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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Praedirus

Sùil / Sùilean - Genders, Lenition, Confusion!

I'm a little baffled by the words: sùil and sùilean

My initial thought was that "sùil (fem.)" translated to "eye" ... sùil bheag

And "sùilean (masc.?)" translated to "eyes" (in the context of the lesson)... sùilean brèagha

I'm still trying desperately to grasp the rules for lenition here, so forgive me if this is completely wrong... Is my logic correct in that sùil + beag = bheag so must be fem., but sùilean + brèagha remains the same (not bhrèagha) so must be masc. ??

https://learngaelic.scot/dictionary/index.jsp?abairt=s%C3%B9il&slang=both&wholeword=false

https://learngaelic.scot/dictionary/index.jsp?abairt=s%C3%B9ilean&slang=both&wholeword=false

Or have I got completely the wrong i-dea!?

(MOD Joanne - Thanks so much for trying to help me on the other thread, still totally confused, rather than de-rail the original poster's convo. any further, I thought it would be easier to start over here)

February 28, 2020

19 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/joannejoanne12

Wow. There are lots of comments here so I hope you’ll forgive me if I answer them all at once!


I don't think the gender of a noun changes between singular and plural.

Morag is absolutely right here. Sùil and its plural sùilean are both feminine.


so then sùilean (in the separate context of small eye/bubble/young animal.. etc.) would still be masculine, but at that point it's not translating to "eyes"

Yep, that sùilean is a completely different word. As a general rule, plurals don’t get their own entry in a dictionary. So if you’re looking for sùilean (‘eyes’), then you would look up sùil (‘eye’).


I still don't know if the absence of lenition in the "sùilean brèagha" example is because it's plural or maybe because in that particular example the adjective is not in fact intimately connected to the noun.

Adjectives following plural nouns only lenite if the noun forms its plural through slenderisation e.g.

  • cat dubh > cait dhubha
  • iasg beag > èisg bheaga
  • fiadh mòr > fèidh mhòra

The "Gaelic neighbour" suggested "sùilean brèaghan" (I can't find any dictionary reference to "brèaghan" but it would seem there is a fair amount of usage in modern Gàidhlig text).

Jamie’s answer below is right: “That wouldn't likely be in the dictionary. Adjectives get a plural ending generally as well when combined with plural nouns.”

Sùilean brèagha is how you would say ‘pretty eyes’, not ‘big eyes’ (that is sùilean mòra).


I am still not clear about how an becomes a' as opposed to an t-, and there are wrinkles with na as well.

The Tips from Food 2 explain the masculine definite article, the feminine is covered in Animals, and plurals in Travel. I would copy them into this comment, but it is already very long! In brief though:

MASCULINE NOUNS

  1. Words beginning with BFMP - am

  2. Words beginning with all other consonants - an

  3. Words beginning with vowels - an t-

FEMININE NOUNS

  1. Words beginning with BCGMP - a’ + lenition

  2. Words beginning with F - an + lenition

  3. Words beginning with S followed by LNRAEIOU - an t-

  4. Everything else - an

PLURAL NOUNS

  1. Words beginning with consonants - na

  2. Words beginning with vowels - na h-


We've done "Tha mi a' faicinn" (and by inference "Bidh mi a' faicinn") and we've done "Chì mi" in a different context. I have a crawling suspicion that the "ci" bit in there is a common factor.

I wouldn't read too much into that; a’ faicinn is an irregular noun, so you can't really predict its forms. But yes, we will be teaching the present simple tense in the next update :)

I hope that’s answered all your questions!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

Thank you so much, have a lingot (for all the good it will do you!)

I have been meaning to read the tips again, because I'm getting it clearer in my mind as I repeat the practice exercises which grammatical points I still haven't got. But I won't bore you with the details, I can cope. Thanks for that handy crib about definite articles though, I'm copying that into my distilled notes.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

I suspect the absence of lenition after "sùilean" may be because it's a plural. I don't think the gender of a noun changes between singular and plural. But let's see what Joanne says. It may depend on the context. I have trouble remembering that adjectives only lenite if they're intimately attached to the noun - your bonny blue eyes, as opposed to your eyes are bonny.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Praedirus

That would make sense.. so then sùilean (in the separate context of small eye/bubble/young animal.. etc.) would still be masculine, but at that point it's not translating to "eyes"


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

Ah, I had to look that up, you're ahead of me there.

