Experience vs Disposition or Tha mi sunndach

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
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Gearr leum gu: seòladh, lorg

Even though the heading may seem confusing and tricky, this is actually quite straightforward.

In Gaelic, you have the apparently confusing choice between two ways of saying things like I'm angry or I'm happy. You can choose a periphrastic (roundabout way of saying) construction and say tha sunnd orm or you can add the adjectival suffix -ach and use the verb bi: tha mi sunndach. There are a huge number of these expressions, so let's look at a few more:

tha sunnd orm tha mi sunndach I'm cheerful
tha an fhearg orm tha mi feargach I'm angry
tha am pathadh orm tha mi pàiteach I'm thirsty
tha an t-acras orm tha mi acrasach I'm hungry
tha an t-eagal orm tha mi eagalach I'm afraid
tha fiabhras orm tha mi fiabhrasach I'm feverish

And so on. In theory, there's no limit to the number of pairs you could find because -ach, as an ending, is very productive. You can stick it on to as many nouns as you can find.

So what's the catch? The catch is that Gaelic makes a very fine distinction when it comes to making the right choice. The distinction is difficult to make in English, but essentially it's between experience versus disposition. With few words and the right word choice, Gaelic can differentiate between a state that's temporary and a state that's permanent.

For example, tha sunnd orm means that I am cheerful right now, perhaps because I've won the lottery or have been told that Bill Gates has donated $5,000,000 to Akerbeltz. But that could change quite quickly, say if I had some bad news. On the other hand, tha mi sunndach means that I am cheerful by nature, which means I am cheerful even in the worst circumstances. If the pathadh is on you, it's just now, so take a drink and you'll be fine. But, if you're pàiteach, you're forever feeling thirsty.

In English, we have to use roundabout ways of showing this difference. For example, tha an fhearg orm indicates that 'I am angry right now' versus tha mi feargach which informs listeners that 'I am angry by nature'. You can use these structures with different words, for example, tha galar orm states that at the moment 'I am ill' but tha mi galarach expresses that 'I am diseased'.

That's essentially it. One slightly confusing thing is that with existentials, air can be used to describe a permanent state, for example, tha beul mór air Mórag means that 'Mórag has a (physically) big mouth'. But as we explained on the page on that, context usually supplies the right meaning.



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