Cite this: eDIL s.v. P or dil.ie/34121
Last Revised: 2019


the thirteenth letter of the Irish alphabet, is not found in the early Ogham alphabet: ni bi p isin Gaedilc, Auraic. 1271 , cf. 4336 , 4346 . Indo-germanic p when initial or between vowels disappeared in the Celtic languages. Consequently all words beginning with p in Old and Mid. Irish are derivatives from Latin, British, Romance, and occas. Scandinavian sources. In the oldest Irish loan-words from Latin (which came chiefly through a British medium), initial p > c (q), e.g. cland, corcur, Cothraige (Irish name of St. Patrick) < Lat. planta, purpur, Patricius. When Ireland came into direct contact with Latin Christianity and culture, Latin p remained in loan-words, and subsequently p was legitimized as an Irish letter and was called pin in the Ogham alphabet, Auraic. 1365 .

The account given of p in the Auraicept 1269 fg. , 4335 fg. is obscure; apparently it was regarded as the softening (bocad, bogad, a term expld. in Gloss. as unvoicing) of b (acc. to Auraic. 4347 , some Latin grammarians held that bh was written for p, a view denied by others). Later it received the name peith or peith bhog ( P. O'C. , O'R. Poems .); O'Reilly explains peith as = beith(e), name of the birch-tree and in Ogham of the letter b, hence peith bhog = `soft b'. (In Hogan Luibh. and Dinneen , peith = dwarf elder.)

In early Irish orthography the letter p, when initial and in the groups mp, rp, and pp, stands for the voiceless labial explosive p; medial between vowels it generally represents the voiced labial b which replaces it in later notation (O.Ir. opair = mod. obair). Late Mid.Ir. scribes occas. use p incorrectly to express medial or final lenited b, e.g. gapaid, ro gap = gabaid (gaibid), ro gab.

In lenition p becomes `f, in early MSS. often written ph (occas. fp). In O.Ir. lenition of p may have been optional, see Thurn. Hdb. § 231 , 5 .

Initial p and b somet. interchange; for exx. see 2 pell, bellic, píast, pla(e), plaesc, poc(c), práca. P. O'C. gives several words beginning either with b or p, the latter form being colloquial (`vulgo').

Initial p also interchanges somet. with f in Mid.Ir. and later; in some cases p is the older form (see pailm, pairche, pít, promaid), in others f (e.g. O.Ir. fetarlicce > Mid.Ir. petarlaicc).

Irish words beginning with p are prob. all originally loan-words; those of the oldest period are borrowed mainly from Latin, those of later times from Romance sources through the medium at first (from the end of the 12th to the latter part of the 14th cent.) of Anglo-French, later of English.