Existentials or I think therefore I am

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
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This is where you either start to love or hate the word ann. Existentials is a fancy word for "expressions that talk about the existence of things" although the use of ann goes a bit beyond that as we will see. And before we start, it is the "same" ann as the preposition in (click here for more details), only with a somewhat different function.

Let's start with the easy bit first. Ann is used in Gaelic to express the notion of something existing, or not existing, as the case may be:

tha mi ann 1. I exist
2. I am there/here
a bheil Dia ann? 1. Does God exist?
2. Is there a god?
(the answer to both is no, by the way)
chan eil taibhsean ann 1. Ghosts do not exist.
2. There are no ghosts.
's e a tha ann... Fact is ...
ann bho shean in existence of old
an tu a th' ann? is it you?
airgead ann no ás money or no money

As you can see, there is more than one way to translate some of the above Gaelic statements. In Gaelic, the exact connotation has to be inferred from context, which isn't much of a problem, if you think about it. Thuirt Descartes "Tha smuaint annam is mar sin tha mi ann" translated as "I think therefore I am". Of course, it can't really mean anything, unless it's a novel in which Descartes is telling someone he is present. And in any case, to be honest, there isn't much of a difference between 'does God exist?' and 'is there a god?'.

Not that difficult so far. But ann also has another function which is a bit harder to pin down. In general terms, ann can be said to have an emphasising force. Let's look at some examples so you will know what I'm talking about:

Rinn mi ann e! I've already done it!
Cha bhi e a' sabaid ann. He will not be fighting at all.
Chan eil aithne aca air an té ann. They don't know her at all.
An t-amadan a tha thu ann! Fool that you are!
Tha taibhse anns an taigh ann! There is a ghost in that house!

As you can see, although Gaelic uses the same construction in all the above examples, there are a number of different constructions we have to use in English.

The easiest way to deal with them is perhaps to translate the "extra" ann with it-exists and then see what is the most logical interpretation. No, I'm not running out of ideas - there are a number of things in Gaelic which just juxtapose two concepts and leave it to the listener to figure the most logical connection. Think of a construction like bhàsaich m' athair 's mi 'nam bhalach òg. Here, ann is best treated as emphasising the existence, or non-existence, of something or somebody.

So, the first example would be "did I it-exists it" - what I did really exists > I really did it. The second one would be "not will-be he fighting it-exists" - his fighting will not exist > he will not fight at all and "be ghost in the house it-exists" > a ghost does exist in that house.

This also explains the subtle difference between the following pairs of sentences:

tha cù fon bhòrd there is a dog under the table
tha cù ann fon bhòrd there is a dog under the table
tha eàrlas £50 anns a' phàipear there is a £50 voucher in the paper
tha eàrlas £50 anns a' phàipear ann there is a £50 voucher in the paper


While the first variant of these Gaelic sentences simply makes a "neutral" statement about the existence of item X, the second variant emphasises the existence of item X, perhaps in response to someone doubting the fact or to express surprise of the fact. Possible scenarios would be the following:

Alasdair, bheil fhios a'd dè thachair rium an-diugh? Cheannaich mi am Pàipear Beag agus bha eàrlas £50 anns a' phàipear ann!
Bha mi aig Caisteal Urchadain sa mhadainn agus abair iongantas a bh' orm nuair a chunna mi an t-uilebheist air a' chladach! Cha robh mi a' creidsinn ann roimhe ach thà uilebheist anns an loch ann!

There is another construction which is connected to this use of ann for existentials. Most of you will be familiar with the contructions 's e X a tha annam and tha mi 'nam X - but you may not be aware of the subtle difference between them as most grammars tend to sidestep this issue.

The difference is one of disposition/inherent attribute and non-permanence. In less fancy terms, the first, 's e ..., is "permanent" and the second, tha e 'na..., is "transient". Let's look at some examples:

's e banaltram a tha innte she is a nurse
's e oileanach a tha ann he is a student
's e balach beag a tha ann he is a little boy
tha i 'na draibhear bus she is a bus driver
tha e 'na oileanach he is a student
tha e 'na bhalach beag he is a little boy

Didn't I say something about a difference? There is, but it's difficult to literally translate into English. It is best seen when you use the phrases above together, at least the first two:

tha i 'na draibhear bus an-dràsda ach 's e banaltram a tha innte she is a bus driver now but she really is a nurse
tha e 'na oileanach ach chan e oileanach a tha ann he is a student but he isn't a student

The first sentence implies that Mrs. X trained as a nurse, and really wants to be one, but because the hospital closed she's temporarily working as a bus driver.

Our student is enrolled at university, and thus technically speaking a student, but isn't much of a scholar because he's as thick as two short planks and never goes to lectures.

If you think of ann in these examples stressing existence, it kind of makes sense - 's e oileanach a tha ann = be-he student that be exist - where you are essentially making a statement about existence twice!

Let's hope you're the latter!!



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