As part of my Celtic MLitt, I have the privilege to take Scottish Gaelic (just ‘Gaelic’ through the rest of the post).
And although it may hurt my brain
(all the time), it’s also really amazing. Grammatically and phonetically (so, the way sentences are put together and the way it sounds), it’s so different from English, and that’s not even getting to the orthography (spelling).
It’s fascinating. And since I think so, I’m going to assume you will, too (is that pretentious?) and share 5 FUN FACTS about Gaelic.
And if you’re an Outlander fan that looks at the language and thinks “HOW?!?”, this may help a little bit.
But not much.
1- V S O, not S V O.
The letters above are a short way to say verb-subject-object, not subject-verb-object. It denotes the prevailing word order for sentences (and yes, there are some languages that put the object first. I don’t like to think about them).
English puts the subject first. So, “I am Dani” is S V O.
Gaelic doesn’t. In Gaelic, it’s ‘Is mise Dani’, so V S O (is being the verb, and mise meaning ‘I’ or ‘me’).
This has some lovely consequences that I’m still struggling to wrap my head around.
2-There are two different verbs for ‘to be.’
In English, we have ‘to be’ and then we have variant forms, like ‘am’ and ‘are’ and then past tense like ‘was’ and ‘were’, but we keep the same verb when saying ‘he is lovely’ as when saying ‘he is a student.’
Gaelic doesn’t. It has TWO verbs…one for description and one for definition, and they affect the way the sentence is put together.
So, ‘he is lovely’ is ‘tha e breagha.’ Exactly like English but with the verb and subject switched.
However, ‘he is a student’ is ‘ ‘S e oileanach a th’ann’, where ‘‘S e’ is short for ‘Is e’. It’s literally ‘It is a student that is in him.’
And it changes up more when you add in definite articles or possessive pronouns (the, my, yours, etc.), but that actually makes the sentence structure easier.
‘He is the student’ is just ‘ ‘S e esan an t-oileanach’, which is exactly like the English. It’s just the actual definite article that makes it complicated.
And like English, the verbs have variant forms to indicate things like past or future.
3- Prepositional Pronouns
I have a love-hate relationship with prepositional pronouns. Basically, it’s a preposition (like at, on, in, etc.) combined with a pronoun (me, you, etc.).
Gaelic for ‘in’ is ‘ann.’ Instead of saying ‘ann am mi’ or ‘ann an thu’ for in me and in you (which just sound weird), you combine them into one word.
Annam = at me.
Annad = at you (informal).
And there’s at him, at her, at us, at you (formal/plural), and at them.
Ann, innte, annainn, annaibh, annta.
There are lists of these, and although they’re awesome as a grammatical unit (hence the love), they’re such a pain to learn (that would be the hate). Remembering them long-term is also a bit tricky. It’s so easy to forget to practice the little buggers….
They are, however, necessary, because of things like….
4- The language lacks a verb for ‘to have.’
If you ever try to look it up, you’ll be disappointed. It doesn’t exist. You don’t have something in Gaelic; something is at you.
Prepositional pronouns: agam, agad, aige, aice, againn, agaibh, aca.
So, I have a cat. Or, in Gaelic, ‘Tha cat agam.’ A cat is at me.
Or, ‘Is an cat agam Milo.’ My cat is Milo. (‘an cat’ being ‘the cat’ but ‘an cat agam’ equating to ‘my cat’ because a definite article is needed there…).
It’s quite a fun structure but just like most new grammar, it’s also really, really annoying. I always forget that the subject is the thing I have, not me.
And last but not least….
5- There’s this weird thing where the letters RT next to each other add a sound.
So ‘ort’ sounds like ‘orsht’ and ‘tuirt’ sounds kinda like ‘torsht’ and basically I’m always just adding S’s in places they don’t belong.
But it’s also pretty cool.
These things all come into play in one of the Speak Outlander Lessons that some of the Outlander cast put together before Season One.
Sentence: Tha gaol agam ort.
So, we have V S O and one of the forms of ‘to be’ (fun facts 1 and 2).
Fun fact 3 is ‘ort’, a prepositional pronoun that means ‘on you.’
Fun fact 4 is ‘tha gaol agam’, which is the ‘I have’ structure.
Fun fact 5 is also ‘ort’…pronounced ‘orsht’.
So, ‘Tha gaol agam ort’ = ‘Is love at me on you’ = ‘Is my love on you’ = ‘My love is upon you’ or as the lovely Adhamh says in the video, ‘The love I have is upon you.’
(Especially when Sam is saying it, am I right?)
Isn’t Gaelic fun?
Your Bonnie Celtophile,