Tha mi a’ toiseachadh…

I’m starting this weblog off whilst taking a summer short course in Gaelic at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye, although I have been learning the lingo by distance on An Cùrsa Inntrigidh since September of 2004. It may seem to be gilding the lily, or putting myself through unnecessary torture, to be taking a course on top of what I’m already doing, but a) I really need the face-to-face practice, and b) it’s a good excuse for a holiday up here, particularly with the Fèis an Eilein going on this week and next.

There are many questions that a casual reader of weblogs who comes across this might ask, not least “why the hell are you learning it?”, which I hope to answer as time goes on. The main purpose of the weblog is to keep track of my learning, what I find hard/easy at a particular time, what strikes me about the language, and what it’s like as a learner. I wish I’d done something similar when I started learning Italian back in ’93 as now, having studied it for over a decade, I’ve just forgotten what it was like as a learner, and what things mystified/amazed/infuriated me about the language. It’s like childhood in a sort of way – what you can remember about early years is patchy, and even what you do remember is likely to be wrong or distorted by the lens of time.

This is a level 3 course. That is, it takes the learner up to Level 3 in Gaelic, as defined by the standard course “Speaking our Language” (SOL). (The levels are defined on the Scottish National Mòd site, in the assessment section. ) I was planning to take the Level 4 course, which happens next week, but couldn’t because I couldn’t book my moggie into the local cattery (sigh), so 3 it is, which isn’t so bad as it’s a mix of revision and new stuff.

Gur e

Anyway, enough blether. Today’s little linguistic snippet is how to mix the two verbs “to be” in the same sentence using “gur e”. For instance, take the sentence:

“Tha mi ag ràdh gur e hamstair a th’annad.”

Which translates as the common phrase:

“I’m saying that you’re a hamster.”

Note that the first part of the sentence uses the “tha” verb, and the second part the “is” form as “‘s e”. Why is this? Because the first part expresses a process, an activity – “tha mi ag ràdh” – whereas the second part is about identity – “hamstair a th’annad”. Thus you need to use “gur e” rather than “gu bheil”, as you would were both parts using the “tha” form. The phrase is a conjunction of the two statements:

“Tha mi ag ràdh.”
“‘S e hamstair a th’annad.”

So the second part follows the same rule as any other “‘S e” construction. If the second part were not about identity, then you’d be using the “tha” form, eg:

“Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil i ag ol uisge beatha.” I think that she’s drinking whiskey.

The negative of “gur e” is the same as in “‘S e”:

“Tha i ag ràdh nach e hamstair a th’annad.”


2 responses to “Tha mi a’ toiseachadh…

  1. Hello;

    Would you help me translate “Protected by God Almighty” into Scottish Gaelic?

    My e-mail is

    Tapadh leibh



  2. The Gaelic verb ‘to protect’ is dìon, as in the Highland police’s motto of “Dìon is cuidich”, or ‘protect and serve’. So ‘protected’ would be “dìonta”. ‘God’ is “Dia”, and ‘almighty’ is translated by Dwelly ( as “uile-chumhachdach” or ‘all-powerful’. So literally you could have:

    Dìonta le Dia uile-chumhachdach

    A Google search for the string “Dia uile-chumhachdach” gets hits, as does a search for it in a Gaelic Bible on Google books, so that’s ok for ‘God Almighty’.

    So at a rough guess I’d say that the transation above is usable, but whether it’s correct or not I don’t know – I’m still just a student. If you need a translation for a serious/formal purpose (on a coat of arms, say) I’d strongly advise asking the good folk at Fòram na Gàidhlig as there are plenty of native speakers on there.

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