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Gaelic podcast

I was doing a bit of browsing this afternoon, and came across a wonderful podcast in Gaelic called Gaelcast, which I’ll be adding to my Gaelic sites list with the following entry:

Gaelcast. A podcast in Gaelic. As the ‘casts’ are in MP3 format you can play them on your computer with MP3 software, or download them to play on a MP3 player or even an iPod. The casts are quite up-to-date and not too hard to understand for this beginner, and provide some nice native speaker listening.

I had a listen to the latest podcast on my PC and to my surprise I could even get the gist of it, which is more than I can say for programmes on Rèidio nan Gaidheal which just whistle past me. Well worth a bash, IMO. I picked the site up from a link from Tir nam Blòg , which is a nice (we)blog written entirely in Gaelic, with links to as many other Gaelic blogs as the author can find (hence the name).

lathaGaidhlig(‘26.02.06’); 26.02.06


Stock phrases for learners

When learning any language, and when trying to converse in that languages, stock phrases and words come in very handy. I certainly found this in Italian. For instance, if I hear an unfamiliar word/phrase in conversation, I can ask the speaker “Cosa vuol dire —-?” – what does —- mean? I don’t want to have to construct that question from scratch, as by the time I’ve done so the opportunity to use it may have passed on. Similarly, phrases like “it’s not important” (non è importante) and “it doesn’t matter” (non importa) are good ways of escaping from a conversation spiralling into misunderstanding. Even in our native language we use stock phrases daily, without thinking, to pad out conversation, buy time, make conversation – think of all the conversations we have about weather on autopilot.

So the table below lists some of what I think are useful stock phrases in Gaelic, to which I’ll add as I come across more. They’re not in any particular order. Apologies for any messy formatting – Blogger doesn’t always render HTML as I’d like.

Phrase/word Meaning
math dha-rìribh excellent, very good
‘s e do bheatha you’re welcome, don’t mention it (similar to de nada, di niente)
chan eil e gu diofar it doesn’t matter
chan eil fios agam I don’t know
chan eil cuimhne agam I don’t remember
can sin a-rithist say that again
cha do thuig mi I didn’t understand
chan eil mi a’ tuigsinn I don’t understand
ciamar a tha thu ag ràdh —- [ann am Beurla]? how do you say —- [in English]?
dè tha sin a’ ciallachadh? what does that mean?
gabh mo leisgeul excuse me
tha mi duilich I’m sorry (more usually just “duilich”, as in English “sorry”)
chan eil mi cinnteach I’m not sure
fuirich mionaid wait a minute
dà mhionaid just a minute, just a sec (lit: two minutes)
tha e deagh/droch shìde, nach eil? It’s good/bad weather, isn’t it?
dè thuirt thu? what did you say?
b’aill leat/leibh? pardon? (thu, sibh)
coma leat never mind

Last updated: 5/2/06


One thing (amongst many) that makes Gaelic simpler than some other European languages is that it has no indefinite article (“a”) for nouns, just the definite article (“the”), although sadly gender matters, so you have, for standalone nouns:

  • an t-eilean (m) (the island)
  • a’ bhliadhna (f) (the year)
  • am fraoch (m) (the heather)
  • an leabhar (m) (the book)
  • a’ chraobh (f) (the tree)

When you want to say “in a”, then it all goes swimmingly:

  • am bheinn ann an t-eilean
  • an dealbh ann an leabhar
  • an ubhal ann an craobh

It’s when you want to say “in the” that the trouble starts, because suddenly the noun modifies:

  • am bheinn anns an eilean
  • an là anns a’ bhliadhna
  • na dealbhan anns an leabhar
  • an ubhal anns a’ chraobh
  • am madadh-ruadh anns an fhraoich

Sometimes the change in the noun is quite drastic, as in “oifis a’ Phuist” (from “Am Post”) and “anns an fhraoich” above – not only have you to lenite, you have to shove an “i” in as well if you can. (I think this is the genitive case, but I wouldn’t swear to it, although it is similar to the word change when addressing a male, eg Seumas -> a Sheumais.) I came across this in unit 3/4 of An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, and even now, at unit 11, I still haven’t quite got the hang of it. I’m now learning that this applies to anything that implies “of the”, eg “bileag a’ bhotail” (bottle label).

There are grammatical rules, but there’s no way you can think fast enough to apply them in normal conversation, so you just have to internalise them through repetition or by keeping standard examples in mind. I quite like remembering countries:

  • anns a’ Bheilg
  • anns an Fhraing
  • anns an t-Suain
  • anns a’ Ghearmailt

I suppose the simple guideline is one that appears to work for much of Gaelic – if in doubt, lenite 😉

More info on articles in the Wikipedia: Scots Gaelic entry. See also Lessons 3 and 6 at TAIC.

