Owning Stuff in Gaelic

Which isn’t quite as simple as you might think.

In English, the simple phrase “my book” is a simple two-word structure which can be inserted quite easily into a sentence. That’s my book. My book is blue. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, for nuance of meaning, you can say other things. I own the book. I have the book. That’s about it.

In most other languages I know, it’s equally simple. Ich habe ein Buch. Es ist mein Buch. J’ai un livre. C’est mon livre. Tengo un libro. Es mi libro.

Simple, right? The same as English.

But not in Gaelic.

In Gaelic, yes, there are possessive pronouns. Mo leabhar – my book.

But you can also say an leabhar agam – which also translates as ‘my book’.

And if you put “tha” (to be) in front of it – tha ‘n leabhar agam – it translates as ‘I have the book’.

And the phrase itself, an leabhar agam, literally means ‘the book at me’. Tha ‘n leabhar agam is literally ‘the book is at me’. Gaelic doesn’t have a verb ‘to have’, like the other four languages I’ve mentioned.

So that’s two ways, which is reasonable enough, even if the book is at you due to the lack of an appropriate verb in the language.

But then there’s another: an leabhar leam. Which, strangely enough, literally means ‘the book with me’. So what does tha ‘n leabhar leam mean? Well, thank-you for asking. It doesn’t actually mean the book is with you. Translated ‘colloquially’ (rather than literally), it means ‘I own the book’.

And rather than stopping here, I’ll give you some other unusual ways Gaelic uses prepositions. (Seriously, Gaelic has got prepositions down to an art. The language doesn’t conjugate verbs – at least, not in a way recognisable to speakers of Germanic or Romance languages – but it does conjugate prepositions. But that’s a story for another post).

Tha ‘n t-acras orm. – I’ve already mention this. It means “I’m hungry”. It literally means “the hunger is upon me”. This also applies to emotions, too. Tha ‘m breisleach oirre – “She is confused” (or, “the confusion is upon her”). Tha ‘n t-eagal orm. I’m scared.

Tha ‘n Gàidhlig agam. – “I speak Gaelic”. Or literally, “The Gaelic is at me.”

Dè ‘n t-ainm a th’ oirbh/ort? – “What’s your name?” (Literally, “What is the name upon you?”) Irish, however, uses a different preposition, and will ask, Cad é ‘s ainm dhut? (in Gaelic, Dè is ainm dhuit?) Or, “What name is to you?”

‘S as Gàidhlig a tha e (a’ bruidhinn). – “It’s in Gaelic”. (Add the bit in brackets, and it’s “He’s speaking in Gaelic”). The preposition here is as – from. It is from Gaelic. He is speaking from Gaelic.

Tha brògan air. He’s wearing shoes. (Shoes are on him). Tha còta oirre. She’s wearing a jacket. (Coat is on her).

Tha mi ag obair. I’m working. (I am at working). Tha mi a’ fuireach ann… I live in… (I am at staying in…)

Tha e ‘na chroitear. He’s a farmer. (He is in his farmer-ness.) Tha mi ‘nam tìdsear. I’m a teacher. (I am in my teaching-ness). Bha i ‘na suidhe. She was sitting. (She was in her sitting-ness).

Well, that’s about it – that I know, anyway. There are bound to be tonnes more. Of course, most languages have some differences in prepositions – for example, in Spanish, you walk ‘por’ the street, rather than ‘en’ it as in English – but Gaelic really takes use of prepositions to a whole new level. It more than compensates for not actually having a verb ‘to have’, it just takes a while to wrap your head around.

How To Learn A Language and the Seven Stages Thereof

No, don’t expect any ground-breaking insights on this matter – not from me, anyway – because to be honest, I don’t really know how to do it. I just sort of muddle along, trying to listen and read as much as possible and usually ignoring the grammar section (which I shouldn’t do), and hope people can actually understand me.

Instead, I’m just going to post this video:

I completely agree with just about everything he says. Just pay attention to the guy, people.

Anyway, I was particularly interested in his “Seven Stages of ‘Knowing’ a Language”. As I’ve mentioned before, I really hate the ambiguity of trying to work out whether you’re “fluent” or not. That’s why I like the previously-mentioned CEFR system. But this one’s also good.

Basically, if you’re in the target-language-speaking country and go out to a restaurant with your native-speaker friend, these are the various levels you might be at:

1 – You can read the menu and understand most of it, given a bit of time.

2 – You can order your meal, and perhaps ask for the waiter’s advice or explanation on a dish.

