Ambiguity everywhere

Much of the basic grammatical machinery of Gaelic consists of overloaded words. This is nothing unusual, of course; in English, for example, to is both a preposition and marks the infinitive, but there seems to be an awful lot of it going on in Gaelic. One of the more striking examples is an. This can be:

  • the definite article: an t-eilean
  • an interrogative particle: An do chòrd e riut?
  • the interrogative form of is: An toil leat ball-coise?
  • a possessive pronoun (their): an càr

Do has several meanings too:

  • a possessive pronoun (your): do bhaidhseagal 
  • a preposition: do Ghlaschu
  •  a past-tense marking particle: An do chòrd e riut?

has at least the following meanings and there may well be some I’ve missed:

  • numerical particle: a h-aon
  • vocative particle: a Mhàiri
  • the infinitive particle: an uinneag a dhùnadh
  • an interrogative particle: A bheil thu a’ dannsadh?
  • two possessive pronouns (her and his): a chàr, a h-athair
  • relative particle: Dè an t-ainm a tha ort?

not to mention its homophonous friend a’:

  • definite article: anns a’ chidsin
  • the participle particle: Tha mi a’ dol

If I want to start part-of-speech-tagging Gaelic text, as a preliminary to building a grammar, I’m going to need to write some guidelines as to when each of these words is what.


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2 Responses to Ambiguity everywhere

  1. Will Lamb says:

    Hi Colin – we are currently working on developing a POS tagger for ScG at the U of Ed. Your comments about ambiguity are right on. There are a variety of graphemes that need to be disambiguated before a tagger will be successful.

    I published a list of the 100 most common Gaelic words in my 2008 book, Scottish Gaelic Speech and Writing (see p 281). There are a few differences to the one you have here. Nice to have some comparative data.

    Best, Will

  2. Colin Batchelor says:


    Wonderful news about the POS tagger and corpus! I look forward to seeing it when it comes out. I shall also hasten to read your book.

    Rather imagine that the 100 top words in the gd wikipedia will change as it fills out and becomes less geographical, of course.

    Thanks for the comment,

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