Chapter 2 – prolepsis
Prolepsis is the anticipation of what comes later in the sentence and is a significant feature of Irish grammar. Words than can be used proleptically include:
a) pronouns é, í, iad, ea. For example, the use of the subpredicate in copula sentences like is é ainm atá air ná Séadna is proleptic, as the é anticipates the name Séadna.
The pronoun can also function as a subsubject, anticipating the subject in sentences like cad é an rud é sin, where the subject is an rud (is) é sin.
Also note the function of é in sentences like: bhí áthas orthu é ‘ bheith le rá acu go bhfeacadar an rí.
b) sid é: sid é is mó a choisceann sólás ó Dhia ar theacht chút, a dheacracht leat iompáil chun úrnaithe.
c) sé: cuireann sé áthas orm tu ‘ bheith chómh maith is ‘taoi. Here sé is proleptic. This produces a by-form where there is no overt prolepsis: tá áthas orm tu ‘ bheith chómh maith is ‘taoi.
Note that ní raibh uain aige (rud a dhéanamh) is a by-form of the proleptic ní raibh sé d’uain aige (rud a dhéanamh).
Is air a bhí an iúnadh ná raibh Séadna a teacht would be a by-form of is air a bhí an iúnadh nuair a fuair sé ná raibh Séadna ag teacht.
d) so: cad a thug so dhómhsa máthair mo Thiarna do theacht ag triall orm?
e) san: so, sid é and é seo normally refers to what afterwards, with san, sin é and é sin referring to what went before. Usually therefore, san is not used proleptically, although it can be: ná cuirimís san de mhasla ar ár nglóíre go dtéifimís ón gcrois.
Similarly é sin can be used proleptically: cad é sin dúinne ceoca ‘táthar socair air nú ná fuiltear?
Note the use of proleptic é sin to anticipate a first or second-person pronoun: cad é sin dúinne thusa, a Íosa, a Mhic Dé?
GÓN argues that é sin has such a strong proleptic quality in such questions than even when it really refers to what has gone before an additional sin may be added at that end in proleptic reference: cad é sin d’éinne eile sin?
f) a: this is the key proleptic word. It is used before a verbal noun/noun to anticipate the object when that is a whole clause. For example: bhí sé tar éis a adhmáil do Shiobhán go raibh a croí dá shníomh le buairt. Also note how i dtaobh governs a rá in this sentenc: bhí buile ar Mhicil i dtaobh a rá go mbeadh sé de phláinéid ar Shéadna go dtug sé geallúint phósta do Shadhbh.
The proleptic a can be followed by a genitive in apposition, such as after a lán and a thuilleadh. Or followed by a partitive de, as in a mhalairt de, a bheag de, a mhór de.
Often the proleptic a is required where nothing of the kind appears in English: é dhá leogaint air gur theastaigh uaidh é féin do ghlanadh. However, bagairt, leogaint and aithint occasionally do not have the proleptic particle as expected: ní miste liom leogaint duit bheith ag imirt do chuid cleas ar dhuine éigin eile. After a vowel, it is frequently unclear if it is just a case of the proleptic a being swallowed up, as in dob fhuiriste aithint air go raibh súil aige.
A is also used proleptically with nouns of quality, quantity, time, etc. As in bhí iúnadh a gcroí orthu a fheabhas do dheineadar an gnó. This means “they were surprised at the excellency of it (the way in which) they accomplished the business”. GÓN notes in an aside that the direct relative is used after phrases like a fheabhas, although logically the indirect should have been expected (“the way in which”).
Note that the noun of quality, quantity, etc, would be followed by a noun in the nominative case: a luíghead airgead. The fact that the argument is in the nominative means that personal pronouns can be used as the arguments of the proleptic a.
Finally a is used proleptically before a noun of quality and condition to anticipate a clause with tá: bhí iúnadh orm, agus a fhuaire a bhí an aimsir, é ‘ bheith amu’ fén spéir in aon chor. Note here too that the a fhuaire is followed by the direct relative, where the indirect might have been expected.
The a can also take a partitive de, as in this example where the a anticipates a gur clause: a luíghead dá fhios a bhí ag an sagart bocht úd gurbh ar Bhríd naofa ba cheart do a bhaochas a bheith aige. The luíghead causes the use of the partitive de for the same reason that we say beagán aráin, but beagán den arán ab fheárr a bhí in Éirinn.
The abstract nouns governed by the proleptic a need to be studied: you can say a fheabhas, a fhuaire, a theó, whereas the nouns maithe, maitheas, fuacht and teas cannot be used in this way.
g) dá: meaning “however, in spite of”. GÓN states that this dá is an extension of the proleptic a, with the preposition de attached to it. He believes it originates from phrases like i gcath dá thruime (“in a battle of its seriousness”) and extended therefrom to dá thruime cath (“however serious a battle”).
Proleptic a always lenites, regardless of the gender and number of the noun it relates to.
Dá has spread from strict to less strict relationships. In dá fhaid a ragham ar aghaidh is ea is giorra ‘ bheimíd don bhaile, the measurement is exact – the further we go, the nearer we will be.
In dá fhaid an lá is ea is giorra an oíche — this would be talking about the lengthening of daylight hours in the summer — the phrase appears to mean that the entire length of the daylight hours is exactly the same as length by which the night is shortened. However, it makes more sense to say that the increase in the length of the day is equivalent to the length by which the night is shortened. And in any case, no exactitude is really implied.
Finally, we come to usage that expresses not meant to be exactly equivalent or measurable. Dá fhaid a leogfar in aisce léi é is ea is dána ‘ leanfaidh sí dhe – here dá fhaid would be a time expression, measurable in days, whereas an increase in boldness cannot be measured in days. But it merely measn “the longer she is allowed to get away with it, the bolder she will remain”, with no real attempt at quantification.