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 Càilean, 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), fhèarr (adj), mhath (adj)
  • PP[air]: beag (adj), lugha (adj)
  • PP[do]: fhiach (adj), urrainn (n), chòir (n), aithne (n), àbhaist (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 把 in Chinese. This is very often a PP, for example from here: ‘s ann às 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?

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