Tìoraidh an-dràsta SMO

Having spent the last week at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on a level 3 summer course, I’m finally for the off to get some proper holiday in, walking in the hills (fog and rain permitting). I originally booked myself in for the level 4 course, but couldn’t do so because I couldn’t get my pussycat into the local cattery for then (sigh). So level 3 it was, which was partly new stuff that I’d not yet learned on An Cùrsa Inntrigidh, and partly revision. It was a little slow for my liking, but the tutor – the extravert and idiosyncratic Muriel Fisher, who lives and teaches Gaelic in Arizona (!) and has quite a thing for soft toys as teaching aids (!!) – was trying to make it fun, and of course keep a disparate group together. By next year, though, I’ll have gone through two more Earannan on ACI and will be taking a summer course at a far higher level (unless I’ve had it off on the lottery, in which case I’ll move up here and take the degree!).

This last week there’ve been courses in levels 1, 3, 5 and 7, and the mix of folk on them is quite amazing. There are a good few Scots, as you’d figure, but there were an awful lot of English accents, including mine, some Sasannaich living in Scotland, some in England, one from as far south as Bristol. There were a couple of Welsh folk, which isn’t unexpected given that Welsh is also a Celtic language, albeit on a different branch from Irish and Scots Gaelic, but surprisingly there were a few Yanks. In my group there was a young woman, Joanne, from Minneapolis, over here for two months to learn Gaelic as part of her PhD in Theatre Studies or somesuch. Even though she’d got State funding for this, I’m still impressed that she’d come all this way. She, though, is positively a tourist compared to Megan, another young woman who studied Gaelic for two years in Colorado (strange enough in itself), then sold up her house and moved to Skye to take the full degree course here, and aims to become a teacher of Gaelic in primary schools – now that’s what I call dedication to the Gaelic cause.

It would be an interesting research project for someone at SMO with time on their hands, to collate the reasons SMO students – full- or part-time, short course, distance course – students have for learning the lingo. Some will be obvious – Scots natives learning their ‘mother tongue’ [1], exiles rediscovering their ancestral roots, linguaphiles looking for a new challenge – but some, such as Joanne’s, will be completely unexpected.

Anyway, for all that the distance learning course is good, there’s absolutely nothing to beat face to face tuition of a language, particularly one as strange, to English native speakers, as Gaelic. It forces you to listen and speak in real time, and although stressful at first this builds up your confidence immensely. I certainly look forward to the next F2F session up here, which will be the distance course summer school in November.


[1] A linguist I know told me that the real mother tongue of the Scots was Pictish, but this was supplanted by Irish invaders who brought old Irish with them, which then mutated into Scots Gaelic. He says he has much fun ribbing the more nationalistic Scots about Gaelic being a colonial language ;-). See the Wikipedia entry on Scots Gaelic for its history.

Things that are on you

One of the key features of Gaelic, and which I learnt early on, is that ‘prepositional pronouns’ play a huge part in the language. These include aig (at), ann (on), le (with), and ri (with) to mention but a few of the most widely-used. They’re essential in forming what could be called ‘faux verbs’, such as:

‘S e dotair a th’innte: she is a doctor (lit: there’s a doctor in her)
Tha nighean agam: I have a daughter (lit: there’s a daughter at me)
‘S toil leatha a bhith a’ cluiche ball-coise: She likes to play football (lit: there’s a wish with her to be playing football)

This can take quite a bit of getting your head around, if you’re an English speaker – it requires adopting a completely different mental map of the language. As English speakers, we’re used to using ‘active’ constructions, such as “I like that” and “He has a hamster”, and you literally have to think in a different way to internalise the more ‘passive’ and roundabout Gaelic ways of saying the same things.

What can help is to know which prepositional pronouns are used with which nouns. Our teacher in last week’s summer course kindly gave us a select list of things that are ‘on you’, which is worth remembering. These are some of the things, feelings, and concepts that use ‘air‘:

am pathadh (thirst): tha am pathad orm – tha mi ag iarraidh pinnt (I’m hungry – I want a pint)
an t-acras (hunger): A bheil thu an t-acras ort?
an t-eagal (fear): Tha an t-eagal orra. (She’s afraid.) [1]
an fhearg (anger): Nach bi an fhearg air? (Won’t he be angry?.)
an cnatan (a cold): Bha an cnatan orm. (I had a cold.)
am fuachd (the cold): Tha am fuachd oirre. (They’re cold.)
an naire (shame): Nach eil sibh fuachd oirbh? (Aren’t youse ashamed?)
an t-ainm (name): Dè an t-ainm a th’ort? (What’s your name?)
càil (thing, mood): Dè tha càil ceàrr air? (What’s wrong with him?) [2]
am falt (hair): Tha falt bàn oirre. (She has fair hair.)

