Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Ciamar a chanas mi.... / How do I say...
AnthonyOfSeattle
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Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by AnthonyOfSeattle » Tue Nov 17, 2020 12:28 am

Hi all,

I got into a discussion today trying to figure out why the interrogative pronoun "Càite" does not follow the same pattern as the others, by taking the relative form of the verb. This was made all the more confusing when we realized that there is a least on song that goes "Cia àite bhios gaothan ri seideadh", and the interrogative section of "Sengoidelc" talks about "cía airm" being used in Old Irish for "Where" but followed by the relative clause.

The fact that we use the interrogative form of the verb makes it feels like a preposition somehow got in there, like it should be "Cia àite [prep] a bheil ..." but that seems like kind of a complicated hypothesis.

Can anyone shed some light on this?

Tapadh leibh uile!



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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by GunChleoc » Tue Nov 17, 2020 6:03 pm

According to my grammar books, it's the same a/an/am as in "A bheil thu sgìth?"

No idea what the history is.
Oileanach chànan chuthachail
Na dealbhan agam

Níall Beag
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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by Níall Beag » Tue Nov 17, 2020 9:37 pm

Similarly, I have no idea the whys and wherefores of this one.

However, it's maybe worth pointing out that the same pattern holds for conjunctions:

Cùine bhios...? - ...nuair a bhios...
Dè bhios...? - ... na bhios...
Càite am bi...? - ... far am bi [mi fhìn, is ann a bhios mo dhòchas]...

AnthonyOfSeattle
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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by AnthonyOfSeattle » Tue Nov 17, 2020 9:41 pm

Yeah, and at this point my brain jumps straight to using a/an/am without really thinking. I'm was curious since the form follows the same pattern as the prepositional relative phrase, e.g. Seo an taigh anns a bheil mi -- This is the house in which I am.

I don't know much about Irish but I was able to find some grammar info today that the "Where" construct "Cá (háit a) bhfuil tú" uses the indirect relative particle which is used to build similar phrases as above,

an teach a bhfuil mé ann -- The house that I am in (it)
an teach ina bhfuil mé -- The house in which I am in.

This leads me to believe that both languages lost a preposition somewhere,

Modern Irish: Cá háit a bhfuil tú
Possibility 1: Cá háit (in)a bhfuil tú
Possibility 2: Cá háit a bhfuil tú (ann)

Modern Gàidhlig: Càite a bheil thu
Possibility: Càite (anns) a bheil thu

I'm mostly just wondering if anybody has gone through the effort of trying to track this evolution.

Edit: I left Càite a tha thu (ann) out as a possibility mostly cause it doesn't fit the "a bheil" pattern in Gàidhlig. But if examples exist where a dialect defaults to Càite a tha thu, maybe its not so weird to include. I just don't know any examples.
Last edited by AnthonyOfSeattle on Tue Nov 17, 2020 10:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.

AnthonyOfSeattle
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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by AnthonyOfSeattle » Tue Nov 17, 2020 9:43 pm

Oh! That's also a really good point, Níall Beag. I entirely missed that there was that connection.

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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by Níall Beag » Wed Nov 18, 2020 11:07 am

AnthonyOfSeattle wrote:
Tue Nov 17, 2020 9:41 pm
This leads me to believe that both languages lost a preposition somewhere,
Seems like the most plausible explanation, particularly given that the adverbs of place incorporate prepositions -- an seo etc.

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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by akerbeltz » Fri Nov 20, 2020 2:50 pm

I had to ask myself, all hail Prof Rob Ó Maolalaigh.

The solution is this: càite is actually three words fused together, the Middle Irish (Old Irish used something else, it used cía airm / c'airm + a relative clause) pattern was based on the declarative áit i raibhe sé "the place in which it was" (i = in) which then in the question form slapped on c' (< cia) giving c'áit i raibhe (or another dependent verb form). Over time, this fused into the càite + dependent verb form pattern.

I'll add a note to my akerbeltz.org page on interrogatives, as this keeps popping up

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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by GunChleoc » Fri Nov 20, 2020 7:28 pm

Ceud mìle taing!
Oileanach chànan chuthachail
Na dealbhan agam

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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by AnthonyOfSeattle » Fri Nov 20, 2020 8:22 pm

Tapadh leibh, akerbeltz! That's exactly what I'm looking for :D

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Re: Why is it "Càit' a bheil" and not "Càit' a tha"?

Unread post by silmeth » Sat Nov 21, 2020 6:17 pm

Another way to think about it is that in Old and Middle Irish the relative in which was just expressed by eclipsing i (i + eclipsing relative particle (s)a in Old Irish produced just i) and later languages replaced it by ina in Irish and anns a(n) in Gaelic.

So during their history, rather than ‘losing the preposition’, the languages added an additional relative particle onto the already relativizing preposition (i ‘in which’ → ina / anns a(n)) but in this single phrase càite a(n) it remained fossilized and did not change to *càite anns a(n). But nevertheless the reason it takes the dependent (and in Irish eclipsed in pres. tense) form is that historically the a(n) actually was the preposition ‘in’ + the relative particle.

And you can still encounter phrases like an áit a rabhas for ‘the place where I was’ in modern Irish.

EDIT: I realized that I basically rephrased what akerbeltz already wrote. My point is that the intuition that it kinda looks like it’s supposed to be *càite anns a bheil (= cia àite anns a…) is correct, but it’s not that the languages lost the preposition, but that the a itself was the historically original form of anns a.

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