Reference Number232001
TitleSgeulachdan Arabianach
AuthorN/A (Translated work)
Date Of Edition1897-1900
Date Of Languagelate 19c
Date Of Language Ed19th c.
DateMacroLate 19th c.
Date Of Language Notes
Publisher“Northern Chronicle” Office
Place PublishedInverness
VolumeVol. 1 of 3 (Published in one volume.)
LocationNational and academic libraries
Geographical OriginsBenbecula
Geographical Origins EdWestern Isles
GeoMacroBenbecula, S Uist and Barra
Geographical Origins Notes
RegisterLiterature, Prose
Register EdLiterature, Prose
Benbecula; Uig, Lewis; Snizort, Isle of Skye; Northern Chronicle; Mac-Talla; idioms and expressive language; vocabulary relating to Middle Eastern culture and social history; supernatural and mythological terminology; possible examples of Benbecula dialect; Late 19th century orthography, but in keeping with the Early 20th century period.
Alternative Author NameN/A
Manuscript Or EditionEd.
Size And Condition18cm
Short TitleSgeulachdan Arabianach
Reference DetailsNLS: T.89.i
Number Of Pagesiv, 120; ii, 128; iv, 126
Gaelic Text ByAn t-Urr Iain MacRuairidh (Rev. John MacRury)
Social ContextSgeulachdan Arabianach were originally published without a named translator. We know, however, that the translator was An t-Urr Iain MacRuairidh (Rev John MacRury, 1843-1907), a prolific writer of fictional stories and religious literature in Gaelic, as well as an important translator from English to Gaelic. The following information is based on the research of Calum Laing (2013).
MacRuairidh was born in Torlum, Benbecula, on 2nd May 1843. He was the eldest of six children born to Tormod Òg MacRuairidh and Catrìona Nic a’ Phearsain. Both of his parents were from North Uist and could trace their ancestry back to Trotternish in the Isle of Skye. His patronymic was Iain mac Thormoid Òig ’ic Iain ’ic Aonghais ’ic Iain ’ic Thormoid Ghobha ’ic Iain Ruaidh ’ic Alasdair (Ibid., p. 2). Folklore was strong in the family. MacRuairidh’s uncle was Dòmhnall MacRuairidh, Bàrd Thòrluim, some of whose songs appear in the collection An t-Òranaiche (1879, Text 95). His brother, Iain Eòghann MacRuairidh, gave a great deal of folklore to Alexander Carmichael, several examples of which appear in Carmina Gadelica (Text 59).
After attending Torlum School and Dunskeller Parliamentary School, North Uist, MacRuairidh worked as a merchant in Benbecula. He then attended sessions of the Arts Faculty of Glasgow University between 1866 and 1872, and completed two sessions in the Faculty of Divinity between 1874 and 1876. His university education was broken up by six years spent working as a schoolmaster in Uig, Lewis.
He became an Assistant Minister for the Church of Scotland in Islay in 1877. He was then a minister in Heylipol, Tiree, from 1879 to 1886. There he married Flòraidh Ealasaid NicIlleDhuinn in 1881, and together they had a family of eight children. From 1886 to his death on 23rd April 1907, MacRuairidh was the Church of Scotland minister for Snizort Parish in the Isle of Skye. ‘It was while in Snizort that he did most of his writing’ (Ibid., p. 48).
MacRuairidh’s earliest known published writing appeared in The Highlander, edited by John Murdoch (see Text 211), from 1873 while he was living in Lewis. This included tales from folklore — e.g. ‘Mar Fhuair Coinneach Odhar an Fhiosachd’ (26 July 1873) — songs and information related to them — such as ‘Oran nam Fasan’ (22 November 1873) by his uncle, Dòmhnall MacRuairidh — and commentary on hardship in the crofting community — ‘Cruaidh Chas nan Craoitearan’ (22 August 1874). He contributed quite regularly in Gaelic to the paper until November 1879 (Laing 2013, pp. 106-107).