3 – You can actually understand the waiter’s advice or explanation.

4 – When your friend starts chatting with the waiter, you can understand the general gist of what they’re saying.

5 – You can actually chat with the waiter yourself.

6 – You can argue politics or philosophy, or simply discuss the Eurovision results, over dinner, with your friend.

7 – You can do all of the above without mistakes.

I’d probably divide both 3 and 6 into two stages, but generally this list is pretty good. It has some benefits over the CEFR system:

In CEFR, A1 has quite a broad spectrum in terms of the levels second-language learners are usually at, from the complete beginner to someone capable of holding a simple conversation and conjugating verbs in at least three tenses. Therefore, Konstantin Andreev’s system has a massive benefit in being able to differentiate between these stages – at least the first three stages, and possibly the fourth, fall in the A1 level.

The fourth and fifth levels roughly correspond with A2, while the sixth can be managed by someone at around B1 – provided they’re not actually discussing politics or philosophy, which require specialised vocabulary, but something more mundane and commonplace, such as the Eurovision.

The seventh level, I’ve got to say, is often not even achieved by native speakers – that is, native speakers of English, anyway, it might be different for other languages where they actually teach grammar in schools.

I don’t think there’s much more I can really say, but I’ll finish off by trying to work out where I am with each language.

Korean – 1, but only because pretty much the only stuff I know in Korean is names of dishes. If I were reading anything else, I wouldn’t have a clue.

Gaelic – probably a 2, although I’ve got to say I’m far better at understanding Gaelic than actually stringing words together. Not Irish, though. Irish is very difficult to understand.

French – either a 3 or a 5. French is strange, because I’ve certainly got the grammar knowledge, and I can even understand and speak it decently on occasion… but my aural comprehension is significantly worse than it should be, given my grammar knowledge, compared to other language. Well, I suppose that’s what happens with a language which is spoken without opening the mouth…

Spanish – is sitting comfortably around the 5 level. I could probably discuss Eurovision results, supposing I even knew them (for some reason, Eurovision gets more boring the older I get), but politics an philosophy are currently beyond my grasp.

German – definitely a 6. I’m comfortable discussing most topics in German, although I no doubt make errors! And I dread to think what my accent is like… My German’s pretty good in most areas, but I still find it insanely difficult to read a novel. Why is it that I have specialised vocab in strange areas, but still come across thousands of verbs and adjectives I don’t know in your average teenager’s book? (Kiddie books are fine.)

English – 7, and it’s probably the only language I’ll ever manage a seven in. I am – very occasionally! – picked up on grammar, though. Very, very occasionally.

Italian – I’m just going to throw this in for fun and say it’s about a 3, possibly a 4. I wouldn’t be able to write Italian to save myself, but four years of (really bad) Italian lessons in primary school and a decent knowledge of Spanish means I’m able to understand the general gist and even speak a little, even though I have a strange and inexplicable aversion to the language.

Oh… I know I said I’d finish up here, but I’ve just thought of something better to finish with. In the video, Konstantin Andreev talks about not letting your native language’s grammar get in the way of your target language. Each language has its own quirks about how things are phrased, particularly when it comes to prepositions. Here are some of my favourite examples:

I like music.
I like speaking (English).
I’m hungry.

Ich mag musik/ Musik gefällt mir gut. I like music/ Music falls to me good.
Ich spreche gern (Deutsch). I speak (happily? Likingly?) German.
Ich habe Hunger/ Ich bin hungrig. I have hunger/ I am hungry.

J’aime musique. I like music.
J’aime parler (le français). I like speaking French.
J’ai faim. I have hunger.

Me gusta musica. Music pleases me.
Me gusta hablar (castellano). To speak Spanish pleases me.
Tengo hambre. I have hunger.

‘S toigh leam ceòl. Music is pleasant to me.
‘S breagha leam a tha a’ bruidhinn (as Gàidhlig). To be at the speaking from Gaelic is beautiful to me.
Tha ‘n t-acras orm. The hunger is upon me.

Sausage Men

IMGP1478Run, run, run, as fast as you can;
You can’t catch me, I’m a sausage man!

Well, the poem might never catch on, but that was what we had for dinner tonight: sausage men. And teddy bears. And stars. And even a couple of sausage sausages.

Basically, I got a packet of sausage meat, rolled it out (with flour), and used cookie cutters. We weren’t sure whether it would work, but it did.


A person, a teddy, and two stars.

A person, a teddy, and two stars.

Apparently, cute-shaped meat brings out the small child in even the least mature of people.



