Irish Language Blog

Treoir don Treoir: A Guide to the Guide (for Pronunciation) Posted by on Jul 25, 2010 in Irish Language

I get a lot of requests for assistance with Irish pronunciation, so I thought I’d do a few more blogs dealing with vocabulary from previous entries and explaining how to read my pronunciation guide.  In other words, treoir don treoir (a guide to the guide).  I’ve done this from time to time anyway, here and there, but I know new people are always joining the list – and thanks, by the way!

My inner linguist tells me I should do all this in IPA, for phonetic precision, but experience teaching Irish (20 year’s worth) tells me that a lot of the people who want to learn Irish don’t necessarily know IPA or want to learn it.  Also, there’s the dilemma that there is both standard IPA and the Irish-modified IPA (as used by Mícheál Ó Siadhail et al.).  Those who’ve actually studied the standard IPA have to relearn various features for the Irish-modified version, which is generally what I use when I use it (sounds a bit athráiteach but I guess it makes sense to say it that way).  .

So here goes, a “treoir gharbh d’fhuaimniú na Gaeilge” [TRzhOH-irzh  γAHR-uv DOO-im-nyoo nuh GAYL-gyeh].  The rest of this blog, and maybe some of the next one,  might be dedicated to the pronunciation of that one phrase.  I’m not big on sweeping generalizations, so this’ll be a bit detail-oriented.

a) superscript zh, as in [TRzhOH-irzh]: Some people have told me this looks ridiculous but it’s the best I can come up with to distinguish this “r” sound from the other main “r” sound in Irish, which is referred to as a “flapped r.”  The traditional terms for these two “r’s” in Irish are “caol” (slender) and “leathan” (broad), but that doesn’t tell you how to pronounce them.  The nearest equivalent I know of for the Irish slender “r” (which I mark as “rzh”) is in Czech, as in the man’s name “Jiří.”  It actually takes quite a few extra keystrokes to keep typing the “zh” as a superscript, so I hope that at least some people find it beneficial.  The [rzh] sound is a bit like the French “j” as in “Jacques” attached to an “r.”  It’s not a typical sound in English, so it isn’t easy at first – if that’s any sólás.

Many pronunciation guides ignore the distinction between this “r” (slender) and the flapped Irish “r” (broad) but I think the difference is important.  The flapped “r” is not in today’s phrase, so more on that later.

b) superscript y as in [nyoo]: I use the superscript “y” after certain slender consonants, to represent a miondifríocht in contrast to their broad pronunciation.  The good news is that we have this distinction in English constantly – I just don’t think native English speakers really think about it consciously.  If I were going to use my pronunciation guide to describe English, this is how it would work:

booty [BOO-tee]

beauty [ByOO-tee]

I make it a superscript so that it doesn’t suggest something like “by-oo,” like “bayou” or “bye” + “ooh.”  In other words, so people don’t overpronounce it.

And here are a couple of Irish pronunciation examples of two different “b” sounds, the first two are broad (more like English “booty”) and the second two are slender, using the superscript “y” to show the broad/slender difference.

1. abú! [uh-BOO], forever!, as in “Ó Domhnaill Abú!”

2. búcla [BOO-kluh], buckle

3. biúró [ByOO-roh], bureau, pronounced basically like the English, where it’s a focal iasachta anyway.

4. b’fhiú é … [byoo ay, “fh” is silent], it would be worth …, as in “B’fhiú é a dhéanamh” (It would be worth doing”).

Whether you think of “booty” as “creach” (for píoráidí, etc.) or as a “buataisín” (bróg chniotáilte do bhábán, sometimes spelled “bootee” i mBéarla) is up to you.  In English, the pronunciation is the same.  And if you even want to “voice” the “t” (making it a “d” sound) and add the suffix “-licious,” that’s up to you too.  All I’m really concerned about is the difference in the initial “b” sounds.  So, remember, the difference between English “booty” and “beauty” is about comparable to the broad and slender Irish “b.”  And the pronunciation is determined by the nearest adjacent vowel (a, o, u for “broad” and e, i for “slender”).

Those even more detail-oriented than I am will ask about the difference between the Irish broad “b” in “baol” as opposed to the Irish slender “b” in “bean.”  And they’d be raising a good point.  So I’ll deal with it in a future blog.  But please remember that for now, I’m really trying to explain my pronunciation guide, not every aspect of Irish pronunciation!

As for actually pronouncing [nyoo] based on my pronunciation guide, it’s like the “n” in middle of English words like “minion” or “bunion.”  Or “bunyip.”  Or “canyon.”  And speaking of “canyon,” that’s the sound represented in Spanish by the “tilde” above the “n,” so if you know “mañana” or “cañon,” you’ve got it.

And that’s about it for one blog’s worth of pronunciation detail.  More coming up!

Gluaisín: athráiteach [AH-RAWTCH-ukh], repetitive; garbh [GAHR-uv], rough; miondifríocht, nuance, lit. “mini-difference;” tilde (yes, that’s the Irish spelling too, but note the plural, tildí, which is different from English, “tildes”).

Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

Leave a comment: