Noun genders

Ciamar a chanas mi.... / How do I say...
Màiri na Coille
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Noun genders

Unread post by Màiri na Coille » Sun Jun 22, 2014 7:52 pm

The past couple weeks I've been doing a more intensive study of noun genders and cases, which has been a long time coming. To help myself out I've been making flash cards, writing down the noun, its gender, and then its most common case forms--nominative singular, nominative plural, genitive, and dative. This has been helpful, but I've also run into some words that in the dictionary are listed as both masculine and feminine (eg. "loch" and "cèilidh"). How do these work? Is there a pattern or is each "double-gendered" word a special case of its own?

Mòran taing!



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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Seonaidh » Mon Jun 23, 2014 12:35 am

Usually a dialect thing. Sometimes means that the noun concerned was originally neuter - e.g. you get "el mar" in Spanish and "la mer" in French and an m/f "muir" in Gaelic (am muir, a' mhuir). But even dialects with manly seas go feminine in the genitive - "fuaim na mara", "Mac na Mara".

As for datives - wow! It's debatable whether they're still a part of modern Gaelic - certainly as regards speech - but yes, technically they do exist. This is actually the reason why it's "wrong" to say "anns am baile" - because "baile" is actually "dative" (or, maybe better, "prepositional"), so "the town" after "in" becomes "a' bhaile" - "anns a' bhaile" or "sa bhaile" for short. You do occasionally come across stuff like "air an uinneig" (on the window) with a distinctive "dative case": this is certainly theoretically "correct", but I'm not sure how many folk would still do this naturally (rather than the "incorrect" "air an uinneag").

Really, by far the best way to get a "feel" for such things is actually to hear real people talking real Gaelic. You may find several things this way that aren't in the standard grammar - but are nonetheless widly done - e.g. urachadh, of changing the starting letter to "agree" with what comes before. You might, f'rinstance, hear some folk talking of being "sam maile" rather than "sa bhaile", or referring to today as "an-niugh" rather than "an-diugh".

Incidentally, do you recall learning all the different cases in English? e.g. with a pronoun like "me" - learning all the rules about when to use "I", "me", "mine", "we", "us", "ours" etc? Or, rather, did you just get the hang of it by listening to other people and trial-and-error? And would it be fair to say that the latter method leaves a far greater understanding of how to use a language than the former?

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by akerbeltz » Mon Jun 23, 2014 3:57 pm

Tha iomadh dòigh air cù a mharbhadh ... if Màiri finds flashcards useful, why not? We don't all have a live-in speaker. And when trying to learn a specific feature, you can listen till the cows come home and still may not hear it. We're adults, it's not a crime to employ methods other than listening.

Regarding words which are either masc or fem depending on who you talk to, my suggestion is usually to stick with the broad > likely to be masc and slender > likely to be fem rule. It reduces the workload a little.

One thing that also works is to learn vocab along with an adjective i.e. don't learn loch, baile, cas, beinn and then math, dubh etc but learn loch mòr, baile mòr, cas mhòr, beinn mhòr. It's a bit tricky learning these abstract concepts alongside individual words.

sam maile ... really? not in any Gaelic I've heard this side of Sruth na Maoile.

an-diugh as a-niugh is of course just an incident of the very common nd > n change. Common both historically (cf candela > coinneal) and in speech (an-dè > a-nè etc, the list is long).

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Màiri na Coille » Mon Jun 23, 2014 10:00 pm

Interesting. Yes, living in Chicago I have to rely on my Skype friends and Radio nan Gàidheal for listening, though I could try harder at that. And I have been writing adjectives on my flashcards--I figured that would be useful. Guess I'll just keep plugging away! Mòran taing airson an comhairle.

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Seonaidh » Wed Jun 25, 2014 12:46 am

De nada, señora.

On this "dative" thing, simple prepositions generally use it - though these days you don't often see more effect than that a "masculine" noun suddenly starts looking "feminine", i.e. you get sèimheachadh (lenition) after "the". But compound prepositions usually use the genitive.

Now, while "air" is a simple preposition, when combined with what was once a separate word, "son", to give "airson", it becomes a compound preposition (meaning more-or-less "for the sake of"). So "comhairle" (advice) should be genitive.

Now, "comhairle" is one of those lovely nouns that doesn't have a different ending for the genitive. But it's also gramatically feminine - so "the advice" would usually be "a' chomhairle". Also, even if it were masculine "on the advice" would be "air a' chomhairle". But "for the advice", using "airson", means you have "airson na comhairle".

As for getting a "feel" for the language, before any thought of cases or genders or anything like that I saw "airson an comhairle" and just though "ceàrr" - there's a mistake there. Maybe a bit like it would jar on you if you saw "for sake the advice" or some such.

Radio nan Gàidheal is pretty good for listening to the language - particularly when you start understanding enough to know what's being said. Because they do tend to use native speakers. BBC Alba (TV programmes) isn't quite so good from that point of view - but you do often get English sub-titles. One programme you might want to seek out - also broadcasts on BBC2 I think - is "Eòrpa" (Europe), probably the best documentary of European affairs currently available in the UK - and it's in Gaelic.

