Irish Language Blog

Fuaimniú, /fuəm’n’u:/, [FOO-im-nyoo] (Pronunciation x3) Posted by on Aug 24, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

A few weeks ago, I received a request for more pronunciation tips, so this blog will be dedicated to pronouncing some of the vocabulary in “Deir Tusa ‘Slán,’ Deirimse ‘Haló’ (Saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ in Irish, Cuid a hAon: Hello), which was published several months ago (24 Bealtaine 2013).   Go raibh maith agat, a Néill, as scríobh (and for asking about the Hello/Goodbye blog).

Abair mar seo é!

Abair mar seo é!

Ultimately we want to reach a point in learning a new language where we can confidently predict how to pronounce a word by looking at it.  That may be as much of a challenge for people learning English as for those learning Irish, since English is notorious for the inconsistency of its spelling/pronunciation rules (aye, my eye, fie, cough, tough, taught, thought, and countless other short, seemingly simple one-syllable words, not to mention the lengthier “pterodactyl,” “chthonic,” and “syzygy,” some of my more obscure favorites).  But for native English-speakers, most of these words are taken for granted (well, except maybe those ‘pt-” and “chth-” examples and words with only “y” as a vowel, which range from the fundamental “my” and “rhythm” to the more or less obsolete “symphysy” and “twyndyllyngs”).  For English-speakers learning Irish, though, the pronunciation rules may seem daunting.  And, of course, native speakers rarely think consciously of the rules, unless they become teachers themselves.

Anyway, getting back to the Irish examples, here are some of the words from that “Hello/Goodbye” blog.  Many of the other blogs in this series also include pronunciation tips.  In fact, if you type “pronunciation,” “pronounce,” or “fuaimniú” into the search box on any of the Irish blog web pages (, you should get lots more samplaí [SAHM-plee].

I mostly use a rough guide to pronunciation here, not the IPA symbols, but there are some sounds for which only the IPA symbol will suffice, most notably /γ/, for which there is no equivalent in English. 

Here are a few reminders for the transcription system I’m using:

kh: like the “ch” in Hebrew “Chanukah,” Welsh “bach,” and Scots “Loch”

rzh: an “r” combined with a sound like the “j” of “Jacques” or the “s” of “leisure” or “pleasure”

aw: like English “paw” or “claw,” not like Welsh “naw

dj: almost like an English “j” and similar to the British pronunciation of “Duke,” which is very different from the American pronunciation of “Duke,” as móidíní John Wayne may confirm.  Also similar to the American English contraction “howdja,” as in “Howdja do that?”

tch; almost like a “ch” as in “church” but with a “t” element; similar to a typical Irish English pronunciation of “tunes,” which sometimes, for effect, is written as “choons”

/γ/: the “dh” sound of “Dia dhuit!”  This sound is written as “gh” or “dh” in Irish, when adjacent to “a,” “o,” or “u” (not “e” or “i”).  The linguistic name for this sound is “voiced velar fricative” and it is indicated by the “gamma” sign, borrowed from the Greek alphabet.  And that’s a reminder that the symbol here is not a slightly skewed “y.”  If anything, it looks to me, when hand-drawn, like a fish standing on its head.  Not that fish really stand … ach sin scéal eile.  Additional examples of this sound include “dhá” (except in Donegal, where the dialect changes), “An Ghaeilge,” and “a Ghráinne.”  It’s a bit like the uvular French “r” (think Inspector Clouseau, if you must), and is said to sound like gargling.  Very occasionally we hear this sound in the pronunciation of “gh” in “Afghanistan” (but not by most English speakers).  See below for some more notes on the use of IPA for this symbol, and IPA in general.

As for what these words mean, I’ve put that at the end, so you can see how well you remember them!

1. tuiseal gairmeach [TISH-ul GARzh-uh-mukh]

2. Dia duit! [DJEE-uh ditch]

3. Dia dhuit! [DJEE-uh γitch, and yes, that’s a hybrid system, with one IPA symbol and the rest “rough guide”]

4. beannacht [ByAN-ukht]

5. bhuel [wel, borrowed from English; and NOT like English “fuel” or “gruel”]

6. cén chaoi [kayn khee, remember it’s guttural, like “Chanukah” or “Chutzpah”]

7. cad é mar [kudj ay mahr, with the “d” as discussed above, as in Irish “Dia” — it’s pronounced “slender” because of the following “é” even though it’s written “broad”]

8. ceoldráma [KyOHL-DRAW-muh]

9. smaoinimh [SMWEEN-yiv]

10. mhaith (as in “áit mhaith le tosú) [wah, the “mh” is like “w” and the “t” is silent]

Ar chuidigh sé sin leat (Did that help?).  Tá súil agam gur chuidigh (I hope that helped).  Or, i dTéacsais an Bhéarla, “HTH,” SGF, Róislín

Nóta faoi /γ/ agus IPA: the /γ/ symbol is in slanted brackets because it is the actual IPA symbol and IPA symbols are written in slanted, not square, brackets.  Rusty on IPA?  IPA?  No, it’s not “leann gealbhuí na hIndia“!  Think Henry Higgins, who if he had been real, would probably have been a founding member of the IPA (International Phonetics Association, established1886).  “IPA” can also stand for “International Phonetic Alphabet” (as well as “India Pale Ale”).  And Professor Higgins, by the way, was partially based on two early phoneticians, Henry Sweet and Daniel Jones.  Jones would have been relatively young when Shaw wrote Pygmalion (1912) so he may have been more the model for the movie version (My Fair Lady, 1956/1964) than for the play itself.  But parsing out the Higgins prototypes is beyond our scope here.  If you’re interested, check out The Real Professor Higgins: The Life and Career of Daniel Jones, by Collins and Mees (1998:, etc.).  Or to Cockneyize it, ” The real ‘enry ‘iggins” (, which gives a one-page summary of the main points.

Aistriúcháin go Béarla:

1. tuiseal gairmeach, vocative case (used for nouns of direct address); 2. Dia duit!, Hello!, 3. Dia dhuit! Hello! (Conamara dialect); 4. beannacht, blessing, greeting; 5. bhuel, well (the pause word); 6. cén chaoi?, how?; 7. cad é mar? how?, 8. ceoldráma, musical drama, sometimes also “a musical” or “an opera” (!); 9. smaoinimh, of thinking, 10. mhaith, good (one of various forms of this word)

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