So "sùilean" is also a diminutive, and in that context it becomes masculine? In German all diminutives become neuter, hence "Das Mädchen", the girl, is neuter.

I still don't know if the absence of lenition in the "sùilean brèagha" example is because it's plural or maybe because in that particular example the adjective is not in fact intimately connected to the noun. Hopefully someone who is better at this than I am will weigh in and then we'll both be better informed.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/dojaduolingo

I speak Irish (which granted is a different language but very similar). To the best of my knowledge that -(e)an suffix as a diminiutive is the equivalent of the Irish -(a)ín.

When you add a diminutive suffix in Celtic languages, the noun matches the gender of the suffix.

For example; the Old Irish (ancestor of Scottish and Irish) word for girl is ‘caile’. It originial meant something like girl or milk maiden.

In Irish, we added the diminutive suffix ín (SC: -an) to make cailín. Hence cailín beag not cailín bheag (but note caile bheag). In Scottish it would look like cailean beag.

The thing about Old Irish is that there isn’t just one diminutive; there was also -óc which was always feminine (an uinneag/an fhuinneog)

Scottish added this seperate diminutive -ag. Hence caileag and a’ chaileag bheag. In Irish it would look like caileog bheag. (Note we’d never say that - that’s just an example)

To summarise, a suffix always takes preference over gender.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

That's really interesting thanks. (It's especially interesting to me with my own name.)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/kerrrrobbie

Twitter DM sent to you...


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/kerrrrobbie

Quite easy [and NOTHING to do with diminutives]. Where a plural noun ends -an or -ean there's no lenition eg na caileagan beaga, na sràiden beaga, na diabhlan beaga. Where a plural noun has "i" as the final vowel then the adjective lenites eg na h-amadain bheaga, na balaich bheaga, na fir bheaga.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

You call that easy!

Is that irrespective of the gender of the singular? Actually, if you could give us a reason why this happens, it might make it easier to remember.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/kerrrrobbie

final -an/ean then lenition

final vowel -i- then no lenition

Gu math furasta!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

Hey, look at this. I found the "sùilean brèagha" sentence discussion and there is a short conversation there that covers this point. I'm not sure I understand it properly as yet, but it's worth a look.

https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/36295774


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Praedirus

I'd spotted that too and it raised another question in my mind...

The "Gaelic neighbour" suggested "sùilean brèaghan" (I can't find any dictionary reference to "brèaghan" but it would seem there is a fair amount of usage in modern Gàidhlig text).

Within the thread "an t-sùil mhòr", Joanne states that "big eyes" would be "sùilean mòra"... (I automatically assumed that this would be "sùilean mòr")... "Mòra" is again, absent from the dictionary but prevalent in text.

So really, what's the crack with "sùilean"? haha!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/tj4234

That wouldn't likely be in the dictionary. Adjectives get a plural ending generally as well when combined with plural nouns.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

We need one of the mods to come and explain the technicalities to us.

I often wonder how languages evolve these wrinkles. I mean it's not as if someone sat down and worked out a plan and said, let's all say it this way.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

This is an interesting example of how, for me, learning like this is superior to sitting down and grinding over grammar lessons. If you find the wrinkle for yourself, within an example, you're going to remember it a lot better than if you learned it by rote and then struggled to apply everything you learned from the get-go.

I am still not clear about how an becomes a' as opposed to an t-, and there are wrinkles with na as well. But because I've spotted that there's something going on, as opposed to trying to commit rules to memory in the abstract, it will be stronger in my memory when I finally get it.

I can see groundwork being laid for later too. We've done "Tha mi a' faicinn" (and by inference "Bidh mi a' faicinn") and we've done "Chì mi" in a different context. I have a crawling suspicion that the "ci" bit in there is a common factor. That's all going to link up at some point, but how much better to introduce it like this than to make people sit down and conjugate the verb "to see" without any context to hang it on. I think someone has put a lot of thought into this.

Now why do I have this persistent image of Patrick McGoohan with his thumb and forefinger in a circle and a knowing smile on his face? https://www.theguardian.com/culture/tvandradioblog/2009/jan/14/television


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/tj4234

Generally plural nouns don't cause lenition regardless of gender.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Morag_Kerr

Thank you very much, you're a mine of information.

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