Gàidhlig side effect

photo taken on the Isle of Skye 18 July 2011

View on the Isle of Skye, taken on our July 2011 holiday

As mentioned on my “About” page, I’m a Gàidhlig learner. Sadly, I’m not very good at it, so far. The partner of one of my teachers suggested that I try writing in Gàidhlig. If only! I can barely write the simplest of sentences, so far.

The Seattle Fèis is coming up very quickly. Four whole days of Scottish language and culture with tradition bearers in the areas of language, song, pipes, harp, and fiddle, including native Gàidhlig speakers from Scotland and Cape Breton! I am SO looking forward to it.

What does learning Gàidhlig have to do with improving my writing (in English)?

An interesting side effect of learning (or in my case attempting to learn) Gàidhlig, is that it has made me look at the English language a little differently. Not only do I think about grammar in a more analytical way (verb, noun, adverb, adjective, preposition, dependent and independent clauses, dative case, and genitive case) but I am more aware of the way language influences the way I perceive the world.

In English the “basic” sentence structure is Subject – Verb – Object. To form a question, the order is changed to Verb – Subject – Object.

Gaelic languages (Irish, Welsh, Gàidhlig) are verb-centric. In most sentences the verb comes first, Verb – Subject – Object. Every verb has different forms that indicate tense, and whether it is positive or negative, statement or question. (Sentences using question words – who, what, how, how many, why, where – are handled a little differently). There is no word for “yes” or “no”, you answer a question with a negative or positive form of the verb used in the question.

For example, for this question:

A bheil thu sgìth? (Are you tired?)

The positive answer can be: “Tha” (yes) or “Tha mi sgìth” (I am tired).

The negative answer can be: “Chan eil” (no) or “Chan eil mi sgìth” (I am not tired).

Another example:

An do sgrìobh thu an-diugh? (Did you write today?)

Positive answer: “Sgrìobh” (yes) or “Sgriobh mi an-diugh” (I wrote today).

Negative answer: “Cha do sgrìobh” (didn’t write) or “Cha do sgrìobh mi an-diugh” (I didn’t write today).


As a writer, I wonder if thinking in English influences me to care more about who or what is doing something, rather than what they’re doing. Is that why I have to make a conscious effort to avoid lazy adverbs and come up with good verbs in my attempts at writing?

If I ever get to the point in my learning where I can think in Gaelic, maybe I’ll see the world a little differently. At the Seattle Fèis, I’m looking forward to asking the native Gàidhlig speakers how they think.

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