The "noun" 'ea'??

PUL was creative in his interpretations of Irish grammar, partly because he didn’t believe in trying to squeeze Irish into the straitjacket of Latin grammar (or English grammar). He would often insist that native speakers knew instinctively that the standard grammatical explanations were false. Take this for example (from a letter to Gearóid Ó Nualláin), about the neuter pronoun ea:

The ‘scholars’ made up their minds comfortably that it is the neuter pronoun. They said―Latin is, ea, id, Irish é, í, ea, and they were delighted. I knew by instinct that they were entirely wrong. I had before my mind fixed for a length of time the question: ‘what is this ea?’ I was going over in my mind all the constructions in which ea is used. The result is that I have been driven to the conclusion that ea is not a pronoun at all, that it is a substantive, and that it represents the truth of some statement like the English word ‘fact.’ I have been driven to it by long and close thinking, while keeping rigidly before my mind the fact that the Irish speech was built up ages before any of the present European speeches were built and in accordance with building rules of which people have not the faintest shadow of an idea. Look: an fear é? Is ea [a fact]. An é an fear é? Is é [a pronoun]. I was at it for a long time, until at last the ea became in my mind a ‘fact’ or a ‘truth,’ or an existing combination of facts or of truths or of circumstances or of modes of being. The English expression ‘that’s a fact’ is like it.”

Gearóid Ó Nualláin comments to the effect that PUL was clearly wrong on this, and that ea is the neuter pronoun. By derivation, it is the neuter pronoun, but I am wondering whether PUL’s explanation might be a better fit with the grammar of Irish as it came to be in the modern period, despite the etymological derivation? His explanation might be a simpler way of teaching the matter to students of Irish.


About dj1969

at the conservative end of the libertarian spectrum
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7 Responses to The "noun" 'ea'??

  1. shane says:

    When talking casually in Irish, I have ,what I thought was, a bad habit of using “nach ea” as , what is called in English, a “tag question” after positive statements. I thought this was a bad habit because it doesn’t agree with the verb and its tense.

    For example:
    “Tógann tú siúcra, nach ea?” (Instead of “nach dtógann?” – which I thought was better grammar)
    “Tá tú i do chónaí i mBaile Átha Cliath, nach ea?” (instead of “nach bhfuil?”)
    “Beidh tú anseo amárach, nach ea?” (instead of “nach mbeidh?”)

    Does it follow from the passage above that such “mistakes” might be so bad at all? – was I thinking I had a mistake where in fact I hadn’t.

  2. Gearóid Ó Laoi/Garry Lee says:

    Not a mistake. Nach ea means isn’t that so. PUL is probably right.

  3. admin says:

    I don’t think “nách ea?” is wrong at all, as Gearóid said, but looking through PUL’s works, I see many examples of “an ea?” as a tag question, but very few of “nách ea?”

    1. In the novel Niamh, we find: “Níl aon teachtaireacht agam ó Bhrian, a rí,” arsa Caoilte. “Ó, an ea?” [Oh, really?]
    2. In PUL’s translation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we find: “ach cad a bhí uaibh le feiscint nuair a thánabhair amach? Fáidh, an ea?” [A prophet?]
    3. And: “a Thiarna, an mó uair a dhéanfaidh mo bhráthair beart im choinnibh agus go maithfead do? Chómh fada le seacht n‑uaire, an ea?” [7 times?]
    4. In Séadna: “do mharódh sé me.” “Mharbhódh sé thu, an ea?” [He would kill you, would he?]
    5. And: “ní le Séadna atá sí le pósadh,” arsan sagart. “Ní le Séadna é, an ea?” ar seisean. [Really, not getting married to Séadna?]

    “An ea?” can make anything into a question. “Nách ea?” is right too, for “isn’t that so?”

  4. Dairine Ni Cheallaigh says:

    Thinking about the way people speak in Donegal :
    “I went there, so I did.”
    I would suggest that that is the trail to follow in order to understand how “an ea ? / Is ea / each ea” is used.
    Both interlocutors are right. Irish cannot be described without taking into account bothe nature and fonction : ea is by nature (part of speech) a neuter pronoun ; a pronoun STANDS FOR A NOUN (function).
    I have just discovered this big, I am delighted with it.
    Dairine, born and bred in Cork City

  5. Dairine Ni Cheallaigh says:

    I forgot to say that Henry Sweet would have called “ea” a “noun-pronoun” as opposed to an “adjective-pronoun” ; my school of thought would call it a “suppletive pronoun” as opposed to a “completive pronoun”.

  6. Dairine Ni Cheallaigh says:

    I see that my automatic corrector makes me write rubbish : an ea / is ea / nach ea ? I will be more careful to reread in future. I reading carefully the blog master’s presentation of “is” and “ta”.

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