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 dhiùltadh “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, toirtlorg 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?

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