This month our look at the Gaelic influence on Seaboard English will focus on some particularly Gaelic grammar structures that got carried over in translation, leading to non-standard English expressions that gave and still give our local English its particular flavour.
The first one, and probably for most people the most noticeable one, is the use of the -ing form of verbs that are usually just the simple form in English; for example, instead of “I need”, it was often “I’m needing” that you’d hear. “It’s a good skelp she’s needing”, as we saw before.
English does use the -ing form a lot itself – it kept the form from the Celtic languages that were spoken in Britain before the Germanic, Viking and Norman influxes led to the development of modern English. But in English the -ing form is usually used to emphasise that something is happening now, and the simple form for regular activities or facts. “The sun is setting right now – come and see it! “versus “The sun sets much earlier in the winter.” Certain always-factual verbs are virtually never used in the -ing form in standard English, e.g. hear, see, think (for opinions), believe, want, need. Gaelic is not nearly as strictly divided and uses the -ing form much more, and this made its way into Seaboard (and indeed Highland) English. Here are some examples I’ve collected from my own experience and from my various contributors.
You’ll be needing a good dinner after that!
I’m thinking it’ll rain tomorrow. I’m no thinking she’ll be coming more the night.
I’m no hearing you! Are you no seeing it?
It’s Jessie you’re meaning, is it?
What is it you’re wanting? You’ll no be wanting that any more.
You won’t be breaking that window with your ball, now, will you?
Don’t be waking up the bairn, now! Don’t you be telling lies!
Another thing I’ve often noticed is the use of “till” where standard English would have a sentence with “so that”: instead of “so that I can see you”, you often hear “till I see you” This is because in Gaelic the little word gus is used for both so that and till/until. English uses “till” for time only, not for purpose.
Come here till I tell you / till I straighten that tie / till get a better look at you!
Take it to the window till you see better.
The word “since” also gets used in the Gaelic way. In English, it’s normal to use “since” with a fixed point in time: “We’ve been doing that since Monday, since 1950, since the bridge was built.” If we want to say how long we’ve been doing it, i.e. a period of time, we use “for”: for ages, for 10 years, for a week etc. The Gaelic word for “since”, o chionn, can be used for both of these, leading to “since” being used for both in Seaboard English.
I’ve been here since 6 o’ clock / since hours!
They’ve been saying they’ll mend that road since years!
I’ve known him since ages / since we were at school.
And one more of these for today. You’ve probably heard and quite possibly said “No nor me!” when you say that you also wouldn’t do something, e.g.
I can’t stand that so-and-so! No nor me!
I won’t be going back there! No nor me!
Standard English would be “Neither can I / Neither will I”. That handy wee expression “No nor me!” is a direct translation of the Gaelic “Chan eil no mise”.
Do keep an ear open for more examples of any of these, and also anything else that catches your attention, and let me know. I hope you’re all listening out for all the Seaboard specialities we’ve already looked at! And even better, actively using them. Let’s keep our local linguistic colour!
Tadhail air seaboardgàidhlig
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