Colin Mark. London: Routledge, 2003. Pp. xlviii, 736. ISBN 0415297605. $260 (Hb).

Since the publications of Edward Dwelly’s and Malcolm MacLennan’s still widely used dictionaries of Scottish Gaelic almost a century has gone by, and the need for a modern dictionary of the language—modern both in the words and phrases included and in its user-friendly make-up—has long and ever more urgently been felt. This gap has now been filled by Colin Mark’s new Gaelic-English dictionary. The material for the dictionary, reputedly over 90,000 entries (counting headwords and examples of their usage), has been collected in twenty years of study of modern Gaelic literature. As a consequence of M’s emphasis on literary sources, however, terminology from the field of modern information technology (like eadarlìon ‘internet’ or diosga ‘disc’) is almost entirely absent, coimpiutair ‘computer’ being one of the few words to have found their way in (a list of such terms from modern Gaelic can be found at

In the preface M gives a detailed account of how to use his dictionary (xi–xix) and dedicates several pages to the spelling and the notoriously difficult phonology of Scottish Gaelic (xx–xxxviii). M uses IPA symbols to render the pronunciation of vowels, consonants, and peculiar combinations of letters, but in addition to that he has endeavored to explain things in laymen’s terms for those who are not familiar with the conventions of IPA.

The dictionary itself consists of 622 double-columned pages. Headwords, paradigmatic forms, and compounds are entered in bold type. A particular strength of the book lies in the countless idioms recorded for almost all headwords. These are printed in italics and will be a great help for any nonnative student of Scottish Gaelic. Only English translations and explanations are in plain type. Every headword is identified as to parts of speech. Gender is of course always noted. For most nouns and adjectives the genitive and, where applicable, the nominative plural is given. In the case of irregular or difficult verbs like faic ‘to see’ or feum ‘has to, must’, an extensive number of paradigmatic forms is cited, arranged clearly and according to category. Long, complicated, and important entries are contained in boxes that immediately catch the eye of the reader. The clear and exemplary layout makes the dictionary easily accessible for all users. One minor layout error must be noted though: The guidewords at the top of each page have been generated automatically, but unfortunately ‘boxed’ entries were ignored in the process. For example, the very long boxed entry for cuir, cur ‘to put’ goes from p. 192 to p. 197, but the guideword at the top of pp. 192–96 is cuipreas ‘cypress’, the last entry immediately before the box on p. 192.

Appendices 1–12 (623–736) deserve special attention. These effectively amount to an easy-to-use reference grammar of Scottish Gaelic: Appendices 1–8 are titled, in order, ‘The Gaelic verb’, ‘The [End Page 539] Gaelic noun’, ‘The Gaelic adjective’, ‘Adverbs’, ‘Conjunctions’ (including various types of clauses), ‘Pronouns’ (including conjugated prepositions), ‘Prepositions’, and ‘Lenition’. All of these sections contain useful tables and are arranged for the benefit of the users. Apart from these elements, which one expects to find in a grammar, the following sections merit separate praise. Appendix 9, ‘The points of the compass’, contains, in addition to an elaborate compass rose, numerous notes on directions and ways of expressing direction in Scottish Gaelic. Appendix 10, ‘Time’, explains the differences in usage and meaning between the various words for time in Scottish Gaelic. Five general words and sixteen more idiomatic expressions for time are dealt with in great detail and with many examples. These are followed by the hours of the clock and numerous calendar terms. Appendix 11, ‘Numerals’, is made up of two sections, the first one explaining the traditional vigesimal Gaelic counting system, the second one explaining the new decimal system that has...


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