Between 1887 and 1902, MacRuairidh wrote twelve talks in Gaelic and English for the Gaelic Society of Inverness — beginning with a transcription of a story told by his brother, Iain Eòghann: ‘TEANN SIOS A DHOMHUILL OIG’ (TGSI, Vol. XIV 1887-88 (1889), 101-111) (Laing 2013, pp. 19-21). In 1887, he took over the editorship of Na Duilleagan Gàidhlig, the Gaelic supplement to the Church of Scotland’s monthly magazine, Life & Work. For this, he wrote many serialised short stories, hymns, religious articles and short sermons. MacRuairidh frequently contributed most or all the articles of each issue until his death in 1907 (Ibid., p. 12; pp. 80-105).
Two large religious works were produced by him. He compiled a narrative of the life of Jesus based on the Bible, Eachdraidh Beatha Chriosd ann am briathran a’ Bhiobuill — originally serialised in Na Duilleagan Gàidhlig between 1890 and 1893. And he translated William Mair’s book on the Church of Scotland into Gaelic: An Fhirinn mu Eaglais na h-Alba (1902).
Most of Iain MacRuairidh’s writing appeared in The Northern Chronicle newspaper, from May 1887 to August 1906, and in the all-Gaelic Canadian newspaper, Mac-Talla (Text 81), in which his writings were published from 1893 until it came to an end in 1904. His complete translation of the Arabian Nights — which was likely based on the English translation, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (Nimmo’s Standard Library Edition 1881) (Laing 2013, p. 16) — was serialised in both papers. He also almost completed a translation of Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe. Just five chapters short of the finish, he reached Chapter 63 in the Northern Chronicle in August 1906 before illness forced him to cease work.
Many other examples of fiction, ‘còmhraidhean’, news articles, essays and poetry can be found written by Iain MacRuairidh especially in Mac-Talla. He is believed to have contributed more to the latter newspaper than any other writer (Ibid., p. 39). There is also a great deal of duplication of his writing between Mac-Talla, Northern Chronicle and Na Duilleagan Gàidhlig.
MacRuairidh was also one of Edward Dwelly’s informants for his famous Gaelic-English dictionary. Information and definitions given by the former appear with the initials ‘JM’, i.e. ‘Rev. J. MacRury, Snizort [Skye & Uist]’ (Dwelly 1994 [1901-1911], p. viii).
Regardless of the sheer quantity and respected quality of his compositions, an t-Urr Iain MacRuairidh is not well known. In large part, this was because his creations were rarely attributed to him. As Calum Laing comments, ‘[i]dentifying what was written or translated by the Rev John MacRury can be difficult because he often used pseudonyms or no name at all’ (Laing, p. 50). That MacRuairidh was one of the most significant Gaelic writers of his generation is now more easily appreciated thanks to Laing’s research on his works (2013), as well as to the first complete edition of Sgeulachdan Aràbianach (MacRuairidh 2017), edited by Michael Bauer.
ContentsThe edition consulted contains three separate divisions originally published at different times and bound together: Division I. (1897), Division II. (1899), Division III. (1900).
In total, this edition includes six stories translated from the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (Anon. 1881; similar in contents and order to Mack 2009).
Division I. contains the tales: 1) ‘AN DAMH AGUS AN T-AISEAL’, pp. 1-10 in two chapters; 2) ‘AM MARSANTA AGUS AM FATHACH’, pp. 11-31 in three chapters; 3) ‘EACHDRAIDH AN IASGAIR’, pp. 32-83 in nine chapters; 4) ‘EACHDRAIDH NAN TRI CHALADAIREAN AGUS NAN COIG MNATHAN-UAISLE’, pp. 84-120 in seven chapters and continued in Division II.
Division II. contains: the rest of ‘EACHDRAIDH NAN TRI CHALADAIREAN AGUS NAN COIG MNATHAN-UAISLE’, pp. 1-97, from Chapter 8 to Chapter 23; 5) ‘SINDBAD AN SEOLADAIR’, pp. 98-128 in six chapters and continued in Division III.
