There is at least one sentence (the children eat chocolate before dinner) where it is definitely time-wise and the other occurrences sound more place-wise. So I was guessing it can mean both.
But since I wanted to know and not only guess I looked it up. http://breis.focloir.ie/en/fgb/roimh
The answer is: Yes, definitely both!
(I know it has been 2 years since your post, but, for the benefit of others just now reading it,) in the desktop version, when you click on the lesson, a window pops up that lets you select (click) 'START' to start the lesson, but instead, you can click the 'key in the circle' above 'START' to test out of the lesson, or, click the 'light bulb in the circle' in the upper right of the pop up window to navigate to the 'Tips and notes' section.
"portán" is the basic version of the noun. There are certain rules for modifying nouns, one of which being the eclipsis. and another being lenition.
Eclipsis means, that the pronounciation of the original first letter is totally hidden / covered by the other sound (= like an eclipsis of the sun by the moon) , in the case of "p" it is the "b". So when you pronounce "bportán" you should not hear the original "p" or when you pronounce "gcailín" you should not hear the original "c".
Lenition softens the pronounciation, so that "portán" is pronounced like "phhhortán", the "p" still being there, but sort of blown away ;-).
Initially this seemed impossibly hard to myself, but actually, once you go on, you will get the hang of it.
The rules for eclipsis and lenition are explained in the corresponding tips and notes sections:
thank you so much for your explanation. I just had the rules for eclipsis and lenition become clearer by reading it. It's so much easier for me to learn a new (to me) language if I can associate a picture with a word or a rule. I really appreciate your help. :) We've had 3 boy goats born on our farm in the last 3 days. Do you know the Irish word for goat and is it the same word for both sexes?
The description for pronounciation of lenition and eclipsis is a gross simplification, for expert advise please do take a look at the below video:
As for goat vs. billy goat the words would be gabhar vs. pocaide
Certain grammatical situations call for a consonant to be placed in front of a word, and that consonant’s sound replaces the word’s normal initial sound. That situation is referred to as “eclipsis”. If you’re using a browser for Duolingo, check out the Tips and Notes section for the Eclipsis skill.
But certainly there's value to knowing the language inside and out, how it's put together, how all the parts move. Weird sentences like this help me understand the functioning of the language because it forces me to think, not just go on "autopilot."
"I eat before you eat." = OK.
"I eat before the crab." = Forces me to slow down and think.
Edit: OK, this has been clarified. Leaving the original post in square brackets for transparency's sake.
[Wait. How does this square with what you wrote in another discussion?
"Just like "before" in English, roimh can be used for time or position. [. . .] Ólann Pól fíon roimh an gcat can be interpreted as "Paul drinks wine before the cat does", or "Paul drinks wine in front of the cat". " From: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/5550345]
Edit: The confusion has been clarified. Original post left below in square brackets for the sake of transparency.
[That is a very helpful clarification, especially since other comments are suggesting that the ambiguity in the English "before" (is it temporal or physical?) is mirrored in the Irish "roimh." Thank you!]
Please read the existing comments - this question has already been answered.
After a preposition like roimh (or ag, or ar, or le, etc) and the singular definite article an, a noun is eclipsed.
There are a lot of very silly responses on this page. The point isn't whether you would actually use this phrase or whether it is intrinsically meaningful. The point is that it lacks context and is therefore poor teaching. I would refer those who enjoy silly combinations of words for their own sake to the works of Spike Milligan or Monty Python. Mangrove-Warbler Ftang!
"The point isn't whether you would actually use this phrase..."
i have used this phrase, not to tell anyone that 'i eat before the crab,' but to learn the Irish language, to learn the Irish syntax that this phrase exemplifies; accordingly, i have used this phrase inasmuch as i have used the structure, the syntax, of this very phrase countless times, in Irish and in English, mutatis mutandis, that is, with a different noun or pronoun for the subject, a different verb, a different noun for the object, and so on. being able to figure out a new phrase based on a similar phrase you already know, having more than one application for the same pattern, is part of the skill, part of the point, part of the practical use of a language.
