Category Archives: Grammar

Articles on Gaelic grammar. Hopefully these might be of use to fellow learners.

What am I doing with my Gaelic?

Deagh cheist (good question) – what have I been doing? Well, there was never any real plan after An Cùrsa Inntrigidh other than to enjoy having Gaelic as a hobby. The whole point of doing the course was to give me a foundation upon which to build in my own time – over many years, in amongst doing other things I enjoy. So that’s what I’m doing. Don’t expect fluency any time soon! After ACI I worked through Scottish Gaelic in 12 Weeks which covered the areas ACI didn’t cover, but would have been covered on the following course An Cùrsa Adhartais, which I chose not to do. Therefore I have the vast majority of the grammar covered and the focus over the next year or two will be:

Improved Vocabulary – Not looking to swallow a dictionary, but I’m trying to develop a vocabulary which is relevant to the words I need i.e. no point in trying to remember the Gaelic for a word I’ll barely use. 

Improved Idiom – What’s Idiom? Well idiom is the way a language chooses to say something with a structure which may be unusual to non-native speakers. For example there are a lot of idiomatic phrases involving the verb cuir (put).

  • Tha mi airson crìoch a chur air an leabhar seo – I want to finish this book
    • literally: put an end on this book
  • Bu toil leam eòlach a chur air Barraigh – I would like to get to know Barra
    • literally: put familiarity on Barra

Idiom is the bit which means solid grammar foundations and a good vocabulary isn’t enough. You need to know how things are said. Until you do you will always come across as a learner. That said, until you know the idiom you can only go with what you have, and in time you will learn the idiomatic phrasing when you come across it. As long as you’re understood, you have a foundation to build on.

Improved Listening – At the moment this is not good. I still struggle to keep up with anything other than really basic conversations. The plan for later this year, possibly next, is to start working through the Beag air Bheag podcasts on Rèidio Nan Gàidheal. These are not for beginners but the hope will be that my knowledge of grammar backed up by solid vocabulary and improving idiom will serve me well.

To help with the first two goals I have started to read through Leabhar nan Litrichean (Book of Letters). This is a collection of the first 200 letters of an on-going series. The letters so far have been primarily old tales of where, when and how the Gaelic language was used. The writing can be a bit poetic at times but it has helped me add some much needed idiom as well as some useful vocabulary.

To date I’ve read letters 1-5 and the intention is to read and work on 5 before doing something else – including write blog pieces and working on other resources i.e. letters 6-10 will be tackled in a few weeks.

Key point in all of this is that there is no magic wand. It’s going to take time and effort – both of which I will give willingly. However, the results will be slow but that was always the idea. Gaelic is now something I have in my life which I enjoy greatly and it’s something I will work away at for the rest of my days, even if the outside world doesn’t see much evidence of it!

Taing airson leughadh!

A bheil Gàidhlig Agam?

Well, after nearly 5 months on Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s distance learning course for beginners – An Cùrsa Inntrigidh – the answer is I have a lot more Gaelic than I did at the start. The course is primarily focused on grammar, which I like, and so far we’ve learnt several key building blocks which allow relatively basic sentences to be constructed. What I am now able to say, while sounding quite impressive, is limited to the kind of conversation featured in the course.

What you see below is an example of what I can come up with based on some of what we’ve been taught so far. It’s a bio of a made-up friend, which was something I wrote for one of the weekly phone tutorials a few weeks back. The plan is to keep writing about this character, and as my Gaelic gets better more will be written about Emil and his family.

“Tha caraid agam. ‘S e Emil Nielsen a th’ air. Tha Emil à Copenhagen anns an Danmharc. Tha Emil a’ fuireach anns an Tòb anns na Hearadh a-nis. ‘S e baile mòr trang a th’ ann an Copenhagen ach ‘s e àite glè bheag sàmhach a th’ anns an Tòb. Tha Emil ag obair air an aiseag eadar an Tòb agus Beàrnaraigh – ‘s e MV Lochportain a th’ air an aiseag. Tha e pòsta agus ‘s e Màiri-Anna a th’ air a bhean. Tha Màiri-Anna à Bagh a’ Chaisteil ann am Barriagh. Tha i ag obair ann am bùth anns an Tòb.

Tha a theaghlach anns an Danmharc agus anns an t-Suain. Tha a mhàthair agus athair a’ fuireach ann an seann taigh mòr ann an Copenhagen. Tha dà phiuthar agus bràthair aige. Tha a phiuthar bheag Sofia agus a bhràthair beag Jesper a’ fuireach fhathast ann an Copenhagen còmhla ri am pàrantan. Tha a phiuthar mhòr Freja a’ fuireach ann an Stockholm anns an t-Suain. Tha Freja ag obair ann an coimpiutairean ann an oifis ann an Stockholm fhèin.