Division III. has: the continuation of ‘SINDBAD AN SEOLADAIR’, pp. 1-45, from Chapter 7 to Chapter 14; and 6) ‘NA TRI UBHLAN’, pp. 45-126, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 12.
The ‘PREFATORY NOTE’ in Division I. (1897, p. iii) states:
FOR a good many months back this Gaelic translation of the “Arabian Nights” has been, chapter by chapter, coming out, week after week, in the Northern Chronicle. […] [T]he publishers, with the hearty consent of the Translator, take the risk of issuing this First Division of the stories at the price of a shilling. Should it pay its own expense, it will be followed by other sections, in similar form, and at the same price, until the whole work will be completed.
The risk paid off and the Northern Chronicle was able to publish a further two divisions: Division I. was published again in a second edition in 1906 (see Edition). However, this was a long way from collating all the translated stories that appeared in the newspaper: there were a further 15 stories not reprinted with the rest.
Although Iain MacRuairidh completed his translation of the ‘Arabian Nights’, the list of translated stories numbers 21 in comparison to 22 in comparable English versions (e.g. Mack 2009). One story was left out by the translator on the grounds of decency: ‘Except that what may be called the case-story of the Sultan who resolved to revenge himself fearfully on the innocent for the guilt of his Sultana, is, properly, omitted, the translation is close and faithful’ (1897, p. iii).
LanguageMacRuairidh’s writing was widely praised during his lifetime and after his death. The editor of Mac-Talla, Eòin MacFhionghain, wrote that he would send, ‘litrichean blasda brigheil as an Eilean Sgitheanach agus sgeulachdan breagha air a’ chur [sic] sios ann an cainnt cho tlachdmhor ’s nach sgithich neach sam bith dhe’n leughadh’ (quoted in Laing 2013, p. 26). Regarding his translation of the Sgeulachdan Aràbianach, it was remarked in his obituary in the Northern Chronicle (May 1907): ‘[T]he wonder was, and is, that he could find it so easy to clothe the thoughts of an Arabic-speaking people into such fluent and idiomatic Gaelic that the translation reads like a purely original work’ (quoted in Laing 2013, p. 42).
His writing style is natural and colloquial. He disliked English loan words in speech (ibid.), and so his written work is a valuable source for Gaelic vocabulary, but especially of idiomatic language. More than a century since they were translated, the tales remain remarkably clear — although there are some old-fashioned features, such as the use of ‘ciod’. MacRuairidh’s Benbecula dialect, perhaps influenced by Skye, is evident in his writing. He also made an effort to reflect colloquial Gaelic in his use of punctuation and spelling.
The following two extracts give a taste of the translation from Gaelic to English, based on the Englishedition he is likely to have used. He avoids keeping too close to the original text but expresses its meaning in native phrasing that would be widely understood.
He had the gift of understanding the languages of beasts, but with this condition, that he should interpret it to nobody on pain of death; and this hindered him from communicating to others what he learned by means of this gift (Anon. 1868, p. 1).
Bha e ’na dhuine anabarrach fiosrach, foghluimte, agus bha e comasach air cainnt gach ainmhidh fo ’n ghrein a thuigsinn; ach nan innseadh e gu ’n robh an t-eolas so aige, cha bhiodh an tuilleadh saoghail aige. Agus thug so air nach d’ innis e do dhuine riamh aon lideadh de na chuala e na h-ainmhidhean ag radh (MacRuairidh 1897 [Division I], p. 1).
The following examples of language come from Division I (1897) unless otherwise stated.
