Irish Language Blog

How to Pronounce Irish Words with the ‘Leas-‘ Prefix (Cuid/Part 1) Posted by on Nov 12, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Cé hí an bhean sa teallach? An í leasmháthair Luaithríona í? Ní hí, is í máthair bhaistí Luaithríona í. (, pictiúr beagáinín bearrtha)

Cé hí an bhean sa teallach? An í leasmháthair Luaithríona í? Ní hí, is í máthair bhaistí Luaithríona í. (, pictiúr beagáinín bearrtha)

Leasainm … Leas-rí … Leas-ardeaglais … all fairly straight-forward in pronunci-ation, all things consider-ed.  But what hap-pens to the “m” in “leas-mhamó” or “leas-mháthair” or the “c” in “leas-chodán” or “leaschon-sal“?  Why don’t the “s’s” of “leas-seanathair” and “leas-seanmháthair” and “leas-seansailéir” change at all?  And what about “leis-chliamhain” and the presumably possible “leasbhanchliamhain” as discussed in the most recent blogpost?

We’ll look at several aspects of pronunciation in this blogpost:  a) “leas-“ the prefix itself (for “step-“),  b) “leas-“ before vowels (easy peasy!), c) “leas-“ before leniteable consonants (like “m” or “c”), d) “leas-“ before leniteable consonants that don’t lenite after “leas-“ (Yeah, I know, tautology alert — but that really does describe the situation), e) “leas-“ before non-leniteable consonants (like “r,” also easy peasy, or as we say in Irish, “éasca péasca“), and finally, f) “leas-” occasionally changing to “leis-,” at least in earlier forms of Irish.

Also, we’ll look at the slight difference in the stress patterns in words where “leas-” is a prefix as opposed to words that happen to have “leas” in them as a core element.

a))  “leas-“ itself: straightforward enough. The “L” is slender, so it’s like the “ll” of English “million” or “billion,” or the Irish “leaba” or “Liam.” This is indicated in the pronunciation guide with a superscript “y” [ly].  It rhymes with Irish ‘deas” and “cleas,” with the vowel sound like the English “lass” or “Lassie!”  Admittedly, “Lassie” as the dog’s name tends to sound more like “Laaa-seee”! when a desperate Timmy or Mrs. Martin calls her.   But that aspect of language (special intonation for calling people or animals from afar) will have to have a separate blogpost some day.

For newcomers to Irish, the “ea” vowel combination is almost always pronounced as in US English “bat,” “cat,” or “mat.”  The one main exception is “beag” (small, little) where the word sounds more like “beg” (explaining why the place name “Na Cealla Beaga” ends up anglicized as “Killybegs” and Brian Friel’s fictitious “Ballybeg” comes from a hypothetical “Baile Beag” — note that we have a “beg” sound here, not a “bag” sound)

b)) “leas-” before vowels: leasainm, leas-ardeaglais, leasathair, leas-ionadaí, leasuachtarán (or hyphenated as “Leas-Uachtarán” in an actual title, like “An Leas-Uachtarán Joe Biden“). No real issue here except to remember that the prefix is also stressed in these compound words, so we have:

leasainm [LyASS-AN-yim; notice the extra “nyi” sound!]

leas-ardeaglais [LyASS-ARrrD-AG-lish]

leasathair [LyASS-AH-hirzh]

leas-ionadaí [LyASS-UN-ud-ee]

leasuachtarán [LyASS-OO-ukh-tur-awn]

You might remember the translations from previously, but just in case, they’re in the nótaí, thíos.

c)) “leas-” before “m” or “c” (lenition): the “mh” in today’s example is pronounced “w” or “v” and the “ch” is pronounced like the “ch” in German “Buch” or Welsh “bach” or Irish “cóta Cháit.”

leasmháthair [LyASS-WAW-hirzh or LyASS-VAW-hirzh]

leasmhamó [LyASS-WAHM-oh or LyASS-VAHM-oh]

For the next two examples, our eyes may have a tendency to play tricks on us, at least if we’re used to seeing words like “Mensch” or “Kitsch,” which have been adopted into English, or actual German words like “Fleisch” or “Deutsch.”  Those “SCH’s” have a “sh” sound like English “fish” or “wish.” In the following Irish examples, the “s” is part of the prefix and the “ch-” is totally separate.

leaschodán [LyASS-KHOD-awn], from “leas-” + “codán

leaschonsal LyASS-KHON-sul], from “leas-” + “consal

In theory, this principle should also apply to the consonants “b,” “f,” “g,” “p” if they follow the prefix “leas-” but so far no such examples have occurred in this recent set of blogposts.  By the way, these pronunciation rules aren’t unique to the prefix “leas-” (cf. drochbhlas, drochbholadh, seanfhear, seanphinsean, srl., which use the prefixes “droch-” and “sean-” and also cause lenition)

Well, we’re about halfway through our list, and already out of space, so the remaining few examples (sections d, e, and f) will have to wait for the next blogpost.  Till then, happy leniting!  SGF — Róislín

PS: If you want to check out a version of Cinderella in easy Irish, Luaithríona, try the translation by Máiréad Ní Ghráda (An Gúm, eagrán nua, 2007, ISBN 978-1-85791-675-1)


Grúpa B: leasainm, nickname; leas-ardeaglais, pro-cathedral; leasathair, stepfather; leas-ionadaí, vice-regent; leasuachtarán, vice-president

Grúpa C: leasmháthair, stepmother; leasmhamó, stepgrandma; leaschodán, improper fraction; leaschonsal, vice-consul



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