Irish Language Blog

Nótaí Fuaimnithe don Bhlag Roimhe (Pronunciation Notes for the Previous Blog) Posted by on Dec 31, 2009 in Irish Language

This blog is mostly pronunciation notes for the previous entry, since pronunciation is one of the aspects of Irish that many of my students keep asking about.  As usual, I’ll be concentrating on the words that have silent letters or that tend to raise questions.   


I hope this will be useful for relative beginners.  For advanced readers, please hold tight, and we’ll have the blogs on the Christmas “wrap-up” and the New Year’s theme shortly. 


Since many of the silent letters result from changes to the first letter of a word, let’s look at some of those first, including one example from the title of today’s entry:


don bhlag [dun vlahg], for the blog; while “bh” followed by a broad vowel (a, o, u) can be pronounced as either “w” or “v,” depending on dialect, it’s always pronounced “v” before the consonants “l” or “r.”  An additional example, “an bhróg” [un vrohg]


If you’ve been working on Irish for a while, you may have noticed a variant of this phrase, “don mblag” [dun mlahg], which is also correct.  Some dialects, and Standard Irish, use lenition after “don” (giving “bhlag”); other dialects use eclipsis (giving “mblag”).


bleathach [BLÆ-ukh] grist, or, the “flip/nog” part of egg-flip, eggnog; the silent “th” gives a slight breathy pause in the middle of this word, but it’s barely two syllables.  The vowel sound of the Irish “ea,” transcribed here with “Æ” is like American English “cat” or “bat.”  The vowel sound here is important, since it’s the main thing that distinguishes this word from “bláthach” [blawukh], buttermilk.  For “bláthach,” I’d treat it as one syllable; the long vowel (á) sort of swallows up that breathy pause.


With the definite article, those become “an bhleathach” [un VLÆ-ukh] and “an bhláthach” [un vlawch].  In both cases, “bhlea” and “bhlá,” the “bh” is pronounced like “v” although “bhlea” has a slender vowel and “bhlá” is broad. 


uibhe [IV-eh], of an egg; from “ubh” [uv] (egg).  Remember that the “-eh” I’m using at the end of a lot of these pronunciation guides is short and unstressed, like the “e” of “pet” or “met.”  If I just transcribe it with the single letter “e,” I find that many people read it as “ee.”  As is often the case, one could use a pronunciation guide to the pronunciation guide!  Anyway, it’s not the Canadian or Down East, “ehhh-uh”!


fíor [fee-ur], fíoracha [FEER-ukh-uh], figure(s); the singular form is basically like the more well known homonym “fíor,” which means “true.”  With the definite article, the singular form becomes “an fhíor” [un ee-ur], the figure. 


sinséir [SHIN-shayrzh], of ginger, from “sinséar,” ginger (the noun).


nach bhfuil [nahkh wil] that isn’t, that aren’t; probably familiar to seasoned learners, but since about a hundred people have joined this on Facebook since I last blinked (well, that’s a bit exaggerated, but in a very short time), I’m giving the pronunciation, ar eagla na heagla (just in case).  Another case of “bhf” being pronounced as “w.”   


féin [hayn or fayn, depending on dialect, both are fine].  The vowel sound comes close to English “rain,” or for an even more exact rhyme, English “fain,” a word that I can safely say I’ve probably never used in actual English conversation.   


I’m nearly running out of space again, but I’ll finish with the adjectives for “male” and “female” and their lenited (+h) forms: ” fireann [FIRzh-un], baineann [BWIN-yun], fhireann [IRzh-un], bhaineann [WIN-yun or VIN-yun, depending on dialect]. For the latter, I use the “win” version, partly because of the Gaeltachtaí I’ve stayed in and partly because I think it helps to cement the broad/slender distinction in Irish pronunciation.


The “zh” is used to indicate a slender “r,” which we can discuss more later (please let me know in “comments” on the Transparent page, if you want more detail).  This sound is also in Czech.  That’s the only European counterpart I know of; it’s definitely a new sound for most English speakers. 


Of course, all of this is just a “treoir gharbh” [TRORzh γAHR-uv] (rough guide), but I hope it helps.  The Irish “gh” is transcribed here with the gamma sign, standard linguistic practice, since there’s no way to “roughguide” it.  I know it looks like “v” but it does have that loop at the bottom, distinguishing it from a “v.”  At any rate, for many more examples of Irish pronunciation, you can always check out Transparent Language’s fine products for learning Irish, which are listed at  


Athbhliain [AH-VLEE-in] faoi mhaise!  Happy New Year!         

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