Tha nighean agus mac aig Emil. ‘S e Murchadh agus Mòrag na h-ainmean a th’ orra. Tha Murchadh còig agus tha Mòrag tri a-nis. Tha cù agus cat aca. ‘S e Bonzo agus Bobby a th’ orra. Tha bràthair aig Màiri-Anna. ‘S e Fionnlagh a th’ air agus tha e a’ fuireach ann an Èirisgeigh. Tha a pàrantan a’ fuireach fhathast ann am Barraigh. Tha Hyundai aig Emil agus Màiri-Anna. Tha rotharan aig Murchadh agus Mòrag.

Tha caraid aig Emil agus Màiri-Anna air a’ Thairbeart. ‘S e Seumas MacLeòid a th’ air. Tha Seumas ag obair anns a’ bhùth-èisg anns a’ bhaile. Tha carabhan aig Seumas anns an Tòb cuideachd. Tha Seumas agus a theaghlach a’ fuireach anns a’ charabhan aig deireadh na seachdain.

Agus sin mo charaid Emil Nielsen.”

Translation

“I have a friend. His name is Emil Nielsen. Emil is from Copenhagen in Denmark. Emil now lives in Leverburgh in Harris. Copenhagen is a large, busy town but Leverburgh is a very small, quiet place. Emil works on the ferry between Leverburgh and Berneray – the ferry is called the MV Loch Portain. He is married and his wife’s name is Mary-Ann. Mary-Ann is from Castlebay in Barra. She works in a shop in Leverburgh.

His family is in Denmark and Sweden. His mother and father live in a big, old house in Copenhagen. He has two sisters and a brother. His little sister, Sofia, and his little brother, Jesper, still live in Copenhagen with their parents. His big sister, Freja, lives in Stockholm in Sweden. Freja works in computers in an office in Stockholm itself. 

Emil has a son and a daughter. Their names are Murdo and Morag. Murdo is five and Morag is three. They have a cat and a dog. They are called Bonzo and Bobby. Mary-Ann has a brother. His name is Finlay and he lives in Eriskay. Her parents still live in Barra. Emil and Mary-Ann have a Hyundai. Murdo and Morag have bikes.

Emil and Mary-Ann have a friend in Tarbert. His name is James MacLeod. James works in the fish-shop in the town. James has a caravan in Leverburgh too. James and his family stay in the caravan at the weekend. 

And that is my friend Emil Nielsen.”

Impressive? Maybe not, but I’m fairly pleased with the progress so far. Yes, my canvas isn’t particularly large but once we begin to explore verbs things should begin to open up. Over the summer I will be spending time reviewing what I’ve learnt so far, as well as adding some new vocabulary and brushing up on my pronunciation i.e. when the second part of the course starts I’ll know what I need to know, and a bit more.

That’s all for now, but I will post another blog in a couple of weeks covering my thoughts on the course itself i.e. what I liked, what I didn’t – that sort of thing. Until then, as always, thanks for reading.

Le deagh dhùrachdan.

Pòl.

Speaking Our Language – ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig na h-Alba

At least twice before I’ve attempted to learn (Scottish) Gaelic. However, on each occasion, I’ve given up without too much of a fight. Learning a new language, particularly one where pronunciation isn’t intuitive to English speakers, can be difficult. For all that the fire has still burned and at the third attempt, I’m hopeful that I finally have lift off.

In my hometown, a Gaelic Conversation class started in early November. The class is run by a native Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Lewis who has kindly given up her Friday nights for the cause. After an initial surge of interest, the class has trimmed down to half a dozen or so who seem keen to learn. Think to start with people turn up and are immediately put off by the quirky pronunciation and sentence constructs. At that point, if the motivation isn’t strong you could be put off. That said, learning anything new will have an initial knowledge curve, but that shouldn’t put people off if it’s something they truly want to do, and importantly, have the time and drive to commit to the process. My personality may have many flaws but one I do have is a stickability to see something through when it truly interests and intrigues me, especially when there is genuine motivation allied to an intellectual challenge.

Well, why do I want to learn Gaelic? Several reasons. First and foremost because I still believe that Gaelic is Scotland’s language. For many reasons lost in the mists of time, the language was pushed away from the mainland out to the Island fringes. However, the language has never died and I want to play a small part in making sure it never does. It’s not about creating a difference between  Scotland and other countries, it’s about holding onto something Scottish. Something in which much of our history and culture remains wrapped – for example, there are many lowland (and indeed border) towns which have place names rooted in Gaelic. On a more direct level, I  want to make my Scottish Islands website (www.lonely-isles.com) bilingual. I want to blog and read Gaelic. I’d also like to speak it, if and when chances arrive.

While I continue to plan on attending my local conversational class I have also decided to strike while the iron is well and truly hot. Scotland’s only Gaelic language college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, runs a three-part introductory course in Gaelic. It is a distance learning course and will be spread over 18 or so months. Hopefully, by the end, I will have a solid foundation on which to build on over the coming years.

I will, of course, write a regular diary on my blog so those reading can keep up to speed on my progress. I warn you now that you may be seeing more and more Gaelic on my blog, but fear not, an English translation will always be provided. Finally, as this is going to be my last blog of the year then it seems only appropriate to end with the following greeting:

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

Thanks for reading.