My younger sister (15) hasn’t quite yet learnt not to play with her food.

Dinner was finished off with some of Maria Tedesco’s dairy-free pear cake, topped with Upper Sturt Primary School pear and cinnamon jam, courtesy of the students at my local primary school – all forty or so of them.


Pear cake.

Pear cake.

The ultimate in organic, local, community-based products.

The ultimate in organic, local, community-based products.


The Sturt’s Desert Pea is the state floral emblem, as well as the primary school’s logo.

My Organ

Here’s my new organ:


Okay, so it’s really my old upright masquerading as an organ, but let’s not be pedantic.


The pedalboard is really just cardboard, glue, and black texta. It took a ridiculously long time to make, and it doesn’t even make any noise.

But that’s all right, because at least I can feel the notes and get used to moving my feet. Even if I can’t really tell when I’m playing the wrong note, and the seat’s a little low.

I had my first organ lesson yesterday. My piano teacher promised me organ lessons if I managed to get through a year of Year 12 piano (solo performance). Which I did.

It occurred to me, towards the end of last year, that I am good at piano. Which would ordinarily be a good thing, but consider how many thousands upon millions of pianists there are in the world. You’ve got to be a beyond amazing pianist to get anywhere. On the other hand, the amount of organists in the greater Adelaide region number somewhere in the single digits. Even a mediocre organist can get work.

So, thus far, I’ve played two pieces on the organ. Well, two pieces using pedals – I’ve played three or four others using just the manuals over the last two years or so. Baroque pieces – the idea at the time being to help me understand how the piece is meant to sound in order to mimic it on the piano. Which works, by the way. Anyway, the pieces I’ve played the pedals are very simple. But that’s good. My hands can do tricky stuff, but co-ordinating my feet to more than just a sustain pedal and a mute is a little tricky.

Which leads to trying to set up an “organ” at home. As I’ve mentioned, the cardboard pedalboard doesn’t actually make any sound, but it’s working for practicing so far. Only I sound like a beginner pianist again, and no-one can tell that my feet are tripping over themselves. There’s only one manual – obviously, considering it’s really an upright piano in disguise – but it’s a lot easier for me to adjust to two or more manuals than it is to adjust to pedals.

So, there you go. My first real foray into the world of organ-playing, and my fake organ.


My Adventures in 5 Languages

This post was inspired by “My Adventures in 10 Languages” by Bálint over on “I wish to be a polyglot”. You can try to read his post here: http://iwishtobeapolyglot.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/my-adventures-in-10-languages/.

Well, I’m not going to be as impressive as his – I have fewer languages, for starters – but I’ll have a go. Basically I’ll write one paragraph in each language about learning that language, starting with English. It’s sort of late, so these paragraphs probably aren’t the best I could do! But hopefully they’re all of better quality than Google Translate would turn out. (Assuming, of course, that Google Translate had Gàidhlig).

Obviously, English is my first language. I can’t really say much about learning English, since I can’t really remember doing it. I’ve still got to say that I have trouble understanding some dialects of English… mostly various forms of American. I grew up with both English and Australian, with a fair amount of Scottish from time to time. And a bit of Kiwi. My accent is messed up, but I’m still more fluent in English than I’ll ever be in any other language.

Das erste Mal, das ich Deutsch gehört habe, war ich acht Jahre alt. Wir – meine Familie – waren Deutschland und Österreich besuchen. Aber ich konnte nicht so viel sprechen – nur “Sprechen Sie English?” und “Wo ist der Kinderschischule?”. Danach, als ich dreizehn Jahre alt war, hab’ ich Gymnasium begonnen. Dort musste ich ein Fremdsprache lernen. Die Optionen war Deutsch, Französisch, Chinesisch, und Japonesisch. Weil mein Vater Deutsch und Französisch sprechen konnte, hab’ ich die zwei europäische Sprachen gewählt. Aber ich lernte nur ein Jahr beim Gymnasium, und danach lernte ich beim Fernschule – Open Access College. Als ich fünfzehn Jahre alt war, hab’ ich beim “Schule der Deutsche Sprache Südaustraliens” lernen begonnen. Dort hab’ ich viele Deutsch gelernt und viel mich verbessert. Ich denke, dass es ist weil, in der Deutsche Schule, wir mussen die ganze Zeit nur Deutsch sprechen – und auch kommen alle andere Schüler/Innen aus Deutschland oder Österreich (und es gibt auch eins von der Schweiz). Ich spreche oft Deutsch, und in der Schule nur Deutsch, und deschalb übe ich viel. Meine Deutsch ist natürlich nicht Perfekt, aber es ist klar: Versunkenheit ist am besten, eine Fremdsprache zu lernen!

