How to pronounce Irish





        1.  The Indo-European Schwa In Between Consonants

The Indo-European schwa - what a great name.  Sounds like you should be impressed, right?   Well, don't be.  It's just a fancy way to say 'ih'.  That's right, just 'ih.'  But who would pay any attention if we talked about 'The Indo-European ih'?  At any rate, when you have two consonants together in the middle or end of an Irish word, you can pronounce an 'ih' in between them if you want to.  That's why the Irish say 'fil-im' instead of 'film.'  And that's how Americans get the phrase "sparrin' partner" from the Irish word spairn which means 'contention' or 'dispute.'   Try the following:

bolg ('bag' or 'bulge').  The French/English word 'bulge' comes from this.

carbad ('chariot').  This gives us French & English words 'car', 'char', 'chariot'. 

colm ('dove')

film ('film')

gibris ('gibberish')

spairn ('dispute', 'contention')    

Still impressed?   ih!


        2.  The pronunciation of -inn

The three letter combination -inn at the end of word (and in the middle too) can be pronounced 'in' or 'ing'.  Try aislinn (which means 'vision' and is also spelled aisling).    


        3.  Broad bh

We learned that the broad bh is pronounced like a 'w' sound.  But in some dialects, it can be pronounced not only as 'w', but also as 'v' or 'vw.'  Sort of a compromise between the 'w' and the 'v' above.  So, let's look at bh and mh again


        4.  Broad mh

The same goes for the broad mh.  Depending upon the dialect, it can be pronounced as a broad w, v, or vw.  So, let's look at bh and mh again


        5.  Typical stress - on the first syllable

Stress is on the first syllable (except when a fada appears in a later syllable, which we'll see in a moment).  Notice that, with all the stress on the first syllable, vowels in the later syllables are basically reduced to the Indo-European schwa, or 'ih'.  For example:  

carraig ('rock') 

solas ('light') 


        6.  Even Out The Stress Because Of A Fada On A Later Syllable

However, as mentioned, a fada on a vowel in a later syllable forces you to say that vowel clearly and to even out the stress.  Compare the following:

carraig ('rock') vs. carraigín ('little rock').  This is 'carrageen' moss, used as an emulsifier in ice cream. 

solas ('light') vs. sólás ('solace')


(The Munster Exception:  The exception to the two stress rules above is the Munster dialect with its tendency towards stress on the second syllable, allegedly influenced by millenia of trade with continental Europe.  But I'll leave that to a Munster-speaker to teach you.)  


        7 and 8.  idh and igh

When you come across idh and igh, this is the equivalent of i plus the y-glide 'ih', which is close enough to two i in a row for most Irish, which gives us the long í.  So almost all Irish dialects pronounce idh and igh as the long í with a y-glide.  If you're at the beginning of the word, you'll hear the y-glide (because stress is at the beginning of a word in Irish).  If you're at the end of the word, you may hear the y-glide faintly or not at all.          


        9 and 10.  adhKonsonant and aghKonsonant

We already learned how to pronounce a broad dh and broad gh in our Consonant section.  When you come across adhK and aghK  (and here K means any consonant), you can pronounce these the way we normally pronounce adh and agh plus the consonant.  But it's important to know that some dialects pronounce these as 'aye' plus the consonant.  Try the following:

fadhb ('problem')

badhbh ('scald-crow', the goddess Badhbh)

slaghdán ('the common cold')  


        11.  A Variation on the Slender D

We already know from our section on consonants one way to pronounce the slender D which is called a 'released D.'  But some dialects go all the way to a DJ sound.  Listen to A Variation on the Slender D.


        12.  A Variation on the Slender T

We already know from our section on consonants one way to pronounce the slender T which is called a 'released T.'  But some dialects go all the way to a TCH sound.  Listen to A Variation on the Slender T.


        13, 14, and 15.  Other Vowel Combinations - io, oi, and ui

Pronunciation Of The Other Vowel Combinations
We have other vowel combinations which aren't surprising in sound.  'aa' is now spelled and pronounced á.  'oo' is now spelled and pronounced ó.  'uu' is now spelled and pronounced ú.  'ee' is now spelled and pronounced é.  'ii' is now spelled and pronounced í.  We don't really use au, eu (which has been almost entirely replaced by ea), ie, iu, oa, ou, oe, ue, uo, in modern Irish.  So that leaves 'io', 'oi' and 'ui.'

Pronouncing io, oi, and ui
This is very simple.  You can pronounce either letter.  It's your call.  In other words, 'io' is a short 'i' or a short 'o' - you get to decide.  Similarly, 'oi' is a short 'o' or a short 'i' - you get to decide.  As for 'ui', the same applies.  You can say it as a short 'u' or as a short 'i' - your call.  There are some dialectal variations on these, but for now, just make your choice and you'll be well understood.    Click on the blue letters below to hear these.  Memorize them.




Here's a summary of pronunciation for io, oi, and ui:

io  short i or short o - your call
oi short o or short i - your call
ui  short u or short i - your call

Both Ó Coinn and Ó Cuinn in Irish give us "O'Quinn" in English.


        16.  Effect of the y-glide on pronunciation of diphthongs

As you know, all slender consonants can be pronounced with or without a y-glide.  The y-glide sounds like 'yih' and is very short and faint.  If the slender consonant is followed by a slender diphthong or vowel combination (i.e., with ea, eo, ei, or io), the y-glide also has a tendency to split that diphthong or vowel combination as follows:

beag ('small') can be pronounced 'bag', or 'b-yahg' (with stress on the front as always)

beo ('alive') - This is almost always pronounced as 'b-yoh' (with stress on the front as always)

ceann ('head') can be pronounced 'can', or 'c-yahn' (with stress on the front as always)

gleann ('valley') can be pronounced 'glan', or 'gl-yahn' (with stress on the front as always).  

leadradh ('lather') can be pronounced 'lathra', or 'l-yahthra' (with stress on the front as always).  


        17.  Eclipsis

When you move past pronunciation into learning to read and speak Irish, you'll find that for certain grammatical reasons, a consonant will be placed from time to time in front of a word.  This kind of thing happens in other languages too.  In English, for example, -ing and -ed are put at the ends of words for specific reasons.  In Irish, when a specific consonant is put in front of a word for a grammatical reason, it's called "eclipsis" because that consonant will eclipse the sound of the first consonant of that word.  To say this another way, you'll pronounce the consonant you just placed in front of the word rather than the actual first consonant of the word.  So, mbord will be pronounced as mord, gceann will be pronounced as geann,  and so on.  Don't worry about this now.  When you get to it, everybody will tell you, "Look, that's eclipsis" and you'll know to pronounce the new eclipsing consonant instead of the original eclipsed consonant.  

Uimhir Bhuillí Ó
1 Samhain, 2004
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