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?
A 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.