Ge?rr Ghr?mar na G?idhlig

Tha mi air a bhith a’ leughadh Ge?rr Ghr?mar na G?idhlig le Richard A. V. Cox. Tha e gl? dhl?th, mhionaideach is 492 duilleagan a dh’fhaide is e anns a’ Gh?idhlig air fad. Mar sin tha sanas bhriathar ann is tha na teirmichean teicnigeach nas soilleire na anns a’ Bheurla. D? tha apocope, syncope is aphaeresis a’ ciallachadh? Teasgadh deiridh, teasgadh meadhain is teasgadh toisich.

I have been reading Richard A. V. Cox’s Ge?rr Ghr?mar na G?idhlig (‘Short Grammar of Gaelic’). It’s very dense, very detailed and 492 pages long, not to mention entirely in Gaelic. To this end there is a glossary of the technical vocabulary, which is generally easier to work out than the corresponding vocabulary in English: apocope, syncope and aphaeresis are teasgadh deiridh, teasgadh meadhain and teasgadh toisich.


(1) D?reach aona m?os deug roimhe sin…

“Just eleven months before that”. In my annotation guidelines I have blithely stated “Attributive numbers are N/N“, which is fine for aona, but less so for deug, which I am going to treat as N\N. And yet in tr? deug m?le it seems fair enough.

(2) Bha G?idhlig ga bruidhinn air feadh Alba anns an aona linn deug.

(3) Bha sin ann an naoi ceud deug, fichead ‘s a ceithir.

Years and centuries are interesting. In (2), anns an aona … deug means “in the tenth”, as opposed to the other examples where deug means “ten”. In (3) the heads look like ceud, fichead and ceithir, so each of these can be N too.

Different rules apply, however, for the personal numbers: aonar, dithis, tri?ir and so on because if they are not standing on their own, they are followed by a noun in the genitive, for example dithis chloinne (“two children”) where dithis is N and chloinne is N\N.

Resumptivity resumed

I said?(four years ago) that Gaelic doesn’t have resumptive pronouns. However, while scouring William Lamb’s?Scottish Gaelic for unusual uses of?agus, I found these examples, with the resumptive bit in bold.

  • sin an gille a shuidh C?it air (that is the boy who Kate sat upon) (do not try this at home)
  • sin an gille a tha a mh?thair bochd (that is the boy whose mother is ill)

Now, in dictionaries?air?in the first example is indeed treated as a pronoun, though for subcategorization purposes I prefer to treat it as a PP. The second case, a?as possessive pronoun, I’ve been treating as a pronoun, so on my own account what I said about Gaelic was wrong. It may of course be a determiner. The evidence for this off the top of my head is that unlike the small class of prenominal adjectives deagh, droch, s?r and so on,?the possessives?mo, do, a and so on can’t co-occur with the article?an or with?gach, and that unlike nouns in the genitive they go before the possessor rather than after the possessor. Pronoun or determiner, they have type N/N in categorial grammar.

Apparently there are resumptive pronouns in Irish, but I don’t have enough Irish to make sense of the literature I’ve seen on the subject, so I shall stop here.

Interrogative frequencies in DASG

One aspect of Gaelic I want to look at more closely is interrogatives. Just as all the wh- words in English (who, when, why, what, how) go to the front of the sentence, so do all the c- words in Gaelic and the word order in the rest of the sentence changes as well. This is not universal, however. In Chinese, one simply substitutes the word for ‘what’ in the ordinary sentence order, just as when we’re particularly surprised in English we might say “You ate what?”.

In order to see how they work exactly, we need example sentences, so I’ve been looking in?DASG. One easy first step is to look at frequencies in this table:

Interrogative Count English Observations
c? 9122 who noisy; lots of prefixes and parts of words
ciod 4587 what ?
cia 2363 how also cia mar?in older texts, cia fhad ‘how long’,?cia mh?r ‘how big’
d? 403 what also ‘God’
ciamar 273 how ?
c?it 182 where also genitive of cat meaning ‘cat’
carson 133 why ?
c?ite 90 where ?
cuin 59 when ?
cuine 15 when ?

These are the results of accent-insensitive searches as the older texts haven’t had their spelling modernized or made consistent. The results surprised me a great deal for a number of reasons. Firstly,?ciod?’what’, which I don’t recall seeing terribly often in the present day is the most numerous interrogative, mostly occurring in a single document, a history of Scotland. One of the very first words you learn in Gaelic is its modern counterpart?d?, which only has about 200 (judged by eye) instances as an interrogative in DASG. This is a similar number to?c?it(e), carson,?cuin(e), and?ciamar, ‘where’, ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’. Secondly, the enormous number of hits for?cia?‘how’, which on a cursory inspection are often?exclamations, ‘how swift’, ‘how long’, ‘how horrible’ or an old spelling of?ciamar in addition to the more familiar?cia mheud ‘how many’.?Thirdly, nearly all of the instances of?d? meaning ‘what’ are from a single work,?Saoghal Bana-mharaiche, describing the Gaelic from the coast of Easter Ross.