Mon histoire au sujet d’apprendre le français commence très pareil que mon histoire au l’allemand. Quand j’ai commencé la lycée, j’ai choisi deux langues pour apprendre: l’allemand et le français. J’ai appris le français une année a ma première lycée, dix-huit mois avec l’école par correspondance, six mois avec l’alliance français, y une année avec l’école des langues, pendant les soirs. Maintenant, je n’apprende pas du français depuis une année, et je parle le français très rarement. Et évidemment, je ne parle pas beaucoup de français! J’ai oublié beaucoup.

Cuando empezé el año once, tení l’opportunidad de aprender una nueva lingua. Mis dos opciones era l’español y l’indonesio. Elegí español porque es una lingua muy importante en está monde. La gente en más de viente países hablan español. Aprendí español un año con la escuela de l’aire (Open Access College) pero por el año doce, estuve el único estudiante! Por consiguiente, este año he aprendido español con una escuela local. Yo odio esta escuela! No es una escuela bien, y mi profesora es muy estúpido. Pero este julio estuve dos semanas en España para mejorar hablar castellano. Cuando volví, empezé a asistir a “la escuela español de Adelaide”. Es muy bien para practicar español, y me gusta mis profesoras.

Tha mi ag ionnseachadh Gàidhlig a-nis. ‘S le Ràidio Albannach Astràilia-a-Deas a tha mi ag ionnseachadh, anns a mhadainn di-Mairt agus ‘s toigh leam. Tha mi ag ionnseachadh Gàidhlig airson is toigh leam fuaim na Gàidhlig agus ‘s ann Alba a bha mo seanpharantan. Chan eil mòran Gàidhlig agam a-nis ach tha mi an dòchas gu bi tuilleadh Gàidhlig agam a dh’aithghearr.

As always, if you speak any of these languages, constructive criticism, or help with terminology or phrasing, is always welcome.

Why I Hate “No Béarla”

Before I start, I’ll just mention that, although I can’t stand how Manchán Magan does the series, I watch it every couple of months. It’s very interesting and good practice for listening to Gaelic!

I think I’ve mentioned “No Béarla” before. For those who don’t know, it’s a TG4 series starring Manchán Magan, a native Irish speaker, blundering around Ireland speaking just Irish as he tries to prove it’s a dead language.

Which is a bit of an oxymoron, really – how can it be dead if he’s speaking it?

And surprisingly, it’s a fairly modern series – 2007 – despite what Manchán’s haircut, clothing, and car, seems to indicate. But maybe that’s just Ireland.

Anyway, his whole attitude really bothers me. He goes at it with the mindset that no-one speaks Irish, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary slapping him in the face, he finishes the series by stating that Irish is dead.

Yeah, right.

Maybe to someone used to living in a Gàidhealtachd (Gaeltacht, in Irish), the amount of Irish spoken in Dublin or Belfast seems non-existent, but speaking here as someone living in Australia, it’s anything but!

All over Ireland, and even in places like Dublin, Manchán is wandering around, speaking in Irish. Mostly he asks variations on, “A bheil Gaeilge agad?” or “A bheil Gaeilge moirbh?”, but sometimes he asks more complex things, like, “Can I have fizzy orange juice and chips, please?”. At least 99% of people respond. In English, yes, but they respond in a way which indicates they understand it, their responses appropriate to the question. How many of these people are passive speakers of Irish – people who understand it perfectly, but are hesitant to speak it for one reason or another? If they were pressed, and if there weren’t a camera, they’d probably eventually respond in Irish.

But no, Manchán decides very quickly and with finality, None of these people have any Irish whatsoever. “Níl focal Gaeilge.”

Even when he’s in Galway, happily hiring a bicycle in Irish and visiting the TG4 headquarters, he’s determined to prove that no-one in the city speaks Irish. How does he do this? By singing bawdy lyrics on the street like a busker. Since no old ladies come over to clobber him with their handbags, this, according to Manchán, is clear evidence that no-one speaks Irish.

The fact that no-one ever really listens to what buskers are singing obviously never occurs to him.

And he doesn’t earn any money from his busking, either.