Sgeulachdan Arabianach, indeed every page, is full of idioms and expressive language. Examples include: cuir mu dheidhinn (‘set about’) — An la-iar-na-mhaireach chuir am marsanta mu dheidhinn gach ni a bhuineadh dha a chur ann an ordugh (p. 15); suidhich (‘resolve, fix’ etc.) — gu’n do shuidhich iad gu’n cuireadh iad gu bas mi (p. 28), Tha mi suidhichte air do chur gu bas (p. 36), bha e mar chleachdadh suidhichte aige (p. 32); cuir an rathad (‘send [this] way’) — a chuir a’ mhaighdean og so ’nar rathad (p. 24); A dh’ aon fhacal’ (p. 23) (‘briefly’); a dh’aon chuid (‘anyway, in any case’) — “Is mise a rinn e,” ars’ ise; “a dh’ aon chuid, is mi a thug ordugh do m’ phiuthair a dheanamh (p. 30); air a h-uile cor (‘at all costs’) — feumaidh mi air a h-uile cor fios an aobhair fhaotainn (p. 6); deargadh (‘trace’ etc.) — cha robh deargadh eisg annta [anns na lìn] (p. 33).
Some other interesting expressions are: Bha i gu stracadh le feirg (p. 7), Bha ’n t-aireach na bu chruaidhe cridhe na mise (p. 20), thoisich e ri gul gu goirt (p. 15), thig innleachd ri aimbeirt (p. 38) (i.e. necessity is the mother of invention), Nach bu mhi ceann a’ chruaidh fhortain (p. 36) and Bu tu an ceann fortanach ’gad bhreith (p. 2), Cha do tharr mi ach gann tuiteam anns an uisge (pp. 28-29), tha corruich mhor orm ri do bhraithrean (p. 29), thug mi na tri mile bonn airgid as an fhalach (p. 30), Sheall e air an t-soitheach mor thimchioll (p. 33).
The text contains vocabulary specifically relating to the Middle Eastern culture of the tales; sometimes comparable Gaelic terms are adopted for things not present in the culture, e.g. fathach (p. 12) is used for ‘genie’, a supernatural creature in Arabic mythology; claidheamh (p. 12) is used for ‘scimitar’, a curved Middle Eastern sabre; the ‘grand vizier’ is rendered as ard-chomhairleach (p. 42); ‘caliph’ is simply converted to rìgh, i.e. Righ Haroun Alrashid (p. 84). An example of the Gaelicisation of a Persian term occurs in caladair or caladairean (p. 94) which refers to ‘calender’, a member of a mendicant order of dervishes.
Supernatural terminology includes bean-shìthe Is bean-shithe mise (p. 29), aon de na mnathan-sithe (p. 28), geas gu’n do thog i dhiot na geasan (p. 24), na geasan fo’n deachaidh do chuir le draoidheachd (p. 24), and Aladdin’s famous enchanted lamp is translated as cruisgean (Division II, p. 75).
Other notable examples of terminology relate more broadly to the social world of the tales: marsantan-siubhail (p. 26), staidean (p. 1) (‘estates’), do ’n taigh-fharagaidh (p. 26), i.e. ‘to the bathing house’, tuarastalaich (‘hire’) in Thuarasdalaich sinn long eadrainn (p. 27), earradh (‘clothing’) in cha robh uimpe ach droch earradh (p. 28), cho bochd coltas ’na h-earradh (p. 28), camfor (Division III, p. 14) (‘camphor’), craobhan siucair (Division III, p. 14) (‘Indian canes’), olla na cno-choco (Division III, p. 3) (‘coconut oil’).
The translator’s dialect may be represented in the following examples: a chorr in a chorr air na bheil mi gus a thoirt do m’ mhac (p. 23), dara in anns an dara trian (p. 30), druideadh in air do dhruideadh a staigh (p. 34), còmhladh in comhladh rium (p. 24), feòraich in dh’ fheoraich mi dheth (p. 26), fo’n deachaidh (p. 24), closnach in closnach aiseil (p. 32), luma-làn in luma-lan eisg (p. 32), abair and theirinn e.g. an abair mi riut (p. 34), na theirinn riutha (p. 27), similidh (‘cowardly’) in ann an doigh gle shimilidh (p. 30), an dèis in An deis dhaibh failte a chur air a cheile (p. 16), am fagasg in An uair a thainig latha na feisd bhliadhnail am fagusg (p. 20), gun tugadh in a chum gu’n tugadh e orm truas a ghabhail dheth (p. 21), also thugaibh fa-near in thugaibh fa near gu’m bheil e air orduchadh (p. 16). In terms of grammar, the use of gu before a verbal noun in the infinitive mood should be noted: thainig mi a dh’ aon ghnothach g’ a innseadh dhut (p. 22), Ghuidh i orm […] mi ’g a posadh ’s a toirt leam (p. 28).