I’ll leave you with a new meaning I’d never seen before for gu. This can be gu the?preposition, gu the subordinator (as in?gu bheil),?gu the aspect marker?or gu?the adverbializer, but?Gu d? tha thu? from DASG31,?Ugam agus bhuam, is clearly neither. As explained here, what is going on is this: the Gaelic for ‘what’ used to be?ciod e, like the Irish?cad ?, and over time this became?d?. Gu d? is a variant of this. It’s another one of those pesky multiword expressions.

[Edit 2015-01-03 to clarify reason for looking at interrogatives and add another meaning of?gu.]

DASG and the second comparative

If you haven’t come across?Dachaigh airson St?ras na G?idhlig/Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic you should stop what reading this and go straight there.

Welcome back. It contains eight and a half million words and is a resource I keep coming back to. In my first investigation, I’m looking for the second comparative, which I had never seen before last weekend. Here’s an example:

Is feairrde na stamagan srubag dheth

(The stomachs are better for a wee drink in them.) It’s explained in Gillie’s?Elements of Scottish Gaelic Grammar, as differing from the normal comparative (“Xer”) in that it means “Xer by that” or “Xer because of that”. If you search for a word, DASG gives you a concordance so you can look at the local context of words.

Some second comparatives in DASG: feairrd, feairrde, misd, bigid, lughaid. An ambiguous word that might be a second comparative:?m?id. I look forward to a POS-tagged version of DASG.

Headline passive

I read the news today. To be precise, I’ve been looking at the BBC website’s news in Gaelic?and I’ve spotted a grammatical theme among a large proportion?of the headlines and standfirsts:

  • Fiosrachadh ga shireadh mu ghoid charbad phoilis?“information sought about the theft of a police car”
  • Ceathrar gan toirt far Beinn Nibheis?“Four people taken from the top of Ben Nevis”
  • Teaghlach de cheathrar gan toirt far Beinn Nibheis […]?(standfirst for the foregoing) “Family of four taken from the top of Ben Nevis”
  • Duine ga lorg air a’ Chliseam?“Person found on Clisham [mountain on Harris]”
  • Leasachadh Beinn Uais ga dhi?ltadh?“Ben Wyvis development turned down”

Here the aspect marker?ag?preceding a verbal noun has merged with the possessive pronoun that is the direct object of the direct noun in question (sireadh,?toirt,?lorg and?diultadh), leniting it if it’s?ga?masculine. Put a form of?bi at the front and you have a full sentence, but it need not be passive in that case. They could be, maybe absurdly:

  • Information seeks him about the theft of a police car
  • Four people take them from the top of Ben Nevis
  • Family of four take them from the top of Ben Nevis
  • Person finds him on Clisham?or Person finds it on Clisham
  • Ben Wyvis development turns him down

These have a look of machine translation about them, don’t they?

The Coordinate Structure Constraint: evidence from Irish


Ross’s 1967 MIT thesis Constraints on Variables in Syntax introduced, among other things, the Coordinate Structure Constraint, which is a generalization of the intuitive notion that coordinators (in English, “and”, “but”, “or” and so on) coordinate nouns with nouns (“fish and chips”), verbs with verbs (“come and go”) to exclude sentences like “Whose tax did the nurse polish her trombone and the plumber compute?”

While keeping my eyes peeled for examples of non-constituent coordination in Gaelic, and I should note that I have a blogpost in preparation with examples from William Lamb’s Scottish Gaelic, including the constructions that are examples of “cosubordination”, I’ve been reading M?che?l ? Siadhail’s?Learning Irish, which has some examples of what the author calls “idiomatic uses of?agus“. These first five coordinate non-constituents:

Bh? Br?d ann agus ? tinn. (1)

T? C?it ansin agus leabhar m?r aici.?(2)

D’imigh M?irt?n amach agus gan aon ch?ta air.?(3)

Bh? an bosca ansin is m? ag t?ocht abhaile. (4)

Bh? an l? gearr is th? ag imeacht thart mar sin. (5)

(1) coordinates NP + existential ANN with NP + ADJ. (2) coordinates NP + ADV with NP + PP. (3) coordinates ADV with PP. (4) coordinates NP + ADV with NP + small clause. (5) coordinates NP + ADJ with NP + small clause. Sadly there are no counterexamples of uses that are unidiomatic. is also shows up in constructions with chomh (like Gaelic cho, which is similar):

chomh s?sta is a bh? M?irt?n (6)

“as pleased as Martin was”. Here is coordinates ADJ with a direct relative clause.

There are also some non-coordinative-looking uses:

An bhfuil s? m?le as seo go Carna? T? agus deich m?le! (7)

T? m? ag imeacht anois. T? agus mise! (8)

Is maith liom an ?it seo. Is maith agus liomsa! (9)

Any account of coordination in Irish at least has to be able to cope with examples (1) to (6). I hunt on for examples in Gaelic.

