I’ve been really interested in the parallels between Scottish Gaelic and Portuguese. One of the first things that made me want to get familiar with a celtic language was seeing words like Llyfrau and Eglwys on signs in Wales, meaning Book and Church, respectively. Both are very obviously related to French, Portuguese and Spanish equivalents. Of course, it’s less surprising when you realise that churches and perhaps to a lesser extent books were introduced to these islands by Christian missionaries arriving from the mainland in the 6th century speaking languages not that distantly removed from the language of Caesar. So the words came along with the physical objects.
But it turns out that this Latin influence is just the tip of an iceberg and under the surface is a much larger body of connected words, dating back to before the Romans because of common Indo-European origins. All sorts of nouns have echoes of other languages in them, often changed almost out of recognition by the tides of history. Even the phrase “ciamar a tha?” (pronounced “kimmer a ha” and meaning “how are you?”) which I’ve seen a few times in videos online turns out to be basically cognate with “como está?” which seems obvious now but I’d never been struck by it before. It’s a link between Gaelic and Portuguese, not because Gaelic is a romance language but because both come from an even more ancient root.
These moments of epiphany are coming to me courtesy of an excellent, and very concise introduction to the language, “Scots Gaelic – an Introduction to the Basics” by George McLennan. It’s exactly what I need right now: definitely not a how-to book, but one that maps out how the language works and why. Now that I’ve got to a certain point with Duolingo, I have a lot of questions and this is answering most of them in a very satisfying way.
8AM. Mrs Luso is up now and is telling me about Korean (which she’s learning) and we’re comparing notes. Language-learning is freaking amazing.
Este livro é um daqueles que consegui ler durante o Fim-de-Semana de pascoa. Os contos tem a ver com viagens, e pessoas fora dos seus países e (menos literalmente) fora das suas zonas de conforto.
Existem contos que são histórias completas mas curtas, com um começo e um desenlace e um enredo cheio de acção, como um romance encolhido ao tamanho de um artigo de revista. Convém dizer que os contos neste livro são exactamente o oposto! São mais descritivos e contêm menos desenvolvimento do enredo. A maioria consiste em retratos de pessoas ou de situações de três ou quatro páginas de extensão. O autor esboça estes cenários todos numa maneira bem nítida, portanto o livro lê-se bem. Li-o rapidamente, virando as páginas, conto após conto até ao fim.
Having got through the first stage of Duolingo Scottish Gaelic, (and by the way, came top of the gold league, just sayin’ 💅 ) I thought it was time I booked my first online lesson.
It was really good! A bit daunting, but good. I found the teacher on iTalki and he was very nice, helpful and encouraging and as the torrent of new words came at me he typed them all into the skype chat for me so I wouldn’t have to write them down. Although writing things down might seem like a good idea, it’s quite confusing in Gaelic because the spelling is so weird. Up to now, I’ve been using Duolingo to load vocabulary into my head but although I know “gaothach” is pronounced like “Goo-hock” I have to type it in Duolingo, so I find myself memorising the spelling by saying it to myself phonetically as “gowt-hatch” so it’s like I am learning two parallel versions of everything and until I can read the syllables properly, writing things down is probably going to be a hindrance rather than a help. I’m addressing this by looking at the video tutorials on Gaelic with Jason‘s YouTube Channel and I’ve started reading a small introduction to the language called Scots Gaelic: An Introduction to the Basics by George McLennan. It’s surprisingly readable as an overview of the language and how it got that way.
So many words!
Anyway, no point wasting time asking a teacher about pronunciation, so let’s crack on! A bigger problem is why the hell there are so many words. For example, in the lesson about weather there is the following question:
And why does it bother me that there are so many “extra” words here? Well, I remember when I started learning French, the phrase that sounds like Kesker Say but is written Qu’est-ce que c’est just seemed like an arbitrary collection of letters and so I always found it hard to remember the spelling because i didn’t really understand what the components meant. It was only later when I twigged that it literally means “What is it that it is?” that I started to understand how it related to “c’est” and “est-ce que”, and the other little building blocks of the language. And from there I started to decode the rhythms and the… well, the plumbing of the language. So I thought if I could just parse this sentence then I could start to unravel Gaelic in the same way.
