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Dictionary of the Gaelic Language
By Rev Dr Norman MacLeod and Rev Dr Daniel Dewar (1909)

Part I - Gaelic to English

Part II - English to Gaelic


THE Very Reverend DR. BAIRD, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, so distinguished for his unwearied and patriotic exertions for the advancement of education, and the diffusion of knowledge throughout the Highlands and Isles of Scotland, having projected two periodical publications in the Gaelic language; we, the compilers of this work, were induced at his earnest request to undertake the charge of conducting them. We had not been long engaged in our labours, when we found that the want of a Concise and Cheap Dictionary of the Gaelic language proved an almost insuperable obstacle to the progress of education in the Highlands, and a great hindrance to those who were disposed to promote it.

This want so long felt, and so much complained of, we undertook to supply; and we have now been enabled to bring our labours to a close. We have certainly had peculiar advantages, for enabling us to present to the public a Dictionary of the Gaelic language, as free from omissions and errors as the great variety of provincial phraseology, and the state of written literature in that language, can reasonably admit of.

The admirable translation of the Scriptures, and the publication of the poems of Ossian in the original Gaelic, under the sanction of the Highland Society of London, furnish a rich treasure of genuine Gaelic. In addition to these, we have had the advantage of a Dictionary compiled by Mr. R. A. Armstrong, A.M., which, considering the difficulties the compiler had to contend with, does him great credit.

We have also had before us a Celtic Dictionary, published by the Highland Society of Scotland; conducted by the Rev. Dr. John M'Leod, Minister of Dundonald, with the assistance of the late Mr. Ewen M'Lachlan of Aberdeen, the late Rev. Dr. Alexander Irvine of Little Dunkeld, and the Rev. Mr. Alexander M'Donald of Crieff; and superintended and corrected in its progress through the press, by the Rev. Dr. M'Kay of Laggan.

This great work is such as might be expected from the eminent attainments of the distinguished individuals, to whom its compilation was intrusted. Mr. M'Lachlan of Aberdeen, especially, brought to the undertaking, great talents, profound learning, habits of industry which were almost superhuman, an intimate acquaintance with the Gaelic language, and devoted attachment to the elucidation of its principles. In the midst of his labours, it pleased Divine Providence to remove him from this life; but his memory will always be honoured. No one ever applied more indefatigably or more successfully to the cultivation of Celtic literature.

Without arrogating undue merit to ourselves, it may be presumed, that, in consequence of the great advantages which we derived from the labours of our predecessors, and by the application of even ordinary talent and industry to our work, the Dictionary of the Gaelic language, which we now offer to the public, must be the most perfect that has ever been published.

To the compilers of the other Dictionaries we cheerfully give all the praise to which they are entitled; but, without claiming to ourselves any extraordinary share of learning or of talent, we deem it our duty to remark, that we have given a great variety of words and terms, which do not appear in the works of our predecessors; that, profiting by their errors and mistakes, we have corrected numerous errors, and supplied important deficiences: and we hope, without going into any detail which might appear invidious, it may be permitted us to say, that a very cursory comparison of the result of our labours, will show that, with greater conciseness, we are at least equally comprehensive, and that while the different acceptations of words are given with all the brevity which our plan required, they are always distinctly and fully detined.

We consider that one of the excellencies of this Dictionary is an uniform adherence to the justly recognised standard of Gaelic orthography, the Gaelic Bible. The venerable translators of the Scriptures, who were so competent to form an accurate judgment on this subject, gave it the most serious consideration during the many years they were engaged in their beneficent labours: and feeling as we do, the propriety of entirely acquiescing in their decision, as well as the advantages which result from uniformity in orthography, we have invariably conformed to the rules which they have prescribed.

"Every language" says the great lexicographer, Dr. Johnson, "has its anomalies, which, though inconvenient, and in themselves once unnecessary, must be tolerated among the imperfections of human things, and which require only to be registered that they may not be increased, and ascertained that they may not be confounded."

In the etymological department of the work, we have been prevented by the desire of being concise, from entering into any lengthened discussion, but we have endeavoured to give the etymology of such words as seemed to require explanation.

After each word inserted in the Gaelic part of the work, we have given its leading inflections in an abbreviated form. The substantive nouns are given in their nominative form, followed by the terminations of the genitive singular and nominative plural, and when the terminations are irregular they are given in full.

Adjective nouns are given in their positive states, followed by their terminations of the comparative degree, and when these are irregular they are given at length as in the case of substantives. Pronouns are given at length according to their respective properties.

The Verb is always introduced in the 2d person singular of the imperative, that being the theme or root of the Gaelic Verb. Then follows the last syllable of the future indicative, which, when joined to the root first given, forms the future of the indicative, which is one of the tense. Of the Verb, and as such is one of its component parts. And, last of all, the initial form of the preterit indicative is given, which, being substituted for the simple initial form of the imperative, changes it into the preterit tense of the indicative. From these three tenses all the parts of the Gaelic Verb are formed. When the principal parts of the Verb are irregular, they are given at full length. In this arrangement, so important to the Gaelic scholar, we have followed the example set us by the compilers of the Celtic Dictionary.

This Dictionary has been superintended in its progress through the press by Mr. Patrick M'Farlane of Glasgow, the well known translator of many valuable works into the Gaelic language. To his great attention in the correction of the press, and his minute acquaintance with provincial phraseology, this work in its present form is much indebted, and the compilers hare great pleasure in acknowledging their obligations to him.

We hare only to add, that in bringing our labours to a close, we feel cheered by the consideration, that we have accomplished the main objects of our undertaking, namely, to make the stores of knowledge accessible to our Highland countrymen, and to place within the reach of all who have any wish to become accounted with the Gaelic language, the means of facilitating their progress. They will and the English and Gaelic portion of our Dictionary of essential utility in aiding them in making this acquisition.

"Though the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, while every other author may aspire to praise," and "though we may not even attain to this negative recompense," we "deliver our book to the world with the spirit of men who have endeavoured well."

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