"... or whether it is intrinsically meaningful."
the sentence is intrinsically meaningful: "ithim roimh an bportán" means "i eat before the crab."
"The point is that it lacks context..."
context would make the phrase extrinsically meaningful as well. sure, context, such as an illustration to accompany the sentence, or a story that includes the sentence, would be fine, too, but there are two problems with establishing such context: 1. providing the illustration or story would entail much more work and preparation for the course developers; 2. some exercise sentences can be interpreted in more than one way, or applied in several contexts; providing a specific context might limit the students' understanding of the many ways in which some words, phrases, and sentences can be applied.
the duolingo format, the template, is what we have. i do not know the technicalities of how such an application is developed, but i am guessing it could be expanded to provide context (such as pictures or stories) for certain sentences, but, it just hasn't been developed that way, in this case. some of the students here provide a context in these discussion forums, often with a response whose humor derives from framing the sentence in another context. personally, i generally find those comments to be both entertaining and instructive, especially when the reaction is in Irish and a moderator or other students respond with corrections to the grammar or variations. but even the English reactions, and even those without humor, expand my understanding of the range of contexts in which the Irish words may apply. the exercise may lack context, perhaps for the very purpose of accommodating various circumstances and interpretations, deliberately to be general rather than specific, but often the students provide specific applications, and i am grateful for both.
"... and is therefore poor teaching."
a lack of context is not necessarily ('therefore') poor teaching. how did you learn math? for instance, multiplication tables? didn't you keep practicing the multiplication tables, reciting them aloud or in your head, until you had the tables memorized? i mean, yeh, there are also 'story problems' that provide a context ('billy gets a quarter for every glass of lemonade he sells; how much money will he earn if he sells 48 glasses?'), and later in life, there are obviously practical applications of math in the real world, but a portion of learning is, indeed, learning without context, studying the basics as such, for example, manipulating numbers regardless of what those numbers might refer to (machine parts, dollars, hours, decibels, or whatever). and it's not just math, it's the same with many subjects. to play chess, you need to know how each piece moves. music is another example. nobody goes to a concert just to hear a musician play scales (and i don't want to hear any of you slagging on Orhan Demir!); nevertheless, practicing scales, without any song or chord progression for context, is one way that musicians build their chops. analogously, no one takes a trip to a gaeltacht in Ireland just to tell someone 'i eat before the crab,' or to observe, 'he runs, she runs, they run;' nevertheless, practicing such phrases helps students learn the language.
"... Monty Python. Mangrove-Warbler Ftang!"
if i could translate my favorite Monty Python sketches and songs, or phrases such as 'mangrove warbler ftang,' into Irish, then i would be proud of such an achievement: i would feel that my Irish is pretty good at that point.
'there is a penguin on the telly' involves a pun: the television screen could be showing a picture of a penguin, or, an actual penguin could be standing atop the television ('i think it's nesting'); to translate that phrase into Irish, i would have to ensure that i maintained the wordplay, both possibilities of the English word 'on,' in the translation. theoretically, another language might not have one way of saying both things, but have one distinct way to express the 'broadcast' meaning and another distinct way to express the 'positional' meaning. to translate, i would have to know; i would have to do the research and find out; and i would learn along the way. such questions come up in these discussions all the time. here, for instance, some students are asking whether 'before' is temporal, spatial, or both. this is how we learn.
'we are the knights who say --' hang on, should i translate that last word as the word 'knee,' actually meaning 'knee?' is that what the knights are really saying? or should i translate that last word as a mere sound? are the knights simply saying 'ni' in the same way that 'the cow says "moo?"' and in the latter case, how would i spell 'ni?' how is it even spelled in English? maybe i'd have to look at a copy of the script, or maybe i could choose a spelling that would allow Irish listeners also to wonder whether the knights are saying a word or a mere noise. the humor itself may seem silly, but translating that humor involves an understanding of the language that, in my case, is usually far too sophisticated for my present familiarity with Irish. i hope my Irish will be that good someday; for now, i will just keep plugging away.
tá m'árthach foluaineach lán deascanna. (i had to take someone else's word for that one.)