Here’s how it goes
Cò means “who” usually but can be pressed into service to mean “what” or “where” sometimes. “Ris” means something like “against” usually (or “rice”!)
Actually, “tha” on it’s own is the singular, present tense form of the word “to be” so it’s more like “this is”
Why hyphenated? I have no idea. Presumably it could be broken down even further but Ididn’t get into that
Embarrassingly, I thought this meant “weather” whch is probably why I was so confused
As with “t-sìde”, I possibly could have asked whether an and dràsta have their own individual existences, but I didn’t go that far
I think the teacher was sceptical as to how useful this would be but I find it really helpful because I can watch out for the patterns in other sentences.
Cò ris isn’t always the word used for “what”. A more usual form of asking those kinds of questions is “Dè”, as in “Dè an obair a th’ agad?” (pronounced “Jane Opper a Hacket”) meaning “What work do you do? Obair must be related to “Obra” (in portuguese) and “Operation” in english via some circuitous etymological backchanneling, I think.
The answer to this question can be a bit odd or unfamiliar. “Is e IT consultant a th’ annam” which means “It is an IT consultant that’s in me”. Er… OK…
And, yes, like most languages, Gaelic uses some imported english words, especially for relatively modern words. “IT Consultant” was just written as-is, but it seems more common for them to be transformed into Gaelic spelling. I like “brabhsair” for “browser” for example and “cupa tì” for “cup of tea”.
First of all, there aren’t any conjugations. So “Tha” means “is” and “am” and “are”. It has a past (bha) and a future (bidh). I’m not quite sure where “chan eil” fits into this. On its own it means “no” but it always seems to go at the front of the sentence (which is where the verb is always found in Gaelic) so maybe the “chan” part is… a….negative— form… of… the… verb…? I’m thinking out loud here, obviously.
There are only eleven irregular verbs. What are they? I have no idea. He did give me one example and all I can say it was pretty damn irregular, but I can live with that for the joy of not having to memorise long lists. Yeeeessss! I picked the right language!
Gaelic, like french, has two forms of the word “you” (I was going to write “like portuguese” until I remembered that portuguese has about 17), and the more formal one is “sibh”. The effects of this aren’t always obvious: it messes with the endings of some common phrases like “thank you” which can be “tapadh leit” or “tapadh leibh” in the thu and sibh forms respectively, “and “what’s your name?” which can be “Dè an t-ainm a th’ ort?” or “Dè an t-ainm a th’ oirbh?”
Fhèin is a handy little word for returning a question or greeting back to someone. It means “yourself”. So if someone asks how you “Dè an t-ainm a th’ ort?” then after you tell them “Cailean a th’orm” (Colin = Cailean) you can lob the question back to them with “Dè an t-ainm a th’ ort fhèin?” (How are you yourself). So now I’m going to end this blog post and get back to work, so I’ll say tapadh leit for reading and wish you a good evening with a cheery “feasgar math”, and if you want to be able to tell everyone that you replied to a blog post in scots gaelic today, you can do that by replying in the comments below “feasgar math fhèin”. Don’t bother with the accent if your keyboard isn’t up to it: we’re all friends here.
In keeping with the principles of language hacking, I’ve set my default browser language on Firefox to Scottish Gaelic so I can use it with Gaelic spellchecking on it instead of Portuguese in Chrome but it’s baffling because I’ve set all the controls to Gaelic as well, so now all the “copy”, “paste”, “file”, “new wondow” etc are in a language for which I only have about 100 words of vocabulary. Anyway, here goes…
Feasgar math! Ciamar a tha sibh?
Is mise Colin. Tha mi à Breatainn. Rugadh mi ann an Alba ach tha mi a’ fuireach ann an Lunnainn. Tha Lunnainn ann an Sasainn.
Tha mi leth-cheud bliadhna a dh’aois.
Tha mi pòsta agus tha nighean agam. Is e Olivia an t-ainm a th’ oirre
So, as I mentioned recently, since the lockdown started I have been trying to learn three languages simultaneously: Portuguese (improving), French, (de-rustifying) and Scottish Gaelic (completely new, starting from scratch). I’ve mainly been using Duolingo, but also some books, videos and so on.
