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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar 2012 9:03 pm 
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For a complete list of wombat explanations, see: viewforum.php?f=34

Up to now I've written a series of practice threads that build on each other. But now I'd like to do something different, at least for a while. I want to skip around a bit and cover some topics that people have expressed an interest in.

On this thread, you can practice figuring out how to pronounce a word from its spelling along. Aside from a few very common words, Irish pronunciation is very regular. Of course, some of the letters and letter combinations are pronounced differerently than in English.

NOTE: This really isn't something you need to learn per se. As your vocabulary grows, you will naturally figure out the pronunciation rules. You'll be able to look at a word and just know how to pronounce it because you can think of similar words that you're already familiar with. So although this thread doesn't really assume you know anything but [url=xxx]how the vowels are pronounced[/url]???do we have an explanation of that on this forum???, it's not really intended for beginners. It's for people who are frustrated by not knowing how to pronounce Irish words, and anxious to understand it.

The terms slender and broad refer to two categories of vowels.

* The broad vowels are a, o, and u.
* The slender vowels are i and e.

One of the rules of Irish spelling [1][2] is that that the vowels on either side of a consonant (or group of consonants) should agree; they should both be broad or both be slender. That's because consonants have two pronunciations, broad and slender. A consonant that is is flanked by broad vowels is pronounced broad, and a consonant that is flanked by slender vowels is pronounced slender.

Don't let the fact that every consonant has two pronunciations panic you. In most cases, the difference between the broad and slender pronunciation is subtle, and you really don't need to worry about all the subtleties at first. [3] The most dramatic changes are:

broad d is pronounced /d/ as in "door"
slender d is pronounced /dj/, like the "dg" in "edge"
broad s is pronounced /s/ as in "say"
slender s is pronounced /sh/ as in "sheep"
broad t is pronounced /t/ as in "talk"
slender t is pronounced /tch/ as in "tchah!" or "hatch"

Aside from that, broad consonants have a slight "w" sound associated with them, and slender consonants have a slight "y" sound. This is usually not noticeable except when you change from slender to broad within a word, or vice versa. To make it clear when this occurs, I'll write the "w" or "y" in a tiny font like this: w, y. But I'm only going to do that where I think it helps to clarify the pronunciation, so don't worry about figuring out why I include it in some words and leave it out in others.

Let's work through some examples in detail. We'll start with some words you know, but we'll look at them with fresh eyes, and pretend we don't already know how to pronounce them.

We can tell that the "b" and "d" are broad, because they are next to a broad vowel, "a". Broad consonants are generally pronounced pretty much the way they are in English, so this word shouldn't be too difficult. The fada over the "a" tells us it has a long sound, and is pronounced AW (or AA in Ulster, but I'm going to stick with the most commonly used pronunciation on this thread. )
We have:
broad b + á + broad d
So bád would be pronounced BAWD.

This word has a consonant cluster "br" at the beginning, but you treat it as a unit when deciding whether they're broad or slender. In this case, "br" is slender, as is "d". Remember that slender "d" has a special sound.
We have: slender br + í + slender d
So Bríd would be pronounced BREEJ. (If you want to be precise, slender "r" has a sort of "d" quality to it, so you could write the pronunciation as BRdEEJ... but maybe that's too confusing.)

The only vowels in this word are broad, so all the consonants are broad too.
We have: broad b + á + broad b + ó + broad g
So bábóg would be pronounced BAH-BOHG. (Don't worry about which syllable is accented/emphasised for now. We'll talk about that later.)

In this word, we have both broad and slender vowels. The "f" is next to a slender vowel, so it's slender. The "d" and "g" are next to broad vowels, so they are broad. Since we'll be sliding from a slender sound into a broad sound, you'll hear a bit of that "y" sound I mentioned -- but don't overdo it. That "y" shouldn't really be audible, it's more of a hint to get your lips and mouth into the right shape.
We have: slender f + ea + broad d + ó + broad g
So feadóg would be pronounced FyAA-DOHG.

Oh no! There are three vowels in a row, what unearthly sound will they make? For the purpose of deciding whether a consonant is broad or slender, you only look at the adjacent vowels. So the "C" is broad, the "mh" is slender, and the "n" is slender.
We have: broad c + aoi + slender mh + í + slender n
Now we just have to figure out the sound that "aoi" makes. Take a moment and read this sounds of vowel combinations(dead link; find another resource or write something). I'll wait for you... Back already? OK, now we can tell that Caoimhín is pronounced KwEE-VEEN. (I put the tiny "w" in there because we're going from an initial broad consonant into a medial slender consonant.)

I put these two together because they really illustrate the difference one little vowel can make. That article I referred you to doesn't explicitly list these two vowel combinations, but here's a tip: When you see a vowel combination where one of the vowels has a fada, the vowel with the fada is how it's pronounced. In other words, the vowel with the fada is the "real" vowel, and its companions are just there to tell you how to pronounce the consonants on either side. So both these words have the same vowel sound, OO. And both have a slender "l" on the end. But one has a broad "s" and the other a slender "s", and that makes all the difference.
For súil we have: broad s + ú + slender l
For siúil we have: slender s + ú + slender l
The only difference in pronunciation is the quality of the initial "s". So...
súil is pronounced SOOL
siúil is pronounced SHOOL

Give it a try. Take a word you're where you're not sure of the pronunciation, or a word whose pronunciation surprised you, and analyse it as I have done above. You can post your attempts on this thread, and get some feedback. Or if there's a word that you still can't figure out how to pronounce, post it here and I (or someone else) will analyse it and explain why it's pronounced the way it is.

NOTE TO SELF: add more examples tomorrow.


[1] This rule is called caol le caol agus leathan le leathan, and if you're curious, you can read more about it here.

[2] There are a few exceptions to this rule, but very few.

[3] If you are ready to know more about the differences, see this excellent article (dead link; find another resource or write something).

ImageTo the extent possible under law, Amy de Buitléir has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

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