"Where are you from, father?"
Translation:Cò às a tha sibh, athair?
- Cò – which is it? (cò and cia on their own mean what?, which?, and question words in Gaelic have a copula – to be verb – embedded in themselves, so they also mean which is…? and which is it…?)
- às – from
cò às – where from is it?, from which (place) is it…?
a – relative particle, introduces relative clause, that
- tha – is, are, present tense of bi verb,
- sibh – you (singular polite)
- athair – father, vocative (has no vocative a before it as other nouns, like a chàirdean, because it starts with a vowel)
So to summarize, the whole sentence literally means: where from is it that you are, father? or from which (place) is it that you are, father?.
That’s the typical way of forming more complex questions in Gaelic – using relative clauses. Another example would be dè an t-ainm a th’ ort? what is your name?, literally:
- dè an t-ainm…? – what is the name…?
- a th’ ort – that is on you
because in Gaelic you rather speak about names that are on someone rather than someone’s names as in English.
I believe most modern textbooks prescribe not to write the a before vowels (as it is not pronounced). But I wouldn’t call it wrong, as you’ll find that in older texts, and some modern users of the language do it too, eg. it is suggested on the Akerbeltz wiki:
a eich bhig!⁵
⁵ Before vowels, the a is not pronounced, but should be written
And for example the Scottish Gaelic grammar article on Wikipedia shows the a as optional:
- Màiri → a Mhàiri
- Anna → (a) Anna
- Seumas → a Sheumais
- Aonghas → (a) Aonghais
Teach Yourself Gaelic by B. Robertson and I. Taylor states (chapter 1, page 16):
The a is also dropped before names beginning in vowels.
Then in chapter 7 on page 76:
Names beginning with a vowel cannot be lenited, nor are they preceded by a:
Hallo, Aonghais. Hallo, Angus.
(which arguably says nothing about common nouns, only about names, but one can generalize…)
Similarly Akerbeltz argues for always writing the relative particle (eg. dè a tha thu a’ dèanamh? ‘what are you doing?’) where it is a common practice not to write it where it is not pronounced (dè tha…).
I have explained this sentence already in a comment above (you might not be seeing the existing comments in some platforms, I guess – there are some discussion-related bugs in Duolingo discussions). Click on this link: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/35591909?comment_id=36704456
As for your guesses: cò here means what, what place, às means from, and a tha means that is (a start of a relative clause), sibh is used because the polite forms are traditionally used for speaking to parents. See my answer I linked above.
There are two different issues:
In real life
- Thu is singular
- Sibh is plural, also used as the 'polite singular' with anyone you should show respect to. It's not too different to the situations where you would not use first names in English, e.g. your parent, teacher or minister. Different languages have different rules - it just happens that Gaelic (but not Irish) is almost exactly the same as French (but not German, Spanish or Portuguese).
Note that as you get older you use the polite singular less and less. If you are an adult and don't plan to speak Gaelic with your parents, the church minister, the judge or the Queen in Gaelic then you may never actually use it at all.
On this course
- When they want you to use thu they will address it to one names individual,
-- a Mhòrag
- When they want you to use sibh they will address it to someone older than you or to more then one person
-- Eilidh agus Anndra
-- a chàirdean
- If they don't address it to anyone you should be able to use either.
Yes, there are people who will actually use sibh with their parents (though whether they were just doing it because it was a more formal setting -- church -- I don't know). I suspect it's rather similar to how some here might say "ma"/"maw"/”mom"/"mum" at home but use "mother" when others are around.
I am not quite sure of the point you are making, but we can assume you do know your father, and you show him respect, by addressing him as sibh, as you would generally for people as old as your father.
It is sometimes said that being able to use thu for someone is analogous to being on first-name terms in English. If you would address your father by his first name then you can probably use thu, otherwise you can't. In this particular case you are not even addressing him as dadaidh 'daddy', but as athair 'father'. So you definitely need the sibh form. Perhaps this is even a priest you are talking to as I never address my father as father. That would also make more sense with the implication that you do not know where he is from.
Please read the course notes, especially around formal/polite. Throughout the course they use the polite "sibh" for older family members and "thu" for a brother, sister, etc.
Yes, this is a phenomenon that does exist in at least some Gaelic communities (and really in any community where part of being polite means you're taught to say "Sir" or "Ma'am" - including to your parents).