Of course, there are plenty of other things, some of which are obvious, such as clothes (tha aodach ùr oirnn – we’re wearing new clothes), some not so (a bheil cabhag ort? – are you in a hurry?).


Prepositional pronouns. A simple table of common PPs and their ‘persons’, on a website created by high school students in the USA.


[1] Use ‘an t-eagal’ (the fear) to say that someone is afraid of something. The single word ‘eagal‘ is used for regret, “I’m afraid that…”, eg Tha eagal orm nach eil Ealasaid an seo (I’m afraid that Elizabeth isn’t here).
[2] Càil is another word for thing, which could also be ‘rud‘ (pl: rudan). The dictionary has càil as also referring to mood and disposition, but it can be used in non-moody contexts, eg “Bu toil leat càil eile?“.

Liking and agreeing

One of the many verbs that are standard in other European languages, but missing in the Gaelic, is “to like”. In the present and conditional tenses, Gaelic uses what I think is a lovely expression:
‘S toil le xxx yyy

where xxx is the person or thing doing the liking, and yyy the thing or person or verb being liked. So, for instance:

‘S toil leam biadh teth: I like hot food
‘S toil leotha snàmh: they like swimming
Cha toil leatha caorich: she doesn’t like sheep
Bu toil leam pinnt: I’d like a pint

And so on. I love the construction, which in English literally translates as:

“there’s a wish with xxx for yyy”

Since learning this, though, I’ve wondered how you say “I liked to swim”, or “I will like to learn Gaelic”. The verb “Is” (abbreviated as ‘S) only operates in the present (as far as I know, at this early stage in my learning). If you’ve a construction with ‘S that requires the past then the time indicator goes elsewhere, eg:

‘S e croitear a bh’ann: he was a crofter

But how on earth do you put “‘S toil leam snàmh” into the past or future? It turns out, as we were taught today*, that you don’t, and instead you use a proper verb to express liking in other tenses. The verb being “a’ cordadh ri” (root: cord), which according to my dictionary literally means “agreeing (with)”. Some examples:

Tha an lite a’ cordadh rium: I like porridge (porridge is agreeing with me).
Bithidh sin a’ cordadh rinn: We’ll like that
Bha snàmh a’ cordadh riutha: They used to like swimming
An do chord e riut?: Did you enjoy it?

Note that, without the “ri” the verb becomes “agreeing”, eg:

Tha sinn a’ cordadh: We agree.

* I’m at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig this week on a Level 3 summer course.

I need you, I love you…

Today’s wee snippet is on expressing need, love, and hate. Of course, Gaelic doesn’t have verbs for “to love/need/hate”, but instead you have to say that you’ve love/hate/need in you for something/somebody. The nouns for these are:

need: feum
love: gràdh*
hate: gràin*

So, for all you lurvebirds out there:

“Tha gràdh agam ort” – I love you. Literally, ‘there is love at me on you’. Similarly:

“Tha gràdh agad orm” (you love me)
“Tha gràdh aig Effie air Dòmhnaill” (Effie loves Donald)
“Bha gràdh againn aig t-uisge beatha” (we used to love whiskey)

For the less romantic, ‘need’ is expressed similarly:

“A bheil feum agad orm?” (Do you need me?)
“An robh feum aig a’ nighean bheag air pòg?” (Did the little girl need a kiss? Best be careful if asking that sort of question.)

And for those with anger in their hearts:

“Tha gràin agam ort” (I hate you)
“Tha gràin aig Murchadh oirre” (Murdo hates her)
“Nach robh gràin aig Susaidh air lite nuair a bha òg?” (Didn’t Susie hate porridge when she was young?)

And so on. Tha sin gu leòr an-dràsta – tha an t-acras orm.

* Our teacher wrote “graidh” on the board, but the SMO online dictionary has love as “gràdh” with “gràidh” being the genitive form. She also wrote “grainn” on the board, but the dictionary has “gràin”. This could be a spelling error – she admits to being no great shakes at the spelling – or a dialect thing, but she is a native speaker so in my mind overrules a dictionary.

PS: If in doubt about a phrase or word, I find it useful to search in Gaelic Google (link on right of this weblog) for it, to see if it occurs in natural language.