One occasionally reads sentences such as the following:
Introducing An Taoiseach to the conference delegates, The President of UCD, Dr Hugh Brady spoke of Mr Ahern’s achievements:… (excerpt)
(headline) Christmas Road Safety Message from An Taoiseach
One also sees sentences with ‘An taoiseach’ as the, or a, grammatical subject of the sentence.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Paddy Bourke, and An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, TD, today officially opened Barnardos’ latest family support project in Dublin…
An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD welcomed the project and said…
Now, ‘taoiseach’ is a word borrowed into English, just as e.g. ‘haka’, and ‘sushi’, and ‘Blitzkrieg’ have been borrowed, and it is the title of the leader of the Irish Government, currently Brian Cowen. ‘An’ is the Irish definite article.
Here’s the question: What is going on in these sentences quoted? For example, what language are they in? Is it a mixture of English and Irish? What are the options? It’s clearly not all Irish, so either it’s all English or a mixture of English and Irish. If these sentences were all English, then either we have borrowed the Irish definite article as well as the word ‘taoiseach’ or we’ve borrowed the phrase ‘an taoiseach’ as a whole unit as a title or as a phrase meaning ‘the taoiseach’. I don’t think we’ve borrowed the Irish definite article, because you can’t use ‘an’ to mean ‘the’ in general, but examples like the Chrismas driving headline show it hasn’t been borrowed as a title (because you don’t put titles in headlines like that English. Perhaps you could just about say ‘christmas message from prime minister/prince/pope etc.’, but it would understood as elliptical for ‘…from the prime minister/prince/pope’. These words wouldn’t be functioning as titles as such). So that leaves the last option (that we have borrowed ‘an taoiseach’ for the whole phrase ‘the taoiseach’). This would be somewhat awkward, since as a phrase it would be isolated from usual combinatory grammatical functions –how do we qualify it with an adjective like ‘best ever’ or ‘late’ or ‘previous’ etc.
I prefer to follow what I take to be the usage of the Irish Times, which is to use English only and therefore the English definite article (‘the taoiseach said today that…’; ‘…critcised the taoiseach for …’ etc).