Obviously since this blog is very visibly dedicated to portuguese, having occasional posts about french and gaelic is probably a bit confusing and maybe at some point I should think about changing the title to be more inclusive but I’m still seeing Portuguese as my main mission and the others as side-quests at the moment, so I’m not going to turn into one of those smug internet polyglots just yet. Give it six months though and I’ll be livestreaming myself hanging out with Benny Lewis and trying to hold a conversation in 20 languages or some nonsense.
I came across a new (to me) channel on YouTube today and the first video I tried was full of good tips. She’s British so she seems to be coming at it from a practical standpoint of how to get by as an immigrant in Portugal rather than doing a lot of detailed stuff about grammar. Bookmarked for later to try the rest of her videos.
Acabo de ler um livro chamado Winepunk. Trata-se de uma compilação de contos de ficção cientifica baseados numa história alternativa de portugal. Nesta realidade imaginativa, a monarquia do norte (um movimento verídico que teve o seu inicio em 1919, depois da implantação da República Portuguesa) sobreviveu durante anos, ao contrario da monarquia histórica que foi esmagada dentro de umas semanas.
O título “Winepunk” tem origem na frase “Steampunk”, um género inglês de ficção cientifica com raízes no mundo da revolução industrial com máquinas alimentadas por carvão e vapor. Os autores brincam com várias espécies de geringonças tal como plantas vivas, robôs cuja* fonte de poder é plasma de uva e animais de estimação com ligações psíquicas aos seus donos. Não é cem por cento coerente porque cada autor tem a sua própria imaginação e o seu próprio estilo e às vezes, estes não têm semelhança o suficiente para concretizar um mundo literário no qual o leitor pode acreditar. Mas há contos divertidos. Acima de tudo, amei a contribuição do José Barreiros. Os dois do Rhys Hughes** também têm muito jeito. mas exemplificam bem a minha queixa com o projecto em si: os contos nem sequer mencionaram a monarquia de todo!
*Rookie mistake here. “Cuja” because it agrees with “fonte” not “robôs”
**Rhys Hughes é um escritor galês que mora em Lisboa. Ama portugal e já escreveu dois livros em português: “A História Universal de Infâmia” e “A Sereia de Curitiba”. Não tenho a certeza mas, pelo que sei, escreveu-os em português, e nem usou tradutor. Uma vez que tenho tentado escrever um conto em português, vejo este escritor como um herói e quero ser igual a ele.
Thanks to Natalia for the correction. There is some good stuff in english about this compliation on the Portuguese Sci-Fi Portal here and here, and you can see a decent review by a much better portuguese reviewer on youtube… um… I don’t think I’ll link directly but if you search for “aoutramafalda winepunk” or “books beers baby quarantena winepunk” you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Just an update on the gender-of-animals thing I wrote a few days ago as a branch-off from the post about shelves, I asked a question about it on iTalki the other day and got some really interesting answers and I’ll probably go back to that from time to time when I need to write about animals for some reason.
I watched a YouTube video yesterday about the French language, which turns out to vê useful for Portuguese too. She was taking about the use of the phrase bien fait. It literally means “well done” but although it is sometimes used to mean that as part of a larger sentence, when it’s used in its own, it doesn’t carry the same significance as it would of an English person said “Well done”. In other words, if you see a French person makes a heroic effort, saves a kitten from drowning, say, getting soaked in the process, bien fait is not the phrase you need.
The reason is that they use it to mean “serves you right” or “you got what you deserved”, so our heroic kitten-rescuer in the previous paragraph would think you were mocking her or saying she deserved to suffer through dampness because of being so reckless as to try and save a kitten.
So this morning I was reading Winepunk (a sci-fi short story compilation based on an alternative history of the Monarquia do Norte in the early twentieth century) and I came across this passage
“Among them, the engineer sees scores of war-wounded, still in uniform. [Bem Feita] for signing up in the hope of an ephemeral moment of glory”
It’s pretty obvious from. The context that “bem feita” here means the same thing as bien fait: “It serves them right”. He thinks the war wounded deserved to be injured for signing up to the army in pursuit of glory.