Irish Language Blog

Nótaí Fuaimnithe don Dá Bhlag faoi Liúdair Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

This blog will simply be a pronunciation guide to the last two blogs and some general pronunciation notes.  Pronunciation seems to be the eternal issue in Irish language learning, so, ó am go ham, I think it deserves a blog of its own.  So here’s a round-up for some of the longer and more complex words from the recent discussions, and, for phonic relief, a few short, sweet, and simple words as well, as a reminder that not every Irish word has multiple silent consonants and three vowels in a row.  Irish words can range from single letters (a, á, é, i, í, ó — all meaningful Irish words) to “frith-dhíbhunaíochas” (antidisestablishmentarianism), just as English can range from single-letter words (a, I, o) to longer delights, like the “anti-d-e” just noted or other letter-crunching goodies like “honorificabilitudinitatibus” (a bhuí le Shakespeare) or “floccinaucinihilipilification” (the act of describing something as unimportant).

Anyway, here are some samples:

Gaeilge Fuaimniú Béarla
An Afraic Thoir un AFF-rik hirzh East Africa
ainm an éisc AN-yim un ayshk the name of the fish
bitheolaíocht mhuirí BIH-HOHL-ee-ukht  WIRzh-ee marine biology
éadairbhe AY-DARzh-uh-vuh futility
i ndáiríre in-aw-RzhEE-rzhuh (slender r’s) seriously, in earnest
Íoslainnis EESS-lin-ish Icelandic
Rúis roosh Russia
sula bhfágfaidh SUL-uh WAWG-hee (f like h) before (we) (will) leave
Svaihílis sva-HEEL-ish Swahili

The slender “r” sound referred to is virtually unknown in English, though it has been compared to the “r” in some pronunciations of “tree.”  I use the lower-case “zh” to indicate the buzzy sound of this “r,” which is much like the “r” of the Czech name “Jiří,” if that helps.

The letter “f” is often pronounced like an “h” in future tense verbs like “fágfaidh” [FAWG-hee], “caithfidh” [KAH-hee], and “ólfaidh” [OHL-hee].  A prominent exception to this rule is “tchífidh” [TCHEE-fee], meaning “will see,” primarily found in Irish in the North.

The above examples happen to have a lot of “slender s’s,” which are pronounced like the English “sh” sound in “fish,” “shin,” or “shimmy.”  “Slender” consonants (consain chaola), remember, occur adjacent to the vowels “e” and “i” in Irish, at least, about 99.99% of the time.

How about those short words in Irish?  The ones given above are:

a [uh], this word/particle has too many meanings for this blog, (ábhar blag eile!),

á [aw], various meanings, like “at its” and “to its,”(arís, ábhar blag eile),

é [ay], him, it, sometimes “he”,

i [ih], in; also, in a completely different context (as “.i.” with the periods), short for “id est”, like “i.e.” used in English,

í [ee], her, it, sometimes “she”,

ó [oh], 1) from, 2) since, 3) descendant, 4) particle used in “ó thuaidh” and “ó dheas,” 5) “oh” (the interjection),  and finally, 6) “ear,” but that last is very archaic, since we usually say “cluas” for “ear”

A few other nice short words in Irish, with pronunciation in brackets: ag [egg], an [un, the definite article], an- [ahn, the prefix], faoi [fwee], rón [rohn], stad [stahd], tae [tay], [tchay], tús [tooss].  And that could go on for a long time.

Finally, as for that “frith-dhíbhunaíochas,” like its English counterpart, it’s fairly straightforward once you break it down into its component parts: FRIH-YIH-WUN-ee-ukht-ukh-us.   Most Irish words put equal stress on prefixes and the first main syllable of a word (unlike some English words like “subJECTive” or “immiGRAtion”), so in this case, there are three fairly equal stresses at the beginning of the word.  Just to add to the meascán, I recently saw a reference to “anti-antidisestablishmentarianism” in English, which would then be “*frith-frith-dhíbhunaíochas” in Irish (not that I’ve seen anyone use it yet, another new coinage, fad m’eolais!).  I’m going out on a bit of a limb there, not leniting the “f” of the second “frith,” but the letter “f” does tend to dip in and out of lenitability, especially in non-traditional contexts (mo + fón usually combines as “mo fón” [muh fohn] not as “m’fhón [mohn], at least in my experience, though “m’fhiacla,” my teeth, follows the standard).  So we’d have “FRIH-FRIH-YIH-WUN-ee-ukht-ukh-us.”  Admittedly, though, one could argue for a “FRIH-RIH” pronunciation.  Ábhar blag eile, and no reference intended, pro- or anti-, to the rabbit god Frith from Watership Down.  SGF, Róislín

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  1. Mise Áine:

    @ but the letter “f” does tend to dip in and out of lenitability

    Thug mé é sin faoi deara, go minic! Ábhar blag eile, b’fhéidir?

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