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Màiri na Coille » Wed Jun 25, 2014 4:08 pm

Tapadh leat a-rithist, a Sheonaidh. :priob:

Any idea where I might get access to BBC Alba? I can't watch programs from the website because I live in the States.

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Seonaidh » Wed Jun 25, 2014 6:34 pm

Never having dwelt over yonder, I don't know. I may be wrong, but I suspect BBC Alba is not available - or if it is then only on some sort of "pay and display" system. The same might go for BBC2 but, being a bit more "mainstream", it might actually be available.

An urrainn do neach an seo Màiri a chuideachadh le seo?
Can somebody here help Mary with this?

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by faoileag » Wed Jun 25, 2014 11:31 pm

As has been frequently written about on this site and on all the Gaelic-related social media, all you need to get any BBC or other UK TV is a VPN, which you download as a programme and then activate (via desktop icon) before you head for the relevant website, e.g. the BBC i-player.

There are free ones, like tunnelbear, and ones you have to pay (a small amount) for but have more service and more (or unlimited) capacity, like VPNUK.

Just google them.

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Zwalla28 » Thu Jun 26, 2014 11:22 pm

I use the free chrome attachment "ad telly TV" and it works like a charm
Bhiodh gaol agam oirbh gu bràth, ma cheartaicheadh sibh na mearachdan sa' phost os cionn!
Sgeul aigeantach mòr ri linn,
Gu'm bi neart, agus ceart, mar ri treòir,
Do'n fhear sheasas còir an rìgh.

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by akerbeltz » Thu Jun 26, 2014 11:45 pm

There are also various results if you search for VPN on the Firefox addon site - but I haven't tried any of them since, well, I'm in Scotland so it would be hard to simulate. Just saying cause I don't like to push Chrome (lots of reasons not least of all since they tell all small languages to bugger off regarding a tr*nsl*t**n of the interface).

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by GunChleoc » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:45 am

I always find using flash cards that say things like "balach (m)" not helpful, because it's hard to remember - you won't ever hear this in speech.

So, akerbeltz' approach of using adjectives is a good one.

Another approach that might work for you is to put them into a sequence starting with a verbal noun that makes sense and with the article:

ionnsachadh na Gàidhlig
fosgladh an dorais

Only feminine nouns will have the "na" article, and you can learn the genitive form at the same time - and you will have a ready-made phrase that you can stick in sentences.
Oileanach chànan chuthachail
Na dealbhan agam

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Màiri na Coille » Sun Jun 29, 2014 3:38 am

Tapadh leibh, a h-uile duine! Feuchaidh mi sin. :)

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Níall Beag » Sun Jun 29, 2014 5:38 pm

GunChleoc wrote:I always find using flash cards that say things like "balach (m)" not helpful, because it's hard to remember - you won't ever hear this in speech.

So, akerbeltz' approach of using adjectives is a good one.
Agreed, but...

It can't hurt to keep an explicit reference to the gender as well as the adjective and/or article, so that you know why it's changing.

I tried to learn some German from the website DuoLingo a while back, and even though there was lots of practice of the articles, I could never really work out what was going on -- when was it because of number, when was it because of gender, when was it because of case -- and to this day I don't know.

Exposure wasn't enough for me in Gaelic either -- it wasn't until I went to the SMO for a year and actually studied properly that I got the whole case & article thing down. Until then, I had "instincts"... that were wrong.

I'll also mention a couple of English students I once had. We were doing a close listening exercise, with gap-fill. Listening repeatedly, they filled in word-by-word until they had two gaps left. They insisted that this was wrong, because the recording said "prices of houses". Listen again. "Prices of houses!" And again? "PRICES OF HOUSES!!" The phrase was, of course, "house prices", and yet even listening attentively, they couldn't hear it, because their brains were adjusting the input to assist itself in understanding it. And if they couldn't reliably hear that big a difference, how can someone be expected to notice the presence or absence of a single little "n" sound...?

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by GunChleoc » Wed Jul 02, 2014 12:28 pm

Níall Beag wrote:It can't hurt to keep an explicit reference to the gender as well as the adjective and/or article, so that you know why it's changing.
Well, if you're creating some flash cards so you can memorize the gender and create your own strategy for marking it, it's kind of obvious that it's about the gender and how the gender is marked, isn't it? It's of course a different story if you get material handed to you by someone else, as in your example.
Oileanach chànan chuthachail
Na dealbhan agam

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Re: Noun genders

Unread post by Níall Beag » Wed Jul 02, 2014 12:58 pm

GunChleoc wrote:Well, if you're creating some flash cards so you can memorize the gender and create your own strategy for marking it, it's kind of obvious that it's about the gender and how the gender is marked, isn't it? It's of course a different story if you get material handed to you by someone else, as in your example.
Maybe... if the rules are simple and clear. But the articles in Gaelic (and in German) have a tendency to clash with each other. Then there's also the issues of multiple lenition etc.

Forgetting your own reasoning is eminently possible.

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