Red, blue, yellow and black knotwork.

Syllable counting

it's not just for haiku anymore!

In dán díreach, rhythm and rhyme are important, and so are amus, uaithne and uaim. But the basic feature of dán díreach is that each line contains a certain number of syllables and ends in a word with a certain number of syllables. This was inherited from the poetry styles of Old Irish, and it was the major reason why poets pronounced Middle Irish like Old Irish (with the first syllable always stressed), and probably the reason why people who sing songs in Gaeilge (Scottish Gaelic) make a point to do the same thing.

Stressing the first syllable sets up meters very easily. A 1-syllable word is DUM, a 2-syllable word DUM-da, a 3-syllable word DUM-da-dum, and so on. Ends of lines are also easy to differentiate. If the last word in a line has 1 syllable, the line has a masculine ending; if it has 2 syllables, the line has a feminine ending, and so on. (I don't know the Irish terms for such endings, so I'm using the English ones.)

To discuss poetry of this type, contemporary scholars describe it in equation form. The first number is the number of syllables in the line. The second number is the number of syllables in the line's last word, printed as a superscript. Each line is divided by a plus sign, thus: 7/3+5/1+7/3+5/1.

The literary dialect of Middle Irish preserves some pronunciations used in Old Irish. Among other things, vowels which are considered silent in Modern Irish words _are_ pronounced here. So 'croidhe', heart, is a disyllable and not a monosyllable. Also, all words were stressed on the first syllable, regardless of the way they were usually pronounced. (The only exceptions to this were words like do-chínnsi, where the accent's placed on the root word 'chínnsi' and not on the connected preposition 'do'.

Here are some terms from the _Auraicept na n-Éces_ (The Scholar's Primer), a period tract on poetry, linguistics and Ogham for beginning poets. (And the reason I said 'contemporary' scholars.) It is unusual for a Middle Irish word to have more than 3 syllables. (Extra syllables were usually caused by prepositions being included as part of the word and written all as one word.)

a syllable, or a monosyllabic word
2 syllable word
3 syllable word
4 syllable word
5 syllable word
6 syllable word
7 syllable word
8 syllable word

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