David [William] Greene

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1915-1981; b. Dublin, ed. St Andrew’s School, where he was taught Irish by Seán Caomhánagh (‘Seán a’ Chóta’), and TCD; studied under Carl Marstander in Oslo; asst. lect., Glasgow Univ., 1939-40; appt. NLI asst. librarian, July 1941, working under R. J. Hayes, and serving in that post until 1948; appt. Professor in School of Celtic Studies (DIAS, Morehampton Rd.), 1948-55; appt. Prof. of Irish, TCD, 1955-67; Snr. Professor, DIAS, 1967-81; elected Pres. of RIA, 1973-76; hon. docts. from NYU, Glasgow, and NUI; ed. texts and contrib. Dictionary of the Irish Language; lexicographer to RIA Irish Dictionary; articles on Irish in Encyclopaedia Britannica; m. Hilary Heron, his second wife; d. 13 June 1981. DIB DIW FDA

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Works
Scholarly editions, ed., with Fergus Kelly, Osborn Bergin, Irish Bardic Poetry, Texts and Translations, together with an Introductory Lecture (1970); ed., Fingal Rónáin and Other Stories (1955); ed. Cúirt an Mheán-Oíche for Merriman Cumann (1968); ed., Duanaire Mhéig Uidhir [from Copenhagen MS] (1972); ed., with Kelly, The Irish Adam and Eve Story, from Saltair Rann, Vol. 1: text and trans. (1976). Also, The Irish Language (Dublin: Three Candles Press 1966).

Contribs., ‘The Celtic Languages’, in Joseph Raftery, ed., The Celts [Thomas Davis Lects., 1960] (Cork: Mercier Press/RTE 1964), pp.9-21 [extract].

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Quotations
The Celtic Languages’, in Joseph Raftery, ed., The Celts [Thomas Davis Lects., 1960] Cork: Mercier Press 1964): ‘Insular [17] Celtic, then, the only variety for which we have any reasonable documentation, is a very different thing from its Continental relatives. / I suppose the most striking innovation in insular Celtic is that of the initial mutations, which have few parallels in Europe at least; as the reader may know, the first consonant of a word in Irish and Welsh may change, or even disappear; what happens to it depends on the word that comes before it. Thsi has really a very simple explanation. [...] When we hear what is wrongly called “aspiration” in Irish - the irish themselves had the better term séimhiú, “softening” or “lenition” - we know that this is bsed on a situation in which the word causing the lenition ended in a vowel, thus leaving the first consonant of the next word between two vowels, where it would be weakened. [...; 18] The other big phenetic innovation concerns Irish only; that is the evolution of a system where every consonant has two varieties, velar and palatal, or broad and slender, as we call them traditionally, and here again this is due to the influence of those lost syllables, because the quality of the last consonant of a word in Old Irish depnded on the quality of the vowel that had once followed it. [...] But, quite apart from phonetic changes of this kind, the insular languages show all sorts of innovations which distinguish them from the other Indo-Europan languages - things like conjugated pronouns, as we call them in Irish; what is especially interesting about this class of word is that it exists both in Irish and Welsh, but the no amount of comparison of the Welsh and Irish forms willallow us to reconstruct common Celtic forms. I do not regard this as suprising, because I do not think that prepositional pronouns belong to common Celitc, or that we would find them if we suddenly came across a big body of material in Gaulish; I think that there is every reason to believe that they were evolved separately in Ireland and Britain and that the only sense in which they can be called Celtic is that they were formed out of elements which in some cases show the development of the Indo-European languages of which I have been speaking. We have no reason to believe that the Celtic-speaking peoples had been in Britain and Ireland for a very great period before our historical evidence begins, or that the original invaders represented any more than a fairl thinly-spread ruling class, [19] so that we should not regard Irish and Welsh as languages which were imported into their respective countries but as languages which are really indigenous in the sense that they have grown up as the result of all the linguistic and social influences which have toched Ireland and Wales over more than two thousand years.’ (pp.19-20.) ‘Irish, though subjected to influence from Scandanavian, French and English in turn, remained dominant in Ireland until the end of the sixteenth century, when the tide bgan to flow in favour of English; this had happened at a much earlier stage in Scotland, where, indeed, it can hardly be said that Irish had ever completely dominated. [...]’ (p.20.) ‘The Celtic languages are not dead, since at least two million people speak one or other of them as their native tongue, but, since none of them has succeeded in dominating a state, the vast majority of their speakers are perforce bilingual, and bilingualism under those conditions must ultimately lead to the loss of the less important language.’ (end; p.21; signed Professor David Greene.)

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Notes
Thomas Kinsella acknowledged help from David Greene [inter alia] with the translation of Táin, and in particular his help in connection with some amendments to the first edition. (See Táin Bó Cuailgne, OUP 1970, [p.vii].)

Benedict Kiely, Drink to the Bird (London: Methuen 1991), refers to ‘a famous Celtic scholar who, also in his college days, won a Lookalike prize for looking like Charles Laughton: and chickened out afterwards and took refuge behind a beard as majestic as Niagara Falls.’ (p.118.)

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