OrthographyThe orthography of Sgeulachdan Aràbianach is in keeping with the late 19th century period, although no characteristics clearly separate it from texts in the early 20th century period. The following examples are drawn from Division I. (1897).
One of the striking orthographic features is that no accents (grave or acute) are present whatsoever, e.g. aiteachan (p. 1), duthaich’ (ibid.), moran (ibid.), seorsa (ibid.), fhein (ibid.), etc. We know that MacRuairidh did use accents elsewhere (cf. Laing 2013, pp. 29, 32-33), therefore it seems likely that their absence is the result of the printing process.
Apostrophes are found in prepositions and conjunctions: de ’n (p. 1), gu ’m (ibid.), gu ’n (ibid.), fo ’n (ibid.), Mu ’n gann (p. 2). They are also present: in the negative form of the verb ‘to be’ — Cha ’n ’eil (p. 2), Cha ’n (p. 2); with possessive phrases — bha e ’na dhuine (p. 1), ’na sheasamh (ibid.), ’nan aghaidh (p. 3), ’n ad’ bheatha (p. 6); with prepositional possessive pronouns — ’gad bhreith (p. 2); to replace the masculine possessive pronoun between vowels — Cheangail e ’earball (p. 3), le ’adhaircean (p. 4); in the relative form of the assertive verb — a’s truime (p. 2) — and; in a suppressed possessive pronoun in the phrase ri chèileri ’cheile (p. 1).
The abbreviated form of the conjunction agus contains an apostrophe — ’s, e.g. e fhein ’s a bhean (p. 1), air cho beag ’s a tha thu (p. 2). The abbreviated form of the preposition anns an also contains an apostrophe and space — ’s an, e.g. anamoch ’s an oidhche (p. 2), ’s an fheasgar (p. 5) — but this is also used with the abbreviated conjunction agus followed by the article — ’s an, e.g. eadar e fhein ’s an damh (p. 5), eadar an damh ’s an t-aiseal (p. 6).
Spaces are present: following the possessive pronoun doair d’ aite fhein (p. 3), mu d’ chasan fhein (p. 5), do d’ ghoraiche-sa (p. 7) — and following the particle in the past tense dh’dh’ aidich e (p. 3), a dh’ iarr (p. 3).
There is a frequent loss of a’/ag in verbal nouns following vowels — a bha e ’deanamh (p. 1), tha thu ’leigeadh leotha bhith ’gabhail (p. 2), le bhith ’sgriobadh (p. 3), nach ’eil thu ’cur (p. 3). There is a contraction where a verb ending with a vowel is followed by an article or preposition beginning with a vowel — a th’ agad (p. 2), Chual’ am marsanta (p. 3), bha ’n damh (p. 4). Similarly, the orthography follows colloquial speech in cutting vowels in or before the article when preceded by a word ending in a vowel — fada ’n t-saoghail (p. 1), ars’ an damh (p. 1). Spaces are always present in contractions.
Spelling patterns and forms
Older forms of spelling include: la-iar-na-mhaireach (p. 3), dhachaidh (p. 2), aobhar (p. 3), a bhithteadh (p. 4), gu’n oibricheadh (p. 4), a null ’s a nall (p. 4), mar so (p. 1), Cha dubhairt (p. 2), cia mar (p. 1), c’ar son (p. 3), gu ’n coimhlion thu (p. 55).
We find the following older spelling patterns: gh < dhair aghart (p. 1), naigheachd (p. 22) — but dh < gh with deaghair do dheadh bheathachadh (p. 2), air a dheadh ghlanadh (p. 2), u < ataighean-comhnuidh (p. 1), foghluimte (p. 1), stabull (p. 1), ionnsuidh (p. 22), d < tfurasda (p. 62).
