The many functions of ə
Certainly, from a learner's point of view, it would seem that every languages has a small annoying word which has just too many possible functions. In Albanian (yes, I did Albanian for a while, I've always like Albania though I haven't been yet) this happens to be të, which can be any of the following:
- a short form of a second person pronoun in the dative or accusative
- a short form of a third person pronoun in the dative or accusative - meaning that the short form "for him" and "for you" are identical
- a particle which forms the conjunctive
- a particle which forms the future conditional
- a particle which forms the jussive (i.e. it helps form a kind of imperative)
- a particle needed for some infinitive constructions
- the definite article before a noun
Once you get into it, it's not too bad but can still be a head-scratcher.
Of course, Gaelic has one too - a. This covers an even wider range of options than Albanian të, so here's a list which hopefully will help you make a bit more sense of it.
- 1 The vocative particle
- 2 The leniting article
- 3 The participle-forming particle
- 4 The masculine possessive pronoun
- 5 The feminine possessive pronoun
- 6 The infinitive particle
- 7 The counting particle
- 8 The reduced form of the preposition do
- 9 The reduced form of the preposition de
- 10 The relative particle
- 11 The first part of various adverbs
- 12 The letter a
- 13 A dialectal form of e
- 14 The interrogative particle
- 15 The exclamation
- 16 The preposition á
The vocative particle
This a [ə] is placed in front of a noun or proper noun when directly addressing a thing or person. It lenites and forces the noun or proper noun into the vocative case, if the noun has a vocative case. English doesn't have a vocative case. The closest English equivalent is "oh!", but the Gaelic vocative particle doesn't sound as corny when you use it, it's just, well, normal.
Before a vowel or fh-, the a disappears.
|Seumas [ʃeːməs] »||a Sheumais! [ə heːmɪʃ]|
|James »||(oh) James!|
|fir [firʲ] »||fheara! [ɛrə]|
|men »||(oh) men!|
|Mórag [moːrag] »||a Mhórag! [ə voːrag]|
|Morag »||(oh) Morag!|
The leniting article
Technically this is not just a but a' [ə] with an apostrophe but I've included it nonetheless. The leniting article takes the form a' and ... well, lenites the following word. It appears before feminine nouns in the nominative singular and masculine AND feminine nouns in the prepositional case in the singular (before b c g m p)
|a' bhròg||the show|
|air a' bhalach||on the boy|
The participle-forming particle
Also technically a' [ə] with an apostrophe but I've included it because as the leniting article, in spoken Gaelic it also comes out as [ə]. This isn't Borge's spoken punctuations you know :)
It is the reduced form of ag and appears before anything that is not a vowel and not r, i.e. b c d f g l m n p s t, for example:
|tha mi a' bualadh||I am hitting|
|tha mi a' lagachadh||I am weakening|
The masculine possessive pronoun
No apostrophe this time just a [ə]. Lenites everything.
|a bhalla||his wall|
|a mhàthair||his mother|
|a nathair [N » n]||his snake|
The feminine possessive pronoun
This is the reduced form of a h- (which you get before vowels). The only other difference to the masculine possessive is that this one doesn't lenite, it's also pronounced [ə]:
|a balla||her wall|
|a màthair||her mother|
|a nathair [N » N]||her snake|
The infinitive particle
Please see Habemus infinitivum necne for a full exposé on what's with the infinitive in Gaelic, I'm just giving a couple of brief examples here. Pronounced [ə] as well and appears in certain types of sentences before a verbal noun. Lenites.
|Bu toigh leam cù a cheannach||I would like to buy a dog|
|Tha mi airson ùbhal a ròstadh [R » r]||I intend to roast an apple|
The counting particle
The reduced form of a h- [ə h] which appears before numbers starting with a consonant, up to twenty when you're counting numbers but not an object.
The reduced form of the preposition do
The preposition do often reduces to just a [ə]. It lenites consonants and before vowels and fh it gets reduplicated into do dh' and similarly a dh'. And yes, it overlaps with de almost completely. In many dialects even the full forms do & de are pronounced [də].
|thoir a Mhurchadh e||give it to Murdo!|
|theirig a Mhiùghalaigh||go to Mingulay!|
The reduced form of the preposition de
The preposition de also often reduces to just a [ə]. It lenites consonants and before vowels and fh it gets reduplicated into de dh' and similarly a dh'. And yes, it overlaps with do almost completely. In many dialects even the full forms do & de are pronounced [də].
|sguir a sheinn||stop singing!|
|dèan truinnsear a chlach||make a plate from stone!|
The relative particle
The relative particle a [ə] marks a relative clause. That's it really...
|cuin a sheinneas tusa?||when will you sing?|
|an tè a thuit||the woman who fell|
The first part of various adverbs
Which is sadly relevant because of some GOC nonense. For some arcane reason, they took offence to the hyphen in an-seo, an-sin and an-siud and re-spelled them as an seo, an sin and an siud. As if Gaelic didn't have enough words that look like an... Anyway, this means that people who have a tendency to write everything exactly as they say it and who follow GOC a bit too religiously sometimes reduce the an to a:
|an-seo [əˈʃɔ]||a-seo [əˈʃɔ]||an seo [əˈʃɔ]||a seo [əˈʃɔ]|
|an-sin [əˈʃin]||a-sin [əˈʃin]||an sin [əˈʃin]||a sin [əˈʃin]|
|an-siud [əˈʃid]||a-siud [əˈʃid]||an siud [əˈʃid]||a siud [əˈʃid]|
Yes, the n is almost always deleted in spoken Gaelic. If you pronounced it very carefully, it would be [əNʲˈʃɔ].
The letter a
To confuse matters, when a represents just the letter a, this is mostly read the English way i.e. "ay" even though Gaelic has very old indigenous names for the letters. But there are a few people who know the old names of the letters.
|a, b, c||[ɛj biː siː]]|
|a, b, c||ailm, beith, coll|
A dialectal form of e
In some dialectal writings, people use a where you'd expect e in order to represent the regional pronunciation of it, [a].
|chonaic sinn a||[xɔNɪgʲ ʃiNʲː a]|
|chualaig a caile||[xuaLɪgʲ a kalə]|
The interrogative particle
The reduced form of an [ən], appears only before bheil:
|a bheil thu tinn?||are you ill?|
This comes out as a clear [a]. Nothing much else to say about it really.
|A, sin agad e||Ah, there you go|
The preposition á
This has an acute of course (well, a grave these days) but just for completeness. The acute/grave on á do not, in this instance only, make it long. It's just there to distinguish it from other particles written a and which are pronounced [ə], whereas á has a clear (but short) [a].
|Thàinig mi á Peairt||I came from Perth|
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