Irish, the primary official language of Ireland has been spoken on the island for over 2500 years. Its sentence structure and syntax are very different from that of the English language.
One striking distinction is the lack of words for “yes” and “no” in Irish. Believe it or not this is a fact and you will find many Irish translations for these two little words.
The Irish language is very different to English despite the fact that the island of Ireland is so close to its neighbor. Sentence structure and grammar are not similar at all. Irish is one of the languages of the Celts.
This probably sounds very strange to any English speaking person. How can you have a conversation without these seemingly all important words?
The answers here are far more accurate than in Google Translate. I find Google’s translation software is not very accurate for the Irish language. I do not know of an Irish text translation software that is accurate for Irish Gaelic translation.
These are the two resources I recommend for online translation. They include many idioms of the modern Irish language. They are very informative and helpful for the use of students of the Irish language. There are also notes on the etymology of Irish words.
If you check the page above you will find that there is no one word given as the translation for yes.
In fact there are many different forms and ways to answer yes in Irish Gaelic.
How to reply in the affirmative or negative in the Irish language
So how do you answer a question in Irish?
This is usually done by answering with the verb, either affirmatively or negatively. Here are some examples:
An dtuigeann tú?
(Phonetic Pronunciation: On dig-un too)
Do you understand?
Tuigim: Yes – or truly you are saying “I understand”.
(Phonetic Pronuciation – Thig-um)
Ní thuigim: No – the exact translation is “I don’t understand”
(Phonetic Pronuciation – Nee hig-um)
Ar mhaith leat uisce?: Would you like water?
(Phonetic Pronuciation – er wah lath ish-ka)
Ba mhaith liom: Yes or literally “I would like”
(Phonetic Pronuciation – bah wah lum)
Níor mhaith liom: No or literally “I wouldn’t like”
(Phonetic Pronuciation – neer wah lum)
Meaning of the word ‘sea in Irish
When some people are learning Irish they mistakenly apply the words “sea” and “ní hea” for the words “yes” and “no.”
These are only used to answer a question like this:
An é an doras?: Is that the door?
(Phonetic Pronuciation – on eh on dur-us)
Is é (sea) or ní hé: Yes or no – literally meaning “it is” or “it isn’t”.
(Phonetic Pronuciation – iss eh (sha) or nee hay)
Expressions of Rural Ireland
Today most people in Ireland speak English, learning it at home, and only learning Irish at school.
However despite adopting the English language, many Irish people still seldom use the words”yes” and “no” when answering a question, even in English.
This is particularly noticeable in rural Ireland.
This lack of use of these succinct little English words might be noticed by tourists when browsing in small country shops.
You might, for example, ask a shopkeeper if she has a particular product or brand in stock. It is highly unlikely that you will get a simple “yes” as an answer.
More than likely you will hear a response such as:
“Let me see, now”
“I do, of course.”
“We have loads of them.”
“I’m afraid not.”
If you ever get the “I’m afraid not response”, it will generally be followed by a quick, “but I have such and such, which is just as good, if not better.”
Usually any response is followed by a story or a few questions about why you might need the particular item.
Maybe the shopkeeper might seem overly inquisitive to the non-Irish national, but all that is happening is the obligatory banter that is needed to start up a grand old conversation.
The Joy of Conversation
The Irish dislike those simple words “yes” and “no”. They are way too short and to the point.
A plain negative “no” would be just too pointed, giving the impression that the shopkeeper is not in the least bit interested in a good old chat, when you can be certain that a chin wag is always on the cards in Ireland.
Words like “yes” and “no” are too polarizing, too stagnant for the Irish. What kind of a chat can you start with such “useless” little words?
And so, when the Irish started speaking English, they decided not to use words like “yes” and “no” that do nothing to stimulate a good conversation.
I do not know if this little fact holds true for the other Celtic languages like Breton, Welsh, Manx and Scottish Gaelic.
It does hold true for all of the major dialects of Irish spoken on the island of Ireland, whether in Munster, Connacht or Ulster.