"It is milk."

Translation:'S e bainne a th' ann.

June 13, 2020

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if you need the a th'ann what would just 's e bainne mean?


It would be like an incomplete sentence. The construction 's e X is sort of like a set-up for a relative clause, here a th' ann. Imagine saying the English sentence "it is milk that I drank" but stopping yourself after "milk" – your intonation would be kinda weird (despite "it is milk" being a perfectly normal sentence when given the appropriate intonation). In a similar way, just saying 's e bainne sounds as though you stopped yourself mid-sentence. So even though the literal meaning is "it is milk", it should not be used on its own to translate that.


And that’s because historically bainne would be the subject here (so ’s e bainne would rather literally translate to milk is (it) and not to it is milk). Historically the structure of the sentence was more like milk is what is in it with milk being the subject and not the predicate.

In older Irish/Gaelic the copula in 3rd person was always directly followed by the predicate and the subject always went after it.

So one could not say something like *is bainne a tha… for milk is what is… – the subject bainne milk could not stand directly after the copula. So additional dummy pronoun, called a sub-predicate, was placed after the copula: is e bainne a th’ ann where e used to refer to what follows later: milk is it – [the thing] that is in it (the e it anticipates the a th’ ann that is in it part).

Later that sub-predicate thing got generalized to other positions (eg. always before a definite noun, even if it is a predicate), created general confusion, and the structure lost its original logic. But some kinds of sentences (like this one) preserved the original word order and that’s the historical reason for that structure. That’s why *’s e bainne does not make sense on its own – it means something along the lines of milk is it where it is a dummy word standing there for what will go later in the sentence.

On the other hand, if you wanted to directly simply say it is milk you would need is bainne e (and not *’s e bainne) – here the predicate bainne milk goes directly after the copula and the subject e it goes after it – this is the straightforward translation of the English sentence. This structure still exists in the language but is rather poetic/archaic so not used in a daily conversation.

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