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what is the grammatical purpose of "a" in "Ciamar a tha i?"

what is the grammatical purpose of "a" in "Ciamar a tha i?"

December 2, 2019



“a” has many meanings/uses in Scottish Gaelic. In “Beagan Gràmair” (http://www.akerbeltz.org/index.php?title=Beagan_gr%C3%A0mair) Akerbeltz has a page that discusses these: http://www.akerbeltz.org/index.php?title=The_many_functions_of_%C9%99 “The many functions of ə”. I’m a learner so I don’t understand all of these, however, I think the “a” in “Ciamar a tha” is a “relative a”. I might be wrong though. The page on Beagan Gràmair lists a number of options for “a”. Maybe someone else here could explain further?


(Bear in mind that I don’t know much Scottish, I base my answer on my knowledge of Irish which uses the same basic structures.)

Yes, it is a relative a. In Scottish the question words (, , cò às, etc.) can work as if they had copula (the is verb) embedded in themselves. Eg. may literally mean ‘what-is(-it)?’, and ciamar can mean ‘how-is(-it)?’.

So ciamar a tha thu? could literally be translated as ‘how-is-it that you are?’, the ‘how old are you?’ question – dè an aois a tha thu? literally as ‘what-is the age that you are?’, and ‘what’s your name?’ – dè an t-ainm a th’ ort? as ‘what-is the name that is on-you?’.

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