Sunday, May 1, 2011

the first sentence

The syntax of first sentence of the joke is a bit odd. As a simple declarative sentence we would expect the verb to come first:

Do·rat tríar manach díultad dont ṡaegul.

Putting the noun phrase “tríar manach" (= a threesome of monks) first is an instance of “fronting”: moving a portion of the sentence forward to the head of the sentence in order to emphasize it. This is a fairly common strategy in Irish.

Tríar manach do·rat díultad dont ṡaegul.

= (It was) a threesome of monks that rejected the world.

David Stifter has just suggested to me another possible explanation for the shape of the first sentence:

Jedenfalls ist mir die idee gekommen, dass dieser satz evtl. gar nicht teil der geschichte ist, sondern der titel des textes: "(about) the three monks who had renounced the world". In diesem fall bekäme die konstruktion plötzlich guten sinn und es handelte sich einfach um einen relativsatz. Die eigentliche geschichte beginnt dann erst mit "tíagait".

The sentence definitely sets the scene by introducing the characters and providing background information. As such, it seems to stand midway between a bare title (“The Three Monks”) and a first line of narrative (“Three monks renounced the world.”)

Thank you, David, for that idea!

Tríar Manach