A bheil Gaeilge moirbh? Chan eil! Tha esan (tha Manchán) a’ bruidhinn ann an Gaeilge. Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh nach bheil i moirbh – tha mi a’ smoineachadh gu bheil i bheò – airson tha mòran dhaoine a’ bruidhinn as Gaeilge na chlàr, agus tha h-uile duine a’ tuigsinn an uair a bha Manchán ag radh rudan daibh ann an Gaeilge. Caist ma-tha: a bheil Gaeilge moirbh? Chan eil gu dearbh! A bheil Manchán pessimist? Tha gu dearbh!

Anyway, I’ll finish by sticking in Series 1 of “No Béarla”.

One Reason I Could Never Live In Canada

Only one.

Actually, I rather liked Canada – and not just because they’re officially bilingual. I mean, I was only there for about twenty hours (well, more like thirty, but I’m not counting the three hours I spent in Toronto Airport and the seven I spent fast asleep in the overnight stopover hotel). But from what I saw, it was a pretty good country.

Rather like Australia, to be honest. Well, what Australia would be like if it were fifty degrees cooler. It’s big, it has very few people for its size, it’s a member of the Commonwealth… Yeah, it’s pretty much a cooler version of Australia.

And the overall mentality of the place was much closer to Australia / New Zealand than a lot of other countries. For example, Canadians travel. Actually, one of my favourite comedians, Danny Bhoy, has a skit which I’ve seen done for both Australia and Canada which makes reference to how much Australians/Canadians travel. And that certainly made a refreshing change from being in the US. In America, if you tell someone you’re from Australia, they get excited and say, “Oh, Oh-stroll-ee-a. I’ve always wanted to go there!”. In Canada, they shrug and say, “Oh, yeah, I went there last year.”

And apart from that, there are some things about Canada which make it very different from Australia. Well, it can really be put down to two. One is the bilingualism, obviously. Even though many of the Canadians I spoke to were disappointingly more monolingual than I had expected, at least they don’t make as much of a fuss of bilingualism as Australians do – where telling someone you speak a second language is about as believable as telling them you can fly. The other major difference is the temperature, which I’ve already mentioned. Canadians are far less water-conscious, they all own a raincoat (you’d be surprised how many Australians don’t own a raincoat, a warm jacket, or even a decent jumper), and even better: just about all of them ski!

That all said, there remains one insurmountable problem about Canada which means I could never, ever live there.

And that one thing is hockey.

That’s right. Hockey.

It doesn’t seem like much, but I did two and a half years of figure skating lessons. That isn’t to say I can figure skate – far from it! – but simply that I can stay upright on the ice and do a few simple tricks, such as going backwards, gliding on one leg the length of the rink, and a very bad spin. But even so, with a sister who is arguably better than I am, and armed with a pair of white reinforced-ankle-skates, my mentality is arguably that of a figure skater.

Which led to some problems in Canada.

We went for a walk with the second-cousins, and there was this huge billboard on the route with a picture of a hockey player. Completely instinctively, my sister and I shuddered and began our usual comments about “stupid hockey skaters”. Then we stopped, and realised that this was the national sport and we’d probably just offended everyone in earshot.

It was almost more embarrassing than that encounter outside Toronto airport. In all fairness, though, if it’s three in the morning and you’re discussing onwards destinations with a group of far-too-overtired travellers (because the flight we’d just got off had been delayed about 7 hours), and one of them says, “I’m flying to London in the morning”, you really can’t blame an English-Australian kid like me to just assume he meant London, England, and start badmouthing the place (because London is quite possibly my least-favourite city on the planet). I didn’t even know there was a town called “London” in Canada!

Hockey skates (left) and figure skates (right). And ne'er the twain shall meet.

Hockey skates (left) and figure skates (right).
And ne’er the twain shall meet.

But anyway, back to hockey. I don’t know whether it happens anywhere else, or whether it’s even a two-sided thing, but here, hockey skaters and figure skaters do not get along. Really. The rivalry is intense. Figure skaters say hockey skaters cut up the ice (great big deep crevasses like skiing over snowmobile tracks!). Hockey skaters say figure skaters cut up the ice (toe picks). Figure skaters object to snow being thrown at them when hockey skaters stop. Hockey skaters object to classical music. Figure skaters object to how hockey skaters dress. Hockey skaters think it’s dangerous for figure skaters to be skating around backwards. Figure skaters think it’s dangerous for hockey skaters to go so fast and roughly when there are children around. And the list continues. You get the idea.

(I’d say it’s probably a universal thing. It’s a lot like the skier-boarder rivalry.)

So there you have it: for all the great things I love about Canada, there’s one reason I’d never be able to live there. The hockey would drive me insane, and I’d offend everyone.