An interesting case of coordination

A few weeks ago I spotted this from @BBCAimsir?(the weather in Gaelic) on Twitter:

which said (just in case the embedding stops working at some future date):

Tha i bl?th agus sinn air 20C a ruighinn an Glaschu agus na Criochan.

Literally “It is warm and we have reached 20 degrees Celsius in Glasgow and the Borders”. What is interesting about it is that it’s coordinating two non-constituents, in English “it… warm” and “we… reached”. This is the sort of thing that CCG is good at handling.

I wonder how common non-constituent coordination like this is in Gaelic, though?

What particles do

Most words in categorial grammar are functions. In English, a transitive verb such as “eats” is a function that takes two NP arguments and gives you a clause, S, back. The notation for this is (S/NP)\NP. (Aside: This is rather like defining a function in a programming language, except that void isn’t a type.)

What does this functional approach tell us about particles like?a and?chan? To answer this I’ll need to set out the different sort of clauses I’ve seen in Scottish Gaelic. The notation here is based on CCGbank, which itself is based on that of the Penn Treebank, and I’ve marked new ones as such.

  • S[adj]: predicative adjective. Example: snog in?Tha i snog.
  • S[dcl]: ordinary declarative sentence.?Tha i snog.
  • S[q]: polar question.?A bheil i snog?
  • (new) S[neg]: negative question.?Chan eil i snog.
  • (new) S[negq]: negative polar question.?Nach eil i snog?
  • S[wh]: wh-question:?Ciamar a tha thu?
  • (new) S[n]: verbal noun-headed small clause.?iarraidh cofaidh?in?Tha mi ag iarraidh cofaidh.
  • S[em]: embedded declarative.?a tha thu in?Ciamar a tha thu?
  • (new) S[dep]: dependent verb-headed clause.?bheil i snog in?A bheil i snog?
  • (new) S[a]:?a-infinitive.?a bhith a’ dannsadh

The five new ones need some explanation. S[neg] and S[negq] are motivated by the clear fourfold division of ordinary sentences into positive, interrogative, negative and interrogative negative. S[n], relating as it does to a verbal noun, replaces S[ed], S[pss] and S[ng] in the CCGbank scheme for English. S[a] is somewhat like?S[to] in the CCGbank scheme but not exactly the same as it contains a verbal noun somewhere, and lastly S[dep] presents a phenomenon we simply don’t get in English.

So what do particles do here? Let’s take a few examples from last week’s An Litir Bheag:


Here cha is a function mapping a dependent clause to a negative sentence.


There is a lot going on there. I’ve thought of adverbs as taking a sentence in and giving you a sentence back. Hence gu when it serves to make an adverb out of an adjective, takes S[adj] as its argument and gives you a function that takes a S[dcl] and gives you back S[dcl]. na, as in “that which”, is a function that takes a S[dcl] and gives you a NP back. I’m using shorthands for conjunctions and PPs, but these are both described in the literature.

Potential point for discussion: I’ve treated ag,?a’,?air,?gu and?ri when they introduce verbal nouns as PP/S[n]. But maybe they should be a clause type of their own. Needs more thought.

What the meaning of “is” is

This is the Scottish Gaelic?is, often pronounced and written ‘s, not the English “is”. It’s a copula, and you can say things like Is mise C?ilean, or ‘S math sin, but usually the constructions are more complicated than that and those two examples are

We have the clefted construction Is + e + NP + (for example) a tha?+ PP[ann] to equate the NP and the innards of the PP, where?e is pretty much an expletive like a lot of uses of “it” and “there” in English.

There are “quirky” constructions where the object looks like a subject, and the subject is expressed with a PP.?Is toil leam biadh innseanach?and? Is toil leam a bhith a’ dannsadhare examples, where it is I that like Indian food and I like dancing. (Examples from?Teach Yourself Gaelic, 2nd edn). My list so far of the words that can go in the?toil slot, and what sort of PP they take, is this:

  • PP[le]: toil (n), toigh (adj), caomh (adj), fh?arr (adj), mhath (adj)
  • PP[air]: beag (adj), lugha (adj)
  • PP[do]: fhiach (adj), urrainn (n), ch?ir (n), aithne (n), ?bhaist (n), mhiann (n)

I expect there are more! To the best of my (admittedly very limited) knowledge, a difference between Scottish and Irish Gaelic is that Irish Gaelic only takes adjectives in the?toil slot. They are a bit various in what sort of clausal complements they take, which is a matter for another blog posting.

The other important construction with is is where it’s followed by?ann in order to emphasize something that doesn’t normally go in that position, a bit like?? in Chinese. This is very often a PP, for example from here: ‘s ann ?s an Fhraing is Ameireagaidh a tha ise “It is from France and America she is from”. I think?ann here is really the fused PP for ann + e.

In summary:

  • Is + NP + NP (rare)
  • Is + ADJ + NP (also rare)
  • Is +?N[toil]/ADJ[toil] + PP + SUBJ
  • Is + e + a BI?+ PP[ann]
  • Is + ann?+ PP/ADJ/ADV/NP[temporal] + a BI?+ PP[ann]

Have I missed any?