Interestingly, the modern spelling taigh rather than tigh is found in the text: taighean-comhnuidh (p. 1), taigh-fharagaidh (p. 26), falbh o ’n taigh (p. 44).
Where the preposition an (‘in’) is reduced to the single letter n, and followed by a possessive pronoun beginning with a vowel, an apostrophe or a space (or both) may be used: dhuinn ’n ar triuir (p. 27) ’n ar cadal (p. 28), ’n am shealladh (p. 30), ’n am bheachd (p. 39).
Orthographic phases
Two features are noticeable which come to be seen as more conservative later in the 20th century: the use of the genitive following verbal nouns without the article — ’deanamh dioghaltais (p. 54), tha ’deanamh aoraidh do’n teine (p. 74) — and the use of ciod instead of ciod e am math (p. 3), ciod a tha run ort (p. 5), ciod a chuala tu? (p. 6).
One important feature missing in the text is the older dative plural -aibh, which is more common earlier in the 19th century. E.g. anns na beanntan (p. 66), instead of anns na beanntaibh, likewise anns na h-Innsean (p. 73), anns na nithean (p. 111), air na craobhan (p. 16), air na duilleagan (p. 53).
Also unlike earlier 19th-century texts, here we find the spellings dhaibh (p. 16) instead of dhoibh, math (p. 2) instead of maith, and facal (p. 6) (plural facail (p. 68)) instead of focal. In an earlier text, a transcription of a tale recited by his brother, MacRuairidh comments on his spelling of the latter two examples based on widespread pronounciation: ‘I never heard the words maith and focal used in common conversation in any part of the counties of Ross, Inverness, and Argyll. The words used were math and facal’ (Macrury 1887, p. 101).
EditionFirst edition of Divisions I-III, bound together.
1) The tales in this volume were originally published in the Northern Chronicle newspaper between December 1896 and August 1898 (Laing 2013, pp. 109-112), and in Mac-Talla newspaper between January 1897 and September 1898 (Ibid., pp. 58-63).
2) This volume contains three separate Divisions each with its own Title Page and Date of Publication: 1897, 1899, 1900. These dates do not exactly match up with the stories’ first appearance in print. The internal evidence suggests, therefore, that each Division was published separately as a pamphlet and later bound together.
3) A second edition of Division I was published in 1906 by “Northern Chronicle” Office.
4) The remaining stories of the Arabian Nights were published in the Northern Chronicle up to September 1903 (Ibid., p. 121), and many of those also appeared in Mac-Talla until August 1903 (Ibid., p. 77).
5) A complete edition of all the Gaelic Arabian Nights tales translated by Iain MacRuairidh — with some editorial changes, including bringing characters’ names closer to the Arabic — was published by Akerbeltz in 2017.
Other Sources
Further ReadingAnon. The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. Translated from the Arabic. (Edinburgh, 1868: William P. Nimmo).
Anon., The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. Translated from the Arabic. (Edinburgh, 1881: William P. Nimmo).
Dwelly, Edward, The Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary (Glasgow, 1994 [1901-1911]: Gairm Publications), viii.
Laing, Calum, ‘Na Sgrìobhaidhean aig An Urr Iain MacRuairidh’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Vol. LXIII (2004), 308-336.
Laing, Calum, An t-Urramach Iain MacRuairidh: A Bheatha agus na Sgrìobhaidhean Aige (Inbhir Nis, 2013: Clàr).
Mack, Robert L., (ed.), Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (Oxford World Classics) (Oxford, 2009: Oxford University Press).
Macrury, Rev John, ‘Teann Sìos a Dhomhuill Oig’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Volume XIV (1889 [1887-1888]), 101-111.
Scott, Hew, et al., (ed.), Fasti Ecclesiae scoticanae: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation, Vol. VIII (Edinburgh, 1915: Oliver & Boyd), 180-181.
Thomson, Derick S., (ed.), The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm Publications), 243.
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